Only What’s Mine

The preacher came to check on me today.  His brother passed away last week, but he came to check on me.

He’s not my pastor.  Well, what I mean is, he’s not the man who is the pastor of the fellowship where I attend services.  My pastor checks on me too, but I’m not writing about him today.

The preacher came to visit me because he owes me.  That’s the way he sees it anyway.  It’s his way of paying a debt.

Did you know that on the worst day of his life, Jesus stopped to help a fellow who was just doing his job—and also having a bad day?

Jesus was being arrested, said arrest to be followed by a mock trial and, soon after, a very real execution.  Yet, He stopped everything to make life easier for a man He had likely never even seen.  (Luke 22:50,51)

He, who was about to die, stopped to heal a slave’s ear.

I marvel at the capacity to love.  But, I have seen it again and again.  The human heart, pummeled and battered by loss and sorrow, beats the stronger for those around who also hurt.

Did I say the preacher is paying a debt?

It’s a debt we all owe, one that will not go unsettled.

The Apostle, in giving instructions about temporal matters, gave us the words we must live by.  The one debt we will carry throughout our whole lives is the debt to each other—to love one another.  (Romans 13:8)

We love—because He loved us first.

And yet, I had other things to speak of with my friend.  You see, I am struggling with many things right now, things I don’t want to accept.

There are people I love making choices I would change for them if I could.  I’m sure if I could just lend them a bit of my brilliance, they’d understand and repent of their error.

And, as I suggest that to him, I suddenly remember that I don’t have a mandate to change people.

Lamely, I say the words:  I guess that isn’t mine to fix, is it?

He smiles.  But, as he smiles, he remembers why he stopped by.  I’ve gotten him off track.  He knows I’m still unhappy—perhaps even a little angry—at God for the changes which are being made in my life right now.

Looking around the music store where he sits, he waves his hand in a circle and asks a question I really don’t like.

Is this yours?

I don’t like the question because I know the answer.  You do too, don’t you?

I smile, a faux-smile if ever there was one.  I give him the right answer, the answer I know he wants to hear.  I don’t grit my teeth as I say it, even though it is all I can do not to.

No.  Not mine.

And then he is gone.  He leaves me standing in the doorway of a music store that soon won’t be.

Worse than that, he leaves me with a revelation I didn’t want and never asked him for.

I  only want what’s mine!

I’ve sulked all day.

I cleaned my French horn in preparation for upcoming events and the pride I have taken in the beautiful instrument dimmed as I realized it’s not mine.

After I closed the music store (still not mine) for the day, I climbed up into the driver’s seat of my pickup truck and thought, as I turned the key, this isn’t mine.

I helped the Lovely Lady clean up after supper and as a sparkling kitchen reappeared, I realized that none of the beautiful little home is mine.

I only want what’s mine.

I’ve been sitting here moping about what I’ve lost on this day of revelation, thanks to the preacher.  I’ve come to a conclusion.

If I can lose it, it was never mine.  Never.

If I can lose it, it was never mine. Never. Click To Tweet

You might think it would be a sad realization.  It’s not.

The freedom that comes from knowing what is mine and what isn’t is life changing.  If my treasure is bound up in things which can be taken from me, I am the poorest man you’ll ever meet.

hot-962139_640I’m not a poor man.

I only want what is mine.

Faith is mine.

Hope is mine.

Love is mine.

There are more things to add to the list.  Gifts, every one of them—given by the Giver of all good things.  They are things that can never be taken from us.  And, in the words of that great theologian, Casey Stengel, you could look it up. (1 Corinthians 12)

We’re told that the greatest of these gifts is love.  The more I consider it, the more certain I am it is true.

Funny, isn’t it?  If we can lose it, it isn’t ours, and yet we’re told we must give away love.

So, is love ours or not?

Most decidedly, love is ours.  You know what makes love the greatest gift?  The more you give it away, the more there is to give away.

The more we give love away, the more of it there is to give away. Click To Tweet

God has poured His love into our hearts in a never-ending stream.  It should be pouring out in the same manner.  (Romans 5:5)

I’m thinking that wealth which can’t be stolen or misplaced is worth more than any treasure trove to be found on this planet.

And, we get to give it away and keep it, too.

Funny.  I still only want what’s mine.

And, like my preacher friend, I want to give it away.

Again and again.

Give it away.

 

 

Spread love everywhere you go; let no one ever come to you without leaving better and happier.
(Mother Teresa ~ Albanian/Indian nun & missionary ~ 1910-1997)

 

Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love.
(1 Corinthians 13:13 ~ NLT)

 

 

© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2016. All Rights Reserved.

Ripples

We could go out and look at the leaves—or—you could stay there all afternoon and be unhappy.

Maybe it was the fact that we had just turned on the heat for the first time this fall.  It could have been.  The chill was creeping in from outside.

I’m not fond of the cold.  Oh.  I may have mentioned that before.   I probably have.

I had sat, huddled under a blanket, as I watched the Lovely Lady leave to go grocery shopping that morning.  I didn’t offer to accompany her.  When she arrived back home an hour later I hadn’t moved.

