I Saw Jesus Sitting on a Storm Sewer

Just before I got to work yesterday morning,
under skies that threatened rain,
I saw a guy sitting on the low form of a storm drain,
just beyond the hospital driveway .

He sat there, shirtless in the cool mist,
gray beard hanging to the bleached white skin of his chest,
muttering to himself about some unseen aggravation,
hands braced against the concrete
as if nothing else could keep him
from being sucked into the sewer.

Two nurses in blue scrubs walked along the curb.
I slowed and waved to them and headed on in toward work.
Something about them and something about him
made me think that maybe my board meeting
could wait a few more minutes.

I found an extra shirt and started walking
the few hundred yards back out to where they were.
I considered a short cut across the tall fescue
but knew that my shoes would soon be soaked
clear through and so I stayed on the asphalt.

I watched the three as I walked
and I could see the conversation was not going well.
The man was standing now,
and though I was not near enough to hear
it sure seemed like he was yelling:
shoulders stiff and arms jerking in dramatic motion
synced with whatever emotions currently carried.

He headed away but one of them went to him
and hugged him as the other stood by, watchful.
As I got closer, he turned and walked away again,
unresponding to anything and for the first time
I could see that he was shoeless as well as shirtless,
dark socks already soaked from wet pavement.

I walked faster as he kept going in his own deliberate shuffle.
“Hey, buddy,” I called, “Here, let me give you this shirt.”
He stopped but still did not turn around.
He held first one arm and then the other
out to the side and slightly back.

The second sleeve took a bit more work;
I eased his hand over a bit to get it lined up with the shirt.

“Here, man, let me get this buttoned up for you.”
I stood then in front of him,
reaching up under his beard as he stood there,
still as a child, weeping and murmuring.
It took me a while with the first button,
my hands suddenly clumsy, fingers forgetting
how to do the work they’d done every morning
for over sixty years.

“Are you having kind of a bad day?”
And though I couldn’t tell exactly what he said
it sounded something like
“Everything’s going wrong.”

I finished buttoning the shirt
and started to turn back toward work
and whatever else still lay ahead of me
on this gray morning.

“What’s your name,” he asked
and after I answered, he added, “Last name?”

“I’ll get your shirt back.”
“Don’t worry about it, man;
I’ve got plenty of them hanging in the closet.”

In a final bit of clumsiness
I patted him on the shoulder, “You take care.”
He stood there for a moment as if pondering
what exactly that might look like,
then shuffled his way on toward the next storm drain.

The nurses told me he’d walked out of the ER.
One of them said, “He’s my uncle,”
and I could see in her eyes the sadness
of the long years of hoping someone you love
is going to get better and yet seeing things going
an entirely different way altogether.

They had called the police and the niece asked me,
“What should we do?”

Through all the long years of family and friends
who had seen these vigils never end,
I only knew of one thing to say.
“Just stay away for a while and keep an eye on him.”

They thanked me for helping out
and I told them they were the ones doing the hard part.

Sometimes all we can do is stand and watch
as those we love walk through the aftermath
of choices they have made
and hope that the storm doesn’t carry them full away.

And even when we cannot change a single thing,
we love and wait beneath threatening skies.
And know that beyond them lies a brighter day
when every hurt will be healed and every sorrow swept away.

And until then, love and pray that we all make it through
whatever waits in each day that the Lord has made.

H. Arnett

Posted in Christian Devotions, Christian Living, Hospitals & Medical Care, Poetic Contemplations, Poetry, Relationships, Spiritual Contemplation | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Sweet and Lovely Fragrance

In the gentle light of early morning,
I pause beside the peonies,
caught by the brightness of forming blooms.
These white ones will soon be fully open,
a pleasing sense of late spring
singing hope into the coming season.

I bend over to the real reason for this lingering,
draw in deeply that pleasing fragrance.
Fingers barely touching the bundled petals,
I close my eyes, smile and sigh,
imagining the Creator of All That is Good,
savoring the sincere and simple prayers

of those who have chosen to draw near,
knowing that he will hear,
and draw near to them whose true desire
it is to be light and salt, hope and love:
a fierce and gentle presence in the midst of lives
seeking the Fire That Does Not Consume.

H. Arnett

Posted in Christian Devotions, Christian Living, Gardening, Metaphysical Reflection, Nature, Poetic Contemplations, Poetry, Spiritual Contemplation | Leave a comment

Reflections on National Hospital Week

Reflections on National Hospital Week

My earliest memory of a hospital… is probably buried somewhere deep in the deepest wrinkles of gray matter. Of the few I’m able to consciously access, I remember the smells of sickness and disinfectant, a dis-easing sense of long corridors with cold walls and polished linoleum floors. In those earliest memories back toward the middle of a previous century, the hospital struck me as a place of sternness, strict rules and no tolerance for children.

In point of fact, children were quite explicitly not allowed. If you weren’t at least twelve years old, you were denied entry, unless you were a patient or your parent was near the nebulous portal between life and death. Even then I think maybe there had to be a special meeting with formal review by the chief of staff.

