Nursing and Cursing

The new grass that passed beyond lush
in the heavy rains of late spring and early summer
now lies in matted wisps of brown—
thin, withered stems of ryegrass and bluegrass
curled and killed by too many weeks of heat.

I'm not sure how much watering it would have taken
but with the monthly bill bulging over two hundred dollars
I felt like I had to taper off a bit
and it proved to be at least a bit too much.

Much of what I sowed is splotched now
with growth of crabgrass and watergrass—
not at all the rich sheen of fine-bladed green I'd wanted.
And worked toward.

Perhaps with the passing of summer,
the coming of more moderate days and cooler nights,
I might find the will to till new seed into the soil.

I try to console myself
by thinking that even the wild, unwanted grass
is some shade of green
and its roots will help keep the soil in place
but there is no denying the disappointment.

It is deeply fused into the ways of the earth
that planting and sprouting are only the beginnings.
In the curse of thorn and thistle, sand burr and sticker,
it takes more than wish and whistle
to bring forth and keep the finer things growing.

It takes both toil and blessing,
hours and days of sweat and muscle 
and the sustained caressing of dirt and rain,
all driven by remembering that in due season
we will reap a harvest
if we do not give up.

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

What Lies Beneath

I had to replace our hundred-year-old sewer lines back in March of ’21. Having over the years lost a fair amount of strength, a lot of energy and nearly all of my desire for extended hard labor, I rented an excavator. With a friend’s assistance, I dug out the old line and, in the process, dug a trench two feet wide, eight feet deep and eighty feet long. After installing the new line, I backfilled the trench but couldn’t (or at least, didn’t) properly tamp down the dirt as I backfilled.

After a couple of heavy rains, the soil sank in along the line of the trench. I put in some more dirt and then, a few weeks later, put in still more dirt. Turned out, it still wasn’t enough.

Randa’s horse, Gin, made us aware of that a couple of weeks ago when he stepped over and his foot instantly plunged down about ten inches into the ground. A bit of probing revealed an underground “washout” that grew larger and deeper with each subsequent rain.

The most recent rain revealed a collapsed space of nearly a foot in diameter running down from around eighteen inches deep and sloping back to around three feet deep. Not having a remote camera or a miniature spelunker, I can’t tell how far back and down it extends. I’m fairly certain it’s following the line of the trench and will eventually mean a section of our driveway will become a participant in this progressive reshaping of our tiny section of the earth’s surface.

A similar process, though occurring over millennia instead of months, forms the caves and caverns of the world. Water seeps through, slowly dissolves minerals such as lime, and in time tiny trenches turn into tunnels and caves and even vast underground domes. As the dissolving transfer process continues, stalagmites and stalactites form, increasing the wonder and grandeur.

And so, the processes of softening, erosion and displacement can create natural works of beauty and marvel. And sinkholes.

It’s not often good to be in the vicinity when the forces of nature—and humanity—tear away the things that support us. It is good to be aware, to take care, and to do what it takes to repair what can be repaired. And to steer clear of what can’t be fixed.

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New Grass and Old Lessons

Back in early March, my friend BJ helped me dig out our old broken-down sewer lines and replace them. Using a rented excavator, we dug a trench two feet wide, eight feet deep and eighty feet long. After installing the new line, I backfilled the trench, levelled out the area and sowed new grass.

Within just a few weeks, I had a lovely, lush stand of bluegrass and perennial ryegrass. It was gorgeous. Then the heavy rains came in May and June. After about ten inches of rain in two weeks, the trench line sank down about a foot or so. I piled in some more dirt and sowed new grass seed. It sprouted right up and looked pretty good. Not as good as the other part of the new lawn but not bad.

Then real summer came. About three or four weeks with the heat index in triple digits. Even with enough supplemental watering to quadruple our monthly H-2-O bill, the young grass couldn't handle the heat. The fine blades of bluegrass and ryegrass began withering and turning brown. 

Crabgrass and water grass have occupied the entire section along the trench and about ten percent of the other space. Obviously, those wild varieties are much better adapted to the heat of Kansas summers. Neither, though, has the visual appeal and barefoot feel of bluegrass or perennial rye.

I will try again in the fall and hope that a couple months of more temperate weather will provide the needed conditions to let the desired species thrive. Sometimes waiting for the right time to do a thing produces better results. 

But it still takes some hard work, the right stuff and something else, too; all the effort in the world cannot succeed without the Lord's blessing. 

H. Arnett
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Praying for Summer Rain

For the last three weeks—
with the heat index most days pegging over a hundred
and new grass withering in the shade—
we have watched the rains the Lord has made 
as they moved around us:

Cells splitting along the line of our highway it seems
and sliding by just above, or below, or both at the same time,
farms to north or south or east or west
seeming to get the best of what had passed us by.

