Losing Myself

I wasn’t going to talk about it again.  Not this soon, anyway.  My thoughts tell me that no one wants to read about gloomy subjects.  Perhaps, it’s just that the sky has been overcast more often than not in recent days and I’m just depressed.  Honestly, I don’t think that’s it.  Somehow, I just realized that all around me people are dying.  It is not a happy thought.

Actually, there are probably not any more people dying than normally do, it’s just that I can see it now.  As embarrassed as I am to admit it, having been through the process of losing the Lovely Lady’s mother just recently, I think that, finally, I see those around me who are mourning their own losses.  And, finally, I am sad for them.

“Why ’embarrassed’?” you ask.  “And, why ‘finally’?”  They are two questions which are tied up in one package.  I wish that I could untie it neatly for you.  I wish that my answers to the questions wouldn’t simply lead to more questions.  But, I can’t.  And, they do.  I think though, if I never start, I’ll never get any answers.  So, I’m starting.

I hope you don’t think me a hardhearted monster.  I have attended many funerals.  I have made many verbal statements of condolence.  I was sad at the funerals.  I meant the encouraging words.  But, having attended and having spoken, I moved on.  That’s the way it is, right?  Life goes on.  We can’t live in the past.  You’ve heard the statements, perhaps even said them.  So, I moved on and didn’t give it another thought.  I lost myself in work, or play, or family, and life was good.  I lost myself…what a thought!  It’s not far from the truth.

You see, when we are not moved by the suffering of people around us, we’re not who our Creator intended us to be.  He made us emotional people.  He made us to feel empathy, to be sad when those around us are sad, to laugh when they laugh, to rejoice as they rejoice.  He Himself did just that.

As a child, I loved John 11:35 in the New Testament.  Well, of course I did.  It is the shortest verse in the Bible, so it could be quoted faster than any other when I was called upon to demonstrate a verse I had committed to memory.  “Jesus wept.”  I never once…not once…thought about what it meant.  I do now…frequently.  Jesus, God with us, shed tears.  The tears were not only, as supposed, in sadness for His dead friend, Lazarus.  No, in one of the verses just previous to this truncated one, we are told that His spirit was deeply moved as He observed His friend’s sister and community in great sorrow for their loss.  He was moved by their grief to intense grief Himself. 

We’re encouraged to be like He is.  We like to think that this means that we’re to be spiritually minded, and giving, and teaching.  All true.  But, who He is, is also empathetic and feeling, and crying.  How did we miss that?  How is it that by insinuation, we have encouraged people not to cry at the death of a believer?  How many times did I hear growing up, the words that came (sort of) from the Bible, “We don’t weep as the heathen do, who have no hope.”  Somehow, we turned the exhortation to remember our hope of eternal life as we grieve for a lost one, into an exhortation not to weep.  People who cried too much, or too loudly, weren’t focused on the important things and surely needed to be reminded about them.  Perhaps that’s the reason we hear so many platitudes, reminding those who have lost people they love that they shouldn’t grieve too much.

I’m reminded of the beautiful note that a friend sent me after the death of my mother-in-law, voicing her appreciation that we gave her permission to “be joyful”.  We did that.  But I also want you to know that you have permission to weep.  It’s not a sin and you shouldn’t feel guilty about doing it.   We have His example.  It’s okay.

Almost two weeks ago, I stood in front of my church on a Sunday morning, leading our time of worship.  As I looked out on the crowd, filled with folks, young and old, I realized that something was wrong.  The young folks, usually animated and involved with the music and words, stood subdued as we sang songs they love.  I wondered what had happened.  Then, that afternoon we learned of a tragic death on their college campus and I understood.  I wept that night for parents bereft of their daughter for the rest of their life; for siblings who would long to make phone calls and give hugs, but could not; for classmates who would miss conversations and laughter, along with all the events which make the experience at college memorable for a lifetime.  And then again, just days ago, I wept as friends in our church lost their son, suddenly and tragically.  This week, they weep…and for many weeks to come, I’m sure.  Still, I weep for parents, and siblings, and friends, all bereft of the presence of the young man they love.  Another friend is faced tonight with the imminent passing of her mother, and another lost her father just last week.  The list is growing and I weep for them, just as He did.

As I said, I’m surrounded by death, and it seems at times that I am overwhelmed with the sadness.  And, that’s as it should be.  But…and I like this “but”…But, all around me, babies are also being born (or expected), children are growing and learning and reveling, friends are rejoicing in good news of scholarships, and new jobs, or the return to health after long illnesses.  The same empathy which requires that I cry the tears of shared sadness, also requires that I smile with shared pleasure, and exclaim with shared joy.  I don’t want to lose myself in my work; don’t want to bury myself in my schedule.  I need to live, realizing that the life we’ve been blessed with includes great joy, as well as great sadness.  To insulate ourselves from either is indeed, to lose ourselves and to be buried prematurely.

Are you rejoicing?  I’m with you!  Are you grieving?  I feel that too.  I’m not all that great at either, but I hope you’ll be patient with me as I continue to learn.  There are a lot of hard lessons still ahead.  I still have questions which need answering. I’m desperately hoping that I’ll be prepared for the tests. 

I’m reminded of how Red Green always ended his commentary on his television show.  Somehow, it seems to fit tonight.

“Remember I’m pulling for you.  We’re all in this together.”

“Rejoice with those who are rejoicing.  Cry with those who are crying.”
(Romans 12:15~ISV)

“Well, here at last, dear friends, on the shores of the Sea comes the end of our fellowship in Middle-earth.  Go in peace!  I will not say; do not weep; for not all tears are an evil.”
(from “The Return Of The King”~J.R.R.Tolkien~English author/educator~1892-1963)

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© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2013. All Rights Reserved. 

Still Smarter Than My Phone

She sent me a text today.  I remember when she used to call me and we’d speak with each other.  But, life got busy and since I was working with customers in the music store, she never knew if it was convenient for me to talk, so the phone calls became problematic.  Now she has a smart phone, one that actually has a “qwerty” keyboard on it.  She learned to type many years ago, so she has taken to the texting just fine.  I have decided that I don’t detest it as I once did, so I grudgingly crossed the threshold of the twenty-first century with her.  Or, so I thought.

