A Witness of Winter

Instead of a predicted inch or two of snow on Saturday, we landed nearly eight inches of the gorgeous white stuff here in northeastern Kansas. After the initial melting and subsequent settling, we still have close to six inches carpeting the area. It was the most luscious fall I’ve seen in decades! Huge, soft, gently tumbling to the ground, flakes of frost. Many were larger than a silver dollar! (Fortunately, though, not nearly as hard or heavy.)

On Saturday afternoon, I used my snow shovel to clear a path from the house to the barn for the evening feeding. Sunday morning, I cleared another two inches out. An almost miraculous stillness for this part of the country yielded spectacular scenes of snow piled up on the top of fenceposts and railings, even on the wires themselves. The wet snow adorned stems of dormant grass and dead weeds. Even bare twigs of the birch trees held an inch or more of snow.

One of the more impressive scenes, perhaps a bit oddly, was near the corner of the barn where I’d set up a solar powered electric fence charger last summer. I’d set a grounding post, a half-inch diameter metal rod, a few feet into the ground. Three feet of it still stands above the ground. When I moved the charger, I left that grounding rod in place along with the bare metal connecting wire still attached. It was so still and calm, and the snow an almost perfect degree of moisture, that nearly an inch of it accumulated on top of that bare wire!

As I traipsed about the place late on Sunday morning, taking pictures, I saw scene after scene testifying to that same phenomenon, repeated again and again: on dried out clusters of blooms from last summer, bare stems and naked twigs, sprigs of growth, the texture of tree bark, the details of equipment and structures. In the lee of a burn pile of lumber scraps and bits of fallen branches, the end of a long piece of an old two-by-eight plank projected out. It was covered with a slightly rounded mound of snow nearly eight inches deep. Just beneath it, an exposed spot of leaves and grass, surrounded by snow the same depth as that on top of the plank.

As I considered the wonder of such peaceful witness, I was reminded of the scripture, “Be still, and know that I am God.”

When we withdraw from the business of our lives for a while, when we set aside our to-do and to-be and to-have lists, when we isolate our minds to focus deliberately on him who is above and beyond and yet within and among, then we can comprehend. In the calm, peaceful, stillness… we can absorb so much more of his presence, his wisdom, his will, his teaching. We can be still, and know.

H. Arnett


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Small Gift at the End of a Dark Day

A second day of January drizzle
began to fizzle out under a low gray dome
over northeastern Kansas.

In the dim light of fading day,
there wasn’t much to say of any difference
between the nearest ridge of trees
and those a mile or more away:
details were lost in the dim haze.

As the fading began to ease into darkness,
and I looked at the break 
between the nearest neighbor’s house
and her garage,
I saw what I thought at first must be a mirage—
a thin slice of orange light
pried from between the hard edge of the earth
and the darkest blue of overhanging sky.

It held there, warm and soft,
just a bit of brightness in two days of slouching clouds,
and yet lasting long enough
to make me think of a Greater Light,
bright as day above the low heavens
of this world’s passing storms.

It reminded me, too, of how little it takes
to ease the darkness of a dismal day:
a friendly wave, a gentle smile,
an encouraging comment in that long, last mile
that we had thought we were walking
alone and unseen.

H. Arnett
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Remembering Otis Morrow

The world seems a bit diminished with the passing of Otis Morrow this week. I collaborated with him on the Etzanoa board of directors for a few years and had occasional other interactions with him. His gentle dignity, thorough intelligence, sincere professionalism, and kind nature generated a remarkable impression. I never heard him speak harshly of anyone, nor anyone of him. If they were to have done a remake of the movie “To Kill a Mockingbird,” he would have been a mighty fine choice for the role of Atticus Finch.

Even though he was in his late sixties when I first met him, he was still strikingly handsome. In the neighborhood of six-five and athletically slender, it was hard not to notice him. Gage Musson, director of Cowley College’s Wellness Center and a darn good golfer himself, confided to me in 2019 that even though Morrow was forty years older than him, “I wouldn’t want to play against him for money. No way. Dude is a lot stronger than he looks.”

What Gage and other local links afficionados might not know is that it was golf that led Otis Morrow into his lifelong profession as an attorney.

