Reflections from My Seventh Decade

Reflections from My Seventh Decade

I have found, O God,
In the work of my hands,
In the laughter of those I love,
In the kindness of strangers,
In the wisdom of your words,
In the majesty of your mercy,
In the grandeur of your grace,
In the peace of gentle dawnings,
In the stillness of quiet evenings,
In the raging storm,
In the mirroring face of still waters,
In the vast intricateness of the universe,
In the wonder of a single blade of grass,
In the beauty of friendship,
In the comfort of a true companion,
In the obvious and the inexplicable,

And in a thousand other things:

Reason enough to believe,
To worship in humble exultation,
To know that you are beyond comprehension
Yet still close enough
That your whispers ripple through
All that I am,
All that I hope to be,
All that I perceive.

And that you make all things in my life
Work together for good.

H. Arnett

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Things That Go Bump in the Night

Do you ever hear noises in the night that make you suspicious that your serenity has just been interrupted? That happened to me yesterday evening at my youngest son’s house.

The three grandkids had trudged off to bed around eight. Slightly after nine, Jeremiah left to go help a friend move a freezer. Misty headed to bed about the same time that Jeremiah left. Thus I was left alone to fend for my own entertainments.

Thanks to closed captioning, I watched TV with the volume set low enough that it would not impede the nocturnal recovery efforts of those others still left in the house.

After about 20 minutes, I heard a noise outside the window in the carport. Knowing that Jeremiah had a few tools sitting out there, I got up to investigate. It was, of course, a very low effort investigation. I turned on the porch light and looked out, and saw nothing to suggest disturbance. So, I turned the light back off and returned to watching TV.

After another 10 to 15 minutes, i again heard noise coming from that same corner of the house. This time. I turned on the front porch light, opened the door and looked out.

Again, nothing. Well, there was lots of stuff. Houses, cars, street, trees, grass and sundry other items such as one sees in such a neighborhood But nothing to indicate someone was prowling around the house.

It would be an exaggeration to say at this point that I was alarmed. However, it would not be an extravagant exaggeration. Still, I managed to settle myself down enough to resume watching TV.

Then, just a few minutes later, I heard more noises coming from that same area. However, with a slight degree of self embarrassment, I remembered that their fifteen-year- Labrador Retriever was sleeping behind the couch.

There are many things in this life that alarm and disturb us, until we realize their true source and their true nature. Conversely, there are some other things that do not bother us until we reach a similar point of understanding.

May the Lord who stilled the seas and walked upon the waters give us wisdom and peace in all situations.

H. Arnett

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The Christmas Fugitive

It’s been just over twelve hours and I’m still trying to wrap my head around this one: what kind of situation prompts someone to leave home the week of Christmas with no idea where she’s headed? Actually, I have some idea of the prompting situation but can’t fully fathom how it ended up—literally—at our doorstep. 

Randa and I were returning home from an afternoon excursion on a sunny but chilly December afternoon. Just before we got to our driveway on Highway 36 in Blair, Kansas, I saw a big black SUV parked in one of Fleek’s Market’s four gravel entrances. The hood was raised, the driver’s door was open, and a woman stood there smoking a cigarette. I briefly considered stopping to offer assistance but quickly reckoned she’d already called for help. 

A few hundred feet past Fleek’s I turned off and stopped our little Ranger pickup beside the mailbox so Randa could get the mail. By the time we’d driven up the slope to our house, I’d quit thinking about the stranded SUV. 

A half-hour later, Randa looked out the porch window and said, “There’s a dog out there chasing the horses.” Sure enough, I saw a black dog about the size of a German Shepherd in the horse pasture. Then, I saw a woman walking up the driveway. “That’s the woman from that SUV that’s parked over there at Fleek’s,” I told Randa. 

The woman called the dog away from the horses and kept walking up our five-hundred-foot-long driveway. Every twenty or thirty steps, she’d stop and turn back toward the highway. She’d stare at the road for several seconds, then turn back and walk on toward the house. I kept watching her from inside the back porch. Her dog left the horse pasture and kept running around, sniffing out this new territory. The woman, tightly clutching a small bag, kept stopping and looking back toward the road. Actually, it was more like hugging than clutching. 

Once she’d made it up close to the house, I went out to greet her. Two things immediately stood out to me: she was a small person, and she had a huge black eye. 

Standing less than five feet tall, wearing jeans, low boots, and a medium weight winter jacket, she seemed just barely wrapped warmly enough for the chilly day. She had a scarf wrapped around her head but it would have taken a hockey mask to cover up the shiner she’d caught on her left eye. It was the size of a man’s fist and looked to be pretty fresh. 