Photo: Vasile23

She sent me a text today, and I answered it.  You see, I know how to type, too.  It’s just that I hit the wrong spot on the screen more often than not.  I don’t like auto-correct programs.  They take my errors and make them into embarrassingly wrong (but valid) words.  However, when I entered into the twenty-first century, I also acquired a phone that talks to me, and listens too.  You know the ones.  You ask the little rectangular black box how many miles it is to home and the computer-generated female voice replies, “I’m sorry, Paul.  I don’t know where you live.”   Hopefully, she will learn.  I have found though, that if I click the little microphone icon when I am ready to answer a text message, I can just say the words, along with the names of the punctuation marks to be included (“period”, “comma”, etc.), and the little stenographer in the black box responds quite nicely.

So, She sent me a text today, and I answered it, with a little help.  But, as I punched “send” on my phone (the little lady in the box hasn’t learned to do that for me yet), I realized something that took me by surprise.  I am still talking on the phone, just like I used to. Well…almost.  I don’t text; I send delayed phone messages.  So, why am I not actually talking to the Lovely Lady, instead of pretending to be a part of the culture of hip communicators that surround me?

On a closely related topic, I was first amused, then frustrated this afternoon as I witnessed this “communication” in action again.  The lady came in asking for guitar strings for her son.  She knew the brand of strings and the type of guitar…well, sort of.  Her son had given her the brand name and a descriptive word for the guitar–“standard”.  I pointed her to the exact strings, but the descriptive word on the package was “acoustic”.  She wasn’t sure the two meant the same thing, so she texted her son.  “It’s the only way he’ll talk to me,” she said plaintively.  I nodded and told her that I’d wait.  Her phone wasn’t a smart one.  She had to click on the numbers to select the letters of the words.  It took nearly fifteen minutes for her to ask her son what he wanted and to get a straight answer from him. One quarter of an hour.  A phone call would have taken less than one minute.  “Hi, son.  Is acoustic the same as standard?  Oh, they have those in phosphor bronze, too.  Do you prefer that, or the 80/20 bronze?  Okay; see you in a few minutes.” There might even have been time for an extra, “I love you,” left over.

Do I sound bitter?  I’m really not.  I understand that sometimes you just can’t talk on the telephone.  But, he was sitting at home with nothing to do but push buttons on his phone. I have no problem with using a tool…and make no mistake, the phone is merely a tool…to achieve the purpose for which you acquired it, but it must be in a manner that accomplishes the job efficiently.  I’m not a fan of letting the tool dictate how–and when–I use it.

Do I sound old?  I will freely admit that the accusation is accurate.  Why just today, I forgot why I walked across the room at the store and had to go back to my desk, where I started from, to get a clue.  And this very afternoon, I unplugged my coffee maker to use the outlet for another device and then decided that the coffee maker had died when my coffee was cold the next time I went for a cup.  I even asked a friend to find me a good replacement for the defunct appliance.  I am, indubitably, old.  But, not so old that I have forgotten that when the things I purchased to help me do a job actually keep me from doing it well, it is time to re-examine my use of those things. 

So…how about it?  Do you have anything that has taken over your life?  Besides the smart phone. Television?  A car?  The computer?  Perhaps, it’s not a thing, but an activity.  Online gaming, shopping, even volunteering for a good cause, or exercising…all of these can rob from you in ways that you never anticipated.  Could it be that it is time for us to take back control of our lives from the stuff?  Maybe, we need to take back the reins from the urgent things we once gave in to and make the important things in our life a priority again.

I wouldn’t deign to propose what your priorities should be, but I could suggest a start.  People are important.  They’re worth laying down your phone for, or turning off the television for, or even closing your Facebook page for.  But before that, a little time for God might help to set the other priorities in order.  You see, if we start with the really important things, the others will fall into place more easily.  I remember the hokey little song we used to sing in Sunday School, it seems eons ago: “Jesus, and Others, and You; What a wonderful way to spell JOY.”  The song seems a bit silly now, but the formula still works.  Important things first…and the stuff we acquire along the way is only there to help us to do the important things better.

I’ll keep talking to my little automated assistant when I need to.  But I’m always looking for ways to use time more efficiently.  My guess is that, if I’m doing it right, shortly I should have more time for doing really valuable things, like spending time with friends and helping strangers in need. 

Maybe the little voice in the box could help with those too.  Then again, probably not.  She doesn’t seem to be much of a quick study.

I’m probably on my own there…

“One who cannot cast away a treasure at need is in fetters.”
(J.R.R.Tolkien~British author/educator~1892-1973)

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy and where thieves break in and steal.  But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven…for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
(Matthew 6:19-21~NIV)

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© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2013. All Rights Reserved.

Where’s the Fire?

“Hey!  Instead of just opening these fire extinguishers and emptying them out, let’s actually set them off!”  The eighteen year-old kid thought that his idea would be a lot more fun than simply doing the job they had been sent to do at the old lumberyard.  His work with the fire and safety company was certainly not boring, but at eighteen, anything he could do that livened up the day a little more was even better.

His supervisor thought for a minute and then nodded his head.  “No one’s around and it gets the job done anyway.  Let’s do it!”  They had five or six of the old chrome tanks sitting beside their service van, so the young man simply grabbed one of them and flipped it upside down.  Waiting for a second or two and seeing nothing coming from the nozzle, he exclaimed, “It’s a dud!” and started to reach for another. His superior quickly called out, “Wait.  It will come.”  Sure enough, within another second or two there was a hissing sound from the plastic nozzle and then the liquid began spewing from the tip.  He grabbed the hose and pointed the nozzle into the grass nearby, spraying it around as the fluid continued, nonstop, for a couple of minutes.  When all two and a half gallons had been expended, there was a residual noise of air escaping for a moment and then all was quiet.  It wasn’t nearly as much fun as he had expected, but it was far better than just unscrewing the steel top and manually removing the little acid canister before dumping the soda-infused water out onto the ground.  They repeated the process until all of the extinguishers were emptied and, loading them into the back of the van, headed back for the shop.

The ingenuity of the old canister fire extinguishers was pretty astounding.  And, their simplicity of design was almost mind-boggling.  The tank was filled with a couple gallons of water into which had been mixed bicarbonate of soda, essentially simple baking soda.  In the neck of the tank, there sat a little reservoir of sulfuric acid.  If the tank was left upright, it would never do anything at all.  But, if there was need, all one had to do was to upend the tank, standing it upside down.  The acid would dump out into the soda-water, resulting in an immediate production of carbon dioxide.  Not only was the CO2 a great flame-retardant, robbing the fire of it’s one absolute prerequisite–oxygen, but it also provided the aerosol effect necessary to spray the water out from the canister.  As the pressure built up inside, the water was pushed at a high rate, right out the rubber hose and, hopefully, onto the fire where it did precisely what it had been designed to do, extinguish the fire.  But, there was a reason that the men had been sent to pick up all those old extinguishers.  They were to find out why when they told their boss what they had done, moments after they arrived back at the shop.  His reaction was immediate and unexpected.

