Wanderlust

I’ll admit it.  I was a little jealous as the old sandy-haired fellow said the words.  Just a little.

“Both she and I have a little of the gypsy in us, you know.”

I nodded my head thoughtfully, as if I did know, but I didn’t.  

I still don’t.

airstream-1359135_640Explaining why he was standing at my sales counter attempting to interest me in several pieces of musical equipment, the fellow had described selling the family’s home and moving into a very nice travel trailer—a rolling palace, really—with all the luxuries of home, but none of the responsibilities of being a homeowner.

I was.  I listened to him speak, and I was becoming more jealous by the minute.  

There are days when the shackles of responsibility become heavy and irksome.  The hardship and realities of life are brought into sharp focus.  When that happens, the picture isn’t pleasant to consider.

It was one of those days.

The grass was greener on the other side of the counter.  Too soon, the sandy-haired man walked out of my front door, taking the verdant vision with him.  Behind him, he left the drab, gray reality.

The freedom he had described beckoned from the world outside.  In my world, the cares and promises left to be fulfilled only mocked me.

Don’t I have a right to be happy, too?

The words had no sooner formed in my consciousness than I recoiled from them.  There are two times in my memory when I have heard those words from the mouths of men for whom I had great love and respect.  

On both occasions, the question was prelude to the most selfish act either man would ever perform.  Many who loved them are still paying the price.

When I demand my right to happiness, I declare that I am the most important human being I know.

I’m not.

My sandy-haired friend declared his desire to be footloose and fancy-free.  It’s a familiar phrase.  I wonder if we really know what it means.

Footloose, of course, means there is nothing restricting our feet from going where we want them to take us.  The popular movie by that name from a few decades ago used the word as a clever play on words to include freedom from the restrictions of religion and freedom to dance.  No chains, no hobbles, no heavy ball to inhibit movement.  Footloose.

Fancy-free is a little more complicated.  The word fancy was once used to describe love.  The statement, I fancy him, coming from a young girl declared her love for her heartthrob. Thus, fancy-free became the description of one who had no love in his or her heart, giving them the freedom to act as they wished.  Free of encumbrances, free of the emotional bonds that bind one to another.  Fancy-free.

I am not footloose.  

The leg irons clamped around my ankles, I placed there myself.  Willingly and with forethought, I clicked them closed, joyfully choosing a life of service rather than one of irresponsibility.  Nothing has changed to alter that choice.

The shackles stay.

The love in my heart, on the other hand, was not put there by me.  I have been reminded a thousand times in recent years that God’s love is lent to us, not to be hoarded for selfish reasons, nor even to be cast away when we grow weary of walking with Him, but to be shared again and again.  And again.

God's love is lent, not to be hoarded, nor cast away, but to be shared again and again. Click To Tweet

Every hour of every day, His love is ours as long as we share it freely.

I am definitely not fancy-free.

The love stays, as well.

Footloose and fancy-free?  Hardly.

Funny.  That carefree life I was jealous of only moments ago—that vagabond journey empty of all responsibility—turns out to be neither carefree nor devoid of troubles.  Many who choose it wish before much time has passed that they had never walked away from the life they had.

Still, there is a bit of the gypsy in me as well.  I’m sure of it.

The journey of the spirit is not bound by our physical location, nor does it depend on leaving behind those we love and care for.

We who follow Christ are still looking for that city that Abraham wandered in search of—that city built by God Himself.  Others who came after him sought also for a place of refuge, the place of rest promised to those who seek after God.  (Hebrews 11)

In faith, we walk the same road, nomads on a pilgrimage to a better place.

We walk it together.  With joy-filled hearts—and often tear-filled eyes—we follow our God.

Together, we follow.

The road goes ever, ever on.

Until, one day. . .

 

 

 

It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door.  You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.
(from Lord of the Rings ~ J.R.R. Tolkien)

 

But they were looking for a better place, a heavenly homeland. That is why God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.
(Hebrews 11:16 ~ NLT)

 

 

 

 

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

Holding Loosely

Go, bid the hero who has run
     Thro’ fields of death to gather fame,
Go, bid him lay his laurels down,
     And all his well-earn’d praise disclaim.
(from The Captive Ribband ~ Robert Burns ~Scottish poet ~ 1759-1796)

Late one recent night, fallen prey to a short-lived spasm of conscience brought on by too much time spent in front of one screen or another, I took up a volume of Robert Burns’ poetry and determined to wade through it.  Or, at least a portion of it.

My resolve—along with my guilty conscience—was in the final stages of relenting when I came across the jewel which contains the passage quoted above.  I had slogged through too many lines of the bewildering Scots  dialect, but it took only a line or two for me to grasp the poet’s meaning here.

Mr. Burns speaks of a single ribbon he has saved from the woman he loved, a ribbon he prizes as much as love itself.  Thus the comparison to a hero’s fame and acclaim.  He will never surrender it.

It is a familiar concept.

bank-1532394_640Some men can struggle through a lifetime and never be acclaimed a hero or even have their fabled fifteen minutes of fame.  But, many people, given just one such opportunity, will hold tight to their proof of superiority for the rest of their lives.

I have to admit, I don’t know many old war heroes.  I do know a fair number of old musicians.  Young ones, too.

You wouldn’t believe the stories I hear.

I played with                .

My band opened for                .

I wrote music for                .

