Of Thorns and Glory

I have no speculation to add in regard to that which already exists as to the nature of the apostle Paul’s “thorn in the flesh.” Suffice it to say that it was something of a torment to him, something that caused personal discomfort and embarrassment. Might even have been painful. Definitely something limiting and something that he wanted removed from his life.

In the first ten verses of I Corinthians 12, he describes the background and cryptically calls it a “messenger from Satan.” He also says that its purpose was “to torment me.”

Interestingly, he notes that the reason this affliction was given was to prevent him from developing excessive pride. Paul claims that he had experienced visions of a surpassing nature, revelations of such grandeur that he was not permitted to even speak of them. In another place he described being “caught up into the third heaven” in a state so rapturous that he was not sure whether he was there physically or only in the spirit.

It appears clear—at least to my current thinking—that Christ granted Paul understanding and witness of heavenly secrets and mysteries beyond those allowed any other apostle, at least at that time. How his experience compared to the revelation later granted to the Isle of Patmos’ most famous resident shall remain shrouded a while longer.

It is reasonable that someone given such an experience of glory, a privilege apparently exceeding that given even unto Peter, might develop an inflated ego. Might get the notion that he was, indeed, someone special.

Enter the thorn. Welcome to your affliction, Paul. Still human, after all.

And so, he cried out to God. And so, he begged for deliverance. And so, he asked, and asked again, and yet again, to be freed of this abasement.

And was told “No.”

And so, we cry out to God, asking for relief. Asking for deliverance. Asking to be free of our pain, our affliction, our torment. And sometimes are told “No.” Sometimes, we are not given such a clear answer but rather reach that conclusion based on deduction instead of revelation.

Paul says that God told him, “My grace is sufficient for you.” He also said that God’s strength is perfected in weakness and that therefore he had learned to find joy and fulfillment in weakness. You see, our strength glorifies us. Our strength often leads us to pride. Our strength deceives us into believing in self, trusting in self, and honoring self. Our weakness? Not so much.

In pain, in torment, in desperation, in humiliation, even in agony, we cry out to God for deliverance. Yet, in his infinite wisdom and inscrutable purpose, he may respond differently than we desire. Sometimes, we are granted the mercy that we seek. Other times, there is a different answer.

We are not called to ease nor granted leisure. We are called to obedience, to honor him rather than ourselves. Grace is the answer and humility the lesson. The teaching continues until we are brought to perfection in Jesus Christ. Quite the goal, really.

Let us remember another admonition from the bearer of the thorn. In his letter to the believers in Rome (8:18), he assures us, “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.”

H. Arnett


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

The Last Peach

Well, folks, it’s been a bumper year for the peach harvest here at Haven Hill Home for Horses and Henchfolk. Clusters of peaches so thick they were touching each other bent branches to the ground and even broke and split a few of them. Definitely the most we’ve had on this tree in its seven years.

I’ll thin the blooms out considerably if we ever have this many again. They’ve been tiny but tasty and there’s been a bazillion of ‘em. For the past three weeks, we’ve had peaches for breakfast, peaches with ice cream, two cobblers and one double crust pie. We’ve eaten peaches right off the tree and made a few pints of what was supposed to be peach jam but will more likely become pie filling or ice cream topping.

We’ve had so many peaches this year, off of one small tree, that we’ve flat out spoiled the horses. For a couple of weeks, nearly every time we went to the round pen, we treated Gin and Earl to fresh peaches. They got right fond of the little treats in a pretty short while. I believe that they are suspicious that we’re hiding peaches from them now, but the honest fact of the matter is the peaches are all gone. I pulled the last one off the tree Monday morning.

I didn’t wake up thinking, “I bet there’s only one peach left on that tree.”

In fact, I went to bed Sunday night knowing that there were still twelve-to-fifteen peaches left on the tree. And so, silly me, I was expecting there to still be a dozen or more on the tree Monday morning. You know, enough for another breakfast and a few left to snack on during the day. Didn’t work out that way, though, and I’ve got a pretty good idea how they disappeared.

