Worthy of Sacrifice

I hauled some old wooden pallets out to some friends’ place last evening. They were cleaning out a flower bed that seemed to be in full need of that very thing. They’d already pulled out lots of grass and weeds to create better living conditions for the irises. Over toward one corner of the yard a pile of freshly cut cedar branches lay smoldering over a humped bed of ash and coals.

While his wife continued the ground clearing, the man and I unloaded the pallets and stacked them against a tree. A variety of wood species slatted the shipping crates: oak, poplar, pine and whitewood. Some of the strips will be salvaged and re-purposed, some will make a more rapid return to their elemental composition. Along those lines, my friend and I thought of a more immediate contribution.

We pulled off the un-burning cedar branches, clearing the interwoven stack down to the top of the gray mound at the base. We put one crate right on that, piled on a layer of branches, and then added a second crate. Finishing off with a final layer of the remaining cedar limbs, we were right sure that we’d significantly improved the pile’s chances of burning down in short order.

After a few minutes of no sudden blaze, my buddy fetched a long copper pipe. After sticking one end of that into the heart of the heap, he began blowing fresh air into the pile of coals. They began glowing but even with him on the verge of hyperventilating, no flames. A recent copy of the local paper presented another idea. Just about the time he finished rolling that into two nice-sized Fire Assisters, a bit of flame began licking up into the bottom pallet. He went ahead and added the paper anyway, which brought things nicely along.

Within a couple of minutes, the fire was noticeably progressing. Within ten, red flames danced cheerily among those reluctant cedar branches. A good bed of coals, some dry tinder and an extra bit of oxygen can sure get a good fire going.

There are times in our lives when it’s good to be the kindling. Immediately perceiving the value, we’re first in and praying for a divine wind that will fuel the flames and bring others in to sustain the cause. Other times, we pause, needing a bit of convincing. Knowing that this isn’t going to be easy in/easy out, we think about it for a while. Once the heartwood is aflame, the game is too far afoot for dancing to the side.

It takes wisdom and faith and deliberate discernment about the true nature of things. If we were nothing but kindling, that easy fire would soon be gone with nothing to sustain itself. If we were nothing but green branches, chances are we’d see only some smoldering fumes and the power of a consuming purpose would never break free to see its good work fulfilled in our lives.

All of which makes it rather important for us to be sure that the fire we’re standing near is one worth surrendering to. Otherwise, we end up with nothing more than some scorched bark and a lesson hard learned.

Or worse, we find out we’ve made ashes out of ourselves and accomplished nothing worthy of the sacrifice.

H. Arnett

Posted in Christian Devotions, Christian Living, Gardening, Metaphysical Reflection, Nature, Relationships, Spiritual Contemplation | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Back in the Old Days

There used to be a dairy farm in West Kentucky, two-hundred-and-fifty acres of rolling red clay farmland set on three levels. The central part, where the house and most of the barns stood, was fairly level. Fescue pastures bordered the small woods and creek to the south, marking the edge of the upland swing. Alfalfa spread east of the barn and in the arrow-shaped field at the top of the hill south of the house and west of the gravel road. At the north end of the farm, the flat bottomlands usually hosted corn or soybeans with a larger woods framing the east edge of the place. From time to time, sod would be plowed under for grain crops and the small plots of tobacco would occasionally move from one corner to another.

The fields were well-tended, the corn cultivated, pastures generally kept cleared by grazing and the occasional chopping of thistles. Alfalfa, tended by taproots as long as ten or twelve feet, grew so thickly weeds didn’t have much of a chance. Though the tobacco allotment was relatively small—barely two acres altogether for burley and dark-fired—the crop required intense hand labor. Except for the harvest of hay and the killer weed (tobacco), the family supplied its own labor for all chores: milking, gardening, cooking and canning, gathering eggs and plucking chickens, felling trees for firewood. Children born into that family were born into work; it was simply the way of things.

By careful application of selective memory, it’s easy to miss those days.

