Talking Toward the Darkness

An amber growler set in a bank of snow

shows muted reflections of shifting light

while two gray-bearded pastors welcome the night

from the concrete apron of the garage

on the first evening above freezing in three weeks

with a perfect half-moon shining through birch branches.

Flames from a small bed of blazing woodshop scraps

curl around the hand-split edges of deadstand maple,

sending a welcome wafting of warmth and light

toward chairs set close to a blackened firepan.

It is the first we’ve seen of each other in a month

even though we live just five minutes apart.

We speak of other friends,

a brother’s cancer,

the advanced cirrhosis of a family member,

the deadly disease of conspiracy theories,

of vaccinations and school operations,

church and change and scripture

and the names of things that passed long ago

yet still flicker in the recollection of fire and night.

Flame and embers play across our glasses

while we sip mugs of Belgian ale.

Several hundred feet below the summit of this gentle hill,

tractor trailer rigs headed west on Thirty-Six

push their sounds through the shadows of the cedars,

a deep-throated rumble pressing their own shroud of light

into the night that moves around them.

That is not completely unlike

sitting around a winter’s fire

and speaking of things that matter,

even if the speaking changes none of those things.

We do not talk in order to bring an end to night

but rather to share and shine a warming glow

so that we may know

we do not walk alone

toward this passing darkness.

H. Arnett


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Things of Glory, Things of Grandeur

I love the grandeur of the mountains,

the glory of the ocean,

the mesmerizing motion and thundering sound of a waterfall.

I love the vastness of the Canyon’s carvings,

the massive, smooth moving of a mile-wide river,

the serene scale of primeval forest.

But I find something soothing

in the soft beauty of the shadows of the moon

tracing the shapes of birch branches on the snow.

I marvel at the muted glow of a small town’s reflected light

held in the halo of a low sky on a humid night

and the soft crunch beneath my feet as I walk on a gravel street.

But perhaps the things that most captivate me,

that move me to something beyond admiration

are a gentle voice in moments of madness,

a soft touch that can melt away anger,

eyes of sincere affection,

words of genuine appreciation,

and grace that has faced one’s own greatest failures,

the deepest hurts from faithless hearts,

and found in forgiving others

the power to forgive oneself.

H. Arnett


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A New Beginning

After four service calls in five weeks for backed up drains, I finally decided it was time for drastic action. Using the sewer cam/locator service to mark a trouble spot, I cut through the tile and concrete floor in the basement laundry room. When I dug down, I found that that particular section of cast iron pipe was so badly corroded that a section of it had completely collapsed. The rest of it seemed poised to follow suit.

I’d already hired a local company to work on the outside line. They’d found a broken line and replaced fifty feet or so of pipe. That seemed to fix the problem but then less than two weeks later the drain backed up again. That’s when we found out about the cast iron corrosion issue underneath the house.

Instead of fixing those problems piecemeal, I decided to do the whole deal. I rented a concrete saw and cut an ell-shaped swath seventy-three feet long and eighteen inches wide through the concrete floor. The thickness varied from four inches to five inches. Next, I rented an electric jackhammer to break up the concrete. Swinging a pickaxe to pry the pieces loose, Randa helped me tear out and cart out a ton-and-a-half of broken chunks.

Then, I set to digging down through the dirt and ended up with a trench that went from fifteen inches deep to just over two feet deep. At some points, I sawed through the old pipe and in other places used a sledgehammer to break it out. The condition of the pipe and fittings at different points confirmed that I was not over-reacting; there were segments in truly wretched condition.

With all of the old pipe removed, I installed new PVC pipe and fittings.

It was with no small satisfaction that I stood for a while, looking at that gleaming white system lying in the clay trench. Gone was all of that hundred-plus-year-old pipe. Gone all of the thick scaled rust and cankered cast iron. Gone all of the years of layered corruption.

There are times for cleaning and scouring, times for repair and spot fixing. But there are other times when you just have to get rid of the present mess and start over. Which is why God took a good long look at the beings he’d created and declared, “I will put a new heart and a new spirit within you.”

I wonder if maybe he stands there for a while, just smiling at the wonderful work he has done within us?

H. Arnett


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Smoky Meetings

We’ve come to quite appreciate this lightweight, portable metal firepit that Sam gave us a few years ago. Whether with guests or for just Randa and me, it’s provided a thoroughly enjoyable focus point for entertaining and conversation. With our continued caution about COVID, it’s been especially useful for outdoor visitations.

Though not quite sufficient for comfortable assembly in the sub-Arctic temperatures we’ve had the past couple of weeks, it serves quite well for the more temperate marks in the above-freezing category. A nice jacket, a chair close to the fire and a good supply of deadstand maple has worked out right well for visiting with a few friends.

Eventually, we hope that vaccinations will bring us a quite welcome return to indoor visitations. But it is not just in the convenience of soft seats and warm walls that relationships are shaped and strengthened. And if for some season we have to adapt more determinedly to incorporate the changes of life, let us be sure that we do so with a view to the things that truly matter. And with greater appreciation.

H. Arnett


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Stronger than Cast Iron

If you’ve ever tried to cut cast iron, even with good quality tools, you probably appreciate how hard the stuff is. If you’ve ever had to deal with hundred-year-old sewer drains, you probably also appreciate how powerful corrosion is.

I was reminded yesterday when I had to cut down through our basement laundry floor to deal more drastically with a recurring drain problem. Finding a section of collapsed cast iron pipe several inches below the concrete explained why we’d had to call the sewer service guys out four times in five weeks.

I fabricated a saddle patch with a length of PVC half-pipe to cover the break and sealed the perimeter with silicone caulking. It’s a temporary fix but it should keep subsoil separate from wastewater for a while. The simple fact is that the whole drain line needs to be replaced sooner rather than later. Even cast iron has a limited useful life. Kept dry, it would last for centuries. Even kept wet and subject to various forces of corrosion from both inside and out, this specimen lasted for just over one century.