She knows me well.  A few well-placed inquiries, with a hint of concern, led me to the conclusion that I probably should take a drive with her through the countryside.

As I suspected, it was still chilly outside, but the sun was shining brightly.  It was, as she had averred, a beautiful day.  In the car.

Still. . . 

I thought, as we drove out of town on the busy highway, that it didn’t seem the right way to experience God’s creation.  In a car along with hundreds of other drivers speeding down the tarmac, the experience left much to be desired.

Then, I remembered the old bridge.  The turnoff was only a couple of miles on up the road.  She was all for it, even though she hadn’t worn her hiking shoes.  We stopped.

There are some who would have you believe the world is a horrible cesspool of a place to live in, God’s creation marred beyond recognition by sin and degradation.  They are partly right, but only partly.

On that brilliant afternoon, all I knew was I agreed with the Creator as He viewed the work of His hands in the beginning.  (Genesis 1:31)

It was good.  It was very good.

The Creator was right. It is good. It is very good. Click To Tweet

We tramped through the brambles and brushed beside the reddening poison ivy, laughing at the annoyance of thin branches that smacked us in our faces as we passed.  The sun on our backs felt wonderful and the scent of autumn woods refreshed our spirits as we breathed deep.

We had visited the old steel bridge only once before, but the way was clear and we didn’t mind the walk.  As we approached the old structure, it was reassuring to see that it hadn’t altered—an old friend almost, standing firm in spite of change and shifting conditions all around.

But, somehow the river drew us today.  We paid our respects to the old bridge and headed to the rock-covered landing up the waterway a few hundred feet.

Glancing down as we neared the water’s edge, I noticed a number of flat stones, worn smooth by years of tumbling against others in the current of the mighty river.

They were there for only one reason, of course.  Anyone who has spent any time at all at the river’s edge can tell you what that reason is.

I picked one up and, holding it with the flat side parallel to the water’s surface, spun it toward the other side of the river almost like a frisbee.  Just the slightest lift of the leading edge of the flat rock as it left my hand guaranteed that aerodynamics would do the rest.

skippingstonesI wasn’t disappointed.  The stone struck the water’s surface and instead of sinking—as we say, like a rock—skipped up to smack the water anew and to skip again, and again, and again.

One stone wasn’t enough.  Others followed the first.  They weren’t all perfect attempts.  On a couple, I didn’t get the front edge up and they quickly sliced into the water, sinking immediately with barely a plop.

Inadvertently, I picked up one or two rocks which weren’t flat.  For some reason, I didn’t just drop them to the strand on which we stood, but tossed them into the water.  They disappeared with a solid plunk, sinking down to the bottom to be tumbled along on their journey.  Perhaps, in another century or two, when they have worn flat, some other old man, or perhaps even a young one, will feel the joy of skipping one of those very rocks across the surface of the same river.  Perhaps.

The Lovely Lady took a photo or two of the result of my rock-skipping.  I’ve posted one above.  It’s a beautiful thing, showing the old bridge, along with the pretty autumn colors.

But the part that catches my eye, again and again, is the series of circular ripples on the surface of the water.

In my memory, I rub my fingers across the smooth stone that made all those ripples.  Thin and without sharp edges, it is perfect for slipping across the surface, leaving evidence of its passage, but slowing hardly at all as it spins quickly on to its next place of impact.

I remember, with amusement, the other stones I tossed into the water.  They too made ripples.  One ring.  Plunk.

Do you know what makes some stones suitable for skipping across great expanses of water?  They have tumbled and scraped and banged, for ages, against other stones going through the same process.

If I were to carry a huge stone, as big as my head, to the riverside and drop it in, there would be a tremendous splash, but it wouldn’t have as much impact, overall, as one of those small flat stones that spun out of my hand on that recent autumn day.

Oh, it would make an impression, the initial result being a single ring which would multiply and repeat itself into the distance.  But, it would still be only one circle, limited in its reach.

I want to shift the world around me.  Not in a spectacular way, but enough so that when I’m gone, folks will remember the impact.  Not me, but the result.

There are days when I feel old and worn.  I’m finally realizing that those days—the ones when I feel especially useless and weak—may be the days when I am finally ready to go spinning across the water.  In the hands of the Master Stone-Skipper, the ripples might be felt forever.

It’s possible.

The woman who poured expensive perfume on Jesus’ feet was such a person.  The impact of her act is still being felt today, as He promised it would be.  (Matthew 26:13)

You know—those plain, smooth stones were completely unimpressive as we walked over them on that riverbank.  But, in the right hands, they had a far-reaching effect.

We, who are being worn smooth by life and its hardships may be given the same opportunity one day.

Will today be the day we leave the ripples that will be felt forever? Click To Tweet

I wonder if today will be the day.

I’d like to make a few more ripples.

 

 

 

Success is more dangerous than failure; the ripples break over a wider coastline.
(Graham Greene ~ British novelist ~ 1904-1991)

 

Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong.  And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is.
(Ephesians 3:17,18 ~ NLT)

 

 

 

© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2016. All Rights Reserved.

Say the Words

How was I supposed to know?