Driving the tractors, operating the machinery, fishing in the pond, playing in the creek, stacking hay and building tunnels, forts and hideaways in the hay loft. We ate fresh beef and cured pork, laid in canned goods for the winter, wore patched jeans and homemade shirts. In the winter, we chopped through the ice in the pond, felt our toes go numb in the cold of the unheated milk barn, made snow cream and drank hot custard during the holidays.

I knew nothing of the worries of the world then, hadn’t an inkling. Except for the fear that Russia was going to attack and that nuclear missiles would fall out of the sky and we would all die in a blinding flash of fury, I had barely a care in the world. Give me a cane pole on a sunny day or a good book on a rainy one and I was happy as a mocking bird.

I know there were such things as making mortgage payments, paying off hospital bills, worrying about the price of milk, the price of gas, the price of fertilizer, the price of seed, the support prices for wheat and corn, repairing the equipment or having to replace it. Hospital bills and doctor bills and tractor payments. I know now that those were constant issues but back then, such awareness never dented the thin edges of my own personal reality.

I knew only to do what I was told, get up when called the first time, wash my hands before coming to the table, believe the Bible and mind my manners. Actually, it was a pretty effective arrangement and not a bad foundation for what would follow over the next sixty years.

H. Arnett

Posted in Aging, Family, Farming, Spiritual Contemplation, Work | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Prayer for Four

In the shallow light of this day’s dawning,
I kneel before you, O Lord my God,
and confess the needs of my heart’s longing:
peace, wisdom, forgiveness and courage.

Grant me peace, my God and my Savior,
that I may walk with a clear mind,
that I may find the path of light
and walk in it without malice or mischief.

Grant me wisdom, O Lord, I pray,
that I may know my own heart,
that I may stay upon the path of light,
and see things in their true nature.

Grant forgiveness, Lord,
to any who has wronged me,
and wipe from my heart any urge of vengeance,
that I also may walk in heaven’s own grace.

Grant me courage, my King and my Redeemer,
that I may yet press forward upon the path
that you have chosen for my feet,
even in the dark and lonely hours.

Let me rejoice once again,
in the joy of my salvation,
in the promise of your nearness,
the comfort of your presence.

Let me delight in all that is right,
and pure, holy, faultless.
Let me fix my mind
upon the things that are above,

and let me walk in unfeigned love
through all that may come,
through all that may be done
on this good day that you have made.


H. Arnett

Posted in Christian Devotions, Poetic Contemplations, Poetry, Prayer, Spiritual Contemplation | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Peace Beneath the Raging Waters

We have watched for over a week, red line after red line pacing its way through these parts. Oceans of green covering the entire swath of the radar scan, huge blotches of violent color. Storms spawning and spanning from Texas to Iowa. The occasional bit of purple hidden in the heart, tornadoes dropping out of the sky to let fly with those black funnels. Lives and roads and houses and barns ripped apart like they were nothing more than flimsy shells. River banks and creek banks undercut and collapsing. Forests of wheat and corn overcome by flood; some fields stripped bare and others left under feet of mud. Nine inches of rain in exactly a week here on this particular street.

And in the same span of time, babies have been born, successful surgeries performed, loved ones have come back home from other continents. People have driven thousands of miles, birthdays and anniversaries sung and celebrated, graduation parties, homecomings and indoor picnics. Off to work and home again, trips to the grocery for bread and beans, suits to the cleaners and brand new jeans.

Though the particulars vary by some degree, the cycle still holds the same. We are witness to death and baby’s first breath; fire and rain and raging storm and mirrored lake. We give and take, lean into the wind and spend our days walking in the wake of our own choices and our own response to the circumstance of passing life.

Hoping to hear the better voices, we pray and listen for something softer than the wind, something stronger than fate. Something ancient and sure, a pure fire that burns without consuming. Covered with mud and weary of swimming in troubled floods, we seek the Living Water that always sustains but never overwhelms. We seek the peace of God’s own hand, the redemption of surrender.