Fill in the blanks.  Big names.  Huge stars.  Crowds cheering and screaming for more.  All in the past.

All of it, in the past.

A memory only, except for those who have mementos.  Photographs, recordings (vinyl and otherwise), signed napkins, all are saved and clutched tightly as if they are more precious than gold.

And I, listening to the tale, may be accorded a quick glance at the talisman, as if a pilgrim at a holy shrine.

I find myself both fascinated and saddened by the stories—and the souvenirs.  The joy—the pride—is all in the past, with none left for the future.  Success achieved, aspiration is shed like a suit of clothes, never to be worn again.

Consider the words of the humbug Wizard to the Tin Woodman:

They are called phil. . .er. . .phil. . .er. . .er. . .good-deed-doers, and their hearts are no bigger than yours, but they have one thing you haven’t got!  A testimonial!
(The Wizard of Oz  ~ L Frank Baum ~  American author ~ 1856-1919)

Without diminishing the importance of heroic acts—and they are not to be passed over lightly—I want to suggest that if we must look only behind us to see the deeds worth celebrating, we are a sad and hopeless lot.

The Apostle who loved to write long letters (he shares more than just a name with me) had a mountain of mementos and testimonials.  A mountain.  (Philippians 3)

He called the mountain garbage.  No.  He called it. . .well, I won’t write out the word here, but in the dialect of his day, it was a coarse word for dung.

Some folks have used that passage of Paul’s letter to the church at Philippi to prove that God has no use for our good works.  It’s not what He was saying.

In the journey to our real home, the things we do will not earn us safe passage.  They won’t earn us entrance into Heaven.  There is only one thing that guarantees eternity with God.  Only one.

We rely on what Jesus has done for us, having no confidence whatsoever in our flesh. (verse 3)  Salvation is complete,  without one iota of effort on our part.

The high calling is just that, a call to come up higher. Click To Tweet

Still, we are called to better things than what is in our past.  The high calling is just that, a call to come up higher.

The goal still lies ahead.

The trophies and accolades of the past are nothing to what lies ahead.

If. . .

We must finish the course with integrity and with courage if we aim to win the prize.

If we must grip honor in a clenched fist to retain it, we have not yet earned it. Click To Tweet

If we must grip honor in a clenched fist to retain it, we have not yet earned it.

Let the past go.  Nothing in it is anything compared to the trophies and testimonials that are to come.

Nothing.

Better things lie ahead.

 

 

 

 

So I’ll cherish the old rugged cross,
Till my trophies at last I lay down;
I will cling to the old rugged cross,
And exchange it someday for a crown.
(The Old Rugged Cross ~ George Bennard)

 

 

There are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind.
(From Collected Letters ~ C.S. Lewis)

 

 

 

 

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

Inside Out

This.  Guitar.  Could.  Be.  Mine. 

The little boy, all of five years old, stood near the back of the music store holding the six hundred dollar guitar he had just picked up from my repair rack.  The paper tag that clung to one of the tuning keys by its string spun crazily in the breeze from the ceiling fan overhead, offering proof that it couldn’t be his.

It belonged to someone already.  It could never be his.

Nevertheless, he repeated the words, since his mother hadn’t heard him the first time seemingly.

This.  Guitar.  Could.  Be.  Mine.  

Please.

She had heard him.  Before he added the please, she had heard him.

I was waiting for her to take action since the expensive guitar was actually in the young child’s hands.  My every fiber screamed for me to do something about it. But, not wanting to frighten the boy, nor anger the mom, I sat quietly to see what she would do.

Surely, she would tell the boy to put the guitar down that instant.  At the very least, she would walk back to where he stood strumming the strings of his new guitar lovingly and, taking it from his little hands, she would let him know firmly it would never be his.

She did neither.

“Here, honey.  I got you some guitar picks.  Oh, did you see the toys they have for you to play with up here?”

She bribed the child.  Bribed him.

I understand.  The method of child rearing has been in vogue for many years, perhaps from the dawn of time.

It’s easier to take the desire for things and shift it to other things than it is to say no.  Saying no is difficult and there is usually unhappiness to follow.  And, unhappiness is to be avoided at all costs it seems.

Besides, if you’re slick enough at the process, the child will believe the item you use as a bribe is his or her own idea and what they really want anyway.

Come to think about it, that is what happens eventually.  Like a dickering flea-market vendor, the child learns to ask for the impossible, knowing he or she will receive something else of lesser value with almost no fuss at all.

It begins with the parent manipulating the child and winds up the other way around.

To be honest, I’m often happier if the parent is successful in this method, as well.  No unhappiness is easier for innocent bystanders, too.

The price to be paid for such child-rearing will most likely not come due at my expense, but make no mistake, it will come due.

I wonder if the idea of offering consolation prizes is responsible for the current crop of folks who don’t believe that our Heavenly Father ever says no.  They don’t believe He would ever discipline those He loves.

Being loved means being given everything we’ve ever wanted or asked for.  They think.

You do know parents don’t give their five-year-old sons six hundred dollar guitars, right?  They do give their children the opportunity to begin playing an age-appropriate instrument so that someday they may—may—be ready for such a guitar.

So it is to be in our lives.  In obedience, we grow and mature.  Faithfulness in small things leads to responsibility in larger things. (Matthew 25:21)  Not as a bribe, but as evidence that our lives are guided by a loving Father, a Father who gives good gifts to His children.