“When I was a kid, I played a lot of golf and I played with a lot of guys. Many of them were lawyers—some old and experienced, some just starting their careers. Listening to them, watching them interact with each other, I fell in love with the lifestyle.”

A love of his hometown, a love of his profession and a love of people fueled him through over forty years of service. His professionalism, dedication, and accomplishments were recognized by the Kansas Bar Association and many others. Commemorations in his office document recognition as Outstanding Alumni (with wife, Terri) of Cowley College, declaration by the city of “Otis Morrow Appreciation Day,” service awards from the Salvation Army and others.

I am not qualified to further address his innumerable contributions to Ark City and the world beyond, but I know that they are extensive. In regard to his impact on me, I can quite authoritatively say that it was unforgettable. It has been more than rare in my life to meet and know someone of such character. He made my years in Ark City even more memorable and richer. I believe he truly was a prince of man and will be deeply missed by many.

Chief among those will be his wife, Teri. They made a remarkable pair and seemed made and destined for one another. Both independently and together, they made Cowley County a better place. Living just a couple of blocks away from them, I occasionally saw them around their home or taking a walk in the neighborhood. I also encountered them from time to time at civic functions. They were invariably cordial and always a pleasure to visit with. It seemed to me that they clearly gave back to the community far more than they took from it.

It is both honor and blessing to have known them.

H. Arnett


Note: Portions of this essay were taken from an article I wrote for the Cowley Courier-Traveler in 2019.

Link to article I wrote about Otis three years ago: https://docarnett.com/2019/03/01/hospital-attorney-retires-after-serving-for-over-forty-three-years/

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Damar Hamlin: Game Suspended

It’s never going to par out with the Kennedy Assassination or the attack on the World Trade Centers, but I anticipate that MNF fans will long remember Damar Hamlin’s collapse on the field during the game on Monday, January 2nd. By Tuesday, even non-football fans had heard the news of the extraordinary injury that caused his heart to effectively stop beating.

After tackling Cincinnati’s Tee Higgins in what looked like a very routine play, Buffalo’s defender got up fairly quickly. He took two or three shuffling, hesitant steps and then fell backwards to the ground. Most of the players had started walking back to their huddles, unaware that he had even collapsed. At first, training staff responded in their usual custom. In the next several minutes, it emerged that this was not a routine incident.

It’s the first time in over fifty years of watching football that I had ever seen, or even heard of, an ambulance coming directly onto the field during an NFL game. Also the only time I’m aware of CPR being administered to a player on the field of play.

Here on this third day following, there is still no indication as to what permanent damage Damar Hamlin may have suffered. According to the latest news reports I’ve found, he’s still on a breathing machine and still sedated in ICU. His uncle, Dorrian Glenn, reportedly told CNN on Tuesday, “They resuscitated him on the field before they brought him to the hospital and then they resuscitated him a second time when they got him to the hospital.”

It is not surprising that both teams, fans from all around the league, and people from all over the country have expressed their concern and support in various ways. Millions are praying and millions of dollars have been donated to his toys for children charity cause. At game time Monday evening, the fund had not yet reached twenty-five hundred dollars. Less than forty-eight hours later, it’s over six million.

Those who love Damar, especially his family, are experiencing a deeply personal tragedy and wrestling with fears and hurts that thousands of others have endured. Their faith and character are being deeply revealed within them. Intensely personal and yet global. It remains to be seen what additional challenges they and Damar will face. 

Innumerable tragic incidents occur each day in obscure villages, vast urban centers, and isolated rural areas. It is only when they involve celebrities, unusual scale, or surpassing shock value that they become international news. The pain and tragedy are not measured by Nielsen ratings.

The first indication that I had of this incident’s uniqueness was in the reactions of the players on the field. I’ve seen plays that resulted in players becoming partially paralyzed. I’ve seen plays that caused broken limbs. I’ve seen plays that left players momentarily unconscious. It’s always concerning and often reflected in the somber expressions and kneeling postures of their teammates.

In the aftermath of Monday’s incident, while medics and trainers administered CPR to Damar, the players’ reactions exceeded anything I’d ever witnessed: shock, agonizing grief, deep concern. Many of these hardened gridiron warriors sobbed openly and hugged one another in long embraces. As they walked about or stood in shocked silence, many clearly mouthed earnest prayers. They held hands and prayed together. They knelt in a large huddle and prayed some more.