“What happened to your eye?!” I exclaimed and then caught myself, “It’s probably a long story that you don’t want to get into.” 

“That’s why I’m out here,” she admitted, “trying to get away from this.” 

I’ve never been directly confronted with a more pathetic figure. Everything about her facial features and expressions spoke of pain. And fear. 

“Where are you headed?” 

“I don’t know… Is there a hotel near here?” 

I’d later think how perfectly the line from an old Guy Clark song fit her: “She ain’t going nowhere; she’s just leavin’.”

“Mary” asked to borrow my phone, then told me the number to dial. I punched in the number and handed her the phone. 

My efforts to comprehend her situation faced some challenges. From the conversation she had with “Bill” and then with Randa and me, I tried to piece together what was going on. Between my bad hearing and her less than stellar diction, it seemed that On Star had disabled her vehicle. Something about her having the door open too long or something. Someone that she and Bill both knew, maybe her sister, was supposed to come help her. Bill would call back later. 

She and her dog walked back down the hill and then back over to Fleek’s and we went on with our evening. Randa prepped spaghetti in the kitchen while I monitored NFL’s re-scheduled football games in the living room. Nearly an hour later and well after dark, the doorbell rang. Mary asked to borrow my phone again. 

This conversation included her crying. “She won’t do it,” she insisted to Bill, “she won’t come.” The “she” was her sister, who allegedly had another key to the SUV, a 2004 Cadillac Escalade. After she got off the phone, a new and improved story emerged by bits and pieces.  

Mary told Randa—who later translated for me—that she had PTSD and sometimes a smell associated with her tormentor would trigger nausea and she would have to stop and change clothes. That’s why she was stopped there at Fleek’s. She set her key and coins and other stuff from her pockets on the console between the two front seats. While she was changing clothes in the back seat, her dog had jumped up front and knocked everything off the console. She hadn’t been able to find the key. 

Randa turned off the stove, I collected a flashlight and heavy magnet with a long handle, and we all three went back over to Fleek’s. In spite of our equipment, my optimism, and our diligence, we could not find a key. I swept the magnet underneath the vehicle, underneath all four seats. Randa and I took turns with the flashlight. Inside every crevice we could look, inside the door pockets, the seat slots, under the floor mats. We did find several little partially empty Fireball Cinnamon Whiskey bottles, which explained the non-PTSD trigger odor I’d been smelling ever since I’d walked out to greet Mary two hours earlier. 

Eventually, we all gave up on the key and she gave up on getting away from Saint Joseph, at least for the ending of this long day. She’d made it exactly nine miles west of the Missouri River.

She called Bill one last time, who apparently tried yet again to convince her that the sister would bring the other key. I finally decided to ask, “Is your sister really the kind of person who would tell Bill she’d bring you the key but then not do it?” 

“Yes, she is,” she said, and an even deeper sadness crossed her face.  

Mary had one final request, that we call a wrecker. I asked, “Have you got money to pay for that?” 

She clutched the little bag even closer to her chest and insisted, “I’ve got plenty of money.” We called the wrecker service she requested, and the guy showed up from Saint Joe within twenty minutes. So far as we know, he hauled her Escalade back across the river to Bill’s house. Maybe her sister will actually show up with the extra key in another day or two. 

I have no idea if Mary will make good her escape. I’ve seen way too many movies and TV shows to be very optimistic, but we will keep praying. I do know that I have much to be thankful for this holiday season. Not the least of which is a warm, safe, and loving home. 

I doubt that Mary has any greater wish than that she could have the same. 

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Postholes & Cottonwood Trees

I’ve dug postholes in hard clay after months of no rain. I’ve dug postholes in rocky ground where I hit chunks of limestone only a few inches down. The holes I dug two days ago were the toughest two postholes I’ve ever dug in my life.

A little over a week ago, Randa and I decided to extend the wood board fencing around part of the horse pen. For just over ten years, we’d relied on metal round pen panels that have worked right well for us with a dozen different horses. Last fall, I’d reworked the base of the pen, adding used creosoted railroad ties as a retaining wall. I thought extending the wooden fence would look good, add a little character, and give us more usable area. It would also let us re-configure the space, which is right handy when you are keeping two horses instead of one. Besides, a post-and-board fence just looks more authentic in a sort of home for horses kind of a way.

The first five holes went pretty well. Sure, it was a bit challenging digging holes right against the railroad ties. Well, at the time it seemed a bit challenging but in retrospective relativity, they were pretty darn easy. The next two holes, not so much.

