Night Vision

I have been here before.  I didn’t want to come this way again.

I turned off of this very road and headed for a better part of this town a ways back.  Yet, here I am again, headed for the worst part of town–without question, a depressing place to be.  The strip joints are coming up on my right again, the pawn shops to my left.  And, everywhere I look, liquor stores.  No, not the upmarket kind with perky sales staff asking you if they can recommend a fine wine that will be the perfect accompaniment to the filet mignon you will be serving your guests at your upcoming dinner party.  These are the liquor stores that are always the target of armed robberies in every second-rate detective movie you’ve ever watched; the sort of liquor stores that have winos wandering away from them as they tip up the brown paper bags and take long slugs of the cheap poison inside.  I don’t want to be here anymore.

My trip to the big city has gone from bad to worse while spending two days in a futile search for instruments, which I can sell in my store back home.  The trip has come at a time when we desperately need used band instruments for the kids who will be seeking a horn when school starts in another couple of weeks.  I miscalculated though; schools opened in this city last week, and the shelves have been cleared of any band instruments worthy of the name.  All that is left are pieces of pathetic debris that look vaguely like the trumpets, and the saxes, and especially the flutes that I need, but have no chance of ever playing well again.  Dented bells, cracked bodies, and missing pieces have been the order of the day.  Now, I just want out.

The street on which I travel has many crossroads, but none of them appear to lead to anywhere I wish to go. I simply give up and let the car follow the lane I am in; going past dives and bail-bondsman’s offices, and in front of thrift stores abutting payday loan shops.  I sigh and slip into despair. Nothing.  I am about to turn and retreat back the way I came when suddenly, I spot a little pawn shop with its lights still on.  I am not hopeful, but I’m here already, so I park the car and go in.

The young lady at the counter looks up and greets me as I enter.  My eyes scan the shelves.  As I thought–nothing.  No trumpets, no clarinets, no saxophones.  But then I spy a flute case.  “I’d like to look at that flute, Ma’am,” I intone quietly and with little hope.

She takes it off the shelf and sets the case in front of me.  “Do you play the flute?”  I laugh (a humorless sound) and tell her what I am doing.  “Well, we have just this one flute left–Oh!  There is another one back in the back.  I’ll get it, too.”

I open the case she has deposited on the glass and see that it is just as all the other horns I’ve found in my search.  A cheap thing, it needs a repad and a polish, repairs which will cost much more than the finished product will bring.  I will pass.

As I start to close the case, the young lady returns.  “I’ve only got this Haynes flute.  It’s pretty bad.  You interested?”  It is a good thing that my back is to her, because I’m sure that my mouth dropped open.  Haynes flutes are very fine instruments and highly sought after by professional musicians everywhere.

“Yeah.  I’m done with this one.  I might as well look at that one, too.”  I am trying to be nonchalant, but I must see this instrument.  “Well, let’s see what we’ve–Oh.”  I am stunned.  The solid silver flute is completely black; tarnished beyond recognition.  The rods upon which the keys pivot are corroded and not a single key will budge.  I’m sure that I needn’t mention that the wool pads are all moth eaten, do I?  In short, this flute is in worse condition than any instrument I have looked at in the last two days.

Well, certainly I purchased the flute!  The young lady’s boss set the price, a ridiculously high one (he thought) for a flute in its condition, yet a ridiculously low one (I thought) for a flute of its caliber.  As I walked out to my car, the lights along the street seemed a bit brighter.  This wasn’t such a bad part of town after all, was it?  I noticed that people were talking to each other on the street as they passed one another.  Sure, the liquor stores were still scattered about and the bail-bondsmen, with bright yellow signs screaming their phone numbers to future and past felons, were still lining the road, but inside my car, I was seeing it all in a different light.

This was a find!  With just a few dollars’ investment, it would be worth thousands.  I turned out of the parking lot, headed in the same direction again.  Within minutes, I was in a high class neighborhood, and then on to the expressway out of the drab city.  The lights of home waited to welcome me just moments away.

Dark places abound in this road trip we call life.  Some of us experience them more often than others.  Some of us make them worse than they actually are.  That said, they are still dark places.  When we are in the blackness of despair, or depression, or whatever one needs to call it, we wonder if we will ever stumble out again. Repeatedly, we try the doctor’s cures, or the home remedies and the sure-fire fixes, only to find that the only way out of the darkness is to endure until the dawn, which comes when it will, not when we seek it.  It is not an enjoyable position to find oneself in.