“You did what?”  His face had turned red and his eyes were glaring as the two men described the process.  “Don’t you know how dangerous those things are?”  He had returned, not long before, from a meeting with the Fire Marshalls in the state capitol.  While there, the gathering had viewed a video recording of a controlled experiment which had been performed with the old soda-acid tanks.  The lab technicians had purposely placed a plug in the hose of one and flipped it upside down inside of a test cage.  The resulting explosion had bent the bars of the cage.  When there was no avenue for release, the gases from the reaction between the acid and soda continued to build up inside until the tank itself failed.  It was even reported to the men at the safety meeting that one person had been decapitated while attempting to discharge an extinguisher which he hadn’t realized was plugged with an insect’s nest.  The potential for disaster was the main reason the old things were being removed from service.  They were all being replaced with newer, safer ones which didn’t depend on a chemical reaction that couldn’t be stopped once it was started. 

Now, the young man and his supervisor were the ones visibly shaken.  Any one of those old tanks could have had an obstruction in the hose and they might have been injured badly or even killed.  There was no possible way that they could have known if a tank had been defective.  They would only have found out as it failed.  It was the last time they ever set off any extinguisher which had been marked for taking out of service.  Sometimes, boredom is preferable to the alternative.

And, speaking of boredom, I hope this lesson in safety hasn’t brought you to that state.  There is, as usual, a method to my madness, as the red-headed lady who raised me would have said.  I’m struck by two things specifically.  The first is the incongruity of it all.  The sole purpose for a fire extinguisher is to protect the person who uses it.  Instead, there was actually the potential to maim or kill that person.  How sad it would have been, had you been the person who patented the process, to find out years later that what you intended for great good had actually done great harm.  I realize that this is often the case when people put their minds to creative use.  I think the poet had that in mind when he penned these words, centuries ago:  “The best laid schemes of mice and men, go often awry.”*  Sometimes tools intended to protect simply don’t do what they are designed to do.  When that happens, we go back to the drawing board and start anew.

I am also struck with the personal application of the sad lesson about pressure and its necessity for relief.  It is commonly understood that if we close off the release for the day-to-day stresses which build up inside of us, effectively bottling up the anger and emotion, there will come a time of reckoning when that internal stress will find its way out anyway.  We are not designed to withstand this pressure, any more than the metal tanks of those old fire extinguishers were.  The eventual release of pressure, if not done in a controlled and systematic way, will cause great damage, not only to us, but to any bystanders.  I have seen this from a much closer perspective than I care to admit on any number of occasions.  The result was not pretty, as I have unloaded on folks who had nothing whatsoever to do with the original issue.  Perhaps, you too have done this, maybe not in the too distant past.  The anger, guilt, and frustration of a lifetime can wreak havoc in families, in churches, in communities, when the explosion occurs as it inevitably does.

What is the answer?  I would suggest regular and systematic checks of the communication system.  It has long been my suspicion that if we will clear up issues when they happen, we won’t have to take care of damage control when the explosion takes place later on.  I’ve said it before, just like the mother of the blubbering toddler: “Use your words, please.”  Talking now beats apologizing later for the mess.  Many a fire has been put out with a simple stream of water, judiciously aimed at the place where the flame originates.

As always, I suspect that my solution is a bit simplistic.  You will have complicated issues to deal with which I cannot begin to fathom.  I don’t expect that talking will be the panacea for all the world’s problems.  But, it’s a start.  For the others, which are already past the easy fix, you may need to take apart the canister and separate the chemicals before more damage is done.  Sadly, not every issue can be cleaned up neatly.

For now, this windbag has released enough pressure for one night.  We’ll see what tomorrow brings. More fires to put out, one shouldn’t wonder. 

I hope the ancient equipment will be up to the task…

“In your anger, do not sin.  Don’t let the sun go down while you are still angry.”
(Ephesians 4:26~NIV)

“Anger is only one letter short of danger.”

*”To a Mouse…” by Robert Burns~1785~English translation from the original Scots language

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© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2013. All Rights Reserved.

You Think That’s Jelly You’re Eating?

Photo: Rachel Tayse

A last minute trip to visit my instrument technician this evening meant a few moments of extra time with the Lovely Lady, since she agreed to ride along with me.  The sixty mile round trip flew by…well, except for the few miles when those slowpokes ahead of us were going twenty miles per hour under the speed limit, but you take my meaning.  Good company and easy conversation, or even a comfortable silence with the same good company, make time speed past.  On our way back, we stopped at a little Italian restaurant to grab a bite of supper.  A container of grape jelly on the table attracted our attention and, before you know it, we were both putting a dollop of the jelly on the homemade rolls which had been served with our delicious spaghetti. As I took the first bite of mine, the flavor made me stop short.  As it frequently happens, the slightly familiar flavor took me back to a different time, more than forty years ago.

Oh, it was grape jelly all right, just not the flavor I had expected. Everyone knows that grape jelly is that gooey purple concoction that we buy in the grocery store which tastes nothing like real grapes.  The grape jelly we usually eat is the product of some obscure factory where they do unspeakable things to the grapes about which we really don’t wish to know.  Sugars, flavor additives, and even (say it isn’t so!) high fructose corn syrup, have all been injected into the overcooked mess to bring us what we know as grape jelly.  And, we eat it by the gallons with peanut butter.  Well, this jelly was nothing like that.  The only flavor you could taste was fresh grapes, seemingly just plucked from the vine.  What a surprise!  What a delicious treat!

But, I told you that the flavor took me back in time.  What I remember about that past experience was the disappointment I felt years ago when my family was visiting at a relative’s home in Kansas.  She served jelly which she had made from her own vineyard of Concord grapes.  I took one bite of the piece of bread upon which the jelly was spread and refused to eat another bite.  “There’s something wrong with this jelly,” I whispered to a brother, standing nearby.  He sniffed at his suspiciously, but ate it anyway.  I never did finish that bread, but snuck it into the trash when no one was looking.  Why, anybody knew that wasn’t what grape jelly tasted like!

Tonight, I laughed as I relived that experience from the dusty corner of my memory.  I’m so much more sophisticated now.  I’d never do that today.  I know what’s good food and what isn’t.  But then I remember it–my comfort food.  The one meal of which I never tire, and which I will still be eating into my dotage, as long as I can so much as gum my food.  Macaroni and cheese…from the blue box with yellow writing on it.  Sure, I’ll wait while you go check your cupboard to see if it’s the one you like too.  Oh.  Already back?  Well, let’s move on then, shall we?