Perhaps they could wear signs.  Cautionary words are always helpful.

Warning!  Traumatic life event in progress!

That should do it.  Now, there’ll be no untimely jests—no teasing sales pitches—no words to regret, as my friend walks away minutes from now.  Give me a heads up; I’ll take it from there.

But, life’s not like that, is it?  

No signs.  No colored lights—green, yellow, and red—to keep us out of the danger zone.  We’re on our own.

clasped-hands-541849_640Or, are we?  On our own, I mean.  We’re not really.  Those of us who are students of the Word, followers of Jesus, have already spent a lifetime in training.

Everything—every single thing—we have learned of following Him, has been to prepare us for the relational interactions we will have on every day of the time we have on this earth.

Love God.  Love people.

Doing the first teaches us to do the second.  More than that, choosing to fulfill the former gives us no option but to fulfill the latter.

Loving God gives us no option but to love people. All people. Click To Tweet

Love is kind. (1 Corinthians 13:4)

Always.

Always—Love is kind.

The young man came in a few days ago, with his sweet wife and well-mannered children.  I have known him for many years now, a relationship developed through his pursuit of becoming a musician.  He was a boy when first I sold him a guitar.

That was several instruments and many additional accessories ago.  On this day, I would break the news that our business relationship of many years is about to end.  I didn’t like doing it, but I owed it to him.

As others have done, he reacted strongly, but perhaps, a bit more emotionally than I expected.  The face that turned to me suddenly was covered with sadness, his eyes almost grief-stricken.

Almost without thinking, I reminded him that, as with all of my life, I trusted a God who had proven Himself trustworthy.  For some reason, it seemed important to me to reiterate this truth I am convinced of.

“God didn’t bring us here just to walk away from us.  He’s still got good things ahead.  Good things.”

A short time later, as he and his family walked out the door, he stuck out his big, strong hand and held my slender one in that familiar strong, almost painful, grip.  It’s happened many times before. Then, smiling at me, he walked out with his family, not saying another word.

If I hadn’t known better, I would have thought he was afraid to say anything else because he didn’t want tears to come.  No.  That couldn’t have been it.

I was busy with another customer when he came back the next day.  Maybe, it was a good thing.  He asked the Lovely Lady to give me a message.

It seems he had received news on the previous day, right before I had seen him, that a young friend had died a horrible death.  He was overwhelmed.

He told the Lovely Lady to relay to me the message that the words I had said on that afternoon had been exactly what he and his wife needed.  Exactly the message that would give comfort and hope, not regarding my temporary inconvenience, but for the very real pain they were already experiencing.  They had left my store that day with renewed hope—renewed courage.

Even since that day, the number of folks who have shared their pain at losing loved ones has multiplied.  A lady whose father died and left her with no opportunity to attain closure of a tragic situation.  A man who doesn’t know how to comfort his teenage daughter after the death of his wife, her mother, less than a month ago.  The father whose son died suddenly.  The grandfather who will never go horseback riding with his grandson again.

The list goes on.  And on.  And on.

And suddenly it occurs to me—we don’t need the warning signs I wished for.  No words of explanation are ever necessary for us to know who needs help.

We are all members of a fallen race.  Every one of us carries our pain around inside.  No one escapes the pain.  It is our birthright.

We all need help.  And, kind words.

And yet, we who carry this pain and horror inside have been called to be ministers of healing and ministers of grace.  It is who we must be.

We, who carry this pain, are called to be ministers of healing to others who carry pain. It is… Click To Tweet

Comfort ye.  Comfort ye my people.  (Isaiah 40:1) God said the words to Isaiah centuries before our Savior came.  The message he carried was of comfort and hope.

And, what a hope!

At the end of your waiting on God, you will regain your strength and your resolve.  You who are now weary and defeated will rise up on wings of eagles.  (Isaiah 40:30,31)

We who follow Jesus carry the same message.

Perhaps, it’s time for us to deliver it.

We already know who the message is for.

Say the words.

 

 

 

 

He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us.
(2 Corinthians 1:4 ~ NLT)

 

Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy.
O, Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love; For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; it is in dying that we are born again to eternal life.
(Francis of Assisi ~ Catholic Friar ~ 1181-1226)

 

 

 

© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2016. All Rights Reserved.

Heaven Comes Nearer

I still don’t understand it.  I have been a musician all my life.  Not a good musician, but still—a musician.

A friend posted a link to a recording the other day.  Eight people, mortals every one, sang music notes—notes I’m certain are in the normal twelve-note chromatic scale we use every day.

I can sing any of those notes.  Really, I can.  Perhaps not in the octave in which they sang, nor with the clarity, but I can sing them.

And yet, I sat listening and could do nothing but weep.  Someone asked me the name of the song playing on my computer, but I could not answer for fear my voice would crack as I spoke.

It is not a rare occurrence for me.  Perhaps, not for you either.

We are moved by great beauty, whether in nature or in art.  It is not easy to explain.  Maybe, it’s not meant to be.

There are things that are higher.  There’s no than to follow that statement—no comparison to be made at all.  

Higher things.  It’s all that need be said.