I’d seen one or more of our sneaky little squirrels high-tailing it away from the tree when Randa or I would walk out toward the barn. Found peaches on the ground and some on the tree with a few missing bites and the shape of some large incisors left in the fruit. I’d also found three or four peaches with what sure looked like coon or possum dental impressions. And there was indication from the other end of the critter that one or more had been under the peach tree.

Having had so many peaches this year, I’d been less concerned about the varmints poaching our crop. “So what,” I figured, “if they get one or two peaches? We’ll still have plenty.” It never occurred to me that they’d wipe out a dozen or more in single night. Having to search through the leaves and limbs for several minutes in order to find that last peach changed that.

Sometimes, I reckon, we might think we have so much that we fail to realize how much we have lost. There are times in life to be generous and sharing with both time and talents, money and moments. There are times to be a bit selfish, too.

Times to protect zealously and jealously the time we have to be alone and recharge the batteries. Time that we spend with friends and family, to guard the whens and hows we spend our time and whether or not to give up those things that are not in unlimited supply. To be aware of opportunity cost and to be sure that we are not trading gold for straw.

There is no limit to the varmints and critters in this world that will gobble up whatever we do not protect. Sin and Satan will take everything that they can and leave us with life’s tree stripped and broken if we do not guard our hearts, our minds, and our spirits. There are plenty of wild mulberries around the woods to keep the wild things from starving. While we recognize that God may use us to feed the birds of the air, we need to be careful what varmints we allow to scrounge through the gardens that we tend.

Otherwise, we might end up a few peaches short of the abundant life that we were intended to have. The God who sends his rain upon the just and the unjust expects us to be good stewards of the blessings that he sends.

H. Arnett


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

A Strange Memorial

Eight years ago I did a Warrior Dash in Iowa as a memorial for my mother. (She passed away two days earlier at the age of ninety-nine.)

I doubt that she knew I did it but what mattered was that I knew. I wore a hand printed placard on my back during the event.

Out of about thirty mud runs I’ve completed since I was fifty-nine years old, this was the only time that I ran the whole course (3.2 miles) without taking a “walking break” and was also my best time for completing an obstacle challenge.

Immediately after the race, I cleaned up and Randa and I headed to West Kentucky for Mom’s funeral.

I’ve thought of her in every race I’ve run since then. I think she would be tickled to know how I chose to honor her and pleased to know how much effort I put into that race.

Growing up in the Depression, helping dad farm, raising such kids, and in a hundred other things, she showed the same kind of determination that you can see on my face in this picture.

Another competitor less than half my age was trying to pass me in the mud pit at the moment this picture was taken. They did not succeed.

Winning has never been a top priority for me in athletic competition; finishing the race has always been an obsession.

Mom’s life was never easy, but often happy, and always genuine. No matter how strange it may seem, I think doing a mud run was a perfect way to honor someone like Ruby Arnett.

Posted in Death & Dying, Exercise, Family, Spiritual Contemplation, Sports | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

When Nature Sings

Ever have one of those situations where you think you’ve got something figured out… but then again… well, you just aren’t quite sure? I had one of those a couple of days ago that I’ve been thinking about ever since then. And… I’m still not sure.

Randa was in the house, frying up bacon for another installment of our favorite summer sandwich meal. I was finishing up tilling a small plot for an iris relocation project at the southwest corner of the garage. I shut off the tiller and heard snatches of someone singing. You know, just a few notes, not enough to catch the tune.

I could hear the sound coming from the direction of the highway but that doesn’t narrow it down other than “south.” In a bit, I heard it again, coming from the same direction. And then, again. Just those few notes. I thought maybe it was a vehicle with the radio really cranked up loud but the sound didn’t seem to be moving. And, there was no other evidence of a passing vehicle. You know, things like tire noise, engine sounds, blurry images of sheet metal and fiberglass passing by at seventy miles an hour, things like that.