True holiness is intended to protect us from corrosive forces in life that wear against our minds and hearts, that seek to break down our souls and spirits. It takes something tougher than cast iron to hold up, something that is continually renewed and strengthened by faith and by God’s own presence within us. The constant refreshing of hope and a powerful, inexplicable love that continues to grow within us.

And in those cases where the corrosion does break through, we have healing grace. And a God who renews what cannot be replaced.

H. Arnett


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A Few Passes on the Planer

Even as planing wood removes defects from an old board, the Lord’s work on our hearts continually shapes us. Continue reading

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Common Sense & Providence

Providence and Common Sense

Gusts of wind topping forty miles an hour

send wisping streams of powdery snow

snaking across the frozen tufts of pasture,

across the bare planks of the deck,

across the winter-caked crusts of mud and gravel

that make up what we have left

of a driveway in January.

By afternoon, the wind chill will be well below zero.

In the dim dawning of such a storm,

small drifts form in the lee of tree trunks,

fence posts, clumps of grass,

and anything else offering a chance

for the slightest break from this lancing.

Down the hill below the house,

Randa’s palomino Foxtrotter,

coarse hair dinged by weeks of winter,

stands in the doorway of the shed,

hindquarters stuck inside toward the hay,

head lifted in the direction of the highway,

ears tilted back but not flattened.

He has learned in his eleven years

that it is good to have something

like a barn or at least a grove of trees

between you and winter’s worst days.

Even the sparrow knows

that some hours are better spent

scratching for seeds beneath the interwoven branches of the thicket

rather than hopping about in the marrow of the storm,

cursing the cold and pining for summer.

The God Who Gives Us Seasons

also gave us Reason.

Or at least has made the offer…

H. Arnett


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Even in Winter

Even in Winter

An under-stated twilight under overcast skies

softly reveals the splotched remnants

of last week’s ice and snow.

To the north and in the shadows,

white beds cover the underlying grass and leaves

in the places where the wind did not blow.

Paw prints trace a path

from road bank to barn to the treeline

that lifts bare branches stark against a muted sky.

Just west of the house,

hundreds of bird tracks and scratches

mark patches of once-buried seeds.

In the thin stretches where January sun

etched its warmth through the needs of thin cover,

winter stubble and bare earth show their girth.

In every storm and every season—

and not always by reasons easily seen—

not every piece and place will feel the same the same weight.

And though some may find the sun sooner than others,

there are none who are not touched and tested;

even those burrowed beneath the snow

will know that winter has come

and visited its sting against the marrow.

And even yet, the eye of God is still upon the sparrow.

H. Arnett


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Straightening Up the Place

A combination of different factors had us making our recent move back to northeast Kansas in a bit of a hurry. None of those factors included the FBI, DEA, or other federal agents. Mostly it was because of some uncertainty regarding having a new roof put on the house we sold in Ark City quickly followed by urgency to get it done.

Moving at any time in any place can be a bit of an adventure but moving in Kansas in November can offer some special weather impacts. Our particular route made it especially possible that we could head out in the Sunny Forties and hit Snowy Twenties before we got to Wathena. We were fortunately blessed with good weather. Nonetheless, using a horse trailer as moving van required a few trips on a very short time schedule.

So, we didn’t do any strategic maneuvering when it came to unloading. “Just stack it wherever there’s space to stack it” was our basic approach. As a result, the garage and nearly every room on the first floor of the house were pretty much crammed with stuff. It wasn’t pretty and it’s taking a while to get things unjammed. But… we got moved… almost by the deadline.

The guy who bought our place in Ark City was very understanding and accommodating and everything got taken care of at that place within a reasonably short time. Seven weeks later, I finally made an opportunity to work on creating a bit of moving about space in the garage. Relocating a couple of relatively large items and some reshuffling of other things means I can now use a few of the power tools that I’ve been missing. Lord willing, the table saw, jointer and planer will contribute to the trimming project that is a key part of finishing out the mudroom.

Might be a good time of year to also take emotional inventory and get rid of some other stuff that’s been taking up space without contributing to the cause. Things like resentment, jealousy, regret… No matter how well-justified they might seem, things like that just take up a lot of space that could be better used by things like gratitude, appreciation and patience.

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Quit Limping

Several years ago after I had knee surgery, my physical therapist happened to see me walking in from the parking lot for my session. She startled me with a very firm, non-debatable directive: “Quit limping.”

Apparently, my accommodation of temporary injury would result in permanent malfunction. As the muscles, tendons, and skeletal alignment adjust to my attempt to ease the pain and discomfort, they create more problems. The only way for me to achieve full body recovery and proper joint functioning was to “quit limping.”

You know, I suspect that I’ve limped through several periods in my life; reactions to disappointment, grief, heartache, and other such things can cause us to adopt ways of adjusting that actually interfere with long term satisfaction, fulfillment and even achievement.

Because of our hurt, we starting avoiding others or changing the way we interact. We adopt long term ways of living that cheat us of rewarding relationships. Believing that we are protecting ourselves from future pain, we actually increase our own isolation, distance, and lack of engagement.

Of course, when I first started following Patti’s admonition, it hurt a bit. But walking “normally” forced my body to begin adapting to the demands. The therapy regimen that Patti designed strengthened my muscles and tendons—in alignment with a healthy posture and mode of walking. Now, five years later, my knee is even doing stairs without any pain.

If we trust in Christ and cooperate with his healing power in our lives, we will be amazed and grateful for the recovery he will bring to us. Provided, of course, that we stop limping and go back to living the abundant life that he came to bring us.

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