And so I wasn’t permitted to visit my mother when I had just turned seven and my baby brother, John, was born. I wasn’t permitted to visit my thirteen-year-old sister, Patsy, when she was severely burned just a few weeks after Johnny’s arrival. In one of the final vestiges of those days, some sixteen years later, I wasn’t able to be in the delivery room when my oldest son, Michael, was born.

I was present, however, at the designated arrival times for each of the other five. While the miracle of birth remains pretty much the incomparable wonder that it was back then, my, what wonderful changes have taken place in the mindset of medical care since those days!

In my own quite limited personal experience as a hospital patient and my more recent and continuing experience as a hospital employee, it is a wonderful thing to witness the joy, warmth and humor. While I know there are those whose own encounters may make them beg to differ, I am repeatedly impressed with the skill, dedication and attitude of hospital staff members.

I experienced it first-hand as an out-patient at our “rival” hospital in Winfield where I couldn’t have asked for better care or treatment. I have read the testimonies of our own patients at SCKMC. I have witnessed the care and professionalism as a semi-participating observer. As marketing director, I confess that I am quite likely the single most “optional” player in the picture.

If an orderly, aid, housekeeper, pharmacist, cook, nurse, lab tech, maintenance worker, physician, therapist, admitting clerk, financial processor, records worker or anyone else doesn’t show up and do their job, it’s noticed immediately. Things take a downhill turn right away.

Go without a marketing director for a few months and eventually someone says, “Hey, who’s gonna run the Bingo game during Hospital Week this year?” Not exactly indispensable… and I’m okay with that. Even so, I do occasionally try to contribute a bit to help things move along.

Someone said, “It takes the whole village to raise a child, but only one idiot to ruin a kid.”

Well, I can tell you, that in the village that makes a modern hospital, there’s no room for idiots and it takes every single person working hard, working together, and working well. There’s not one job that doesn’t matter. Even a marketing director can help. Doesn’t really matter if it’s Nurses Week, Doctors Day, Hospital Week, National Vitamin and Paleolithic Therapy Month or just the third week of Whenever I Got Sick, hospital staff play a crucial role.

Whether it’s one of those times when minutes matter most or a fairly routine lab test, they go about their business, trying to help people in their hour of need. Whether it’s doing the finishing sutures on heart surgery, cleaning the toilet, drawing blood or replacing light bulbs, when it comes to ministering to the sick, everyone involved has the opportunity to minister to the least of the family of Christ.

And to be the personification of his presence in the world.

H. Arnett

Posted in Christian Devotions, Hospitals & Medical Care, Relationships, Spiritual Contemplation | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Used-less Technology

I have entered my third attempt in one year to get new grass sprouted and growing under the big Chinese elm trees in our yard. My previous disappointing attempts all share at least one common issue: my failure to consistently keep the seed moist.

So, early in this effort, I am resorting to the desperation of trying to follow instructions.

The directions on the most current bag of False Hopes in Colored Plastic states that I should keep the seed wet “even if it means you have to water it twice a day.” So, albeit in the aftermath of recent record levels of natural irrigation, I hooked up the lawn sprinkler, set it in place and turned on the water. While I do find those silver arcs of finely streaming of water fascinating to watch, I did remember that I had other things to do.

An hour later, I also remembered that I had water running.

Yessirree, I had water running alright! Down the driveway, out in the street, along the curb and across the wide span of naked earth in what is supposed to be my lawn under the Chinese elm trees. So… I turned off the water, moved the sprinkler over and turned it back on.

Only forty-five minutes later, I remembered again.

Eight or twelve minutes would have been about right. There had to be some sort of assistive technology available, some sort of digital crutch to help me manage my own deficiencies at mindfulness, multi-tasking and lawn regeneration. And then, finally, it dawned on me: my smart phone has a timer.

So, I set the timer for eight minutes.

A half-hour later I remembered that I had water running. And… that I’d forgot to hit “Start” on the timer. So, I adjusted my technique accordingly. Moved the sprinkler again, and touched the “Start” button on the screen. Eight minutes later, right on cue and with surprising dexterity, I hit the “Stop” button to silence the alarm. And resumed reading the paper, quite happy with my adaptation and warmly assured by the way in which modern technology was helping me be a better lawn regenerator.

Thirty minutes later, I took the dog out and saw streams of water flowing across my bare but nicely saturated dirt plot. “What?! What is this?!” I yelled sternly to myself. “Why is the water still running?!” I paused to catch my mental breath. “I set the timer. I started the timer. I even turned it off. Why is the water still running?!”

Sadly it appears that my smart phone is somewhat over-rated. All that fuss with the timer, alarm and what have you and it didn’t even figure out that the whole point was about turning off the water. Apparently, it doesn’t really matter what level of technology is available if you don’t use it properly.

Sort of reminds me about how often we don’t pray about stuff but then turn around and worry ourselves sick over it. And wonder why God let our yard get in such sorry condition.

H. Arnett

Posted in Christian Devotions, Gardening, Humor, Metaphysical Reflection, Prayer, Spiritual Contemplation | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Thinking About Thunder

In the quiet of a new morning,
in the lingering clean of last night’s rain,
I remember the slight thunder
that roused me from sleep
sometime deep in the darkness.