My friend who posted the video is a student of the Celtic traditions and often speaks of the sites those ancient cultures described as thin places—places where it seems that heaven is just a bit closer to earth.  I love the idea and would never argue that such places don’t exist (I’m sure they do); I just think thin places are to be found in more than only those remote physical locations.

My office desk is a thin place—sometimes.  The metal bench in the city park is a thin place—occasionally. Anywhere heaven comes close and raises the hem of the curtain between us and it—just high enough to get a glimpse—is a thin place.   

With a catch in my voice, I will admit I don’t understand any of it.  I suspect many reading this feel just as confused right now.  Today, the world around us is dark and we couldn’t find a thin place if our lives depended on it.

Higher things?  Ha!  The cacophony of anger and hurt is so all-encompassing that it almost seems we could never smile again, much less have tears of wonder and joy well up and cascade down our cheeks.

Still . . .

David, in an hour of deep unhappiness, reminded us that deep calls to deep.  (Psalm 42:7-8)  Even from the depths of despair, our souls recognize their Maker’s voice and echo it.  Our spirits respond to His Spirit.

He will give us songs in the night.  

He will give us songs in the night. Psalm 42:8 Click To Tweet

Where no thin place is to be found, our Creator surprises and opens the curtain just enough—just barely enough—for a glimpse of glory.

It is no small thing.

Hope springs into flame again; resolve is rekindled.

There is work yet to be done.  Our destination still lies ahead.

We journey to the place where no veil is between us and our Maker, the place where the only tears to be found will be of awe and wonder.

Higher things call us.

Higher.

 

 

 

I want to scale the utmost height
And catch a gleam of glory bright.
But, still I’ll pray till heaven I’ve found
“Lord, lead me on to higher ground.”
(Higher Ground by Johnson Oatman, Jr. ~ American pastor ~ 1856-1922)

 

Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.
(1 Corinthians 13:12 ~ NLT)

 

 

 

 

© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2016. All Rights Reserved.

 

Thick and Thin

The sheaf is growing thin.  

Thin.

Thirty-nine years ago, it was a mammoth binder filled with pages—one crisp, white leaf for every day which would pass in my chosen profession.  There was not yet a mark on any one of them; the story could only be written second by second, minute by minute.

The minutes turned into hours, weeks, months, and now years.  At first, even the minutes moved by like syrup on the coldest February morning.  And now, at the end, they fly like sand through the fingers of a child at the seashore

Page after page has been filled—lines with their scrawled script, margins with scribbled abbreviations.  Even the edges are covered with notes, reminders now of appointments never made, but still kept.

Funny.  Such a historical document should be conserved for the future, a textbook of success and failure, methods to be passed on to generations not yet even contemplated.  It has not been.

The pages lie at my feet in tatters.  Each page—completed—has merely been torn from the binder and dropped wearily to the floor at the end of the days.

withcustomersThere are mornings when I stoop down and scan a scrap of the paper underfoot.  Memory springs to mind and a smile might cross my face, itself a little more lined and aged than when the binder was first opened.

Frequently, a customer stirs through the debris and reminds me of a memory they have shared, as well.  My customers are friends, not income streams, and the memories are mostly sweet.  Mostly.

Bittersweet, these days.

Well?

The sheaf is growing thin.  

The crisp, white leaves gripped in my fist are precious and few now.  I am loath to fill them and let them drop to the worn carpet beneath my shoes.

Today was a day for the scraps of paper to be read.  As if the stress of a national election and its surprising outcome were not enough for one twenty-four hour period, the queue of old friends waiting their turn to reminisce and then to embellish the scraps of years past wound through my door from before opening time to well after the sun dropped behind the western horizon.

Each brought a gift, the gift of listening and speaking.  It is the way of friendship.

Iron sharpens iron, sometimes painfully, often by polishing gently.  (Proverbs 27:17)

Iron sharpens iron, sometimes painfully, often by polishing gently. Click To Tweet

I have been the recipient of such gifts many times over the years.  Grateful is too insignificant a word to describe what I feel.

I glance at the scraps of paper they have each left behind, scraps bearing their names and experiences, and I remember that I am a rich man.  How could I not be—with a life full of such amazing people?

Yet, I spoke with one friend today of my unhappiness with how thin the sheaf of papers is now.  He reminded me (gently) that God is still leading into the future.

God is still leading into the future. Click To Tweet

I said earlier it was my chosen profession, but it was never I who chose it.  The path was chosen for me—each step of my young life leading me to it and then through it, until now, as I near old age, I find myself stepping away from it at last.

I could never, in my wildest childhood dreams, have planned out such a journey, but He did.  Every step.

The days left in this little music store are flying.  There are not many more pages yet to be filled here.

I want them to be filled with words such as I heard today.  I want them to be filled with people whose faces I see in my memories tonight.

And, I think as I consider the thin sheaf of papers yet to be written in my business—I wonder how thick that other sheaf is?

The book was so thick on the day we entered this world.  Crisp and white, each page awaiting the record that has now been written, it had an adequate supply to last our whole lives through.

It is thinner than when we began.  The opportunities for achievements to be recorded, events to be heralded, dwindle everyday.