He gives good gifts.  Always. (James 1:17)

Can I make this as clear as possible?  Many of the things we claim as ours can never actually be ours.

tag-295248_640The tag that hangs from them does not now bear our name, nor will it ever.

This is a hard truth.  Hard.

Still, I’ve heard different words from the lips of more men—followers of Christ, if you will— than I can count.

God wants you to be happy they say.

Content.  He wants us to be content.  (1 Timothy 6:6)

But, it says it in our Constitution—We are endowed by our Creator with rights.  There it is!

The pursuit of happiness.

Godliness.  He wants us to pursue Godliness. The psalmist tells us if we delight in our God, He will give us our heart’s desires.  (Psalm 37:4)

Ah.  I’ve made a mistake, haven’t I?

Look at it!  There!  He will give us everything our heart desires.  Everything does have a tag with my name on it.  Everything I want.

You’ll pardon me if I point out just one little thing, won’t you?

He will.  He will give us everything our heart desires.  But first, our heart has to desire Him more than anything else.

He will give us everything our heart desires. But first, our heart has to desire Him more. Click To Tweet

And, as our old friend, Mr. Shakespeare, would say—There’s the rub.

Jesus said it just as clearly, centuries later than the psalmist.  My words will live in you and you will dwell (find all of life’s essentials) in me.  Then, you may ask whatever you want in my name and you will have it.  (John 15:7)

Godliness brings contentment.

Following Christ completely turns our heart’s desires completely inside out.

Following Christ completely turns our heart's desires completely inside out. Click To Tweet.

Inside out.

I’m confident there’s no Maserati with a tag bearing my name—no huge bank account either.  It doesn’t matter.

There have been good gifts all along the way.  Some have even been material things.

Most have not.

His good gifts aren’t just good for me.  They were never intended to be held close and hoarded, but shared and given away freely.

His gifts don’t inspire greed and covetousness, but love and contentment.

It seems a good place to dwell.

I’d like to live here for awhile.

You?

 

 

It is better to be godly and have little
    than to be evil and rich.
For the strength of the wicked will be shattered,
    but the Lord takes care of the godly.
(Psalm 37:16-17 ~ NLT)

 

“They have succeeded in accumulating a greater mass of objects, but the joy in the world has grown less.”
(from The Brothers Karamazov ~ Fyodor Dostoyevsky ~ Russian novelist ~ 1821-1881)

 

Then He said to them, “Beware, and be on your guard against every form of greed; for not even when one has an abundance does his life consist of his possessions.”
(Luke 12:15 ~ NASB)

 

 

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

God Eavesdrops

I wonder sometimes if God listens in more to our normal conversations than He does to our prayers.

You too?

It happened tonight.

Twenty minutes prior, as the Lovely Lady and I worked together on a late-night project at the music store, I had—albeit, unknowingly—laid down the challenge.  We were discussing a transaction which had taken place earlier in the day.

I told her about a minor mix-up in the terms of a trade I was making and then mentioned to her that I had compensated the customer with some free merchandise.

She looked at me, a little surprised.  We are in our traditional summer slowdown—the calm before the storm, you might say—and the finances are a little tighter than usual.  We don’t normally give away a lot of products during such times.

I explained that I felt the customer had been offered something he hadn’t received, so I wanted to make up for it.  My next words are the ones I probably should have kept to myself.

“I’m not going to let circumstances determine who I am. “

I admit it; I was tired, and possibly not thinking at my best.  That said, I never expected anyone was listening besides the two of us.

She went home, leaving me to toil on a different project, one which has been on my to-do list for weeks, maybe even months.  I had already spent a fair amount of time replacing the head on the banjo during the afternoon.  New strings had followed the head, along with a good bit of set-up.

The old banjo, one my father-in-law had sold way back in the nineteen-seventies, was once again playing as it did when it was new.  All that remained was for me to replace the resonator, the round, wooden back-piece, on the instrument and I would be done.

A missing nut for one of the mounting studs was searched for (at length) and finally located before I completed the job. Then, picking the banjo up from the cradle upon which it rested, I strummed the strings a time or two.

Proudly, I should have said, I strummed the strings.  Man!  I’m good!

That’s funny.  I heard a little vibration.  That wouldn’t do.

I realized the resonator was shifting its position when I handled it, but I knew what to do about that.  I simply needed to tighten up the four nuts that held it in place.  So, one after the other, I tightened them up.

Until I got to the last one.  That one, I went overboard on, tightening too much and twisted the mounting loose.  The mounting is inside the resonator.

I would have to remove it completely, and make a repair.  Then, I would have to put the instrument together again.

Again!

It was the proverbial straw and I snapped.  I had had all I could take.

I wonder if this was the moment God had been waiting for.  Perhaps, not.  Regardless, it wasn’t pretty.

hand-1278399_640I shouted the words to the ceiling.  Shouted them!

What gives you the right?  Leave me alone!

The words had no sooner left my tongue than I clapped my hands—both of them—over my mouth.

What am I saying?

I could hardly believe the words came from me.  Worse than that, I remembered my statement to the Lovely Lady, just moments before.

It had been a promise—a covenant if you will.

Circumstances will never change who I am.

And yet, all it took was one tiny Phillips-head screw to make me go back on my word.  

I accused God!