H. Arnett

Posted in Christian Devotions, Christian Living, Metaphysical Reflection, Nature, Spiritual Contemplation | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

I Saw Jesus Sitting on a Storm Sewer

Just before I got to work yesterday morning,
under skies that threatened rain,
I saw a guy sitting on the low form of a storm drain,
just beyond the hospital driveway .

He sat there, shirtless in the cool mist,
gray beard hanging to the bleached white skin of his chest,
muttering to himself about some unseen aggravation,
hands braced against the concrete
as if nothing else could keep him
from being sucked into the sewer.

Two nurses in blue scrubs walked along the curb.
I slowed and waved to them and headed on in toward work.
Something about them and something about him
made me think that maybe my board meeting
could wait a few more minutes.

I found an extra shirt and started walking
the few hundred yards back out to where they were.
I considered a short cut across the tall fescue
but knew that my shoes would soon be soaked
clear through and so I stayed on the asphalt.

I watched the three as I walked
and I could see the conversation was not going well.
The man was standing now,
and though I was not near enough to hear
it sure seemed like he was yelling:
shoulders stiff and arms jerking in dramatic motion
synced with whatever emotions currently carried.

He headed away but one of them went to him
and hugged him as the other stood by, watchful.
As I got closer, he turned and walked away again,
unresponding to anything and for the first time
I could see that he was shoeless as well as shirtless,
dark socks already soaked from wet pavement.

I walked faster as he kept going in his own deliberate shuffle.
“Hey, buddy,” I called, “Here, let me give you this shirt.”
He stopped but still did not turn around.
He held first one arm and then the other
out to the side and slightly back.

The second sleeve took a bit more work;
I eased his hand over a bit to get it lined up with the shirt.

“Here, man, let me get this buttoned up for you.”
I stood then in front of him,
reaching up under his beard as he stood there,
still as a child, weeping and murmuring.
It took me a while with the first button,
my hands suddenly clumsy, fingers forgetting
how to do the work they’d done every morning
for over sixty years.

“Are you having kind of a bad day?”
And though I couldn’t tell exactly what he said
it sounded something like
“Everything’s going wrong.”

I finished buttoning the shirt
and started to turn back toward work
and whatever else still lay ahead of me
on this gray morning.

“What’s your name,” he asked
and after I answered, he added, “Last name?”

“I’ll get your shirt back.”
“Don’t worry about it, man;
I’ve got plenty of them hanging in the closet.”

In a final bit of clumsiness
I patted him on the shoulder, “You take care.”
He stood there for a moment as if pondering
what exactly that might look like,
then shuffled his way on toward the next storm drain.

The nurses told me he’d walked out of the ER.
One of them said, “He’s my uncle,”
and I could see in her eyes the sadness
of the long years of hoping someone you love
is going to get better and yet seeing things going
an entirely different way altogether.

They had called the police and the niece asked me,
“What should we do?”

Through all the long years of family and friends
who had seen these vigils never end,
I only knew of one thing to say.
“Just stay away for a while and keep an eye on him.”

They thanked me for helping out
and I told them they were the ones doing the hard part.

Sometimes all we can do is stand and watch
as those we love walk through the aftermath
of choices they have made
and hope that the storm doesn’t carry them full away.

And even when we cannot change a single thing,
we love and wait beneath threatening skies.
And know that beyond them lies a brighter day
when every hurt will be healed and every sorrow swept away.

And until then, love and pray that we all make it through
whatever waits in each day that the Lord has made.

H. Arnett

Posted in Christian Devotions, Christian Living, Hospitals & Medical Care, Poetic Contemplations, Poetry, Relationships, Spiritual Contemplation | Tagged , , , , , ,

A Sweet and Lovely Fragrance

In the gentle light of early morning,
I pause beside the peonies,
caught by the brightness of forming blooms.
These white ones will soon be fully open,
a pleasing sense of late spring
singing hope into the coming season.