Sometimes, I pick up the scraps from those pages, too.  I’ve shared some few of those memories with you.  The ones I’m willing to bring to the light of day again.

Others of the scraps will never be seen or read by anyone else, except by Him.  He reads every one of them.  The thought makes me cringe, but not because I fear any punishment.  No, I cringe because, as any child with his Father, I never want to disappoint.

And, I have.  Again and again, I have disappointed.

Those pages are filled, never to be written on again.  My Father’s disappointment is past, the sins and missteps erased by His astounding grace.

Still, there are more blank pages.  How many?  I don’t know.

Perhaps, the sheaf is growing thin.  Possibly, it still contains years worth of crisp, white leaves to be filled with the record of tasks fulfilled, and a legacy left for many who will follow.

Either way, He guides my steps.

He always has.

Through thick, and now, through thin…

He knew how to lead then.

He knows how to lead now.

Be still my soul.

 

 

He has told you, O man, what is good;
And what does the Lord require of you
But to do justice, to love kindness,
And to walk humbly with your God?
(Micah 6:8 ~ NASB)

 

 

Be still my soul, thy God doth undertake
To guide the future, as He has the past.
Thy hope, thy confidence, let nothing shake;
All now mysterious shall be bright at last.
(from Be Still My Soul ~ Katharina von Schlegel ~ German poet ~ 1697-1768)

 

 

 

 

 

© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2016. All Rights Reserved.

Unraveling

They brought the sign today.  It’s a big, ugly thing that sits atop a sturdy base to keep it from tipping over when the storms come.

I suppose some would not think it ugly.  The nice lady who sat and talked with us one night a few weeks ago likely thinks it a thing of beauty.  It has her name emblazoned on it, after all—right near the really ugly part.

FOR SALE

The ugly sign tells the world my days as a music store owner are limited.  Funny—when I say it that way, it doesn’t seem like much.  People retire, or change their profession, all the time.  

Somehow, it seems to go deeper than that.  Over the last few months, as the reality of coming change has become evident, I almost feel like the thing I have so lightly called my life has begun to unravel before my eyes.

And, as I consider that unraveling, I see, in my mind’s eye, an old golf ball I once found by the side of the road.  There was a sliced arc in the nearly white cover of the little orb, probably caused by a poorly aimed iron striking the surface at a bad angle.

The ball was useless.  Completely destroyed.  But, I was intrigued by what I saw through the slice in the cover.  It looked like rubber bands under there.  

I peeled the dimpled ball like an orange.  Sure enough, inside the cover, one could see nothing but rubber bands wound tightly around it.  I cut one of them and a section of stretchy rubber flopped away from the sphere.  After the action was repeated a dozen times or more, the mass of rubber pulled away from the core completely.

Looking at what was left in my hand, I examined the little black rubber ball.  A fraction of the size of the original dimpled one, this one felt as if it had air and liquid inside.

Arghhh!  Useless!

I hurled the little sphere away in disgust.  It hit the wooden side of a storage building standing nearby and, rebounding from that surface, sped back past my ear with alarming speed.

Wow!  A super ball!

I chased it down and took it home.  It might have been at the center of that destroyed golf ball, where it would never be seen directly, but it was certainly the most important part of the ball.  No wonder the old men who played the game could hit those things so far with their clubs!

I played with it for weeks.

Now, where was I?

Oh yes, life unraveling.  The end of my career as a  music store proprietor.

Unraveling.

I wonder.  Is that a good thing?

What happens if we get to my core?  What would be there, at the center?

What's at the core when everything unravels? Click To Tweet

Did you know that everything around the core of the golf ball is there for one purpose?  Just one.

They magnify the effect of the core.

The rubber band-like material compresses as the ball is struck and then rebounds to its original shape, lending its energy to the core which responds as only golf-ball-65646_640its components can.  The slick, dimpled cover reduces drag and helps the ball to fly straight toward its target.

It is what we are made to do.

Magnify.

The Psalmist knew it.  (Psalm 34:3)

Mary, the mother of our Lord, did too.  (Luke 1:46)

I may be exaggerating when I describe my recent (and continuing) experiences as life unraveling.  

After all, to a child who knows no better, a haircut can seem very much like being scalped.  The needle of inoculation feels like open-heart surgery without the benefit of  anesthesia to the toddler.  We laugh—sympathetically, but we laugh—as we watch them struggle against the very thing which is intended for their benefit.

I’m not so different.  Perhaps, you’re not either.

But, what’s at the core?

Maybe a better question is—Who’s at the core?

I want who I am to magnify the Who at the core.  And, like the Psalmist, I’d like to have company while I do it.

Magnify the Lord with Me.

Will you?

Magnify the Lord with Me. Will you? Click To Tweet

 

 

I will bless the Lord at all times;
His praise shall continually be in my mouth.
My soul will make its boast in the Lord;
The humble will hear it and rejoice.
O magnify the Lord with me,
And let us exalt His name together.
(Psalm 34:1-3 ~ NASB)

 

 

To find a man’s true character, play golf with him.
(P G Wodehouse ~ English author/humorist ~ 1881-1975)

 

 

 

 

© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2016. All Rights Reserved.