Late last night, or more technically, early this morning,
the sound of a storm's forming roused me from my sleep
and would keep me from returning:
the ricocheting rumbling, 
the pounding of rain on the roof
and the telltale heavy thumping of gutters overflowing
onto the flat of the balcony
and knowing that water 
would be seeping in under that door again.

I stood for a while looking out its window
at sheets of rain and reflected flashes of lightning
and thinking how much it would help the pastures,
then went back to bed and turned to my side again.

For nearly two hours the reverberations kept me awake
and yet finally I couldn't help but wonder:
"What kind of man prays for summer rain
and then resents the thunder?"

H. Arnett
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Working in the Dark

Three weeks past the end of June,

a blood-pumpkin moon eases below

the rim of the hill pasture a half-mile away.

The last good light of night is gone an hour before dawn

leaving only the dim light of stars

and the aggravating glare of the billboard

a hundred yards away.

Driven to work in the dark

by another night of shortened sleep

and an old love song

that keeps running through my mind,

I find myself rolling up a few hundred feet

of straw erosion mat that I’d used

to start the seeds sown on a section of re-shaped lawn.

Using a hook tool I kept as memento

of my hard shifts building tires at Goodyear Tire & Rubber

in Union City, Tennessee from back in the mid-Seventies,

I pry out the landscape pins

that Randa and I put in two weeks ago,

working in the dark on a Friday night

to beat the rains that came in the next day.

With the pins pulled along all the edges,

I start rolling up the matting,

seven-and-a-half foot by sixty-foot sections

of loosely wound monofilament netting

embedded with stalks of straw.

The air feels cool but working

in ninety percent humidity

will still make you sweat

even if it is only seventy degrees.

An hour of work and four rolls done,

I decide to wait for the morning sun

before pulling up the last two

so I can see whether or not

pulling up the mat

is also pulling up the seedling grass.

I stand beneath the stars

trying to block out the sound of passing cars

and the big-wheeled whine of heavy tires on asphalt,

sorting out thoughts and searching for the meanings

such brief work on a sleepless night.

There are times—I suppose—

when life seems to go a little easier

when we can’t really tell

whether or not some particular project

is causing more harm than good

but it should never be

because we simply refuse to see

that we have chosen to work in the dark

rather than in the light.

Posted in Christian Devotions, Christian Living, Gardening, Metaphysical Reflection, Nature, Poetry, Spiritual Contemplation, Work | Tagged , , , , , | Comments Off on Working in the Dark

The Long Road to Empathy

I used to get aggravated at my dad because of his deafness.

Knowing now the loneliness of losing my hearing, I think about how frustrated and isolated he must have felt.

I used to get aggravated at my mom because of the way she sometimes snapped at Dad for no apparent reason.

Knowing now the way that chronic pain saps your energy and puts a mean edge on everything, I think about how forty years of arthritis could alter a personality.

I used to get aggravated at people who hated change.

Knowing now the exasperation of having grown up with Depression Era values and living in a post-millennial culture, I think about how frightening and frustrating it must have been to my parents to see their sons growing beards and long hair.


It seems like there ought to be an easier way to getting to the point of understanding someone else’s pains and fears, something that doesn’t take this many years. You gotta admire those people who can just think about a thing and feel someone else’s pain. But even for those of us who seem to take the long way there, it’s always good when life leads us to greater understanding and caring for those who share with us the sometimes rough and rocky road of walking through this world on our way to a better one.

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A Gentle Dawning

The loveliness of an unexpected coolness

in the morning air

soothes the skin on a mid-July morning

while the gentle beauty of delicate mist

forming above the bottoms of creeks and rivers

speaks to the soul of those the Giver has gifted

with this quiet dawning.

A pastel gray hovers above the woods and ridges

of northeastern Kansas,

beneath the stars of a moonless sky

while the least hint of an eastern light

etches the edges of night’s softening canopy.

I stand beneath the paper-bark birches

that stretch along the fringe of a gravel driveway,

taking in the subtle coming of this day the Lord has made,

giving thanks,

praying for wisdom,

yielding to the grace of gratitude

and trusting that all that I need will be received

in the hour of its needing.

H. Arnett


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Tough Scriptures #3: True Victory

Matthew 5:38-40

38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ 39But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. 40And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well.”

Throughout the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus takes the familiar and turns it on its head. The foundation in each case is the Law of Moses, the spiritual and civil law for Israel over many centuries. The intent of this particular dictum would appear to be “justice,” but “justice” is easily perverted into vengeance and retaliation.

