All Together Now. Lift!

The boy was determined.  He didn’t mean to argue.  He just meant to help his grandfather do what he had said he was going to do.

This one’s a little too big to get over the fence.  We’ll have to drag it out the gate, after all.  Hopefully, the dogs won’t get out while we do it.

The boy’s aging grandfather was only being pragmatic.  After all, the mulberry limb was twelve feet long and loaded with unripe mulberries.  There was no reason to strain anyone’s muscles when the gate was just ten feet away.

Why don’t we lift together and just see if we can get it over, Grandpa?

The question was never an argument; it was simply a trial balloon, floated through the air in hopes that the old man would agree to help share the load, rather than insist on opening the gate.

For some reason, opening the gate seemed like failure to the kid with the faux-mohawk adorning his head.

The old man smiled.  He’s never worn a mohawk, but in the mischievous eyes of the boy (and also in the lad’s thought processes) he sees so much of himself fifty years past.

He wonders how different life might have been if offering such helpful alternatives had been possible in similar situations when he was that age.

He grew up in a day when no meant no.  One didn’t argue, or even offer alternatives.

And, I don’t mean maybe!  The red-headed lady who raised him said it often enough.

But, it was also a day when you pulled your own weight.  Period.

No, thanks!  I can get this just fine.  You go on and do your own job.

Self-sufficiency.  Take care of your business.  I’ll deal with mine.

Okay, Grandpa?

He jerked slightly and, looking toward the source of the words, saw the grinning boy lifting the end of the long branch already.  The boy’s older brother did his part in the center of the hefty limb, and Grandpa took a grip on the thickest section, lifting and hurling the whole affair over the tall chainlink fence with their help.

With their help.

Over the last few years, and especially in the last few weeks, I have come to realize, again and again, how much I need the assistance of others who care.  Many folks, none of whom were under any compulsion other than that of love, have helped me to lift the loads I couldn’t begin to carry myself.

The boy with the almost-mohawk is merely following the simple instructions the Apostle who loved to write letters gave to the good folks in the region of modern-day Turkey two thousand years ago.

He said, Share each other’s loads.  It’s how you fulfill Christ’s instructions. (Galatians 6:2-3)

The child, a sixth of my age, is learning to live by the words already.

Our creator designed us to function at our best when we perform in concert with each other.  He doesn’t need any one-man shows.

Elijah thought he was a one-man show and it nearly cost him his sanity.  God, speaking in His gentle whisper, suggested to him that wasn’t the way He worked.  No, my child, there are thousands more doing the same thing you are in the place I put them.  You’re not the only one—not even close.  (1 Kings 19: 12-18)

Somehow my mind needs pictures.  I read recently about direct drive motors, and it seems the perfect example. 

Direct drive motors.  None of us functions as one of those.   As the name intimates, direct drive needs nothing else to get the job done.  A power source and the motor.  That’s it.

We are not that.

Gearbox motors are a bit more complex, perhaps even a little less reliable.  Still, the Creator selected that technology when He determined how we, who are made in His own image, would interact with each other and the rest of His creation.

Gears, interacting with thousands, perhaps millions of other gears—teeth meshing with teeth, rotating in the exact place the Master Designer planned for each individual one of us.

Each gear is exactly as important as those it meshes with; not one could stop rotating without adversely affecting the movement of the whole.

No, we’re not merely cogs in a wheel.  We’re cogs in THE wheel.  Absolutely essential, every single one.  

A gear spinning by itself serves no purpose.  Sure, it’s pulling it own weight.

But, it’s going nowhere.  Fast.

A gear spinning by itself serves no purpose. It gets nowhere. Fast. Click To Tweet

We need each other.  

Just as I needed my grandsons today, we, on our journey, falter and fail without the interaction kindred spirits offer.

We help lift the load for others.

And, we allow them to help lift our load.

Funny.  That’s the way love works.

But, you already knew that, didn’t you?

 

 

 

He makes the whole body fit together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love.
(Ephesians 4:16 ~ NLT)

 

Doing nothing for others is the undoing of ourselves.
(Horace Mann ~ American educational reformer/politician ~ 1796-1859)

 

 

 

© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2017. All Rights Reserved.

Sidewalks to Nowhere

Well, that’s it.  We’ll head down to City Hall and pay our fine now.  After that, we’re done.  The new owner can move in tomorrow.

I grinned at the builder’s words, thinking he meant that fees still needed to be paid—for inspections or permits, possibly.  Then, looking into his serious eyes and noticing his chin shaking back and forth, I realized he was serious.

A fine?  Why would you have to pay a fine after building this beautiful new house?

With a wry chuckle, the man with the sun-bleached blonde hair explained.

Our little town, a forward-looking village of sixteen thousand residents, has a requirement in the building code which is intended to make all of the roadways friendly to pedestrians.  Every new home built must include a sidewalk across the front, the specifications of which may be found in the city code, and the cost of which may be passed on to the new homeowner.

It’s a good idea.  I like it.  Except . . .