What I am saying tonight is that if we keep moving forward, if we continue to do the things which we know that we must, we may actually exit the darkness with some new-found treasures tucked under our arms.  It won’t happen if we quit moving forward when night falls.  It won’t happen if we decide to wait out the storm, holed up in some storm shelter.  The person who achieves the great coup, the one who gains the great victory is seldom the most intellectual, almost never the strongest, but is consistently the most determined.  The only way to get through is to go through.

As I write tonight, the darkness around me is profound, both literally and symbolically.  A storm rages outside my door and inside my head.

I have been here before.  I didn’t want to come this way again.

I wonder. What treasure will I find this time?
“…forgetting those things in the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.”
(Philippians 3: 13b, 14~NLT)
“If you are going through hell, keep going.”
(Sir Winston Churchill~British statesman and Prime Minister~1874-1965)

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

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Today is Memorial Day Too

I’ve neglected this blog for a couple of weeks.  Probably not many have missed it, but I have missed writing.  It seems that I should offer an attempt at an explanation.  So here goes:  I was busy.

Seriously, I was asked to speak at my church on the Sunday before Memorial Day and I don’t multi-task well, so my time was re-allocated from writing the blog to shoving words around into some semblance of a sermon.  I am happy to have done it; I am also happy to be finished with it.

A couple of folks (but, not the Lovely Lady) suggested that it might be worthwhile to post the sermon here.  Against my better judgment (and possibly hers), I have done that below.  Read it at your own risk.  It is quite long.  But, I believe that God’s Word is worth spending time on.  You will also note that it has some personal references which may only be of interest to the folks to whom it was delivered.

I hope to be back with a few new (shorter) posts very soon.  You have been warned…