I—proud and boastful—opened my mouth and questioned His authority, implying that He not only caused my misery, but He was overstepping the boundaries of His authority. 

From somewhere in my head, I hear the voice of another man saying something similar.  Job, as he sits in his misery, utters the exact sentiments.  God is oppressing me.  Without cause.  (Job 10:3)

Worse, I told Him to leave me alone. 

And somehow, again, there is the voice of Job speaking the same words, only to repent later.  (Job 10:20-21)

I tell you, it is not a proud and boastful man who writes these words tonight.  I trust it will not be a proud and boastful man who places that instrument in the hands of the lady when she calls for it in the next day or two.

Job knew enough to repent.  I do so, as well.  

I, too often, speak of things as if I have grasped the truth, only to realize that I merely know the truth in my head, but have not taken hold of it in my heart.

Whatever I am becoming inside is because of His presence.

When I boast of my resolve, He shows me how long that will last.

When I believe I have become something, He uses life’s tests to show me clearly what I would be without Him.

Did God break the banjo?

No.  I make mistakes all the time.  All the time.  He just uses my mistakes to teach the lessons I need to learn.

I failed a test tonight.  Standing there by myself in front of my workbench, I failed.

Circumstances do change who I am inside.  I don’t want them to, but they do anyway.

Still, I repent.

There will be other days—other tests.

I wonder sometimes if I’m the only one who has these failures along the way.  I really hope not.

My words in the moment notwithstanding, I am not estranged from my God.  I have not abandoned my pursuit of Him, nor He His of me. 

But, I did speak the words.  I did think the thoughts.

And yet, the God who listens still calls.  

Mercy still beckons.

I will follow.

Again.

 

 

Search me, O God, and know my heart;
    test me and know my anxious thoughts.
Point out anything in me that offends you,
    and lead me along the path of everlasting life.
(Psalm 139:23-24 ~ NLT)

 

We fall down, we get up. 
We fall down, we get up. 
We fall down, we get up. 
And the saints Are just the sinners
Who fall down and get up.
(from We Fall Down ~ Kyle Matthews ~ American singer/songwriter)

 

 

 

 

 

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

Unlikely Heroes

In the cover of darkest night, the old man weeps.  Alone, he cries until no more tears will come, and still the sobs torment his body.

The time was when he couldn’t shed a single tear.  When very little seemed to touch his heart.  Except harsh reality.  Retribution and reward.  Hard work.

That was before.

So many who walked beside him have gone on ahead now.

oldmandespairStill he walks.  Nearly alone now.

Once, he saw the road ahead clearly.  Almost, it seems, the light of their presence helped to make the way plain for miles ahead.

Bereft of that light, he hasn’t abandoned the way.

And yet, almost as if their presence in his life still yields a flickering beam of candlelight, his dimming eyes can make out the road ahead.  Just barely.

Heroic acts can do that, you know.  Something of their aura clings to the hero.

And yes, I called him a hero.  Many who are never acknowledged as such perform the acts of heroes daily.

No.  Not the type of hero feats performed on the battlefield, nor even those accomplished in lifesaving acts on mountainsides or in the depths of dark waters.

The acts of a hero are sometimes simply to live as one promises to live, to act as one has sworn to act, to stay when one has given his word to stay.

The old man has done all that, and more.  Ofttimes, the hero is a wife, or a mother, or a brother.

We don’t talk about it.  Perhaps it is part of our contract with the young and energetic, but we don’t speak of the ultimate cost.

Maybe we should.

The young home health specialist was obviously uncomfortable as I spoke with him about it the other day.  But then again, he may not be all that young—simply younger than I.  Still, he was reluctant to speak the words.

I asked him if the situations in which he found himself daily were surprising or uncomfortable for him.  He chose his words carefully.

“I love home health work.  Still, there are things that go on in those homes that you wouldn’t believe.  Horrible, painful things.  And, beautiful things.

Refusing to name the horrible, painful things, he instead described folks who take care of their loved ones from daybreak to nighttime and, many times, on through the night.  Their tasks are dirty and uncomfortable.  The regularity with which they are called upon to perform the tasks is constant, with no end in sight.

The years stretch out ahead.  Still, they stay.

I marvel.  In part, I marvel at the hardships that await at the end of our lives, or sometimes surprisingly, early in them.  More than that, I marvel at the audacity of someone who would willingly attend such events.

Still, we don’t speak aloud of the hardships, especially to the young.

I was present at a wedding the other evening.  It was beautiful—the bride, gorgeous and so happy.  The groom, a young man I have known since he was a small boy, beamed from ear to ear with his beautiful young wife hanging on his arm.  And, so he should.

Youth is a heady time of life.  Indestructible and self-confident, no hint of hardship fazes us.  Bring it on!  We can handle anything!  Anything.

The Lovely Lady and I hugged the beautiful young bride and her handsome husband, as I joked that the wedding had gone perfectly.

“That was the easy part.  Now comes the hard stuff.”

The words came from my mouth lightly.  The pair acknowledged the veracity of my statement, perhaps a little more seriously than I intended.  But, the innocence in their beaming faces gave evidence that their young minds had not yet imagined the path their promises on that night will lead them upon.

And, perhaps that’s the way it should be.  Love, if it is indeed love, is a journey beside one another—a growing together, a gathering consciousness of shared joys and pains; of approaching illnesses that will change life for both.