Well? What’s the problem?

Why wouldn’t the man just have the forms prepared and lay a sidewalk at the same time the big truck backed up to dump the liquid concrete for the driveway?  Another hour or two; it would have taken no more.

I stood there on the side of the little cul-de-sac, looking around the neighborhood, and I laughed out loud.

It is an old neighborhood.  The little craftsman bungalow just finished next door is almost certain to be the last house ever built on the street.  The last one.

Not one of the other houses has a sidewalk in front of it.  They never will.

There is no need.  In this neighborhood, folks walk across lawns to the house next door, or three doors over, leaning over fences to talk with anyone sitting on a patio, or in their garden, or trimming the shrubbery.

If they’re going farther, they cross the pavement at long angles, perhaps even walking down the middle of the street.  Nobody will run them down.  The turnaround is just a few feet up ahead; why would anyone be going that fast?

He’s going to pay a fine of two thousand five hundred dollars.

Rules are rules.

One complies or they pay the price.

I don’t understand.  A segment of sidewalk must be laid in a neighborhood which will never have other segments of sidewalk to join it.

By itself, a sidewalk to nowhere will lie unused.  It will still require care.  Weeds will eventually grow in the expansion cracks filled with dirt that no schoolchild returning home will ever kick out.  If the homeowner doesn’t run a trimmer religiously along both edges, the lawn will inevitably cover it.

In the end, it will lie, cracked and useless, for all the world to laugh at the folly which required its construction in the first place.

The builder will pay the fine.

We don’t believe in sidewalks to nowhere.  We wouldn’t think of making useless rules that are ultimately costly and purposeless.

No one I know would ever make someone pay the price for not complying with the book of rules.

Or, would we?

Adamant, that’s what the city inspector will be.  Unmovable.  Unyielding.

Set in stone.  It’s what adamant means.  Like a diamond, harder than anything around it.

Adamant.  Too often, it’s what we are.

Unmovable. Unyielding. Too often it's what we are. Click To Tweet

It’s why we still build sidewalks to nowhere.

The Stone we should be building on, the one the other builders and their inspectors rejected?  (Matthew 21:42)

Turns out, He’s made of love—flexible, movable love.

Love that bends over backward to reach out to its neighbors.  In ways the rule makers and enforcers can’t possibly understand, love reaches every time.

Every time.

And, He wants us to be the same.

It’s the law we live under, the law of love. (Romans 13:8)

It’s time to stop building sidewalks to nowhere.  Even the old builder knows that.

Love reaches.

Every time.

Sometimes it pays the price first.

Love reaches. Every time. Sometimes it pays the price first. Click To Tweet

 

 

“Yes,” said Jesus, “what sorrow also awaits you experts in religious law! For you crush people with unbearable religious demands, and you never lift a finger to ease the burden.”
(Luke 11:46 ~ NLT)

 

He’s a real nowhere man,
sitting in his nowhere land;
Making all his nowhere plans
For nobody.
(Nowhere Man~ McCartney/Lennon ~ British singer/songwriters)

 

 

 

© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2017. All Rights Reserved.

Before I Sleep

“Don’t worry, Mr. Phillips.  You’ll be asleep through the whole process.”

I think she meant it to be reassuring.  No, I’m sure she did.

I’m not all that reassured.

I like being awake.  I’ve spent most of my life being awake.  I remember things that have happened when I’m awake better than otherwise.

I don’t sleep much—a habit the man who’s doing the procedure in a day or two says I need to break.  Come to think of it, that may be what he’s trying to help me with by having me sleep while he works.  He’s going to give me a jump-start on breaking the habit of not sleeping.

It’s a habit I’ve cultivated over a lifetime, one I don’t wish to have meddled with.

A few years ago, my young son-in-law sat at the dinner table one day and voiced his complaint.  The month-old baby in my daughter’s arms was the object of the young father’s concern.

“He just won’t go to sleep.  It’s like he’s afraid he’ll miss something while he’s out.”

All of us gathered at the table chuckled sympathetically, but the words rattled around in my head and hit a little closer to home than he intended.

I don’t want to miss anything!

I don’t.

Oh—in a day or two, I’ll lie down and let them put the IV into my arm and I’ll sleep.  I really don’t think I need to be awake while that nice man runs a probe through my arteries.  I actually believe that may be one of the few things I’d like to miss.

But the rest of it?  The conversations, the mealtimes, the concerts, the bike rides, the hugs, the tears, the singing, the soccer games, the shopping trips, the weddings, the funerals, and all the other events that make up a lifetime?

Those I don’t want to sleep through.

It’s time to be awake.

I remember sitting in the pew as a boy and singing at the top of my lungs (I always did) as the song leader swung his arm in that familiar 4 beat pattern.

Work, for the night is coming,
When man’s work is o’er.

It’s a great hymn, reminding us that we need to be up and doing while we have time.  The figurative night is the end of our life.

But, I have a problem.

I don’t know about you, but it seems to me it’s pretty dark in the world now.  The shades of night are all about us.