I shrugged my shoulders and started raking grass remnants out of the dirt.

Just a minute or two later, I heard it again. A brief lilt of three or four notes and then silence again. I looked around wondering if Randa had gone down to the horse barn (it lies south of where I was working). “Why isn’t she in the kitchen finishing up the BLT’s instead of singing to the horses?” I wondered, with just a twinge of irritation. I looked down toward the barn, no sign of Randa.

So, I shifted my frustration toward my inability to figure out the source of the singing. I leaned against the rake handle for a moment, tilted my better hearing aid toward the south and waited. Yes, there it was again… right over there in the direction of Harold Whitten’s pasture.

Wait a minute… could that be a cow?!! It was too far away to be sure but there was a definite hint of bovine nature about the sound.

I’ve never heard a cow that could throw a bit of a quaver into its bellowing or mooing but I’m reasonably sure that is what I had been hearing. Not the flat bawl of a mama looking for her weaned calf but it sure seemed that hoof and horn was the best bet for the signal source.

I don’t know; maybe Harold Whitten has been giving singing lessons in the feedlot. Maybe some cows just have better voices than others. Maybe this one is just a bit more operatic than the average heifer.

Sometimes we’re a little too quick to think we’ve got a mystery of some sort demystified. Sometimes it would be better to admit we think we’re on the right track but we’re not absolutely one hundred percent sure about it. Knowing you’ve found God and thinking you’ve got him all figured out are two quite different things. I was swimming long before I had any notion at all about the specific gravity of pond water. Now that I think about it, that lack of understanding did not diminish the pleasure of a running cannonball whatsoever.

The deep comfort and personal pleasures of genuine faith do not require a corresponding level of intellectual arrogance or contempt for science. Whoever or whatever it was that I heard singing sure added to the interest of my evening. And gave me something to share with Randa while we were eating our BLT’s in front of the TV. Not the first time in my life that the satisfaction of experience transcended my capacity for explanation.

H. Arnett


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

Leapin’ Lizards

I’ve been fascinated by blue-tailed lizards ever since I was a kid. Whenever I’d see one sunning on the concrete block foundation of the barn or on a big rock near the fencerow, I’d stand still, mesmerized. Hoping I didn’t spook it, I’d bend over slowly and lean in for a closer look. The brilliant colors, the long stripes running from nose to rump, the quick movements: everything about them seemed exotic, mysterious. And, like anything long and slinky, a bit scary. Especially when they move suddenly.

I’d heard that if you grabbed one by the tail, the tail would break off and they’d grow a new one. I never tried it to see. Not because I was afraid, of course, but, ahem, rather because of my abiding concern and respect for all things living. Especially the ones that might bite.

Our place here has turned out to be a fine spot for someone who likes looking at blue-tailed lizards. We have one or two that frequently show up near the back door, usually near the foundation of the house and often darting along the edge of the stone border of the planter that runs along the south side of the house. Two days ago, while I was pulling up big rocks out of the ditch to use on another landscape project, I uncovered a little fellow only a few inches long. I think I saw the same one near the same spot when I went back later for a couple more rocks. Cute little guy, really.

Yesterday, I met some more of my little friends. It was a rather informal situation, actually, and quite spontaneous.

It’s that spontaneity that always gets me about meeting reptiles. If the meeting had been mutually arranged with sufficient advance notice, it would seem a bit less jolting. It’s those sudden confrontations that really get me going.

Like much of life, we sometimes feel barely able to handle what we knew was coming. Thankfully, even those events that seemed most startling at first eventually work out for our good and getting over the surprise is a big first step toward realizing we will survive. Dealing with an unexpected lizard showing up between your feet is a lot easier than recovering from a car wreck or falling off a ladder. Given a choice, I’ll go with the lizard encounters.

In this case, it was the continuation of the landscape project.