Years ago, we went out to eat at a very nice restaurant.  Everyone said to us before we went,  “You have to try their homemade mac and cheese.  It’s the best that anyone makes anywhere.”  We asked our server about it.  Yes, it was world famous.  Five different cheeses used in the making.  Garlic, and a few other spices which I can’t remember…and really don’t care about.  We would be overwhelmed.  Certainly then, we’ll have two servings of that.  The dish arrived.  Crunchy on the top, large creamy macaroni pasta, with delicious cheese.  I’m not speaking for her, but I was completely underwhelmed.  I have tried the mac and cheese at a number of different places, every time a friend has recommended it.  I don’t care for any of it, except–you guessed it–the stuff from the blue box.

You see, I grew up with the blue box.  In my experience, all good mac and cheese should taste just like that shrunken pasta, boiled and mixed with powdered cheese food, along with some milk and a little butter.  Mmmmm!  Heaven couldn’t be much better than this!  But, we’ll get to that discussion later.  The point I am making is that when we have been taught (and then had the teaching reinforced by years of experience) that something is the way it should be, we have a hard time believing that even the real article is any good at all.  Given the option, we’ll choose the plastic, fake product every time.  Once in awhile, our eyes are opened and we grasp the difference, embracing the genuine item for what it is.  When that happens, we almost never want to go back.

Maybe now would be a good time to talk about heaven, as I said we would.  In C.S. Lewis’ final book of “The Chronicles Of Narnia”, entitled “The Last Battle”, he describes Aslan’s Country, obviously his analogy for heaven.  Funny thing, though.  It’s just like Narnia, except more vivid and more beautiful.  The further in they go, the better it gets, but it is still a more beautiful picture of the world they have left behind.  I’m not sure that heaven will really be like that, but the Apostle does talk to us about seeing dimly now, as in a mirror. (You have to remember that their mirrors weren’t nearly as good as ours back then, distorting images and reflecting badly).  Then, he says, we shall see clearly as if face to face.  It appears that what we have now is merely a poor reflection of what we shall have then, just as with the store-purchased grape jelly and the fresh made jelly.

It seems that perhaps we shouldn’t be developing quite as much of a taste for the substitute items we have come to accept, and sometimes love, here.  We may find that we have been fooled cruelly.  One of my favorite lines from that esoteric movie, “The Matrix”, is the one uttered by the character named Morpheus, as he tries to convince the protagonist, Neo, that the world he sees around him isn’t real.  “You think that’s air you’re breathing now?” I am struck that we grow too attached to the trappings of this life and don’t realize that the most important things, the real ones, are those which the Apostle mentions in the same paragraph as his mirror anology.  “And now, there abide faith, hope, and love.  But, the greatest of these is love.”

Now there’s something real to sink your teeth into.  How about it?  What’s important to you?  What tastes good?  Feels good?  Looks good?  Do you still think it has any real value in the bigger context?

I’ll leave you to work out the details.  Your fake things won’t be the same as mine.  I’ll only mess it up if I try to list the specifics. You will know them much better than I. 

Besides that, I’m headed home pretty soon.  I’m not sure, but I think there might be some leftover mac and cheese in the refrigerator that’s calling my name.

 “When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known.  But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love.
(I Corinthians 13:11-13~NASB)

“Error is always more busy than truth.”
(Hosea Ballou~American theologian~1771-1852)

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You Gotta Know The Rules

The Lovely Lady took care of our grandchildren this evening.  Oh, I was there, but they know that Grandma is the fun one, the one who has plans for their entertainment.  The old man is good for a snuggle and a quick read through a book, but he couldn’t pull off an evening’s amusement if his life were in the balance.  I snoozed in my easy chair while they painted water pictures in the next room.

Later, I came to and realized that the voices were farther away, in the front living room.  I pried myself out of the recliner and headed up to see what their entertainment coordinator had cooked up for them now.  I was amused to see (and hear) the excitement of the kids as they played a game of “Cootie”, as many of you know, a game which has been around for over sixty years.  They were shouting out the numbers which were rolled with the die; the number determining which body part they received for the little bug they were assembling.  Legs, tongue, antennae, and eyes…all were pieces they anxiously desired as they awaited the proper number to be rolled when their turn came.

It was bedlam.  The younger ones gained and lost interest in a matter of seconds, depending on how near it was to their time to roll.  One of the girls tried to just set the die down on the number she wanted instead of rolling it.  Then the boys began to use their half-finished bugs to do battle.  Parts were dropping off, and heads were becoming disconnected from bodies.  It was obvious that the rules didn’t much matter in this arena.  They were making it up as they went and enjoying the results just fine, thank you.  The only problem was that the game would never be finished at this rate, so the activities director called a halt to the shenanigans and brought some semblance of order to the affair once more.  Putting the game pieces back to rights and settling down to the task of rolling the die, the game was soon finished, with one of the boys completing his bug first. You see, the Lovely Lady understands that you gotta know the rules.

I was amused at their lack of knowledge of the rules (and the dismal absence of concern at the same), but then I remembered one of life’s most embarrassing moments way back when.  I thought that I understood the game of baseball, being the veteran (at eight years old) of a good number of games in the neighborhood’s vacant lots.  I was convinced that I could play with the best of the boys at my summer camp, too.  On that hot June afternoon, I had waited in the blistering sun through several batters ahead of me, and now it was my turn to step up to the plate.  Swinging the bat to warm up, I stood, almost in the batter’s box (what was this rectangle drawn here for?) and after the first ball whizzed past as I swung the bat as hard as I could, turned to listen as the camp director suggested that I had to keep my feet in the box or I would be called out.  I was just digesting that little piece of information when the ball zoomed toward me once more.  I swung the bat–a little half-swing, since I was worried about stepping out over the line near the plate.  “Strike Two!” called the balding director behind the plate.  He was not only the coach for every boy out there, he was the umpire as well.  I was ready for the next one and swung with all my might…a foot ahead of the ball.  My motion was enough to rattle the catcher though, and he dropped the ball.  The coach/umpire/director, taking advantage of a teaching moment, called out two orders, “Run!” and, “Throw the ball to first base!”  Well, the ball was right beside my foot, so I picked it up and threw it directly to the boy covering first base, putting myself out when I should have been running.  The director couldn’t help but laugh, not in a mean way, but a number of the other boys also laughed; their merriment definitely not intended to be kind.  It was a hard lesson, but it taught me again that you gotta know the rules.