Is it time to sleep yet?

Shades of night are all about us. Is it time to sleep yet? Click To Tweet

In what we once called the Dark Ages, people gathered together in walled cities for protection against each other, closing the gates to any who were outside.  Inside lay safety.

Religious factions disparaged each other from the safety of their fortresses. Petty kings and rulers did the same from theirs.

Outside, chaos ruled.  Fear was the law of the land.  Those with power took whatever they wanted.  The common man survived, but only just.

Somehow today, it seems dark to me again.  Nighttime, one might say.

Still, it’s not time for sleep yet.  Now is the time to be up and doing.

In the dark.

We’re not home yet.

It’s time to shake off the sleep.  Time to drink another cup of coffee or splash cold water on the face.

Whatever it takes.

Perhaps, Mr. Frost said it better than I can.  If it comes to that, I’m sure he did.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,

And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep. *

I’m still awake.

I want to keep my promises.

You?

 

 

 

This is all the more urgent, for you know how late it is; time is running out. Wake up, for our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is almost gone; the day of salvation will soon be here. So remove your dark deeds like dirty clothes, and put on the shining armor of right living.
(Romans 13:11-12 ~ NLT)

 

 

*(from Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening ~ Robert Frost)

 

 

© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2017. All Rights Reserved

The Ladder

Let’s just put in a new window.

She had a point.  The old single-hung window was pathetic, the lower pane broken, with a piece of plywood covering the missing glass.   The combination of dirty, scratched glass and the not-so-efficient plywood patch made it seem that the natural light outside had to squeeze its way in, rather than streaming in from the sky, as one would expect.  The paint on the window frame is peeling and it is easy to see that water has been leaking onto the wood for years.  Perhaps it really is finished.

One might have thought that—before today.

Today, I made what seemed like fifteen trips up a ladder with the sole intent of proving the old window still had some life left in it.  Fifteen trips up to a window twelve feet off the ground.  Fifteen trips back down.

I carried tools up to remove the old glass, tools to clean out the old glazing compound and glazier’s points, tools to scrape peeling paint, and even a tool to make sure the window won’t keep sliding open on its own.  I brought broken panes down.  I carried new panes up.

In between, I stood near the top of the ladder and labored.

Tomorrow, I’ll make a few more trips up and down.

The window is going to be fine.  Really.  The building contractor working on the new house next door to my old one looked over at it this afternoon and told me so.  He says it’s looking great.

The window is going to be fine.

I’m not so sure about me.  The old legs are shaky tonight.  Muscles ache and I have a slight cramp in the arch of my foot, where it rested on the rung—when it wasn’t climbing up or down the rest of the rungs.

I had a different scenario in mind when I insisted we save the old window.  It involved one trip up the ladder.  It involved one trip down the ladder.

No one wants to cover ground they’ve already covered.  Like Longfellow’s blacksmith, we want to see something attempted and something done.  Just like that—all on the same day.

Try.  Do.  Wipe your hands.

Tomorrow, I’ll go up the ladder again.  And very possibly, the next day, I’ll go up the ladder again.

And, in that realization, I see before me the analogy of my existence these days.

Each morning finds me in the same valley, looking up at the job I know must be done.  The mountain must be climbed, tasks will be attempted, but it seems certain the goal won’t be reached.

Weary and frustrated, I’ll slide down the mountainside one more time, only to tackle it again tomorrow.  The words Mr. Shakespeare put into the mouth of Macbeth centuries ago make their way even now into my own: Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow.

Hmmm.  One might get the idea I’m discouraged.  Perhaps, even angry.  

I have been.  Both of them.

As I did today when I descended the ladder for the last time, I have looked up and have seen, not the progress which has been made, but the great amount of the task yet to be accomplished.  

Standing on the ground, looking up this afternoon, even after hearing my contractor friend praise my attempts, it was easy to wonder why I even considered reviving that old window.

What an astonishing waste of time!  How do I justify the effort and expense?

And yet…

As I put away the tools and my ladder, a thought hit me.  They do that, you know.

I wonder what it looks like from inside the room?

Wearily, but with just a hint of anticipation, I clomped up the rough staircase inside.

I won’t say I was awestruck.  I wasn’t.  Still, as I stepped off the top step into the room, the difference was surprising.  Light, from the sunny Spring sky, filled the room.  All the dingy impediment of the old panes was a thing of memory.  

Now, we’re getting somewhere!

Sometimes, all it takes is to look at the thing from a different perspective.  We’ve been looking at it from the same side for so long, we can’t see how close we are to reaching the goal.

Tomorrow will be another day.  The journey still beckons, in all of its unromantic tedium.

I’ll climb the ladder again.  And again.

It’s how the light gets inside.