Still, I wonder.  When the young begin their journey together, we throw huge, extravagant parties—celebrations of good intentions, of great hopes.

And when, after years of walking with those one loves and interminable nights of performing unspeakable tasks because of that love, the shared journey comes to an end, there is no celebration whatsoever.

The hero is unsung.  The herculean task of caring for the person one loves is passed over as if it never happened.

It happened.

It happened.

Somehow though, it seems incongruous to celebrate in the face of sorrow and pain.  I wonder if it’s a stretch to think that perhaps, there’ll be a special place of honor for these heroes at the wedding feast of the Lamb.  (Revelation 19:8-9)  After all, who understands marriage better among mankind than those who have fulfilled their oaths to the last breath?

But then again, I think the words of praise from the Lord as he’s welcomed into heaven will be celebration enough.

Well done!  You’ve been a good, faithful servant.  It’s time for you to rest. (Matthew 25:21)

Promises kept build the character of a man.  Debts paid strengthen the integrity of the person.

The old man stood on my porch last weekend and, barely holding back the tears, told me she was gone.  After sixty-six years, he is alone.  

I reminded him of her love for him and his care for her, and he brightened, if only for a moment.  It hadn’t been a storybook marriage, but both had fulfilled their promises.  And then some.

I wish it were time for celebration.  

But, in his room alone, he weeps.

The day is coming.  It is.

The celebration is still ahead.  Crowns will be distributed to the heroes.  And then, offered again to the Hero of Heroes.  

Tears—those evidences of present sorrows that our God counts precious—will by His own hand, be wiped from our eyes.

The old man is waiting for the day.

So am I.

.  

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.
(1 Corinthians 9:24-25 ~ NIV)

 

You will never do anything in this world without courage.  It is the greatest quality of the mind next to honor.
(Aristotle ~ Greek philosopher ~ 384 BC-322 BC)

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

I’m Not Talking About It

Personally, I would rather do almost anything than talk about it.  Come to think about it, it’s clear no one actually wants to discuss it anyway.

Oh, that doesn’t mean no one has anything to say about it.  Just the opposite is true.  Almost everyone has an opinion.  Many are ready to tell me what that opinion is.

But, if we’re going to talk about it anyway, shouldn’t that mean we could listen to each other?  Just a little?  A discussion involves give and take—statement and argument—with all involved parties listening and contributing.

We seem to have forgotten that.

Perhaps, as I do, you believe that everything you have always known to be true was written from the foundation of the earth.  After all, it was taught you by people you love—people you trust.

We are, each of us, the product of our environment.  Our life experiences to this point have shaped our thought processes.  Our education plays a part; our upbringing does, as well.

Many who read my words have a worldview shaped by God’s Word and a relationship with a Savior God.  Therefore, much of what we believe and teach comes directly from the pages of the Bible.  The words do, anyway.

I wonder though, how often we mess up the application.

We study.  We read.  We buy books to explain what we’ve studied and read.  

And then, we take a passage like this one and misuse it:

Stop and think! Do the innocent die?
    When have the upright been destroyed?
My experience shows that those who plant trouble
    and cultivate evil will harvest the same. *

I’ve seen the ideas in print and heard them voiced.  Something similar has come from my lips.  They weren’t direct quotes from this scripture, but the meaning was very close to it. 

Do you know who actually said the words?  

They came from one of Job’s accusers—a friend, if you will—as he sat and comforted Job with half-truths.  The words were true from his perspective, but were not even close to the truth from Job’s.

And God’s.

It strikes me that those words could even have been spoken by someone as they watched Jesus die on the cross.  There is little doubt people nearby would have nodded their heads in agreement.

If I had been alive, I might have been one of them.  

No.  Would have.  

I would have been one of them.
                                        

The boy came in with his grandmother a couple of weeks ago, toting a wooden box with steel strings stretched across it.  He had a smile pasted on his young face, as if in anticipation of the realization of a dream.

melodyharpWe did our best to help the dream along.  The Lovely Lady aided the young man in selecting some instructional materials, while I promised to have the little melody harp in tune when next he and his grandma came to see us.

The music for this little instrument is not written in notation form.  It is simply a printed diagram which lies under the strings of the harp indicating, by location and progression, the strings to be plucked.  The marks are just little dots which are positioned directly underneath the string to be sounded at any given time.

I noticed something odd about the set-up as the Lovely Lady played the tune to Three Blind Mice, on the day we received the music the boy had selected.

If you are the person making the music, standing over the harp and looking down at it from the front, the diagram makes perfect sense.  The notes, if they are in tune, sound clearly and accurately.  Music flows from the little rudimentary instrument, with no question as to the melody.

Yet, from the top of the tiny harp, the dots line up with the strings not at all.  The lines leading from one dot to the next are upside down and backwards, confusing the pattern.  

There is no way the person on the other side of the harp could use the printed music to follow the tune.  The result would be a halting and mistake-ridden rendition, unrecognizable as the song written by the composer.

Sometimes, we have to move to where a fellow traveler is to be able to see his or her perspective on the journey.

Neither the ministry nor the method of another pilgrim is mine to call into question, simply because my ministry and methods differ. 

Perhaps, it is time for us to talk about it—whatever it is.

Perhaps, as we talk, we need to move to a different vantage point to be able to see the view our brothers and sisters see every day.