Knowing the rules doesn’t just apply in sports and board games, though.  I remember a day many years ago, when a little neighbor boy was visiting in our home.  We evidently had a few more things for our children to remember or, at least different things than he was used to, and he was fed up.  After I reminded him that, “We don’t do that at our house,” one time too many, he responded with his observation.  “You have a lot of rules here, don’t you?”  I chuckled and then enlightened him (I thought).  “Johnny, you’ll have rules to obey all your life.  Even after you’re a grown-up, there will be rules that you’ll have to follow.”  The little fellow looked at me, disbelieving, for about thirty seconds.  I could almost see the wheels going around inside his head as all the possible arguments for that statement were turned over and examined to see if they would fly.  The disappointment of learning this awful truth was plainly written on his face as he finally just turned on his heels and stalked out the front door without saying another word.  I could only conclude that the horror of a world with perpetual rules was too much for his young brain to take in.  I was a little sorry to have shocked him so, but more than a little amused at his reaction.

We hear so much today about free spirits, thinking outside the box, and changing paradigms, and we seem to have forgotten that the rules still apply.  Our society pays the price as we descend, seemingly, into a sort of anarchy.  There’s no reason to be discouraged though, because our Creator has instilled His rules into creation itself and the rules will be obeyed or the consequences paid. The rules, spoken or otherwise, enforce themselves upon us as we walk through this world.  I guess that line of thought may be a bit esoteric for this venue, and since I have no intention of getting into arguments about philosophy, I’ll aim a little bit closer to home for a moment or two.

Recognizing that most of my readers are followers of Christ, I want to suggest that we each have rules which we must follow in our faith.  One might argue that we are not under Law, but that doesn’t change the truth of who we are and Whom we follow.  At a minimum, we live under the law of love, meaning that we must love our God with everything we have in us, and we must love our neighbor as we love ourselves.  It seems too simple, doesn’t it?  The thing is that the rules that come from those simple two statements will take a lifetime, and more, to fulfill.  Even under Grace, the rules are laid out for us to “play by”.  Winning depends on it.

With the children earlier today, when no rules are followed, confusion and bedlam was the result.  When I didn’t understand the rules of baseball many years ago, I was disqualified by my own actions.  Truly, we have rules to follow all of our lives.  It is up to us to study and understand which rules apply to the course which has been laid out for us.  Do you have the Rulebook close at hand?  It would be a good idea if we put it into use.

Otherwise, we might find ourselves picking up the very baseball we should have been outrunning to the base.

You gotta know the rules!

“Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”
(Galatians 6:2~NIV)

“Friends are helpful, not only because they will listen to us, but because they will laugh at us; through them we learn a little objectivity, a little modesty, a little courtesy; We learn the rules of life and become better players of the game.”
(Will Durant~American writer/historian/philosopher~1885-1981)

© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2013. All Rights Reserved.

Holding the Rope

The toddlers walk along, leaving the safety and warmth of their Sunday School classroom behind for the scary, cold outdoors.  Bundled up in their coats, they are headed for a short session on the playground, a time when they can work out their energy and be ready to do the craft work which is scheduled later.  This walk is a time-honored tradition, one born of necessity, but also one which has become a valued memory for several generations of children here and, truth be known, for this aging man watching from the warmth of the church entryway.  They don’t always go to the playground.  Sometimes they wander into the worship center where the musicians are putting the finishing touches on a new song they’re teaching in the service later that day.  Sometimes, they amble back to the wooded area behind the buildings to explore God’s creation.  But there is one thing (besides the teachers) which ties these events together.

The rope.  Yes, you read that right.  On every occasion when the class ventures out from the four walls of its classroom, each of the little tykes is clutching onto a rather thick piece of knotted rope.  The rope is about fifteen feet long, with a teacher on each end and the children spaced out in between.  The knots are placed about a foot apart and allow for every child to have an area of the tether to claim as his or her own.  Their hands may slip from the knot in front to the one behind, but they stay in their own assigned space, allowing the child ahead and following their own part of the rope.  Nothing ties them to the rope, but they are held together in a group as they take their walks each week.  I’ve never seen a child let go and run away from the group; perhaps because of a stern warning beforehand, but I suspect it is more likely that none of them wants to disappoint Ms. Barb or Mr. Jim.  Regardless, the system works as the little darlings wander wherever the prescribed path takes them each Sunday. 

I’ve seen news photos of rescues from the rushing waters of rivers at flood stage.  In the middle of the maelstrom, a hapless person clutches a snag, precariously balancing on the mostly submerged branch as the flood pulls at them, threatening to suck them away at any moment.  The rescuers on the bank come to their aid quickly.  Holding to a rope which looks suspiciously like the one the children are holding today, one man ventures into the water at the edge.  When a few feet of rope has been fed out, another man enters the current, then another and another, until the leading rescuer reaches the stranded person.  Sometimes, just getting the victim to let go of their clutching hold on the perch takes as long as the rescuers took to get into position.  Eventually though, the frightened, half-drowned person is convinced that safety lies within reach and they are shuttled, from one person along the rope to the next, until they reach the shore. 

How does it make that much difference, you may ask?  If one person has been swept away by the flood, why wouldn’t all the rest of them suffer the same fate?  The only answer is found in the shared strength of all the participants.  If one man loses his footing, the two on either side of him stand firm and, holding to the rope, he is able to regain his footing.  There are also people on the shore securing the end of the rope, heading off a disaster, should a number of them succumb to the fury of the current at one time.  There is no one hero, no superstar who conducts the rescue; just a bunch of regular guys doing their jobs.

I’m pretty sure that’s the way life works most of the time.  We get caught up in the current of the daily grind and without warning, we’re swept off our feet, careening wildly down the waterway.  Up ahead, we see a glimmer of hope, and in our own strength we grab hold.  The respite is short lived and we realize that the current is tearing at us, willing us to give up and drop back down in, to be carried along wherever it will take us.

You’ve been there, haven’t you?  You think there is no one in the world who cares and who will risk himself to rescue you.  It is possible to isolate yourself to the extent that you don’t know of anyone who would make such a risk, but that doesn’t make it factual.  I have seen, on any number of occasions, people who would take the chance to help a person they don’t know at all.  Regardless of your situation, it is safe to say that there is help nearby.  The team with the rope is standing by and all it takes is a call for help.  And, here’s the odd thing…As we learn to trust each other and we ourselves venture out to find others in the same condition, we might even discover that the safest place we can be is to be part of the rescue team.