It seems right natural to want to get back at someone who hurts us, offends us, takes from us, causes harm, insults us, etc., doesn’t it? Just watch little children playing or otherwise interacting. One of them takes a toy, the other comes after it, takes something away from them. Even hitting one another seems like a pretty natural event.

We see example after example in the daily news and hear about them in daily gossip. (Those two aren’t always easy to separate, either.) Road rage, gang shootings, vandalism… Seems like it nearly always escalates.

In one of our current viewing addictions, Randa and I have watched a few dozen episodes of “Fear Thy Neighbor.” It’s not a show you ever want to be on; someone has to get killed or at least critically injured. In virtually every case, the feud starts out with something minor. Then payback. More payback. And still more payback until it takes ultimate form.

There is a deep deception in these cycles of vengeance. We convince ourselves that we’re going to gain the upper hand with our retaliation. In reality, Jesus showed us that it is the opposite response that actually demonstrates both control and liberation.

Whenever we respond with actions of retaliation, we continue to be controlled by the other person. Evil given in response to evil. Who wins? I guess it seems like it would be the person who is the most evil, right? “I’m going to treat people the way they treat me!” Really, you want to make someone like that the model for your behavior?!

But when we respond as Jesus teaches—and also demonstrated—we show that we are fully in control. Think you’ve got me? Not even close. I’m a Christian; I can take it. The response of humble endurance breaks the cycle of vengeance, stops the escalation, and keeps us in charge of our own actions. And… it shows our dedication to the Savior who while he was dying a tortuous death prayed, “Father, forgive them; they don’t realize what they are doing.”

H. Arnett


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Tough Scriptures #2: A Life of Forgiveness

Matthew 18:21-22

21Then Peter came to Him and said, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?”

22Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven. 

Four-hundred-and-ninety times? Seriously?!

It’s got to be a joke, right? Surely Jesus cannot possibly mean this literally? Maybe, as some translations and/or alternate readings say, it really is only seventy…

Uhmm… not sure that really helps that much. Seventy times is an awful lot of forgiveness, isn’t it? I mean, for me to forgive one person seventy times?! Multiply that by all the people in my life on a regular and/or permanent basis and that seems like an impossible teaching.

At least a couple of things come to mind, though, and I think they matter. One is that the grace of forgiving is something that the Holy Spirit empowers us to do; we do not have to rely on human strength alone. Yes, we have to make a choice, but God supplies grace for those tough choices.

Another thing is that the more we practice it, the easier it gets. The more we refuse to do it, the tougher it gets.

In addition, forgiveness can actually be one of the most selfish things we do; it actually benefits us by giving us true freedom. No one who is angry with someone else or carries a grudge against them experiences a truly liberated life. They are chained to that person with bonds that cripple and torture.

Finally, and I realize that I have doubled that “couple of things,” is that either we believe in and practice forgiveness or we don’t. A forgiving heart doesn’t bother keeping count; it just forgives. Such a heart readily adopts, emulates, and models itself after God’s own heart.

After all, do we really want God keeping count on our sins? And if we want God’s forgiveness to continually wash over us like a healing stream, it seems that we should offer more than a trickling faucet to other humans.

H. Arnett


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Tough Scriptures-#1 Tough Times

James 1:2-4

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

Okay, right off the bat let’s just say that I’m still working on this one, all right? I’m a long way from the “pure joy” phase in my reactions to most trials. In fact, it would be more accurate to say that I’m trying to move forward out of the kicking, screaming, fussing, cussing, self-pitying, woe is me phase. Why is that, you reckon? Immaturity? Failure to believe? Failure to perceive?

I’d guess most folks would probably accept a “because I’m human?” response on this one. I’d also guess for most and know for me that we’d sort of like to just be “mature and complete” without having to go through the process. But it just doesn’t work that way.

Most runners, hoopsters, gridiron grungers, leaping lungers, and an assortment of other athletes will readily acknowledge that there is no shortcut to developing stamina. Or perseverance, if you please. Hours and miles of training, of pushing ourselves beyond our current comfort level and even limits are necessary to develop the ability to go the distance. Late in the game, it shows.

Back in my prime when I was just sixty, I pushed myself in physical training in order to compete in mud runs like Warrior Dash, Rugged Maniacs, and Tough Mudder. After months of daily training—pain and strain—I was able to complete a four-mile course without having to take “walking breaks.” No, I didn’t run fast the whole time, but I did run.

Isn’t being mature and complete in Christ much more important than a mud run or some other recreational sport or physical goal?

The. Only. Way… is through trials and testings. If we look beyond the present circumstance and see the ultimate outcome, we can grow to the point of embracing those events because we know they lead us to the goal.

H. Arnett


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