Climb the ladder again tomorrow. It's how the light gets in. Click To Tweet

 

 

Toiling, rejoicing, sorrowing,
Onward through life he goes;
Each morning sees some task begin,
Each evening sees it close
Something attempted, something done,
Has earned a night’s repose.
(from The Village Blacksmith ~ Henry Wadsworth Longfellow ~ American poet ~ 1807-1882)

 

Patient endurance is what you need now, so that you will continue to do God’s will. Then you will receive all that he has promised.
“For in just a little while,

the Coming One will come and not delay.
And my righteous ones will live by faith…”
(Hebrews 10: 36-38 ~ NLT)

 

 

© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2017. All Rights Reserved.

Leaning Forward

I never realized I ran that way.  I don’t think I ever thought about it.  Still, she didn’t have any uncertainty as she said the words.

He can’t really see, but he’s sure that was you he noticed running by last night.  Nobody else we know runs like that—leaning forward.

Leaning forward?  I run leaning forward?

I checked, the next time I went running,  sneaking a glance at my image in a shop window as I passed.  I run leaning forward.  Try as I might, I can’t change that.

I lean forward as I run.

I know it’s not the best way to run.  I could use my core and back muscles better if I ran with an upright posture.  When I think about it, I do that.

Mostly, I simply lean forward and run.

I want to get to the goal.  Quickly.  Leaning forward, erroneous though the concept may be, seems to get me there more quickly.

I’m beginning to wonder though, if that will always be true.  I have leaned forward all of my life.

But, things change.

Years pass.

I am tired.  I’m not the only one.

In more areas than just that of physical exercise, I have begun to plod more than to run.  The energy, the zeal of youth, has begun to wane.

I sat on an uncomfortable table this morning and listened to my new friend’s instructions.

You’ll want to quit before the test is finished.  Don’t do it!  Push on through!  It may seem that you can’t go any further, but don’t give in.  We won’t let you get into any trouble.

I nodded my head sagely and with confidence.  In retrospect, I feel like one of the sturdy dreamers in the old hymn when the Savior asks if they are able to be crucified with him.  They told Him they’d follow Him to the death.

Well, we know how that worked out for them.  The day of the test came and they scattered, terrified.  At least one of them swore he didn’t even know the Man who had trained him for the day of testing. (John 18:17, 25-27)

Anyway, earlier today, this sturdy dreamer got on the treadmill for the stress test—really, I get stressed just thinking about it—and my new friend Dawn started the belt moving under my feet.

I didn’t do so well—just walking.  Dawn told me as much.

Why are you marching?  Just widen your stride and relax.  You know how to walk.

I don’t stroll much.  But still, I heeded her advice and relaxed, stretching out the length of my stride and kept up with the speed and elevation changes.  It was uphill all the way.  Every step.

And, just when I began to think I was almost finished, the final stage kicked in.  I had to run to keep up.  But, I know how to run, even if I don’t walk so well.

Finally!  Something I could do!

I ran.

Wow!  You’re a lot better at running than you are at walking, aren’t you?

My taskmaster laughed, and I laughed with her—as much as I could with my parched mouth and heaving lungs.  I was in my element now.

Except, I wasn’t.

Panic isn’t a word I like to use when describing my own state of mind.  It’s the only word that fits for what followed.

I wasn’t going to quit.  I wasn’t.  But, there were points when I wanted to beg Dawn to slow the treadmill down to a walk again.  It was irrational, I know.  Sometimes you can’t control how you react to circumstances.  I wasn’t in control.

But, I did finish the test and, shaky legs, heaving chest, and all, stumbled back over to the uncomfortable examination table.  I sat there, grateful for a place to sit and settle my emotions, as well as get my lungs functioning normally again.

I didn’t quit!  I ran to the very end.  Leaning forward, hands on the bars, I had finished all of the stages.

I finished the test!

But, as I sit late at night, here in my easy chair, I wonder.

Can I keep leaning forward?

Am I going to finish strong?

Shaky legs and all, will I finish strong?

You know I can’t run the race in my own strength, don’t you?  I never started it on my own either.

The Apostle—my namesake—wrote the words that echo down from centuries past and reassure just as much today as when he first penned them.

He who started the work in you has no intention of leaving you on your own.  You won’t drop out.  He will finish what He started.  Count on it.  (Philippians 1:6)

I will freely admit, there have been a few moments of panic in the last few months.  More than a few.

Still, for all that, I’m going to keep running.  Leaning forward, I’m going to run.

Even if it’s uphill for the rest of the way.

There’s a prize for the winner.  It’ll be better than a gold medal, or even a crown of leaves.  Much better.

I know I’m already in good company, but there’s always room for more on the road.  Maybe you’ve been walking a ways, but it’s time to start running again.  Why don’t you come along with me?

Run the race in front of you.

Lean forward.

Run the race in front of you. Run. And lean forward. Click To Tweet

The finish line is up there somewhere.  

Up ahead.

 

 

 

Are ye able, said the Master,
To be crucified with Me?
Yea, the sturdy dreamers answered,
To the death we follow Thee.
(from Are Ye Able ~ American theologian/poet ~ 1892-1976)

 

Crossing the starting line may be an act of courage, but crossing the finish line is an act of faith.
(John Bingham ~ American marathon runner/author)

 

 

 

© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2017. All Rights Reserved.