The Question

Hope you are doing well?

The question hangs in the air.  No, really.  It just hangs there, unanswered.

I guess it seems silly, doesn’t it?

Fine, thanks.  And you?

That is what folks say, isn’t it?

A couple of days ago, I wrote a note expressing my thanks for yet another beautiful poem shared by my young friend on the other side of the world.  The next morning when I awoke, I found her reply—first her thanks, and then—The Question.

Hope you are doing well?

We are friends because of our mutual love of language—words that communicate truth—words that hold open the front door in invitation to come in and sit awhile—words that move the soul just a little closer to our God.

She is a consummate wordsmith—the dance steps in her delicate turn-of-a-phrase achieved without a stumble—her adamant declaration of truth set down before her reader without spilling a drop from the cup.

I am not such a craftsman, my sentences cobbled together with too much punctuation, and my ideas propped up with a leveling shim here and an improvised story there.  Still, the words are hammered together neatly enough—at times.

So, why have I still not answered her question, two days later?  I have answered the same question aloud probably a hundred times since, while talking with folks right in front of me.  I just haven’t been able to write the words in reply to her query.

I think it’s that I suddenly remembered words have meaning.  Idle words spoken may seem harmless, but they will count in the grand sum of our communication. (Matthew 12:36,37)

When we lie—however harmless and commonplace the lie—we devalue the truth that comes from our mouth at other times.

When we lie, we devalue the truth that also comes from the same mouth. Click To Tweet

I am not doing well.

Oh, I’m well enough physically, my doctor having given his stamp of approval on my fitness results last week.  But really, I’m not doing well.

sadboyIn the depths of my soul, there’s a tiny child crying for his mother; there’s a young boy gasping at the unfairness of seeing the work of his hands dismantled before his eyes.  The stress and confusion of walking through a world torn by dissension, and bitterness, and death are almost too much on any given day.

So, we learn to lie instead of telling the truth.

Because, to tell the truth is to live with an overwhelming flood of uncomfortable silence, followed by visits (virtual or otherwise) from the hand-patters, and then by the verse-quoters.  These may lead to the get-a-grippers, and possibly, even a scold or two.

If you find yourself offended by the above paragraph, that is not my intention.  It might be wise, though, if you see yourself in those words, to seek other ways of showing your love for those who are hurting.

But, I still want to talk about truth.  

No.  I want to begin to tell the truth.  All of it.

I’m not doing well.  But, there is more to it than what I feel right now.  You see, along with that most famous of suffering humans, Job, I have one other thing to say.  One more:

I know that my Redeemer lives!

I know it!

Instead of telling you that everything is all right, I declare that everything will one day be all right.  And, I will see it.  You can, too.

We will see Him. 

Sadness? Done!

Disappointment?  Gone!

Tears?  None!

Troubles will pass.  They always do.  Until then, the truth is, He gives grace for the journey.

And, answers for the questions.

Truth.

 

 

 

I know not what of good or ill
May be reserved for me,
Of weary ways or golden days,
Before His face I see.

But I know Whom I have believed,
And am persuaded that He is able
To keep that which I’ve committed
Unto Him against that day.
(from I Know Whom I Have Believed ~ Daniel Whittle ~ American lyricist/evangelist ~ 1840-1901

 

 

But as for me, I know that my Redeemer lives,
    and he will stand upon the earth at last.
And after my body has decayed,
    yet in my body I will see God!
(Job 19:25-26 ~ NLT)

 

 

 

 

© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2016. All Rights Reserved. 

Bite Sized Chunks

 

I remember, long years ago, riding along with my father as he visited the grocery stores where we normally purchased our provisions for each week.  At each stop, he was disappointed.  The butchers in the meat markets could not provide what he needed.

“Beef skirts?  Why would you want those?  They’re way too tough for cooking.  Sausage—that’s what those are turned into.  It’s all they’re good for.”

He didn’t give up.  We finally found what we needed in the carniceria, the butcher shop in the hispanic barrio just to the south of where we lived.  When he described what he wanted, they knew immediately what he was seeking.

Fajitas!  You want fajitas!”

It was a word we had never heard.  Even though the word had been used for forty years among the cattle workers who ate the undesirable cuts of meat around their campfires in South Texas, it had never been spoken in a restaurant anywhere.

Dad bought the meat, wrapped in brown butcher paper, and we went home victorious—successful hunters home from the chase.

I have no idea how much work it was to prepare the meat for eating.  The barbecue-84674_640butchers in the grocery stores weren’t lying.  It was tough, so tough it was nearly inedible.  But Dad knew what would happen if he prepared the meat correctly.  Hours, he worked to tenderize, season, and barbecue the meat.  Hours.

He was willing to put in the time and to sacrifice his hard work for the result he was certain of.  Absolutely certain.

He was not disappointed.

Everyone who ate Dad’s beef skirts raved.  Raved.  It was the best tasting beef anyone had ever eaten.  Sure, it was chewy.  But, it was fantastic!