Too simplistic?  Perhaps.  I’m not always sure if my advice will work.  Tonight is such a time.  I wanted to talk about the young person I know of who lost her grip on safety this weekend and was lost in that current, but I don’t know how to make the application.  I want to believe that a rescue team could have helped her.  I want to think, even now, that the rope is ready and the personnel won’t miss the next opportunity.  I want to. 

I wish I had all the answers.  I don’t.  But I’m wondering if the little kids don’t understand how this thing works a little better than we do sometimes.  We’re not made to strike out on our own in this wild world.  We hang onto the rope of faith and we do it with each other.  If one of us happens to let go for a moment, we help them to grab hold again.  We help each other.  No heroes, no victims…just people counting on each other; out for a walk in God’s creation.  It’s a pretty good system.

I’m going to keep holding on to the rope and I promise that I’ll do my best to watch out for you.  I hope you’ll be doing the same.

The scary, cold world is waiting…

“…not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the day drawing near.”
(Hebrews 10:25~ESV)

“The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them.”
(Ernest Hemingway~American writer/novelist~1899-1961)

© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2013. All Rights Reserved.

Strong to the Finish

Gasping for air, the old guy with skinny legs trots along the side of the pavement.  Three and a half miles!  Surely he has gone further than that!  His head is spinning, but he thinks back…way back.  It was something over a half-hour ago when he started out on the loop through the little town in which he lives.  He remembers feeling better than he does now.  He remembers the euphoria of stretching and anticipating the ease with which he would make this run.  In his head, he had told himself to start out slow and gradually pick up the pace.  Just as if he had been running a race, he didn’t want to be a “rabbit”, using up his reserves too quickly and running out of energy long before he finished the course he intended to cover.  The plan worked well for awhile.

But, like all plans, he had made changes in his as events unfolded.  Adjustments, he called them in his head.  Yeah, that’s it, adjustments.  Running the first few blocks had felt so good, until he reached the ice cream shop where folks (most of them overweight, he remarked to himself) were gathered outside around picnic tables to enjoy the late evening snacks before them.  Arrogantly, he thought to himself,  “I hope they notice how conscientious I am.  Maybe I should speed up.”  And, he did. 

Rounding the corner, he couldn’t help but notice the folks who sat on their porches or stood in their yards as he ran past. He wondered if perhaps they would think he was not very good at this.  He thought that maybe it would help if he ran faster.  So, he did.

Up ahead of him, a young lady was jogging along the same sidewalk, keeping about the same distance in front for a few blocks.  That wouldn’t do!  He should speed up and pass her!  That’s exactly what he did.  And, he wasn’t even half way around the course he had determined to run.  But now, he was in front of her.  He couldn’t slow down and allow her to pass him up again.  He pushed on, his legs starting to show signs of cramping.

And so it went, for the whole exercise time.  There were people watching…well, probably not, but you never know…and he couldn’t be seen to waver.  Time and again, he wanted to slow down, but someone might see and think poorly of him.  On he went, pushing as fast as he could.  Now, here he was, nearing the end of his run and he was exhausted.  This was the time when he always kicked in the afterburners, speeding along the road near home to jet into the back yard.  He always said the two words in his head as he did it, but not tonight.  Not tonight.  He had nothing left.  The words went unsaid.  And, he walked the last quarter mile, trudging along in defeat.

Finish strong!  The words are imprinted deep inside every one of us.  Finish strong!  I have watched athletes again and again throughout my life; athletes who appear to have used up every ounce of strength they have, only to push one more time, just enough to win the race or make the final touchdown, or reach that final fly ball in the outfield.  The rest of the game doesn’t matter much if you can’t finish strong.  I have also watched on many occasions as ball teams sat on leads they had racked up early in the game.  It’s not a good strategy.  Over and over, to their chagrin, the opposing team had what it took to finish strong, overcoming the deficit which had been built up against them.  And the team sitting on the lead?  They had nothing; no answer to the inner strength that said, “We will not be defeated.  We will not quit!” 

In every single endeavor we will undertake in our lifetimes, there will be the need to finish strong.  We won’t always hit the mark.  In public speaking, if you don’t have a good finish, what you said before your conclusion won’t matter.  The listeners will never remember it.  When you perform music, if you have no endurance left to end the piece, the audience will be left unmoved and unfulfilled by the entire performance.  I have listened as marching bands filled the stadium up with beautiful and spectacularly loud music at the beginning of the halftime performance, only to lose volume, disturbing the air with nothing but “blats” and splattered notes at the end, because the players were exhausted and the “chops” were gone.  To put it mildly, it was not inspiring.  The musicians had amazing talent and ability; they simply didn’t have the fortitude to finish.

Finish strong!  My guess is that you don’t need me to lecture about preparation for the event in which you’re participating.  Practice, training, study?  You know all about those.  They are an essential part of finishing strong, but I’m going to leave those to a different discussion.  I’m hoping that for today, I’ll be able to finish strong myself, without the embarrassment of running out of juice too soon.  With that in mind, I’m going to head for the finish line right about now.

Follow your plan.  Set your course and run it at the pace you know will allow you to finish.  It is possible that folks may criticize if you’re not moving along as quickly as they expect.  More likely, their criticism is only in your head and they won’t notice at all.  That said, they will notice if you drop out, or if you barely stumble across the finish line.

Another man of a certain age spoke with me today about his concerns of doing something in this life worth leaving for the next generation.  All I could tell him is what I’m saying here tonight.  The course behind us is, indeed, behind us and gone beyond recall.  We have the remainder of the course still ahead.  Discouragement and regrets from the past are weights that will slow us down as we get to the point where we need to be “kicking”.  Throw them off!

In my mind’s eye, I can see the runners turning the last corner and heading for the line.  I think that I’ve still got some life left in me.  How about it?

C’mon!  Race you to the end!  Let’s finish strong together.

“I’m strong to the finish, 
‘Cause I eats me spinach.
I’m Popeye the sailor man!”
(“Popeye the Sailor Man” by Sammy Lerner~1933)

“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful.”
(2 Timothy 4:7~NLT)

© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2013. All Rights Reserved.

A Fake Holiday Observed—Once Again

I’m sure that today, of all days, I should wax eloquent regarding this date set aside for lovers, but I’m drawing a blank.  I went back and read my post from Valentine’s Day a couple of years ago to see if I could glean any ideas for yet another treatise on our annual trek through the sentimental terrain of the day.


I had no idea of what to talk about the year before that, either.  You see, for all my introspection, all my analytic brooding, I am still no good at the mushy stuff.

