Blown Opportunity-A Missed Hug

I saw a guy yesterday who needed a hug. I just didn’t realize it until it was too late. In hindsight, it was obvious: tone of voice, slumping posture, facial expression, even the comments he made in our brief interaction. All the indicators… and I missed it.

Sure, the aisle of a hardware store isn’t the setting where men my age figure hug-sharing is the likely response to seeing someone you haven’t seen in a year or two. No matter what they say. All that hardware staring at you. Big Schedule 40 pipe fittings, layers of flat-stacked furnace filters, faucet repair kits, discounted tool specials, and what-have-you. But even with all that, when you see a big dude that needs a hug, you should just go ahead and hug him.

I know that. And I wish I’d done it.

Hugs are therapeutic. Hugs have healing power. Hugs reduce tension, lower stress, and make life better. Hugs convey caring in ways that words can’t express. Hugs bring hearts in such proximity that there is a direct connection that provides communication on a mystical, spiritual level.

Of course, I’m talking about real hugs here. Arms around each other, faces side to side, hold on till everybody feels better. “Screw the world, I love you” kind of hugs. “Forget the train, I’ll catch the next one” kind of hugs. The kind of hugs that tell us that this is the real deal kind of friendship. That say, “Man, I hate whatever’s going on with you, and I wish I could fix it but I don’t have a chrome-plated crescent wrench with left hand threads so I’m just gonna hug you like this for a while. Gosh, I hope that’s okay.”

That’s what I wish I’d done at Ace Hardware in the middle of a Tuesday afternoon.

I did and I will pray for the guy. But I’m pretty sure that prayers wrapped in hugs are much more effective. I think it says so in Jude, Chapter Two.

So, if you happen to be around Ark City and see some old gray-bearded guy run up to some big hairy young dude and grab him in a great big ole bear hug, it’s not an assault. It’s retroactive spiritual intervention.

H. Arnett

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Tobacco Patch Seminary

I suppose my dad would be glad to know that I remember a few snippets from the hundreds of sermons I heard him preach as I was growing up. I can even remember a quote or two from my Sunday School teachers. But some of my richest memories of admonition from my formative years aren’t from church; they’re from the farming fields of West Kentucky.

A. V. Sims and Hoyt Fray Adams discussed scripture and its applications while we cut dark-fired tobacco under a blistering sun. From different perspectives—A. V. was a Methodist Sunday School teacher and Hoyt Fray was a member of the Soldier Creek Primitive Baptist Church—they stressed the importance of truth, the divinity of Christ and the authority of scriptures. They were in total agreement that living by the teachings of Jesus transcended denominational affiliation and doctrinal affirmation.

Especially vivid was A.V.’s statement: “I’ve lived around Methodists, I’ve lived around Baptists, I’ve lived around Church of Christ’s, and I’ve lived around Catholics. When it takes, it takes and when it don’t, it don’t.” Hard to argue against that sort of theology.

We don’t have to be in a church building or a church meeting to share wisdom and admonition. In fact, there’s a good chance that it’s in the other settings of our lives that we will have the richest opportunities to encourage others to walk in the Light. Standing in the kitchen, sitting in the living room, driving across town together, sharing a cup of coffee somewhere, working on a weekend project alongside each other. Incidents and opportunities for meaningful admonition.

It’s been nearly fifty years since those tobacco patch conversations but their influence is still living in me.

H. Arnett

Posted in Christian Devotions, Christian Living, Farming, Relationships, Spiritual Contemplation, Work | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

A Wee Bit of Broken Grout

When our house was built around sixty years ago, the carpenters fully planked the exterior walls before nailing on the cedar lap siding. As a result, the wall was thicker than the width of the jamb on the new replacement door unit I recently installed. So, I had to build out all around the new door jamb in order to make it flush with the finished wall on the interior.

I saved the floor jamb until last. There might have been a bit of avoidance going on as it seemed to be more challenging. Filling in the small void required notching both ends to fit the existing flooring and framing. It also required cutting a taper of about three-eighths of an inch from one end to the other of a piece that was just over three feet long.

After a freehand cut for the taper on the table saw, I cut the notches. Then, I used a hand plane to get a close fit on the piece. After the third try and trim, I noticed that it wouldn’t set down fully into the opening. It had set down just fine on the previous attempt. So, I tapped it with a hammer. Then, I hit it with a hammer. Before going out to the shop to get a bigger hammer, I pulled the piece up and checked beneath it.

A tiny piece of grout had broken loose from the edge of the ceramic floor tile and dropped into the opening. No amount of pounding on the surface of the wooden fill piece was going to make it fit flush. I suppose I could cut out a notch in the wood to fit over the piece of grout but it seemed like removing the piece of grout was a simpler solution.

I remember times in my life when a small bit of genuine repentance would have saved a whole lot of repair cost and effort. And required fewer blows from the hammer.

H. Arnett

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In the Wake of Bitter News

Beyond and between the lean-edged clichés of faith,
when the harsh hand of death has separated us
from the one we loved
and the last taste of breath has faded from their lips;

Above and below the stripped out bits of hope,
when much of what we thought we know
twists in the grip of children’s questions;

When all of the easy answers dip and dodge
like dancers in the fray of swaying notes;

know this: there still is love.