It would be nearly twenty years before the trendy restaurants began to offer fajitas.  Around our scuffed and battered dining room table, we ate like rich folks.  Fine dining?  Who cared about fine dining?  We had beef skirts!  Fajitas!

I’m not trying to tell you my father invented fajitas. He did not.  He just heard about them from some of the old-timers in South Texas and determined that his family wouldn’t miss out on the culinary experience.

His perseverance and hard work paid off.  We had no idea we were eating food that would one day grace the menus of many eateries across the country.  It was simple, poor man’s food, but we knew its cost.  And, we liked what we were tasting.

I’m realizing that life almost never comes in bite-sized chunks—cut fastidiously and arranged neatly on our plates by a doting parent (or simpering chef)—but it usually arrives in great slabs of meat with the gristle and tough membranes  laced throughout.  We have to deal with all of it.

Life almost never comes in bite-sized chunks. Click To Tweet

And something tells me the most important part of what we do with our lives is not in how we deal with the tender, delicious stuff, but in how we dispatch the tough, unpleasant parts.

Character is built, not in the great hall of feasting, but in the sculleries and around the cook fires.

Character is built, not in a feasting hall, but in the sculleries and around the cook fires. Click To Tweet

Or, if you like, joy and wonder are to be found at the table as knife and fork are plied, but it is in the kitchen that the hard work takes place which makes the wonder possible.  If no one does the labor there, there will never be a finished meal to rave about.

King David spoke of a feast prepared for us by our Creator, our Shepherd.  In front of those who hate us, the meal is served and we are designated as favored sons and daughters. (Psalm 23:5)

Favored?  Well, of course we are!  He feeds us.  By His own hand.  And, pours oil on our heads.

And, we shake those anointed heads and look down on those who hate us and who abuse us.  It’s our right, is it not?

Odd, isn’t it?  The Shepherd who feeds us, tells us to feed the hungry.  He tells us to clothe the naked.  He tells us to comfort the oppressed.  (Matthew 25:31-46)

Early one morning, on the shore next to a fire where He cooked fish, he told Peter what his task would be.

“Feed my sheep.”

The work in His kitchen is not always comfortable.  It isn’t always easy.  The food is often thrown back in our faces.

But, when they do eat?  When they will taste what He offers?

As good as those fajitas were, they are nothing when compared to the feast prepared for those who will accept the invitation!

Nothing.

Favored and blessed?  Only as we share the bounty of the Creator who owns the cattle on thousands of hills.  (Psalm 50:10)

All those cattle?

Can’t you just taste the fajitas now?

 

 

O taste and see that the Lord is good: blessed is the man that trusteth in him.
(Psalm 34:8 ~ KJV)

 

 

 

 

© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2016. All Rights Reserved.

He Rides Upon the Storm

A dark and stormy night, it was.  

I had intended to ask Snoopy for help with my opening sentence, but he is nowhere to be found, probably hiding from the frightening flashes and booms himself.  It was indeed, a dark and stormy night.

Was.  A shockingly short, but powerfully reassuring, word.  

Was.  Past tense.  Over.  Done with.

Right now, there is not a creature to be seen anywhere.  All of them took shelter from the noise and commotion.  But, come morning, the skies will be alive with birds and flying insects.  The air will fairly ring with the celebration of re-creation.

The dogs in my backyard, cowering now between the floor joists of the storage building (their sturdy house seems not to be substantial enough for their reassurance during a thunderstorm), will cover their owner with muddy paw and nose prints as they leap and cavort at his appearing.

For now, the rain falls, a steady cascade of water from the heavens.  

A gentle rumble of thunder bullies its way across the sky above, bringing to mind the assault of powers from on high against these earth-bound edifices only moments past.

I sit in the quiet and give thanks for the calm, life-giving draught that enriches the earth below.  Mankind has done it from time immemorial.  Water gives life.  When it is withheld, death will follow.  How would we not be grateful?

But, as I sit, listening thankfully to the gentle and rhythmic thump of rain on the metal roof above me, I am uneasy.  I have a sense of restlessness, as if I’ve forgotten something important.

Now, what was it?

Perhaps, I want to forget.

The thunder grumbles across the wide expanse above again and I remember.  I might want to forget, but the question will not be silenced that easily.

If God is in the rain, that peaceful, life-giving source of fresh hope, where is He when the storms blow in?

storm-1506469_640As does all of nature, we cower from the raging lightning and wind-whipped raindrops.  The explosions of thunder do no real harm, save to terrify and remind us of the potential for death and destruction that awaits right outside our hiding place.

Why don’t we give thanks for the storms?

Why don't we give thanks for the storms? Click To Tweet

I don’t love storms.  Once, I thought I did.  I was younger then.  

Now, I know their potential for destruction.  I realize the repairs that will need to be effected after they have had their way.  Insurance adjusters will be called; shingles will be tacked down; broken branches will be hauled away.

I can’t help it.  I’m humming with the Fab Four as they declare whimsically, “I’m fixing the hole where the rain gets in, and stops my mind from wandering.”

When we are made aware of an issue, failure to address it only guarantees we’ll be able to accomplish nothing else until it is repaired.   Water dripping into a bucket is a distraction that will not be ignored.