I’ve been building a gravel-based area along the south side of our garage. It extends from underneath the birch trees on the east end to near the cedar trees on the west end. My plan is to have Randa help me arrange my collection of old rusty artifacts in the multi-colored creek stones that I’ve placed in behind the natural stone retaining edge.

For the past couple of months, those rusty artifacts have been stashed in a tight cluster within the shade of the birch trees. One of said artifacts is an old, very rusty little metal box with a wooden bottom. It’s about six inches wide, twelve inches long and four inches deep. It has a very rusty lid and probably functioned as a toolbox on an old tractor or horse-drawn implement in an earlier life.

Before I moved it off of the big, very rusty tool chest on which it has rested quite comfortably for the past two months, I lifted the lid. The seven-inch long lizard inside appeared to be at least as surprised as I was. It darted around and then quickly retreated to the farthest corner. That’s a bit relative in a box that’s only a foot long but I guess it’s a measure of degrees when suddenly confronted by a creature that’s about a thousand times larger than you. I found a degree of security myself by quickly closing the lid. What to do, what to do?!!

I picked the box up and carried it over to the gravel bedding and set it down. Curious as to whether or not the new resident had stayed for the journey, I opened the lid again. Yep, still there. Wait a minute, nope, he’s not. He slithered out through the knothole in the bottom of the box and disappeared into the smooth-rounded rocks.

A few minutes later, I moved an old gas heater. It’s the prized centerpiece of the collection. Curved ends and top with intricate cast iron details accent the ceramic inserts that stand above the multi-ported gas burner. Overall, it’s about eighteen inches tall, two feet wide and eight inches deep. It weighs about thirty pounds, I guess and has been nested under the birch tree for nearly two years.

I bent over, lifted it up, and carried it about sixty feet away, close to the far end of the garage. I set it down hard and gave it a couple of extra twists and shoves to settle the feet into the gravel. Apparently, the final disruptions rather disturbed one of the heater’s secret residents. With another dose of that famous spontaneity, the biggest blue-tailed lizard I’ve ever seen mysteriously materialized about eighteen inches away from my hand. That rascal must have been over a foot long and had apparently been dining sumptuously in the shade of the birch tree.

With no conscious control on my part, my right hand mysteriously moved a few feet farther away from the lizard, taking a good part of me with it. Before I’d even had time to finish my gasp, I saw a second lizard appear on the top of the heater, about two inches from where my left hand had been.

Well, folks, I have to admit that I’m pretty well satiated on my blue-tailed lizard fascination for the time being. I think I may wait another day or two before I open that big toolbox.

H. Arnett


Posted in Christian Devotions, Gardening, Humor, Nature, Spiritual Contemplation | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Welcoming the Cool of an August Haze

Yesterday was one of those rare August days 
when you get to welcome the cool 
and clouds of an overcast haze. 

Instead of the triple digit heat index 
that has vexed us for the past three weeks or so, 
the passing front left just a touch of rain
and a nearly full day of pleasant temperature
and gentle breeze.

We took our ease beneath the maple tree for an hour,
sipping coffee and studying the flowers 
that Randa has set on the north side of the house:
small, brilliantly colored impatiens that rim the low stone,
a dense carpet of ajuga at one corner,
and huge-leaved hostas that rise waist high
and spread out in lush growth in the shade.

The hydrangea pink diamond tree
is blooming for the second time this season 
and we aren’t sure of the reason
but are pleased enough to just watch
the black-and-yellow frames
of wide-winged swallowtails work the large clusters.

It’s good from time to time
to keep the mind from ruining a thing
by trying too hard to explain it.

It seems better on a day such as this
to simply embrace the faintest touch of mist
that lightly kisses your face
after you have rested a bit
and then go on about the work that you can do
with greater energy and longer effort

because this is one of those rare August days 
when you get to welcome the cool 
and clouds of an overcast haze,
and be thankful for health and strength
on this good day that the Lord has made.