Love that lives on,
love that clings to choking memories,
love that sings and sobs its way through bitter tears,
love that draws us close to those who linger near,
unsure of what to say or how to say it
yet knowing we need to hear our hearts speaking.

Love that sustains us through the deepest fears,
the darkest years,
love that never leaves,
always believes,
love that wraps itself around the numbest places,
love that lives in the lives of those it touched,
who needed so much—and received it.

And in their faces we still see the reflection
of the one we lost,
whose life and love reminds us
that faith is longer than life,
stronger than death,
and that hope will rise in wings of light
when all of night is passed into glorious day.

And in that Day,
we will see once again,
every face that we have ever loved,
and know that love will never end.

H. Arnett

Posted in Christian Devotions, Death & Dying, Family, Poetic Contemplations, Relationships, Spiritual Contemplation | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Best Poor Christmas

I believe the year was 1973 but I could be mistaken about that. I know the month was December and I am quite sure that it was one of the poorest times of my life. Almost twenty and already married for over a year, I’d been unemployed from August to October and had gotten desperate enough during that spell to drive a school bus to earn some munch money.

Then, I got a job working as a manager trainee at Fred’s department store in Fulton, Kentucky. The pay was barely above minimum wage but well above starvation and so we’d moved from Murray.

With Christmas coming soon I was in a bit of a quandary. It was very important to me to be able to give each of my siblings something for Christmas. Coming up with rent and grocery money left just about nothing and nothing was a bit short of what it would take to buy gifts for my three brothers and two sisters.

While browsing about inside the Ben Franklin store on Lake Street, I saw some clear glass vases with lids. They were about eight inches tall, with curved sides sloping up gracefully from the stem base. The lids curved in from the edge to a ball-shaped knob at the center. Perhaps even more pleasing than the shape was the price: eighty-nine cents apiece!

I bought five of them.

A few days later, it occurred to me that giving my siblings empty glass vases wasn’t likely to make much of an impression in the positive direction. Driving outside Fulton, I noticed a plethora of dried weeds, grasses and wildflowers. The sight gave me sort of a wild idea.

I stopped and broke off several handfuls. Some of the specimens had the remainders of fluffy seedheads. Others had graceful stems and blades. I took them home and set up a big, empty cardboard box on the porch of the rented house. Using three or four cans of leftover spray paint, I added color to the bleached grays and tans of the plants. After they’d dried, I arranged them inside the clear vases.

It wasn’t going to be a spectacular Christmas but at least I wasn’t going to feel ashamed when Freeda, Richard, Patsy, Paul and Johnny opened their gifts. In fact, they all seemed pleased.

Sometimes, I wonder if being a little poor might nudge us into doing a better job of honoring one another in this season of celebrating the arrival of a King who was born in a stable.

H. Arnett

Posted in Christian Devotions, Family, Relationships, Spiritual Contemplation | Tagged , , , , , ,

Christmas at the Community Church

Kids and cousins, parents and grandparents,
a few aunts and uncles, and the usual members
make their way into the church building
on the last Sunday morning before Christmas.
Even with a few regulars missing from the group,
most of the pews are pretty well filled.

The kids are doing the service this morning:
everything from opening to closing
and each one hoping they get their part right.

After the announcements and the singing—
led by one of the teens while her younger brother plays the piano—
there’s the lighting of the last Advent candle,
a bit more singing and the prayer,
then the offering,
the Children’s Lesson,
two short numbers by the color-coded bell choir,
and then the play.

With an angel occasionally shouting directions
from a three-step stool,
Joseph and Mary make their way to the manger,
from Bethlehem to Nazareth to Egypt and back again
with the signs of the times mysteriously appearing
from behind the curtain.

The shepherds and the wise men
show up at the appropriate times and places,
King Herod’s short tantrum is duly replaced
by “his” timely demise on stage,
and is gently dragged away—feet first, stage right.

In the telling and retelling,
in the smiles and laughter,
in the coming together of neighbors and kin,
we visit again in this season of celebration,
this barn-born hope of salvation.

H. Arnett

Posted in Christian Devotions, Family, Poetic Contemplations, Poetry, Spiritual Contemplation | Tagged , , , ,

First Snow

Seems like every year in places like here, some people drive as if the first snow of the season is the first one they’ve ever seen. Somehow, the slickness always catches them off guard. “Whoa! I didn’t know a car could slide on this stuff!” And so they find themselves, hind parts forward, bottom parts up, on the side of the road, off in a ditch, or worse.

Then, of course, there are those whose reactions go to the opposite end of the cautious/careless spectrum. They drive as if their Drivers’ Education instructor wall-posted some maxim or mantra admonishing them to slow down one mile-per-hour for each snowflake. “Look at those idiots flying by me at thirty miles-an-hour,” they mutter to themselves. “I hope every one of ’em ends up in the ditch.”

Usually, if you have good tires and good sense, you can make it where you’re going in the snow. Slow down, take your time, double or triple your stopping distance, and be as wary as a mouse in a house full of cats.

There are times when caution and skill, a little practice and a bit of patience can get us through the dangers and the challenges. And, there are times when the answer to prayers for safety is having sense enough to know not to try it. Often enough, that one applies even when it’s not snowing.

H. Arnett

Posted in Humor, Metaphysical Reflection, Nature | Tagged , , , , , ,