I woke for but an instant,
a brief stirring in the mind
that hardly rippled into the body,
and soon eased me back into my rest.

I didn’t think about the big Chinese elms
that surround the house
and could come crashing down on it.
I didn’t contemplate the many manners of fate
that could come swooping down
out of the skies of May
during the peak of tornado season in southern Kansas.
I guess I must not have thought anything
other than “That sounded like thunder;
I didn’t think there was any more rain forecast for tonight.”
Just that, nothing else, except maybe
an incredibly brief wondering about my next day at work.

I would like to think
that such a simple return to ease
must be in keeping with a strong faith
and a clear conscience—
but it might be that I was just really sleepy.

Apparently awake some hours later,
that has got me wondering
how often it might be
that what seems like
a powerful level of trust and confidence
in the Divine Presence and Plan
might pan out to be nothing more
than a hazing degree of obliviousness
or a determined indifference to things
that really do matter.

Might take me a while longer
to get back to sleep
the next time something rattles the house.

H. Arnett

Posted in Christian Devotions, Christian Living, Metaphysical Reflection, Nature, Poetic Contemplations, Poetry, Spiritual Contemplation | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

When the Waters Go Back to the River

Last Thursday morning, Green Farm Road out east of town was covered with a few feet of brown water. A lot of roads in this area were covered last week as both the Walnut River and the Arkansas swelled up and burst beyond their banks. Up to ten inches of rain had fallen within twenty-four hours. And that was just one day in three or four days of rain. With US-71 and I-35 both closed south of Wellington, we had nearly all of that traffic coming through Winfield and Arkansas City. As the water receded, so did the traffic.

It’s a bit too early to say things are back to normal but they seem headed in that direction. Normal will take longer for some folks than for others. Cover “normal” with a few inches of mud and it takes a while to find it again. Whether your particular normal is a kitchen floor in a flooded house or several hundred acres of bottomland corn yellowing in the muck.

Most of the first two miles I pedaled along Green Farm Road were covered with mud. Packed by traffic and cured by Kansas breeze and a bit of sun, shallow ruts marked the heavier side. Water still stood in the low parts of fields and the rest was a shiny, slimy mud. The little white frame house which had stood like an island with water ringing its foundation had regained a more usual perspective. Fences and bushes stood with Seuss-like clumps of dead grass and brush caught on them.

Along the ditches and creeks one could see the occasional gouge, fresh holes cut by days of rushing torrent. Every storm carries its damage. Some of it can be cleaned up after, some of it can be repaired, and some of it means that there will be a new normal in our lives.

But there is a mighty powerful and important difference in recognizing that our lives will never be the same and in believing they can never be good again. A pioneer’s faith, a willingness to heal, and a patient leaning toward love will yield their good fruits. The earth endures its own travails and our God has promised to bring beauty from ashes. Even in the aftermath of crushing destruction, he is able to sow seeds of joy and blessing.

H. Arnett

Posted in Christian Devotions, Christian Living, Farming, Nature, Spiritual Contemplation | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Faith More Powerful than Hostility

Though an army besiege me,
my heart will not fear;
though war break out against me,
even then will I be confident.
Psalm 27:3 (NIV)

So far as I know, I’ve only had three or four enemies in my lifetime and maybe only a couple of them actually wished me bodily harm. The others did me harm professionally. Even though their opposition deprived me of some serious money and a bit of sleep, no blood was shed.

Now, this is not to say I never had other people mad at me during these sixty-plus years. Having someone angry with you at a particular moment, even if they’d like to take a swing at the more fragile parts of your face, doesn’t necessarily make them your enemy. In the way I’m thinking of the term at this moment, an enemy is more committed than that. They’re not looking to relieve some temporary frustration; they’re in it for the long haul. I’m thinking of the kind of folks that get up thirty minutes early every morning just so they can hate you more. And can do that for years.

Part of the reason I suffer from the delusion that I have made very few enemies might be poor perception coupled with inferior memory. Maybe I’ve made more than I realized or have just forgotten about it because they never undertook significant retaliation. On the other hand, I have generally avoided most of the patterns of behavior that are so effective in fostering hostility. With a very few exceptions, people generally respond well to being treated with thoughtful decency and consideration. I have to live with knowing I’ve failed from time to time on that effort but it is still the goal. And that helps me walk in faith more than fear.

I’m not sure I have David’s confidence in the face of violence. Actually, I’m rather convinced that I don’t have it. War breaks out against me, I’m gonna be about as terrified as a Chihuahua in a thunderstorm. On the other hand, I am pretty sure it’s all going to turn out okay.

My enemy may deprive me of a key opportunity or so persistently undermine and harass me that I will walk away from a high-paying job. But my integrity will still be intact and no amount of back-stabbing, deceit and hypocrisy will take that away. At least, as long as I make sure those actions are coming from my opponent and not from me!

In some battles, the greatest danger is that we become like our enemies.

H. Arnett

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