The realization is profound.  Perhaps, you already see it.

The result of the storm is that we work to make things better.  Stronger.  More able to withstand the next storm.  Regardless of the hardship in between, the storm leaves us better off.

Storms motivate us to become better than we were. 

Gentle rains merely make us more comfortable.

Thankful, but comfortable with what we have grown accustomed to.

Somehow, better seems to be preferable to comfortable.

Better is preferable to comfortable. Click To Tweet

The brother of our Savior, assured us that the result of these storms will not only be better.  He claims the result will, in the end, be perfection. (James 1:2-3)

Perfection.  We’re not there yet.  Well, I’m not, anyway.

The storms keep pounding.  

I’m trying to be grateful for them, too.  In everything, be thankful. (1 Thessalonians 5:18)

God is in the storm.

Perfection is around the corner.  Or, perhaps the one after that.

Oh.  I’ll keep fixing the holes, too.  

You know—my mind still needs to wander.

 

 

 

 

You lay out the rafters of your home in the rain clouds.
You make the clouds your chariot;
    you ride upon the wings of the wind.
The winds are your messengers;
    flames of fire are your servants.
(Psalm 104:3,4 ~ NLT)

At your rebuke the waters fled,
    at the sound of your thunder they took to flight;
they flowed over the mountains,
    they went down into the valleys,
    to the place you assigned for them.
(Psalm 104:7,8 ~ NIV)

 

 

There shall be showers of blessing,
Precious reviving again;
Over the hills and the valleys,
Sound of abundance of rain.

Showers of blessing,
Showers of blessing we need:
Mercy-drops round us are falling,
But for the showers we plead.
(Showers of Blessing ~ Daniel W Whittle ~ American evangelist ~ 1840-1901)

 

 

 

© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2016. All Rights Reserved. 

Good News. Bad News.

Rejoice with those who rejoice.

As I sat not writing at my keyboard a couple of nights ago, I received the message.  The young man at the other end had just received good news.  He had to tell someone.

It didn’t matter that it was after midnight.  A light had blazed into his darkness and he needed to share the wonder.

I read the words and, even though I couldn’t actually see him, saw the smile that had spread across his face.

I messaged him back.  I‘m smiling with you.

I’m smiling as I think about his news, even now.

Good news shared is a blessing doubled.

Good news shared is a blessing doubled. Rejoice with those who rejoice. Click To Tweet

I always want to rejoice with folks who are rejoicing.  Except when I don’t.

Yeah.  You know what I mean, don’t you?

I was in the middle of a good pout when the young man’s message arrived the other night.  I’ve been in the middle of the pout for awhile now.  Call it what you want—depressed, sad, unhappy, disappointed—it’s still a pout.

Things aren’t going the way I want.  Perhaps more to the point, life isn’t working out the way I’d planned.  It seems the road map I was following was a little flawed.

woman-1006100_640Sometimes, when your soul feels heavy and is burdened down, you simply want to be left alone with your misery.  And yet, when that beam of light shines into your darkness, the reaction is automatic and instantaneous.

I stood in the light with the joyful young man and I smiled.

Joy spills over.

It does. But sometimes the beam of light is short-lived and the joy fades into the gloom of disappointment once more.

I sat with another young man this afternoon and unburdened my soul.  I thought he needed to know—and oddly enough, he seemed to want to know—what I was feeling.  Tears were in my eyes when I looked up again.  Looking into his eyes, I saw tears in them, too.

Weep with those who weep. (Romans 12:15)

Do you understand the power in those words?

I do.  Now.

I looked at his tears and was reminded that it hasn’t been many months since his tears were shed over the tiny body of a still-born baby.  He (and his sweet wife) are grieving still and will for years to come.  We spoke of that also and the tears came again.

Sorrow shared is a burden lightened.

Sorrow shared is a burden lightened. Weep with those who weep. Click To Tweet

The day will come when we will celebrate the end to all sorrows and disappointments.  No more separation.  No more loss.  No more death.

The day will come.  It’s not here yet.

Today, we walk this world of mixed joys and regrets, victories and defeats.  Our celebrations are tempered with foreboding of dark times yet to come.

I wonder.

The Teacher instructed His followers to walk in love for each other and promised that, as a consequence, they would give witness of His great love to a watching world. (John 13:34,35)

Surely He intended that to be done in the center of the world’s marketplace and not only in their cloistered meeting places.

He never suggested it would be the rule in mortuaries, but not on the street corners.

If it is to be witnessed, it must be done in public places. 

We rejoice.  We grieve.

Fellowship along both paths touches our spirits with His love.

Tonight, I’m smiling.

Through tears.

 

 

 

Sometimes our light goes out, but is blown again into instant flame by an encounter with another human being.
(Albert Schweitzer ~ French-German theologian ~ 1875-1965)

 

For everything there is a season,
    a time for every activity under heaven.
A time to cry and a time to laugh.
    A time to grieve and a time to dance.
(Ecclesiastes 3:1,4 ~ NLT)

 

 

 

 

© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2016. All Rights Reserved.