I am, after all, a mere man; not given to romantic gestures, save occasionally.  I am also a cynic, believing this date is nothing more than a once relatively obscure holy day, dedicated to an equally obscure saint named Valentine.

Truth be told, there were two men by that name designated as saints by the early Catholic Church, neither of which originally had any connection whatsoever to romantic lore or history.  It is only in the last century that stories have been fabricated to turn the day into one with connotations of romantic love.

The cynic in me believes the hype to be a conspiracy by the commercial concerns which stand to gain financially from the widespread celebration of the fake holiday.

And, do we spend money on the day!

I’m thinking of one Valentine’s Day, many years ago, when a young man, nervous and anxious to impress his young fiancee (she was only seventeen that year), went out and spent every dime he could scrape up to buy a piece of jewelry for her.  Even though it meant there would be no romantic dinner (not even a Number 3 Burger with Tots at the local Sonic), he spent the extra couple of dollars it took to have her initial engraved on the gold-plated stickpin.

It wasn’t even real gold!  Regardless, the gift was eminently successful.  The young lady was duly impressed, or at least appeared to be, and the fact that there was no romantic candlelit dinner went by without comment.

After that, the stickpin could be seen frequently, pinned through the lapel of her jacket or on a scarf worn around her neck, to the lasting enjoyment of both the beautiful young lady and the bumbling young man.

I stole the stickpin out of the young lady’s jewelry box tonight so I could photograph it for you.  She was not happy.  It’s not a thing of beauty anymore.  The shaft is slightly bent (from a too-thick jacket lapel), the edges are showing wear (gold-plated, not solid, you remember), and the clutch is not even the original one.

She doesn’t wear it much, since such trinkets have fallen out of fashion.  But, the Lovely Lady is not through with it yet.  The cheap little piece of costume jewelry has value to her still.  Though no sane person would ever offer anything for it, she would not part with it for money.

I promised to return it before I go to bed, later.  It’s a promise she will hold me to.

This not-so-young man is gratified to realize that the years have not tarnished the feelings a bit.  There have been many months of February which have passed since that one so many years ago.  Most of them have passed with little notice.

And, what of flowers, chocolates, or romantic meals at favorite restaurants?  Those do come frequently, but mostly on other days of the year.  The cynical resistance to the commercialism of the day is shared by both of us.

Yet, not a day goes by that each doesn’t verbally remind the other of our love for them.  We show it in untold ways, too.  As always, I get the better end of the deal.  She doesn’t complain and even insists that she is content with her part of the bargain.  I believe her, although I still can’t understand it.

You know, if you’ve read many of these posts, that I am unashamedly in love with that same young lady who received the cheap little stickpin all those many years ago.

It’s the way marriage is intended to be.

The world around us tells us differently.  Even the celebration of romantic love on just one special day a year is at odds with the reality of what true love is.

Although we know deep down that love is a way of life, and not an emotion, we continue to live for ourselves, selfishly insisting on our own way and indulging in our own pleasure.

By our selfishness, we deny that love is exactly what God says it is.  What we believe love to be is so far from the truth of genuine love that it resembles the original not at all.

Whew!  For not having anything to say on the subject, I’ve dived in headfirst, haven’t I?

Okay.  Discourse done, I’ll step down from the soapbox once more.

Besides, I’ve got to get that stickpin back in the jewelry box before morning…

Let love increase!




Love is patient, love is kind, it is not envious. Love does not brag, it is not puffed up.  It is not rude, it is not self-serving, it is not easily angered or resentful.  It is not glad about injustice, but rejoices in the truth.  It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  Love never ends.
(I Corinthians 13: 4-8 ~ NET)
Let the wife make the husband glad to come home and let him make her sorry to see him leave.
(Martin Luther~German theologian and church reformer~1483-1586)

© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2013. All Rights Reserved.

Shelter From The Storm

“Momma, I’m scay-oed.”  The little blondie (who is still having a little problem with her “r”s) is standing beside the bed in the dark of the early morning, her face lit up momentarily by another flash of lightning from the stormy sky outside.  It is only February and the thunderstorm is not a normal occurrence, but she is not concerned with any theories about what has brought the springtime phenomenon this early in the year.  Her only necessity at this moment is the shelter of her mother’s and father’s bed, and she will not be denied.

The little sweetheart’s Mom reports that at the first crash of thunder moments earlier, she heard the footsteps heading for their room.  Thump-thump-thump-thump.  They weren’t moving slowly, either.  Brothers and sister slept through the ruckus, but this little one doesn’t like sounds that she can neither identify nor silence.  Railroad train whistles were once the impetus for these moonlight visits to her parent’s bed, but she has learned to tolerate that nightly racket. This new terror in the night may take longer to conquer.

I know just how the little girl feels. Not just because I also stood beside my parent’s bed on many such occasions as a child, but because I still know the fear in the dark.  Oh, I’m not afraid of the dark of night, nor even of the occasional thunderstorm.  Those, I have learned to respect and come to know well.  The dark I fear is the dark of unfamiliarity and the storms I fear are the storms of everyday life.  Give me the known, the mundane routine of a well-beaten path, and I’m just fine.  Tell me that I must deviate from the routine and step out into the unexplored darkness and I am in a tizzy of emotional distress within moments.

I know that it is not the kind of thing that a man should admit to publicly.  Strength and a sense of adventure. These are the things we admire in our heroes.  Push out into the unknown!  Full speed ahead and…well, you get the point.  That is what we expect of a manly man. I am confessing tonight that I am not always such a man.  Oh, I’ll try new things with the proper amount of coaxing and wheedling.  If my children or grandchildren try it first, then I’ll do it.  And, truth be told, I will push ahead to do things never attempted before in any number of situations, simply because they must be done.  But, don’t for a moment think that I’m not screaming inside, “I’m scay-oed!” as I do them.  Many times, I say goodbye to the Lovely Lady as I head to an unfamiliar situation or place, asking her as I give her one last hug, “You know that I really, really don’t want to do this, don’t you?”  With her reassurance in my ears, I square my shoulders and go out bravely (or not) to face the unconquered fear.  It is what we do as adults.  That doesn’t make it easy.

How about it?  Is it dark in front of you?  Are you facing uncharted territory?  I know of one lady who is just entering a new era in her life when she has no parents to lean on, or to talk to when the way gets rough.  It is not a road she is joyfully anticipating, but regardless, she is taking her first uncertain steps along the course.  Others face a financial desert or the storm of physical infirmity.  The very real darkness of blindness is in front of some, while the disaster of divorce slams violently against others.  We all have our fears in the night.  And indeed, we have been given great strength and resourcefulness from deep within, but we need more.