Sunday, May 26, 2013
Today is Memorial Day Too
As we meet today, most of you are aware that this weekend we observe Memorial Day.  It is an observance which goes back many years in our country, all the way back to just a few years after the Civil War.  In the late 1860’s families and friends began to gather at military cemeteries usually in late April and in May because of the abundance of blooming flowers in this season, to decorate the graves of the Yankee soldiers who gave their lives defending the Union.  It was called “Decoration Day,” a name which was used until the middle of the twentieth century.  The families and friends of the Confederate dead wished to honor their heroes also and over time the day simply became a day to honor those who had died in battle.  After the day became recognized by the government, for many years May 30th was the date for the national observance of this solemn day. 
There have been other changes to the day, specifically the selection of a different date upon which it is observed and the official name designation of Memorial Day.  The other thing that has changed more recently is the fact that it has largely become a day on which we honor loved ones who have died, not just people in the military who have died in battle.  All you have to do is drive past any cemetery this weekend and you’ll see what I mean.  I’m sure that there are differing opinions about the changes, but regardless, the last Monday in May is the day when we pause to observe Memorial Day, as well as take a day to celebrate family and the beginning of summer.
A couple of weeks ago Pastor Bruce spoke with us about our church’s vision statement and he suggested that we need to know where we are going.  He told of the compasses on lifeboats during WW II and how they pointed the crew of the boats to the shipping lanes, so they would be found.  We do need to know where we are going, but I want to suggest today that, without a clear idea of where the sailors had come from, the compasses wouldn’t have been quite as helpful as you might think.  Sure, the compass shows north and south, but unless one knows their past route, they would have no idea of which direction to steer to achieve their goals.  It is essential to be aware of the past, or we steer blindly into the future.
Since I have the opportunity to speak with you this weekend, I’d like for us to talk a little about memorials and their purpose.  More specifically, we’ll focus on a few memorials in the Word. 
You may remember that we sang an old hymn in our worship time this morning.  I know a few of you noticed some unfamiliar words, didn’t you?  The song was “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing”, written by Robert Robinson, a British Baptist pastor, in 1757.  I grew up singing those words and this hymn was one of the first things that came to mind when I began considering speaking about memorials a couple of weeks ago.  The second verse is a little obscure, isn’t it?  It wasn’t obscure at all to many of us who grew up singing the words. 
“Here I raise my Ebenezer;
Hither by Thy help I’m come;
And I hope, by Thy good pleasure,
Safely to arrive at home.
Jesus sought me when a stranger,
Wandering from the fold of God;
He, to rescue me from danger,
Interposed His precious blood.
I remember a number of times when the song leader in my home church would stop to explain what “here I raise my Ebenezer” meant before we actually sang the song.   Maybe quite a few of you already knew the origin of the phrase before today.
I Samuel 7:7-13 (click to read passage)
Ebenezer means simply, “Stone of Help”.  After God won the battle and allowed the men of Israel to drive the Philistines from the land, Samuel set up the stone, not as an altar to sacrifice upon, but as a testimony of God’s faithfulness.  It testified not only to the Israelites, but also as a reminder to the Philistines, of the power that protected God’s people.  It wasn’t the power of a magic talisman, as the Israelites had supposed the Ark to be, but it was the power of a God who honors His promises.
The memorial at Ebenezer isn’t really one of the most prominent in the Bible, but I mention it simply to make a point about what it takes to remember something, as well as how we forget some things too. 
When we who are performers prepare to take our material before an audience, we all do something.  Whether public speakers, or actors, or dancers, or musicians, almost without fail we rehearse.   To rehearse means simply to repeat until the desired effect is achieved.  The word “rehearse” actually comes from an Anglo-French word which means “to harrow again”.  If you know what a harrow is, you know that it is a type of plow which takes the big clods of dirt left behind by the blade plow and breaks them up before smoothing the ground down.  You can’t plant a field that has only had a blade used on it, simply because it is too rough and the dirt too hard still.  The harrow must do its work first, then the seed may be sown. 
If you have ever heard a first run through by any of the music groups I’ve been affiliated with, you will understand the analogy of the rough and uneven ground which needs to be sifted and pulverized again and again.  From the lumpy chaotic mountains of upturned dirt, we rehearse, and rehearse, and rehearse again, smoothing down until the finished product is soft and pliable soil, prepared for seeds to be sown.
So it is with memorials, if they are to be remembered.  They must be rehearsed.  The question, “What do these stones mean?” must be answered again and again, reminding each generation what happened at that spot.  We mention Ebenezer this morning simply to make the point that because a few in my generation got tired of rehearsing the story of Samuel and the God who was with the Israelites, we took the mention out of the song, and it has been largely lost on more than one generation since.  It is still a great hymn that shares a great message, just not the reminder of God’s faithfulness in that instance.  This is not a complaint about changing old established songs, but an object lesson of what happens when we forget to rehearse the story of the memorial.
Perhaps a different example a little closer to home will help.  Today is my father’s birthday.  He was born on May 26, 1930.  I remember the day.  I haven’t forgotten it once in the last forty years.  Now, I happen to know that Tuesday is also Jim Pearson’s birthday.  He was born on May 28, 1933.  My apologies to Jim, but I will most likely forget when his birthday is next year.  “Why is that?” you may ask.  The fact is that I’ve had a lot of rehearsals of my father’s birthday, dating back to my early childhood.  There were a few years when I couldn’t remember the date back then, but I was reminded again and again.  We celebrated the day every year with Dad and little by little, the date was fixed in my mind.  I’ve never celebrated Jim’s birthday before.  I only know that it is his birthday because someone mentioned it to me a couple of weeks ago.  I’ll remember the day this year, because my attention has been drawn to it.  Next year, who knows?  But, I will not forget my Dad’s birthday next year and the year after that.  When we rehearse events, they become fixtures in our memories and indeed, in our lives.
Just so, it is essential that we rehearse the memorials in the Word, so that they are fixed in our hearts and minds.  Let’s talk about why.
Memorials speak of God’s promises and faithfulness