Perhaps, instead of listening to our own voices filling the air with what we think we know, we could listen to the voice of our God.

He has seen the journey from the other vantage point.

He even walked it Himself.

 

 

This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin. So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most.
(Hebrews 4:15-16 ~ NLT)

 

“Child,” said the Lion, “I am telling you your story, not hers.  No one is told any story but their own.”
(from The Horse and His Boy ~ C.S. Lewis ~ British novelist ~ 1898-1963)

 

*Job 4:7-8 ~ NLT

 

 

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

It Comes Back

plumber-1162323_640I’m standing on the roof, plumber’s snake jammed down the vent pipe.  Again and again I shove the flat wire down and drag it back up.  With each repetitive cycle, the stench of sewer escapes the pipe, to lodge in my nostrils and throat.

I’m not happy.

The trip up to the roof is a familiar one, this particular job needing to be repeated two or three times a year.  The century-old house has pipes under it that date back nearly to its original construction.

I’ve resigned myself to doing the task; clearly, the job itself is not responsible for my unhappiness.

I wonder why I’m unhappy.

No.  I don’t wonder; actually, I know.  

I’m unhappy because I’m going to be happy in a minute, but unhappy again after that.

There.  That’s made it perfectly clear, hasn’t it?

All right.  Quick, before it happens, let me explain it.  

In a minute, maybe five, there is going to be a loud gurgle,  I’ll hear water sucking downward, and the whoosh of every sewer pipe in the house dumping all the dirty water it contains into the line that leads under the yard to the alley where the city system will carry it to be treated and released again. 

It is exactly what I mean to accomplish.

And, almost on cue, there it goes.  The rush of water is even louder than I remember it.  The sweet sound of success echoes from under ground, up through the cast iron pipes to reverberate in my ears.  It’s done.

The elation is almost indescribable.  

I am sweating and tired, worn out from standing and laboring on the slanted shingle rooftop, but it is the moment I have been working toward from the instant I began climbing the aluminum ladder up from the ground.

What genuine joy!  What relief!

The job is done!  Hallelujah!

But. . .

I stand on the roof, gloved hands wrapping the twenty feet of metal snake back around the coil, and I have this nagging thought.

I’ve done exactly this before.  

I slide my hand around one wrap after another, and my foul mood is back just like that.  I have.  I’ve done this many times before, without variation.

I’ve conquered the sewer demon over and over.

I’ll have to do it again.  Someday.  I’ll have to do it again.

I am unhappy.

The filthy stuff comes back.  As long as we live in this old house, I’ll have to drag out the tools and send the vile stuff back where it belongs.

There is good stuff in the old house too—stuff that needs to be protected from the filthy junk.  It’s worth saving.  Again and again, it’s worth saving.

I’ll do it again.

I wonder.  The one sheep out of the one hundred who wandered away—after he was found and returned—did he wander away again?  Did he have to be found again?  (Luke 15)

The woman’s lost coin—after the house had been cleaned and it turned up—did she ever lose a coin again in that house?

What about the arrogant son, the one we call the prodigal?  After he came back and his dad threw a party for him—did he fall back into his old ways again?  Did they throw another party for him when he returned the second time?

What about the fifth time?  Or the tenth?

The filth of this fallen world encroaches time after time.  I don’t know about anyone else, but I have to stand up to the dirt again and again.  Some times are worse than others.

There are certain sins which are only just defeated to return and tempt again in an instant.  I stand firm, only to be tested in exactly the same way.  Or perhaps, in a subtly different way.

Every time—every time—I rejoice and do a little victory dance inside, only to be reminded that winning the battle is not the same thing as winning the ultimate victory.

Some will say the sin nature is dead and I shouldn’t have to fight the battles again.  I tell you, that never was promised to us.

We were promised that sin doesn’t rule us anymore, for we’ve been made alive to God.  Temptation comes, but we have the tools to defeat the temptation. (Romans 6:14)

I don’t allow the filth to fill my house.  I never will.

It doesn’t always feel that much like living in victory, but it’ll do.

It’ll do until there’s no need to use the tools anymore.  

Maybe, a new house. . . 

Yes.  I think a new house would be nice.  One with no sewer problems.

That’s coming someday, too.

He promised.

 

 

In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also.
(John 14:2-3 ~ NASB)

 

Opportunity may knock only once, but temptation leans on the doorbell.
(Anonymous)

 

 

 

 

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

Proofreaders

She reads them all.  Every single one of them.  

It seems a cruel punishment, doesn’t it?  I sit at my computer for a few hours, pecking out the words, sorting through the verbs, nouns, and modifiers (dangling or not) and then she has to endure the torture of sorting through the olio that results.

Each morning after I arrive at the music store, I check my email.  It is a common task for most of us in this era of digital communication.  But, I am looking for something different than most office workers.  

As I open the mail folder, I quickly scan down the list of unopened entries.  If her name is not present, I breathe a sigh of relief and move on to other pursuits.

That may seem strange to you.  She is my wife, after all–the Lovely Lady, whom I love.  

Why shouldn’t I want to see an email from her when I get to my desk?  Is something awry in paradise?  Are there problems I haven’t shared with my readers?

No, you may rest easy on that point.  The email I dread from her is the one with the stark single-word subject line that says simply, Blog.  Its presence in the mail queue can only indicate one thing.  I have made an error in my latest post.  

It does happen.