I’m Not That Man

I want to be that man.

You know—the person they think I am.

I want to spend my hours and minutes considering ways to help folks around me.  I’d like to be confident that all things work for good—confident enough that stress couldn’t ever color the edges of my emotions—confident enough that I would never give in to worry and despair.

I want to be the guy who knows exactly what action a true follower of Jesus would take in any given situation.  And, I’d like to take that action.  Every time, I’d like to do that.

I’m not that man.

I’m not.

Are you disappointed in me?  I am.  

I wanted to spend these last few days, the period of time we call Holy Week, in contemplation of the cost of grace.  I thought I could perhaps offer some deep insights into the substitutionary atonement made for us on the cross during this week so many centuries ago. 

I haven’t.  I can’t.

You see, I’ve spent the entire week—every single day—in activities that resemble the sacred arts not at all.  I’ve dug up roots from the ground.  I’ve hung drywall.  I’ve spread topsoil.  I’ve carried desks to storage, and brush to the street, and a load of poison to the recycle center.

Nearly sixty thousand steps this week, over twenty thousand of them just yesterday—that’s how far I’ve walked.  There are more steps to be walked tomorrow. 

It doesn’t sound very holy, does it?

But, as I took off my socks yesterday to prepare for the shower which would wash the sweat and filth off of me, I saw a shadowy picture in my mind.  

A nearly naked Man leaned over a basin of water, wearing nothing but a towel around His waist, and he washed the dirty feet of every single man in the room.  (John 13:4)

I looked at my feet and wondered how many steps those men had taken since last their feet were washed?  How filthy would the water in that basin have been?

But the Man completed his job, dressed again, and sat down to eat His final meal with them—the only one at the table with unwashed feet.

It was but a fleeting, fuzzy vision, washed away like dirt down that drain long before I wiped the steam from my mirror.

Today, my writing friends plied the tools of their trade and committed thousands of contemplative words to their pages and hard drives.

Not me.  I walked more steps.

I am not that man.

I wonder.

Is it just as holy this week to walk on along the road He has set before us? Click To Tweet

Is it just as holy this week—just as holy—to walk on along the road He has set before us?  

Steadfastly?  

Stubbornly?  

With purpose?

The Man who suffered—the Man who died—the Man who lives again that we may live—He made us to walk, and work, and weep, and worship on this road.

He made us to walk, and work, and weep, and worship on this road. Click To Tweet

Every week.  Every day.  Every hour.  Every moment.

They’re all holy because He made them so.

I’m not that man. Really, I’m not.

But, He is.

 

The point of your life is to point to Him. Whatever you are doing, God wants to be glorified, because this whole thing is His.
(Francis Chan ~ American pastor/author)

 

Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people.
(Colossians 3:23 ~ NLT)

 

 

© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2017. All Rights Reserved.

 

Keep Silence

The world is a noisy place these days.

Maybe it’s just me.

No.  The cacophony of voices really is almost deafening.  My voice has usually been a part of the confusing mix.  I had even grown accustomed to it.

The ear-splitting volume is not always from the sounds one hears, either.  Just as often it’s from the colossal tidal wave of data and communication that overwhelms and dizzies us with a vertigo that threatens to dump us into the flood itself.

Last night, for the first time in a month, I sat at my computer’s keyboard and determined to make myself heard once more.  I would rise above the flood and the waves.

Not yet.

The Lord is in His holy temple.  Let all creation be silent before Him.  (Habakkuk 2:20)

I sat, hands on the keys, ready for inspiration.  All I got was a reminder to keep quiet.

I went to bed instead.

What?  You think sleeping is the same thing as keeping quiet?  

I did, too.  I was wrong.

I was supposed to be working this morning, but I dressed and, coffee cup in hand, sat in front of my computer once more, contemplating the words from last night.  I wondered why I had to keep quiet, even after a month of doing just that.

As is often the case in my office, peaceful music played on one of the internet radio stations as I considered the issue.

Suddenly, I became aware of the song which had begun to play.  I couldn’t help it; I laughed out loud.

The music wafting through the air asked the question:  Are you sleeping, Brother John?

Frére Jacques, Frére Jacques,
Dormez-vous, Dormez-vous?

It’s a simple children’s song from long ago, but the question it poses is all I need to take me back again.  Decades in the past.

After fifty-five years, I still remember keenly the disappointment.  

My Daddy, a Navy Radioman, was coming home from being out at sea on a big ship.  

He would be there that night!  It would be well after our bedtime, but Mama, knowing the excitement would be more than we could contain anyway, gave her permission for all five of us children to stay up and wait for him.  

We clambered onto the hide-a-bed mattress that served as the bedroom suite for them in the living room—with five children stuffed into a tiny mobile home, there was no separate room for Mom and Dad—wrestling and shoving each other until she grew impatient.

Each of you just lie there quietly and wait!  It won’t be long now.