It’s probably about time that I mention the cottonwood tree on the east side of the pen. It’s in the neighborhood of sixty feet tall, nearly fifteen feet around at its base and spreads its branches for a shade diameter as wide as it is tall. You can be sure that a tree that big has an impressive root system. Exceptionally impressive if you’re trying to dig postholes in the vicinity. As it turns out, I needed to dig two holes right near the base of that Colossus.

Chiseling through a foot-and-a-half of cottonwood root takes a while, even with the help of a thirty-five-pound, axe-edged spud bar. Doing that twice seems to take more than twice the effort. Probably that’s because I was more than twice as tired by the time I finished the second hole. Each hole took over an hour.

I do have to admit, I was sort of proud of that big pile of wood chips and chunks of cottonwood root I’d stacked up. Proud, too, of those twenty-eight-inch-deep postholes. It should be noted, though, that I was not nearly as proud as I was sore and exhausted. Next time, I think we’re going to build our horse pen at least a mile from the nearest cottonwood tree.

When we live our faith with a similar level of determined and persistent obedience, we will do far more than set fence posts in difficult terrain.

We will feed the hungry, nurse the sick, and forgive others. We will turn the other cheek, return good for evil, and treat others as we would be treated. We will bring healing to ourselves and to those around us. We will share the gospel, live the teachings of the Carpenter, and walk humbly before others. We will move mountains, smash the stones of our own pride, prejudice, and indifference, and we will conquer our own spirits.

All of that we will do by his grace and in the strength he supplies. And, in the end, we will receive a rest that is far better than a handful of ibuprofen and an hour in a whirlpool tub.

H. Arnett


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Cowboy Carpenter

Working in the shade of a massive cottonwood tree on a hot September day in northeastern Kansas, I am building a board fence around the horse pen. I finish fastening another two-by-six-by-twelve to the corral posts. A stiff breeze kicks up dust and threatens to knock my hat off my head. I switch the stampede strings from where I have them draped above the back of my hat to underneath my chin, snug the slider, and begin fastening another board onto the creosoted post.

Needing another tool to finish the job, I head up to the garage.

As I walk out of the shade, I see my shadow formed on the gravel drive. The projected shapes of my five-pouch leather tool belt with hammer hangers on each side, combined with the curled brim of my cowboy hat and the leather work gloves made my shadow look like an old Western movie image of a gunfighter.

“Humph!” I laugh, half out loud, and think of those days from growing up on the farm in Todd County, Kentucky. From time to time, my older brother Paul and I would holster cap guns and occasionally persuade Mom to buy us some rolls of “ammunition.”

One of the cardinal rules of gunfights in that household was that there were no gunfights inside that household. Our showdowns took place in the yard, the garden, the hayloft or, aptly enough, in the old Oliver Family Cemetery located in the pasture close to the house. We may have had to make do without real bullets, but we had the loud pops, a tiny bit of smoke and the smell of gunpowder.

I smiled at the memories and watched my shadow moving across the curled wisps of dried grass of a hot autumn day. For just a moment, I was headed toward the saloon instead of the garage.

It is good to take some pleasure from those good memories of our past lives. But since there are times when the darkness of our personal history play across more than memory, it is also good to let go of guilts and regrets. As long as we keep walking toward the Light, we can keep those shadows of our old lives behind us.

Which is where they belong.

H. Arnett


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In Praise of Worship

I have known the peace of quiet mornings
when gentle dawn is forming
just above a distant ridge 
and the sky first shows its murmuring colors
while locust trees silhouette their delicate lace
against the face of day's bright dawning.

I have known the joy of good company,
close friends spending hours of evening
in relaxed conversation,
intimate moments of introspection,
boisterous laughter, soft teasing,
eyes and hearts exchanging unspoken meanings.

I have known the ache of empty nights,
the blight of pain and sorrow
voiding tomorrow of its secret hopes,
moping mornings and hollow days
when the path through the maze
seems barely worth the effort of breath.

I have known a deepness of love
beyond anything I had ever imagined,
a closeness beyond intimate
when souls seem intertwined
and take flight to some other place
undefined by time and space.

I have known in music shared
with those for whom I've cared,
a unique and special making and playing,
an inner satisfaction almost beyond framing,
strings and voices vibrating a genuine pleasure
with these children and friends that I treasure.

But beyond all of this I have found a lifting
that only comes when my soul is submerged and yielding,
when heart and mind, body and spirit
open into that place of nearing
where divine and mortal meet together
in a place called Worship.

H. Arnett
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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
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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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