Suddenly, there were no longer two teams engaged in intense competition in a game that seemed ten minutes earlier to be monumentally important with crucial playoff implications for both the Bills and the Bengals. With absolutely no pun intended, that had all changed in just a heartbeat. 

The image that will stay with me at least as long as the sight of Damar’s collapse was of the Bills’ huge Mitch Morris (who looks like a Viking warrior) towering above, yet calmly and tenderly comforting cornerback Tre’Davious White while he sobbed against the lineman’s chest.

In the midst of just another game, the illusions of strength and athleticism suddenly morphed, and we were reminded once again how closely we walk to the chasm of calamity. And how universal our shared mortality.

After the immediacy of response, and in the ensuing aftermath, we may resume plodding along unchanged. But surely we are not unaffected.

Doc Arnett


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Leading on a Loose Rope

While Randa and I were leading our two geldings, Gin and Earl, over to the pasture the other day, I was reminded of a common phrase from the realm of equestrian language: “leading on a loose rope.”

Per our morning custom, I was leading Earl, the flashy American Saddlehorse. For most of the hundred-foot walk from the round pen to the pasture, Earl walked beside me. As we neared the narrow gate, I moved in front and held the lead rope behind me. While I stepped through and into the pasture, I could feel nothing but the weight of the rope in my hand. There was no pressure, no pull, no resistance. Earl was “leading on a loose rope.”

That happens only when a horse is attuned to the handler and is walking in the same direction at the same pace. Not pushing ahead, not lagging behind, not pulling to the side. The tighter the rope, the greater the indication of resistance. When you see a loose loop hanging down between the horse and its handler, you know they’re in step together.

I think that makes a mighty fine figure for what it means to “walk in step with the Spirit.” When we are in harmony with his leading, guiding, and teaching, we don’t feel that we are being pulled along. There’s not a sense of being jerked or coerced into a certain direction or place. Rather, we feel within us a notion of “being at the right place” or “doing the right thing.” Something inside us, deep within, something other than routine rational thought, gives us a sense to do a particular thing, call a particular person, stop and help in a particular situation.

I won’t claim that I feel that every hour or even every day. But I do sense a peace in my heart, mind, and soul that lets me know I am in God’s will. And I will also say that every single time in my life when I have felt that slight tugging or leading, and followed, it has always worked out for good.

“Leading on a loose rope” or “walking in step with the Spirit” is key to harmony, a peaceful submission to God’s direction in our lives. I am fully convinced that this makes it more pleasant for the Spirit and for us.

And, by the way, I have fairly vivid memories of those times when God had to yank the rope so hard it nearly jerked a knot in my tail!

H. Arnett


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Christmas Eve Morning ’22

Curdled by the cold and suspended by a wind
that could send old badgers deeper into their burrows,
wrinkled clouds furrow across the morning.

Beneath a thin crust of ice and snow,
hardened by three days of northern Canada
blowing through northeastern Kansas
at forty miles-an-hour
all the way to the Gulf of Mexico,

the flint-faced surface of the earth
bears no reflection of muted sunrise
broken by bare-branched hardwoods
scratching their way into morning
along the stony bluffs 
forming the southern border
of Peter’s Creek.

Slight streaks of orange 
cluster around the bright core
as the sun barely breaks through
a thin rim of sky only slightly higher
than the tops of the trees.

Snow and fescue crunch beneath our boots
as we walk through the stinging wind,
love and duty sending us
down toward the barn
where the two horses wait
for fresh feed and alfalfa,
standing with their hooves an inch above the ground,
suspended by pads of ice packed hard as stone.

While they eat, we lift one foot at a time,
hammering as if trying to bust concrete,
until their feet can once again touch the frozen earth,
at least until they walk once again out across the snow
to the big bale of hay
standing underneath the maple tree in the paddock.

Above the clouds,
a fiercely blue sky
holds taunting promise
that before this day is done,
the harsh winds will be gone
and we will sit on warm seats
sipping hot coffee,
staring at blinking lights and ribbons of satin,
talking of Christmas,
words and memory helping hold close
those we love and miss the most.