I don’t like making mistakes, but contrary to what you may have been led to believe, it does happen.  Frequently.

Gingerly, I open such emails, dreading what I will find.  Gently–always gently–she mentions that I might want to check the comma in the first paragraph or the tense of that dependent clause near the end of the essay.

I breathe a sigh of relief when it is such minor problems that are pointed out.  The issues I dread are actually more commonplace than that, but I detest to have them pointed out.

“You have one typo here.  Instead of out, you wrote our.

Such a revelation can spoil my entire morning; my self-confidence is shattered.  Too many commas, I can handle.  Commas are almost a matter of personal choice.  There is no definitively correct way to handle them.

letters-1161947_640Typographical errors, on the other hand, show carelessness and are indicative of slipshod performance.  They reflect on my work ethic.  I am mortified to have missed such common errors.  

I exaggerate, of course.  

I do, however, feel bad about my personal failure to offer the best product possible to my readers.

I smile as I think about the patience of the Lovely Lady, who really does read and reread each essay because she wants to.  There is no expectation on my part and she knows it.  I welcome the criticism, even when it brings with it the embarrassment of learning my shortcomings. 

But as I think, my mind (as it is wont to do) slips on past this era of morning email and back to a time in the distant past, and my smile disappears.

My friend and I are talking about a class I teach at our church.  I am proudly expounding on the excellent discussion we had the last time the class met.  He hesitates and I await his response, assuming he will have nothing but praise to offer for my mastery of the situation.

“Paul, do you realize several people wanted to say something that day, but didn’t?”

The words come quietly and slowly—as if he hates having to say any one of them.

I am surprised, but immediately fling back my response. 

“Well, why didn’t they speak?  Everyone knows they can talk freely there.”

“They didn’t speak because they knew you would just blast them out of the water,” he says firmly.  “You hardly give anyone time to finish their thought before you unload on them with your arguments and opinions.  They’re afraid of you.”

This time, I’m not exaggerating when I tell you I am devastated.  

I sit and think back on the session we are discussing.  The way I remember it, there was nothing but smiles and goodwill.  But clearly, I had failed to feel the undercurrents; failed to hear the whispers of dissent.

I had failed.

It was one of the hardest weeks of my young life.  I think that’s how it is when you’re forced to come face-to-face with the person you really have become. 

That same night I called one of my mentors and talked through what I was feeling, suggesting I should immediately resign from teaching the class.  He helped me to see I would only be running from the issues, not dealing with them.

The next Sunday, a rather tearful apology and promises to do better in the future were met with the forgiveness and acceptance I didn’t deserve, but for which I was grateful.

If you have stuck with me thus far, I should point out something which may already be obvious.  I’m really hoping you see the people in the above narrative more clearly than the events.

You see, I am unashamedly grateful for people in my life who are willing to proofread, to make correction, to help me to be a better me.

Without question, life would be easier without their meddling.  I could go along without a care in the world, confident in my intellectual and moral superiority.

And, conspicuously wrong.  

When I undertake to walk the road before me without aid, I falter on the way. Assuming that my sense of direction is impeccable, I make a wrong turn.

Every time.

Friends and wise counselors are, without doubt, one of God’s greatest gifts to mankind.

We should cherish them; we should certainly heed them.  Chances are good that, if they’ve stuck with us through years of our immaturity, they want only good for us and not otherwise.

And, when we come finally to the years of wisdom, those we call the golden years, each of us needs at least one such friend.

If nothing else, they may keep us from making really stupid old-person mistakes.

If history means anything, it seems to be a distinct possibility!

 

 

 

Wounds from a sincere friend are better than many kisses from an enemy.
(Proverbs 27:6 ~ NLT)

 

Let no man under value the price of a virtuous woman’s counsel.
(George Chapman ~ English poet/dramatist ~ 1559-1634)

 

 

 

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

Message from a Hypocritical Fake

It’s kind of hard for Mom to see the road when she has tears in her eyes.

Our house guests had been gone not even an hour when the text arrived on my phone.  I laughed.  And then, I wiped the tears from my own eyes. 

As we hugged and said our goodbyes that morning, the girls’ mom mentioned how sad it had been for her to be packing.  I understood.  Their days had been full of old friends and swimming, of family gatherings and sleep-overs.  They were leaving to go hundreds of miles away.

It is sad.  But, I have to tell you—it’s also joyful.

It’s what happens when we love people.

The homecomings are all laughter and excitement, the separation, tears and sadness.

In between, the sweet times of fellowship are a delight; the distance of disagreement—heartbreak.

Love keeps us coming back.  Again and again, the cycle is repeated.  

Joy, sadness.  Smiles, tears.

I know.  It’s hokey.  Sentimental slop.

But, that’s life.

Life is hokey.  It’s mushy.  It’s sloppy.

It’s horribly messy.  Horribly.

But, I’ll say this:  Better are tears wiped from the eyes while driving away than the voice of regret for never having come.

The memories of times, happy or sad, spent with loved ones are infinitely more to be treasured than the times passed in self-centered pursuits.  When, in the passing years, we sit and speak of the good times, we will remember occasions filled with voices and faces, laughter and tears.

The time we share with people is precious; hours wasted in the dark and quiet are hardly remembered at all, save with regret.

One could read the words I’ve scattered on this page and nod his or her head in affirmation, agreeing completely about time spent with family.  And yet, I stopped talking about family quite a way up the page.