H. Arnett

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

Riding Toward the Far Ridge

Somewhere in between West Virginia and North Carolina,
Interstate-Seventy-Seven makes a long downhill slide
through a place that is not quite heaven
but definitely well this side of hell

and off to the east side through the gaps in the trees
you can occasionally see miles of Virginia valley and distant mountains,
and although it is not the Shenandoah,
it is mighty beautiful on a green summer day—

the way one shade layers behind another and another,
and in the far distance greens turn into blues and grays.

But I would have to say that seventy-miles-an-hour on a motorcycle
is not the best way to take in views like this;
but there are suppers I don’t want to miss
and I am too riveted on the road ahead

to be turning my head off to the side
in a place in the world where rocks sometimes slide
out into the paths that we have meant for other things,
and it takes less than a second

for life to bring something you hadn’t counted on,
didn’t see coming, and getting there safely 
takes more than a measure of luck
and a quickly murmured prayer with each passing truck.

Still, I wish I’d built in more time for the traveling

so that I could swing over onto the shoulder
in the thick shade of this chiseled bluff,
lean the bike over on the kickstand,
cross these two lanes

and stand in the shadows of tall hardwoods
looking out over these forested miles
until I could finally whisper “I have had enough—
at least for a while,”

then smile to myself and be ready again 
for riding further on this long road that I have chosen.

H. Arnett
Posted in Aging, Christian Devotions, Metaphysical Reflection, Motorcycle, Nature, Poetic Contemplations, Poetry, Spiritual Contemplation | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Proof of Life

Looking back, it seems a bit easier to see
the things you didn’t see when they were happening,
easier to mark the miles that passed by.

You didn’t notice—at least not at first—
that even though you thought you were drinking,
you still felt that thirst at the back of your throat.

You’d hoped it would never happen to you,
this lingering loneliness,
the sapping of the spirit that wearies you now
clear to the bone.

You wondered for a while
how you could have both been moving
along in what seemed the same direction
and yet have ended up this far apart—
absent the affection you’d felt for so many years.

They ache and burn now,
these tears of realization,
an aching confirmation of the fears
and a numbing awareness of the indifference
that has grown like stone inside the parts of your heart
that used to beat so keenly you knew its rate
without touching your wrist.

You barely remember the last time you kissed
with anything more than perfunctory feeling,
the last time you touched one another
with any sense of passion or pleasure.

Perhaps it is the measure of your own unmentioned feelings,
or the reeling realization of not knowing for sure
whether or not the other is able—or even willing—
to move forward in a way that will someday find you
once again finding a deeper satisfaction
in being more together than you have ever been.

A hundred small choices landed you here
but just a few good ones could move you
toward a better shore
than the one you have been wandering.

H. Arnett
Posted in Christian Devotions, Poetic Contemplations, Poetry, Relationships, Spiritual Contemplation | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Proof of Life

Hard Work on a (Not So) Hot Day

The forecast for yesterday was not the sort that brings a lot of joy for men with the prospect of building fence in the first full week of July: expected heat index of around a hundred-and-six degrees. But Neil and BJ had agreed to come and help and since they followed through, I felt sort of obligated to pitch in, too.

I had some bit of optimism that we could work in the shade if we started early enough in the day; there’s a line of trees along the eastern edge of the little pasture we were fencing. BJ and I had already set most of the posts and had braced the two forty-five-degree angle corners on the northeast edge. Its location allowed us to work in the shade until around one p.m. on a day of triple digit felt temperatures.

Neil’s first day on the project was predicted to be even hotter. But eight o’clock found overcast skies shielding us from the sun while we set the last two posts on the western run of the pasture. Just before we finished tamping in the dirt on the second post, I scanned the sky overhead and toward the west. “Looks like our cloud cover is just about gone,” I noted. “Yeah,” Neil agreed.

There were a few minutes when the sun sort of broke through the clouds while we began setting in the horizontal braces for the southeast corner. But then, more clouds moved in and kept the perceived temperature about twenty degrees lower than predicted.