H. Arnett
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Coffee’s Missing Link

It’s sort of a chilly morning here in northeast Kansas. Seventeen minus a few more degrees on account of a “gentle” breeze blowing from the north. The kind of morning that makes you wish the outdoor chores could go a little faster and your gloves were a little thicker. By the time Randa and I got back up to the house from the horse shed, my thumbs were tingling. (Ever since some prolonged winter exposure back in January of 2011, they’ve been a bit sensitive to the cold.)

Seemed like a mighty fine time to brew up some fresh coffee. So, I metered in the designated dose of fine grounds and added a generous topping of pumpkin pie spices, set the pot in place, and flipped the switch on.

A couple of minutes later, I noticed the pot was all steamed up. “Humphh,” I mused to myself, “must be colder in the kitchen than I thought.”

Another minute later, Randa asked me, “Did you put water in the pot? Something’s not right over there.”

“Water. For coffee?” Now, there’s a concept!

As it turns out, even the really nice coffee makers do a better job when you add water to the reservoir.

Seems a little odd, from a certain perspective. Something with as little flavor, something as totally ordinary, something so mundane as water… and yet it’s so crucial to making a good cup of coffee. Even though Pop Herndon used to say, “It doesn’t take nearly as much water to make a good cup of coffee as your grandmother seems to think it does,” he would agree that some amount of water was necessary to the project.

Mundane as it might be, nothing more than a convenient vehicle for delivery, it’s still absolutely essential to the experience. I’ve never seen anyone sit down on a wintry morning and start chewing on a tablespoon of coffee grounds and say, “Ah, man, this really hits the spot!”

Now, you take as another example something as weak, as ordinary, and mundane as a human being… you really just shouldn’t expect much. But you add in a bit of the Spirit of God, add a smidgen of the love of Christ, add a bit of the hope of heaven, and just the slightest touch of faith, and… oohoowee! Lord have mercy! Just look at what they can do!

Salt of the earth, flavor of the heavens, spark of the immortal. In vessels of clay.

H. Arnett


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Beyond Extreme

While my own six kids were growing up, I often thought about what a wonderful blessing it was that they all were “normal.” I suppose the people that eventually married each of them might quibble a bit as to what precise degree of normality might actually qualify but I find such semantic arguments to be of limited value. I prefer that you just agree with me and we move forward in the relationship.

In particular I was grateful that their development proceeded at regular rates and they did not have particular challenges with health. Whenever I’d see other children who had challenges, I would give silent thanks for each “there but for the grace of God” moment. It didn’t take much in the way of observation or imagination to conclude that life was significantly simpler because of the good health that flowed like a river through the family.

It doesn’t take much awareness to realize that is not the case with all families. Each of them responds in their own way to the things that shape them. There is rarely any shortage of love, and, in fact, those unsought occasions often seem to bring an abundance of grace and richer depth of insight and appreciation. Though not without trials and tribulations of their own sort.

One of the greatest to bring its awareness into my sphere of realization involves the eleven-year-old daughter of a man who became good friends with several of my children years ago while they were living in Alaska.

Garey’s daughter Kennedy was born with heart defects. Whether pessimist or optimist, each of her doctors warned the family that she faced a very difficult road with very limited reason for any significant life expectancy.

Kennedy, it seems, was born for challenge and embraced a fierce determination. I have very little idea of how much time she has spent in hospitals and treatment centers, how much medication she has had to take, how many months she has spent in her very young life fighting for each moment that most of us give no thought to. I am quite sure that the totals are rather overwhelming. But not to Kennedy.

After years of hoping and praying, she finally made it to the top of an organ donor recipient list and underwent a heart transplant in California just a couple of weeks ago. Things seemed to go well at first but now she is struggling with a severe infection.

The latest update from Garey: “Kennedy will be in the hospital for Christmas. She has been transferred back to the cardiac ICU with an infection, she has fluid around her heart and fluid accumulating in her lungs. This all started happening three -four days ago. She’s been getting antibiotics, she’s been to the Cath Lab and had biopsies done of her new heart and preliminary results were negative for one type of rejection and we are still waiting on the other type to result.”