The statement was: It’s what happens when we love people.  

Sad.  Joyful.

People.  

Family.  Neighbors.  Strangers.  Enemies.

People.

Being a writer, and working to make my articles more accessible has led me to visit and read more divergent views of faith and life than I once did.  There is a recent theme that has disappointed me, even worried me.

Why I Ditched the Church Scene (and why you should, too).

Folks who have been hurt, or seen sin in the lives of others, or had disagreements with leaders, are leaving the church in droves.  They are not going out to start a new fellowship.  They are ditching church altogether.

I wonder.  

I’ve said it before myself.  I don’t want to go to church today.

And, I will admit here for the first time publicly, in my head I have said it differently.  I don’t want to go to church ever again.

Not ever.

Do you know why I keep going to church, with all those hypocrites and fakes—with all those sinners?

They need me.  

pebbles-56435_640No, not because I’m so holy.  Not because I’m so wise.  They need me because I’ve got some rough edges that can bump against the rough edges they bring with them each week.  (Hebrews 10:24-25)

This hypocritical fake, who still has a problem with sin, loving them can do what humanity is intended to do.  Help them to be better people.

Help me to be a better person.

Is the church full of two-faced fakes?

Duh!

So is my music store.  So is the restaurant where I break bread.  So is the university where you got your degree.  We interact with them in those places, as well.

We are all flawed.  We all need help.

God gives it in the form of other flawed, helpless humans.  If we abandon them, we serve only ourselves.

And, in the end, if we serve only ourselves, we harm everyone.

Will there be tears?

Will there be unhappiness?

It is a certainty.  

What is also certain is that as we live in community, we learn to be the men and women God intended for us to be.

From each other.  By being with each other.

I said there will be tears and unhappiness.  There will also be great joy and celebration.

It’s what happens when we love people.

And God.

Some day, He’ll wipe those tears away Himself.  (Revelation 21:4)

For now, I’ve got a sleeve I can wipe them on.

 

 

 

Don’t cry because it’s over.  Smile because it happened.
(Anonymous ~ attributed to Dr. Seuss ~ American author ~  1904-1991)

 

 

 

Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works.  And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.
(Hebrews 10:24-25 ~ NLT)

 

 

 

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

Debt Piles Up

God will reward your generosity.

The words came unexpectedly.  I didn’t even know the man was paying attention to the transaction which had just occurred in the music store.

I’ve mentioned on several occasions, that with increasing regularity, opportunities pop up to help folks in less advantageous circumstances.  Believing that we have been put where we are with a better purpose than amassing wealth, I attempt to make a habit of helping when I can, usually in a mostly insignificant way.

“God will reward your generosity.”

Without thinking, I glanced up at the man in front of me.

“He already has.”  

I said the three words that came to me.  Nothing more.  A total of eight words were spoken on the subject.

We moved on to our business and the terse conversation was forgotten.

I think it needs to be revisited.  In a way, it actually was for me later in the day.

A customer from Pennsylvania called to request a CD we didn’t have.  I found a company which could provide it and walked the aging man through the process to purchase it on their website.

He was extremely grateful and said essentially the same thing the fellow in my store had earlier.

“God will bless you for this.”

I wonder.

All my life, I’ve listened to the talk of rewards and blessings.  I’m confused.  

God has given—given—us the magnificent gift of grace.  The penalty for our sins has been paid in full.  The gift of God is salvation, not of works, but by grace through faith.  It’s all Him.  All of it. (Ephesians 2:8-9)

And now, if all I do is obey Him, He owes me more?

If I love my neighbor, be he in my music store, or across the country in Philadelphia, I get to keep track of it and present the expense statement for repayment?

I don’t mean to be cynical and I certainly don’t mean to ruffle feathers.  Still, I’m looking for the day when we look at the good that others do and simply acknowledge it’s what we all should be doing all the time.

I want us to realize that our love for each other is simply servicing a debt we owe to a Creator who loves us more than words can express.

It’s a debt that can never be paid off.  

Never.

I want to be very clear.  God owes me nothing.  

If I did nothing but good for those around me until the instant of my death, there would never be a hint of any blessing owed me in the ledger kept for such things.  Not a feather’s weight would tip the scale in my favor.

I owe Him everything.  I always will.

It is true for every saint and sinner who ever walked this dusty earth.

We owe.

But, understand this as well.  He never forces us to lift a finger in repayment of the debt.

His love though—His love—makes us into people who cannot help but recognize the claim He has on our actions and attitudes.

We love.  Because He loved us first, we love. (1 John 4:19)

Period.

Blessed?  Beyond any ability of man to describe.

Rewarded? In ways I will never know—so far out of balance to what I owe.

I owe.  Maybe you do too.

We need to be paying up every day we live.  Without coercion and without a profit motive on our part, we should give.  God loves a cheerful giver.  (2 Corinthians 9:7

beggar-1016678_640We pay on our love debt by helping others.  It’s the way the system is designed to work.  

The world is sitting with their hands out, waiting for them to be filled.

It’s time for us to pay up.

He’s already blessed us for it.

 

 

 

Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law.
(Romans 13:8 ~ NIV

 

The world does not understand theology and dogma, but it understands love and sympathy.
(Dwight L Moody ~ American evangelist/pastor ~ 1837-1899)

 

 

 

 

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