“You just can’t count on the weatherman!” Neil commented facetiously. “Yeah,” I responded, “I guess some days their lack of proficiency isn’t as disturbing as it is on other days.”

We were grateful for the lack of accuracy on the forecast and equally grateful when BJ showed up a few minutes later. I introduced the two guys and the team kicked into real action.

BJ and Neil looped in the heavy wire for diagonal bracing while I marked notches for the next horizontal beam brace and then cut stakes for twisting the heavy wire. In a very short while it began to look like this wasn’t the first time we’d built fence together. Marking and cutting the heavy 4×4’s, drilling pilot holes and fastening the beams into place, looping in, and twisting the heavy wire braces: everything moved more and more smoothly with each post. In a couple of hours, we’d finished bracing two corners and two end posts. And the cloud cover held, too.

It’s a mighty fine blessing to have cooler than expected weather for outdoor work in July in Kansas. And an even better one to have friends to help you with it.

H. Arnett


Posted in Farming, Metaphysical Reflection, Relationships, Spiritual Contemplation | Tagged , , , , , | Comments Off on Hard Work on a (Not So) Hot Day

Hope For the Harm We Never Intended

Building fence in the last bit of shade
on a triple digit heat index day 
in northeastern Kansas,
I guide a load of poles
through the edges of a dense cedar
at the corner of the horse pasture.

Interlaced branches catch at the ends,
bend and twist in their resistance
then give way to the push of the tractor.

A few minutes later,
B.J. spots a baby bird on the ground.
Purple and blue and wretched,
the sparsest bit of early feathers
on mostly naked skin,
gangly and helpless.

A moment later he asks,
“Isn’t that a female cardinal?”
pointing through the tangle of limbs and branches.
It takes me a while, bending and leaning
to trace along the line of his arm extending beyond his finger.
I finally see the adult bird and respond,
“Well, that, or a cedar waxwing.”

We look briefly to find the nest
but see no trace of it in the thick lacing
of needles and branches.
I slide gloved hands as gently as I can
beneath the baby bird and move it
to what I hope is a safer place near the trunk of the tree.
I find pieces of a broken nest and take the best I can of that
and wedge them into the junction of two branches.
I lift the hatchling into that and hope for a better outcome than I expect.

B.J. and I move on to wrapping nine-gauge wire
in a double-loop diagonal to connect the corner post’s base
to the brace posts on each side,
ending with heavy twists that will help resist the pull
of high-tension wire in a more permanent fence.

A few hours later,
in the slightly lower heat of dusk,
I take a saw to reduce the outer husk of the cedar
so that we can pass through on horseback
without the scratching itch of cedar branches
roughing against rein hands and slapping us in the face.

Working my way into the cedar’s own thicket,
I see the baby bird has fallen again.
It stirs at the sound of my approach,
stretching its ridiculously skinny neck
and lifting gaping beak upward.

I trigger the saw and set it close 
against the junction of trunk and stem,
trimming a few of the lowest limbs
that extend out toward the near corner of the pasture.

Moving around the felled cluster,
I am dismayed to finally find the nest,
lodged in an inner junction of the longest limb,
stems and strands interwoven,
still hosting three siblings of the fallen bird.

I go back and tenderly lift once again the lonely one,
set it back into the nest with the others.
About two feet past the fork,
I cut the branch that holds the nest
then move the whole over to the trunk.

Carefully keeping the nest horizontal,
I push the largest end into the junction of other branches,
wedging it in as gently as I can and then twisting it once again
to make it as secure as I can.

It is as much as I can do
to undo the harm that I never intended.

A half-hour later, I watch a male cardinal
with a large grub in its beak
pause for a moment on an outer branch
then disappear into the midst of the cedar.

It feels something like absolution, 
and I will take my chances with hope.

H. Arnett
Posted in Farming, Metaphysical Reflection, Nature, Poetic Contemplations, Spiritual Contemplation | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Hope For the Harm We Never Intended