I don’t pretend to know what the next few days or even hours hold in store for this incredible fighter and her incredible father and family. I don’t pretend to know what it’s like to raise a child under the constant shadow of persistent, dramatic health issues. Typically, I’m inclined to think that I’m blessed because of the many such experiences I’ve never had. But deep down I suspect that Garey Robinson has gained an appreciation for life’s precious moments beyond anything I’ve even imagined.

And, equally deep down, I’m pretty confident that we both share an appreciation for a spiritual source that is inexhaustible and indispensable. At the conclusion of the short update he posted yesterday evening, he closed with this, “But please keep piling on the prayers.”

Yes, my friends, let’s pile those up until they topple over at the very throne of heaven.

H. Arnett


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True Religion

Even to those who aren’t genuinely cynical, it seems that religion and politics are fully intertwined in current culture. Some might even claim that many appear to have elevated politics above their claimed religious beliefs. Even to the point where many claim you can’t really be a “Christian” and a member of the other political party. Seriously?

The ancient writer James recorded his timeless insight on the matter nearly two thousand years ago: “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” (James 1:27)

I love how James cuts straight to the crux of the matter. No complex theology, no intricate epistemology. Actually rather simple, isn’t it? Genuine compassion blended with sincere holiness is something that our Creator really likes to see in the critters he formed. Simple, yes? Easy? Uhm… not so much.

I learned early on in life what constant attention and effort is required to keep something from being overtaken by the forces of nature.

During the time that we owned a small dairy farm in western Kentucky, Dad modeled best practices of the day. In addition to pasture for fifty head of cattle, we grew alfalfa, corn, soybeans, and tobacco. The fences were kept tight, the fields tilled, and the whole place well-tended.

After every milking, the floor was swept and washed, and the equipment sanitized. Dad carefully maintained his purebred, registered Jersey herd, supplied Grade A milk, and through relentless effort, the dairy operation never failed a health department inspection. In fact, our place was included on the Farm Bureau Model Farms tour right up until we sold the place in 1967.

Fifteen years later, I took a friend to see the farm where I’d grown up. It was not recognizable.

Thistles and other weeds dominated what had been lush pasture. The fences were broken and sagging. The old tobacco barn had partially collapsed. Tall weeds swarmed around old junk cars abandoned within thirty feet of the house. Perhaps most disgustingly, the pond that I’d fished in, that Paul and I had swam in regularly throughout the summer months, had morphed into a sewage lagoon.

They’d formed a new livestock holding lot that drained straight into the pond. After every hard rain, fresh manure and the standing seepage swirled into the pond. Eventually, what had once held fresh water for the cows and offered recreation for humans was no longer fit for either one.

In a world seemingly saturated with vulgarity, immorality, and sensuality, keeping ourselves “from being polluted by the world” is a challenging and essential aspect of the religion that God approves. We cannot absorb the filth of the world without contaminating our own souls and spirits. And no less important is the designation to show genuine compassion and active care to those in need. An indifferent holiness is no more Christlike than is a self-indulgent licentiousness.

H. Arnett


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A Prayer of Worship

O Lord, my Lord,
as thy prophet has declared:
how excellent is thy name in all the earth!

How wonderful is your majesty;
how majestic the wonders you have made!

I look to the heavens 
and know that you created Light.
I look to the earth 
and see that you have set the foundations of the world.
In the rising and the setting of the sun
I am reminded that your beauty is reflected
in the work your hands have done.

In the stillness of a mountain lake,
the reflections of a million stars take my breath away.
In the raging of the ocean’s storms,
I see the power of all that you have formed.
In the flourish of frozen ferns on winter glass,
I sense an intricacy of design that surpasses description.

Let my soul know, O God,
that your power transcends all that is made and seen.
Let the foundation of my heart be firmly anchored
to your steadfast love.
Grant me, I pray, Lord God,
the wisdom that comes from above—
pure, peaceful, gentle, full of mercy and good fruits.

Remind me, O God,
of the joy of my salvation,
of the promise of eternity,
of the eternity of your presence,
and make my soul to be at peace,
my hands busy in serving you
by loving those that you have made

in your own image.

H. Arnett

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