You will know where your own source of strength is, but for me, I am assured that there is One who stands firm and resolute, right beside each of us.  I find proof in His Word.  When the question is asked, “What shall separate us from His love?  Trouble?  Hardship? Persecution? Famine?  Danger?”, the answer comes without equivocation.  “No.  Through all these, we are more than conquerors through Him.”  It doesn’t leave much room for argument, does it?  In the dark of our blackest night, through the most violent storms of life, we have an Anchor that keeps our souls, not only safe, but victorious.

That doesn’t mean that we don’t need people too.  When we are small, we run immediately into the arms (and beds) of our parents at the first sign of danger.  As adults, we still have need of spouses, friends, and family members (including parents, sometimes) to hold us close and encourage us in our time of fear.  It is how we were designed, both to give such support, and to receive the same.  We must not only see the needs of those we love and offer them our encouragement, but we should recognize our own weakness and seek help when necessary.

When the thunder rolls, and the lightning crashes, there is a place of safety.  I hope your feet will carry you just as surely and quickly to that place as the little feet of that sweet little blondie.

A little child shall lead them.

“…out of this nettle, danger, we pluck this flower, safety.”
(from “Henry IV” by William Shakespeare~English poet/playwright~1564-1616

“We have an anchor that keeps the soul
Steadfast and sure while the billows roll.
Fastened to the Rock which cannot move,
Grounded firm and deep in the Savior’s love.”
(“We Have An Anchor”~ Priscilla Owens~American teacher/hymn writer~1829-1907)

© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2013. All Rights Reserved.

Things To Unsay

What have you to say that you did not say at our last meeting? Or, perhaps you have things to unsay?”  Two former friends are speaking together in Tolkien’s “The Lord Of The Rings” when the above statement is made. You will recognize, of course that the second question is simply an impossibility.  I was reminded of this imaginary exchange as a friend remarked recently of very real regret and of words that cannot be unsaid.  His sadness led me to reflect.  I have a closet full of things I have said which I want back; a closet full of actions I have carried out which I want undone.  A few of them happened many, many years ago, but still I recall the moments and hours of anguish they caused.  After years have passed, I still see pain in faces and hurt in eyes.

My memories go back to early childhood and an encounter with a (then) young lady who was trying to get me and a brother to do what was right.  The young lady was slightly mentally handicapped, but she knew right from wrong and also knew our parents and what they expected of us.  I remember as she took us by the hands and led us home, how we used the flexible sticks we grabbed as we were led along to hit her on the legs and back.  I was four.  I would like to undo that.

I won’t bore you with the litany of cruel and thoughtless acts and words throughout my early life.  Suffice it to say that there were many.  Quite a few of them can be brought to mind without much effort, others come at odd moments, triggered by conversations and life situations.  Cruelty to kind teachers, to kids who were different, to siblings…all these memories still have the power to bring regrets and recriminations, though they occurred years ago.  I want to undo those stupid and senseless deeds.  They are accomplished and I am unable to erase them.

As an adult, the thoughtless acts and words have continued.  I recall events with my children, both in younger years and as they advanced through their adolescent stages, for which I would gladly issue a recall.  But, they are gone beyond recall; acts completed and words already formed and spoken.  Sarcasm used on young children yields hurt spirits, selfishness on my part forms bitterness and resentment.  I want all of those acts and words back, but I can’t snatch them out of memory.

Just last week at the dinner table, while speaking with my now adult children, in stubbornness I insisted that I was correct regarding a subject about which I knew nothing.  I would prefer that the conversation had never taken place, but it did.  In my memory, the words still hang out there.  I wish I could just pluck them out of the air and have them disappear.  It’s not possible.

Do you understand why my heart is pained as my friend makes two simple statements?  “Filled with regret.”  And later, “Words cannot be unsaid.”  I want to fix it for him, to tell him what I know about forgiveness and grace, but I cannot.  I do know about forgiveness and grace.  I have experienced both.  Still, I feel the pain of failure, of relationships damaged.  God’s forgiveness and grace erase the punishment for sinful acts, but the temporal consequences remain.  Our lives are filled with regrets and sadness as a result.

Is it dark enough for you yet?  Do you feel hopeless?  That was not my intent.  You see, here is what I know beyond the regret.  Hurtful words spoken cannot be unsaid, but they can be overshadowed by loving apologies and by constructive conversations that follow such apologies.  Angry actions cannot be taken back, but they can be blended into a palette of loving deeds and a consistent walk that demonstrates the grace which has been shown to us individually.  Will we forget?  No.  It seems certain to me that the memory of pain we caused is much stronger to us than in the memories of those who suffered the pain, if we have taken steps to make things right.  I have spoken to my children at various times about the events that live in my memory and they assure me that either they have no remembrance of the events or that they are forgiven.  If others can forgive me, I should be able to do the same and let those painful memories go.  Not as if they never happened, but as if they are no longer a focal point in my past.

I’m not an artist, but I love paintings.  I enjoy watching artists at work.  They take dead, monotonous colors and, putting those individual colors onto a drab canvas, they blend and draw until a scene takes shape.  Have you ever seen an artist who has made a mistake?  They don’t throw away the canvas.  They don’t get a rag and wipe away the error.  They don’t even deny the existence of the flaw, but they use it constructively instead.  They blend the erroneous stroke into the painting, working in other colors and shades.  Before you know it, an expert couldn’t point out the errant stroke.  The finished work of art still includes the error, perhaps a raft of them, but its beauty is unmarred; instead incorporating those mistakes into the tableau, the completed picture.

That’s how life is.  Regrets and all, we take life as it comes, acknowledging our mistakes and sins.  As we build and repair relationships, the problems fade into the whole fabric, becoming in some ways, part of its beauty.  Not that our angry words and selfish actions are beautiful, but the whole has beauty because of grace, and forgiveness, and second chances to get it right.

No regrets?  Ha!  I have lots of those.  There will undoubtedly be more.  But I also have the joy of seeing those regrets fade into the background when we are forgiven and move forward to face the challenges of life.

Perhaps, it’s not the way I would have preferred, but it will do.

“To err is human, to forgive, Divine.”
(Alexander Pope~English poet~1688-1744)

“To err is human, but when the eraser wears out ahead of the pencil, you’re overdoing it.”
(Josh Jenkins)

Originally published 10/23/11 as “No Regrets? Yeah Right!”
© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2013. All Rights Reserved.