Do you understand my disappointment?  The next thing—the very next thing—I remember is waking up in my own bunk bed in the room I shared with my three brothers at the back of the little rolling domicile.

Sure—Daddy was still home.  But, the arrival, the celebration had happened without me.

I woke up to just another day.  Just another day.

I missed it!  No welcome home hug for my Daddy—no standing on his spit-shined Navy Oxfords to walk across the floor while I wrapped my chubby arms around his knees—no running his knuckles gently through my burr haircut in a teasing, painless Dutch rub.

I fell asleep.  

Waiting quietly, I fell asleep.

They are not the same thing.  

They’re not.

In my mind, I hear another voice.  It’s a gentle voice, but there is sadness in the words.

Could you not watch with me one hour?  (Matthew 26:40)

The Man, about to face the worst ordeal one could imagine, asked only that they watch quietly and wait for Him to finish a conversation with His Father.

Waiting quietly, they slept.

They are not the same thing—waiting quietly and sleeping.  

They’re not.

Even while we wait quietly to learn what comes next, we need to be alert and ready to move at a moment’s notice.

Waiting, we watch.

Be still, and know the wonder—the quiet and mysterious wonder of anticipation.  Good things still lie ahead.

Be still, and know the wonder—the quiet, mysterious wonder of anticipation. Good things lie ahead. Click To Tweet

Our Heavenly Father is doing exactly what He has always intended to do.  

I’m ready to be still and wait for what’s next.

And, I’ll try to stay awake.

 

 

For a brief space you have been called aside
From glad working of busy life,
From the world’s ceaseless stir of care and strife,
Into shade and stillness by your Heavenly Guide.
For a brief space you have been called aside.
(from Streams in the Desert ~ Anonymous)

 

 

 

But the Lord is in His holy temple.  Let all the earth keep silence before Him.
(Habakkuk 2:20 ~ NLT)

 

 

 

© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2017. All Rights Reserved. 

How Many Lawyers…

We were deep in conversation on that day, my friend and I, when we were interrupted. I wasn’t optimistic that the break would be that profitable.

Usually, when folks brought in old violins, they left disappointed.

I can’t count the number of times the old fiddles were carried through my door, many of them cradled gingerly like a precious treasure that would shatter if anyone breathed on it.

It belonged to (fill in the blank—Grandpa, Uncle John, my old neighbor…), and we’re sure it’s a Stradivarius.

It never was. A Stradivarius, that is. Ever.

I disillusioned more people with my appraisals of violins than any other instrument. Unfortunately, the world is full of fakes and imitations. A name written on a label is no guarantee of authenticity.

I even learned to soften the blow by lowering expectations from the start. That day was no exception.

It’s almost certainly not made by Stradivarius.

It turns out I didn’t need to make it any easier of this couple. They knew exactly who the maker was. This one hadn’t only belonged to Uncle John. It had been made by him.

I should have known that their expectations were not the same as most of the others by the way they carried the instrument. It wasn’t even in a case and they certainly weren’t handling it delicately.

They didn’t want me to tell them they could retire on the proceeds from the sale. Far from it. These folks wanted me to confirm that the violin was no more than a wall-hanger, suitable for display on a wall in their family room.

Wouldn’t you know it? I was going to disappoint them, too.

I examined the instrument and was amazed at the quality. The solid spruce top was well-proportioned and carved expertly. There were no imperfections to be seen. The beautiful hand-rubbed finish glowed in the light.

Flipping the violin over, I gazed at a wonderful flamed maple back, again perfectly proportioned and without a flaw to be seen. The joints were tight and uniform, the structure sound as could be.

A well-shaped neck and scroll atop it completed the picture. It was a fine violin.

I was confused.

Your uncle made this instrument? And, you think it’s not going to be playable? Why?

The couple explained that the uncle had actually been a lawyer who never played a violin in his life, either before or after making the violin. He had made one violin just to prove it could be done. Then he built eleven or twelve others.

No one knew where the others were, nor if they were good instruments or not. Because he was not a musician, they had assumed he failed in proving his point, so were going to mount the violin-shaped object in a frame and save it for posterity. A piece of art.

I objected.

It was as fine an amateur-built instrument as I had ever seen. There was absolutely no reason—none whatsoever—for it not to be played.

I even took the time to tune the strings, which were horribly out of adjustment. Sliding the leaning bridge into place and tightening the pegs to the correct tension, I found a bow and drew it over the strings.

My friend, who had been sitting quietly through the episode, exclaimed suddenly. He couldn’t help himself.

Astounding!

It was, too.

The voice of the instrument was exquisite.

Like the maker, I don’t play the fiddle, but I do know how to tune one and even my inept fumbling with the bow on the strings produced a tone unlike any that normally proceeds from most of the less expensive, student instruments which come through my business.

The full-bodied tone left nothing to be desired. Nothing at all. Beautiful clear treble pitches and deep, booming bass notes emanated from the instrument instantly. Nobody in the room had any question about it.