I bend over to the real reason for this lingering,
draw in deeply that pleasing fragrance.
Fingers barely touching the bundled petals,
I close my eyes, smile and sigh,
imagining the Creator of All That is Good,
savoring the sincere and simple prayers

of those who have chosen to draw near,
knowing that he will hear,
and draw near to them whose true desire
it is to be light and salt, hope and love:
a fierce and gentle presence in the midst of lives
seeking the Fire That Does Not Consume.

H. Arnett

Posted in Christian Devotions, Christian Living, Gardening, Metaphysical Reflection, Nature, Poetic Contemplations, Poetry, Spiritual Contemplation

Reflections on National Hospital Week

Reflections on National Hospital Week

My earliest memory of a hospital… is probably buried somewhere deep in the deepest wrinkles of gray matter. Of the few I’m able to consciously access, I remember the smells of sickness and disinfectant, a dis-easing sense of long corridors with cold walls and polished linoleum floors. In those earliest memories back toward the middle of a previous century, the hospital struck me as a place of sternness, strict rules and no tolerance for children.

In point of fact, children were quite explicitly not allowed. If you weren’t at least twelve years old, you were denied entry, unless you were a patient or your parent was near the nebulous portal between life and death. Even then I think maybe there had to be a special meeting with formal review by the chief of staff.

And so I wasn’t permitted to visit my mother when I had just turned seven and my baby brother, John, was born. I wasn’t permitted to visit my thirteen-year-old sister, Patsy, when she was severely burned just a few weeks after Johnny’s arrival. In one of the final vestiges of those days, some sixteen years later, I wasn’t able to be in the delivery room when my oldest son, Michael, was born.

I was present, however, at the designated arrival times for each of the other five. While the miracle of birth remains pretty much the incomparable wonder that it was back then, my, what wonderful changes have taken place in the mindset of medical care since those days!

In my own quite limited personal experience as a hospital patient and my more recent and continuing experience as a hospital employee, it is a wonderful thing to witness the joy, warmth and humor. While I know there are those whose own encounters may make them beg to differ, I am repeatedly impressed with the skill, dedication and attitude of hospital staff members.

I experienced it first-hand as an out-patient at our “rival” hospital in Winfield where I couldn’t have asked for better care or treatment. I have read the testimonies of our own patients at SCKMC. I have witnessed the care and professionalism as a semi-participating observer. As marketing director, I confess that I am quite likely the single most “optional” player in the picture.

If an orderly, aid, housekeeper, pharmacist, cook, nurse, lab tech, maintenance worker, physician, therapist, admitting clerk, financial processor, records worker or anyone else doesn’t show up and do their job, it’s noticed immediately. Things take a downhill turn right away.

Go without a marketing director for a few months and eventually someone says, “Hey, who’s gonna run the Bingo game during Hospital Week this year?” Not exactly indispensable… and I’m okay with that. Even so, I do occasionally try to contribute a bit to help things move along.

Someone said, “It takes the whole village to raise a child, but only one idiot to ruin a kid.”

Well, I can tell you, that in the village that makes a modern hospital, there’s no room for idiots and it takes every single person working hard, working together, and working well. There’s not one job that doesn’t matter. Even a marketing director can help. Doesn’t really matter if it’s Nurses Week, Doctors Day, Hospital Week, National Vitamin and Paleolithic Therapy Month or just the third week of Whenever I Got Sick, hospital staff play a crucial role.

Whether it’s one of those times when minutes matter most or a fairly routine lab test, they go about their business, trying to help people in their hour of need. Whether it’s doing the finishing sutures on heart surgery, cleaning the toilet, drawing blood or replacing light bulbs, when it comes to ministering to the sick, everyone involved has the opportunity to minister to the least of the family of Christ.

And to be the personification of his presence in the world.

H. Arnett

Posted in Christian Devotions, Hospitals & Medical Care, Relationships, Spiritual Contemplation | Tagged , , , , , , , , ,