The instrument isn’t a piece of art to be hung on a wall! In the right hands, it will make music that all listening can easily recognize as art, instead.

It is not a Stradivarius, nor is it worth a million dollars. It is a fine family heirloom which will hopefully be played by one of the maker’s descendants, proving every naysayer who ever doubted the lawyer’s ability to build a quality instrument completely wrong.

Moments before the couple walked in, my friend had asked a rhetorical question. What am I giving to God? 

He and I are both reaching our senior years, the realization that time is growing short consuming our thoughts. An old friend had died suddenly the night before of a heart attack, and that weighed heavily on me as we spoke of the urgency.

In our conversation, we had talked about stepping out, not knowing what the end result would be—not even necessarily knowing what we were being asked to do. It’s as uncomfortable a thing to do as I can think of.

But, as the couple walked out of the door, cradling the instrument as if it would shatter should anyone breathe on it, we looked at each other in disbelief. Both of us smiled as the lesson of the non-musician luthier hit home.

It can’t be done!

Stick with what you know!

Really? Did you ever notice it seems that God purposely took people who had done other things and used them in ways they never thought possible? Shepherds, fishermen, tent makers, tradesmen trained for a lifetime of performing specific tasks—He gave them responsibilities which in no way resembled those earlier vocations.

To Abraham—Go to a land that I will show you. (Genesis 12:1)
To Noah—Build an ark. (Genesis 6:14)
To Moses—Go tell Pharaoh to let My people go. (Exodus 8:1)
To Peter—Upon this rock will I build my church. (Matthew 16:18)

God puts inside each of us His dream, His direction. Click To Tweet

I had been reluctant to give my friend advice. God puts inside each of us His dream, His direction. It’s a dangerous thing for another person to give counsel that contradicts that.

If that astounding violin I looked at on that day is any indication, it’s also a little foolish.

Sometimes we simply must follow God, even when people around us don’t understand.

My friend says he’s got things to do.

Maybe it’s time for me to get moving, as well.

I wonder. I’ve never built a violin.

You?

 

 

 

Then the Lord said to him, “Who has made man’s mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the Lord?
Now therefore go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall speak.”

(Exodus 4:11-12 ~ ESV)

 

Those who say it can’t be done are usually interrupted by others doing it.
(James A Baldwin ~ American essayist/novelist ~ 1924-1987)

 

 

 

 

 

 

© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2017. All Rights Reserved.

 

The Storyteller

So I says to him—I says—that’ll never go through this door.

My grandfather died the year I graduated from high school, but still, I hear his voice, telling another of his stories.  Always—always, they were punctuated with spaces.  

They were spaces in which he caught his breath.

When he walked from the front porch to the kitchen, he always stopped at the desk behind his easy chair.  Every time.  Leaning with his big hands on the edge of the desktop, he breathed deep, his powerful chest muscles expelling the bad air and drawing in good.

I felt the tell-tale tightening in my chest earlier today, a sign that my own bronchial issues may soon overtake me again.  I couldn’t help but think of the old man.

Experience tells me that, even should I succumb to the malady completely, I will breathe freely again very soon.  But, these moments remind me of folks who’ve gone before—people I have loved and who have loved me.

They remind me of other things, as well.  

My grandfather, he of the interrupted sentences, was a storyteller.  He loved a good story.  More than that, he loved being surrounded by people who listened to the stories he told.  The gaps for breathing, at first an annoyance to both the teller and the listener, soon became room for thought and reason for suspense.  

A good storyteller uses the tools with which he is provided.  

Grandpa was a good storyteller.  Health impediment or not, he was going to tell his stories.

I’m a storyteller too.  You might say, it’s in my blood.  Kind of like the lung issues.  From my grandfather to my son, the males in my family have experienced similar problems of varying degrees.  Without a say in the inheritance, we have each passed down the frailty to the succeeding generation.

May I talk about the storytelling and passing things down for a moment?  I promise to be nearly succinct.  The reader will have to be the judge of whether the time is well spent.

Did you know our Creator commanded us to be storytellers?  And, He expected us to pass the love of telling stories down through the generations?  His instructions—oddly enough, passed through another storyteller—were clear.  

Parents tell your children.  Tell them in your home, as you’re hiking on a trail, and when you’re in the shopping centers. Through all the ages, tell them.  Give them reason to believe and to trust in a God who provides and protects. (Deuteronomy 11:18-20

The testimony of previous generations is a bridge over which we cross the raging floods of cultural deception and shifting doctrine.  If we fail to provide those bridges for our children, our progeny will be washed away in the roiling currents and howling rapids.

Tell the stories!  Use words that are accurate and attractive.  Put them to music, rhyme the syllables, and give them rhythm.  Paint them on a canvas, or carve them in stone.

Tell the stories!

12745592_10206853935720800_2029702514110622443_nThe Lovely Lady—my favorite walking companion—and I wandered along an abandoned roadbed just a few days hence.  We had a goal in mind, a century-old bridge, now abandoned, but still standing.  It has not carried traffic for a number of years.

A monument to the past, the framework stands.  There is even a roadway across, but a few steps onto it and one soon realizes that it will never support the weight of a vehicle again.  

A monument—nothing more.

Bridges are meant to be more than monuments.  Properly maintained and kept, they smoothly move traffic from the place left behind to the destination.  Abandoned, they serve no purpose, but rust and rot into the landscape, forcing the traveler to choose a different route or be carried away in the flood.

I will build bridges.  

With my last breath, I will tell the stories.

With my last breath, I will tell the stories. Click To Tweet

As my lovely companion and I wandered, almost sadly, away from the beautiful old span, I realized that my faulty lungs might make the half-mile trek back to the road difficult and wondered about the wisdom of making the trip.  

I needn’t have worried.  Companions are made to help each other on the road.

We don’t walk the road alone—don’t build the bridges alone—don’t cross them alone.

Surrounded by a great cloud of storytellers, we press on.

To our last breath.  

Tell the Story.

 

 

Do you see what this means—all these pioneers who blazed the way, all these veterans cheering us on? It means we’d better get on with it. Strip down, start running—and never quit!
(Hebrews 12:1,2 ~ The Message)

 

For in Calormen, story-telling (whether the stories are true or made up) is a thing you’re taught, just as English boys and girls are taught essay-writing. The difference is that people want to hear the stories, whereas I never heard of anyone who wanted to read the essays.
(from A Horse and His Boy ~ C.S. Lewis ~ English author ~ 1898-1963)

 

 

 

 

© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2017. All Rights Reserved.

On the Mezzanine

I remember that mezzanine.  

Tears do that, you know.  Remind you.

And they fall, unbidden.  We don’t want them to; they just come.

So, with the salty liquid running down my cheeks I remember that day, now over thirty-five years ago.  

Visiting my folks in my childhood home, I agreed to ride along with my old friend as he made his sales rounds one summer afternoon.

We stopped by a produce warehouse, a corrugated metal structure where they prepared vegetables for shipment to various marketplaces.  The building my friend entered was the onion operation.  Right outside the metal building—by the truckloads—the dirty yellowish bulbs had been hauled from the fields and were dumped onto the conveyor lines that would carry them though the process.

The process would change them dramatically.  On that summer afternoon long ago, it would change me, too.

From a filthy orb with roots hanging off one end and stem jutting out of the other, to a beautiful shiny sphere just waiting to be sliced, battered, and deep fried—turning out the most delicious tasting snack you could ask for—the transformation was radical.

But, you ask, what about the mezzanine?  Where are the tears?

I’m getting there.  Soon, there would more than enough tears to last a man a lifetime.

I hung back in the factory while my friend talked with his contact there.  In just a moment though, he was beckoning with his hand for me to follow him on into the plant.  He explained that he needed to check the stock levels for the products he provided to the company.

As I prepared to follow him up a steel staircase, he gave me a hint—just a hint—about what was to come.

You’ll want to stay close.  Don’t worry, I won’t walk away from you.

Stay close?  Why would I need him near?  I snickered.  As if I needed someone to hold my hand climbing up some stairs.

As if.

That was before the tears.

The stairs led to a mezzanine made of steel beams covered by a steel grate that served as a floor surface.

Right. Above. The. Production. Line.

Let it sink in for a moment.  We walked above the line where the onions were washed.  Where the roots were sliced off.  Where the stems were removed.  The round veggies banged and battered each other as they collided all along the conveyor.  

Think about the strongest onion you ever sliced into and multiply it a few thousand times.

I couldn’t see a thing.  It was a good thing my friend stayed near.  It was as if I had been struck blind in seconds.  The terror was nearly instantaneous.  There is no other word to describe what I felt.

Shaking, I held onto his shoulder all the way across the mezzanine and back down the stairs.

Did you know the chemical in onions that makes you cry is the very same component that lends the edgy flavor which livens up so many dishes?

This seems a strange thing to write about on a day when we talk about love, doesn’t it?  

Be my valentine.

Roses and chocolates.

Diamonds and gold.

Love is more than the fluff.  

Not less.  More.

Spicy and playful.  Stinking and bitter.

Laughing.  Crying.

To get through it, we have to stay close.

Love is more than the fluff. To get through it, we have to stay close Click To Tweet

Standing on the mezzanine of life, we stay close to the ones we love.

And, they are there.

He promised that, too—the One who gave His lifeblood to show us the way.

I’ll be with you always.  Even though the world around you disintegrates, I’ll be there. (Matthew 28:20)

He’s a Promise-keeper.

You’ll want to stay close.  He won’t walk away.

He won’t.

 

 

Life is like an onion; you peel it off one layer at a time, and sometimes you weep.
(Carl Sandburg ~ American writer/poet ~ 1878-1967)

 

Don’t be afraid, for I am with you.
    Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you.
    I will hold you up with my victorious right hand.
(Isaiah 41:10 ~ NLT)

 

 

 

 

© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2017. All Rights Reserved.