Let’s walk back from Samuel and his Ebenezer, about 230 years in the Word of God, back to Joshua 4.  In the interest of saving time, we’ll skip some repetitive sections.  We’re reading verses 4-9 and verses 15-24.
God gave very specific instructions to Joshua.  They were instructions designed to leave no doubt in the people’s minds as to who was responsible for their salvation.  Specifically, God’s chosen people were to use these stones as an object lesson to instruct their own children, and they would teach their children, and they theirs.  The memorial was of God’s faithfulness.  He had never forgotten a single one of His promises to His people and the stones shouted that to them.
(A small rock is laid down on floor behind speaker)  We’re going to set a small stone right there at the crossing of the Jordan River.  God keeps His promises.
Do you notice that right in the middle of his lesson to the Children of Israel, Joshua points back from this memorial, this monument to God’s faithfulness, directly to another one, erected a mere forty years before?  Verse 23 says, “As the Lord your God did to the Red sea, which He dried up before us until we had crossed over.”  I say it was mere 40 years before, but most of these folks couldn’t remember back that far.  Their parents, who had witnessed and lived through the Passover, and the trek across the Red Sea on dry ground, were dead because of their own wickedness. (Notice the different person that Joshua used when he speaks of the Red Sea crossing.  The Jordan River was God doing it for you and the Red Sea crossing was Him doing it for us.  This was a rehearsal of an event which the group to which he is speaking hadn’t experienced themselves.)
Joshua points back to the memorial of the Passover, in a straight line from this one at Gilgal.  Back then, Moses had told them, “Remember this day in which you went out of Egypt, out of the house of bondage; for by strength of hand the Lord brought you out of this place.”  Yet another significant memorial, not one in stones, but one that was to endure to generation after generation.  We’ll talk about this memorial again later.
(Another small rock is placed down slightly behind the first one)  We’ll set another stone there to commemorate the Passover and the release from bondage.  It shows God’s faithfulness in action.
Go back another 500 years and Jacob ( who would be known as Israel) is raising a stone at Bethel (the House of God) where he had his famous dream of the stairway leading up to heaven and God said to him, “…the land on which you lie I will give to you and your descendants.  Also, your descendants shall be as the dust of the earth; you shall spread abroad to the west and east, to the north and the south; and in you and in your seed all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” 
(Another rock is placed on the floor a greater distance back) This is a stone erected to remind men of God’s promise for the future.
And again, another 180 years or so before that, Abram, soon to be Abraham, stood in Shechem and heard God tell him that He would give to Abram’s descendants all the land that he could see, forever.  And Abram built an altar to his faithful God at Shechem.  Again, it was a stone of promise, looking forward to the day that a faithful God would fulfill His word.
(A rock is laid down, further behind the previous one)  Another stone that spoke clearly to all who saw it of God’s promise.
Go way back, another 1000 years or so and we see Noah building an altar to the God who had saved him and the God who said that never again would such a cataclysm come upon mankind.  The stones were lost eons ago, but the sign of the covenant can still be seen when the sun comes out after the rain. The gorgeous rainbow has been relegated to a lucky sign, one at the end of which you may discover a pot of gold.  I think that possibly God’s promise to us is worth infinitely more than some imaginary pot of gold.  “Parents tell your children…” 
(Far behind the others, a stone is laid down)
But, Noah’s altar also brings us to the next thing we need to realize about memorials:
Memorials remind us of man’s weakness and faithlessness.
The altar that Noah built was a testament of God’s faithfulness in the face of man’s depravity.  God himself says, “…although the imagination of man’s hearts is evil from his youth;” The memorial to the faithfulness of God is a testimony against the sin of man.
Moving forward, the memorial of the Passover was itself a remembrance of a sentence of death to the firstborn children of evil men who refused to bow before God.  The Passover not only testified to the power of God to save the slaves in Egypt, it pointed to a greater Passover still to come, made necessary because of the sin of all men.
Again, the passage in Joshua testifies, not only of the power and fealty of Jehovah, it pointed to the sin of the Children of Israel in the wilderness.  Did you notice as we read earlier, that there were actually two memorials built on that day when Joshua told God’s people to tell their children?  You might want to re-read Joshua 4:9 .  I’ve always wondered about the purpose of this smaller mound of stones, built specifically in a place where no one would see it.  I don’t think there is any other mention ever made in scripture about this monument that Joshua himself built without the help of anyone else.  I have an idea about its purpose though.  I can almost see Joshua picking up twelve stones from the east side of the Jordan River, maybe even a little furtively.  In the place where the twelve men representing the twelve tribes removed the huge stones which had to be hoisted onto their shoulders to be carried, Joshua drops these twelve stones.  The huge stones are placed on the western banks at Gilgal, in a place where Joshua calls their attention to the Great God who brought them out of Egypt and through the desert, into the land which he had promised to Abram (later Abraham) and to Jacob (later Israel), and to their parents and grandparents.  The smaller stones disappear from sight as soon as the feet of the Levites carrying the ark touch the western boundary of the Jordan.  I believe that these stones represent the time of captivity in Egypt, the murmuring in the desert, the golden calf, and the refusal to go into the land that God had promised, along with the forty years of wandering.  Symbolically, all washed away behind them, the faithfulness of God standing before them, to be remembered forever. 
Man fails again and again.  God is faithful still, without fail.
We’ve got to look at one more memorial in God’s Word, the ultimate act of God’s faithfulness and demonstration of His infinite love for mankind.  I said we’d talk about the Passover again. 
The last major point to be made about memorials this morning is this:
Memorials point in a straight line to the future, while giving testimony of the past.
So, let’s talk about the Passover.  More specifically, let’s talk about OUR Passover. 
(A final rock is laid down on the communion table in front of the speaker, on the floor level of the sanctuary.)
We rehearsed the story of that memorial again last week, right here at this table.  Our Savior took the memorial of the Passover, instituted some 1500 years before and rehearsed by the Chosen People for generation after generation since…He took that memorial and made it into a new one.  This memorial stands right at the foot of the cross; it is the stone upon which our salvation depends.   The wine represents His blood, which was shed for us, to pay for our sins.  The bread represents His body, which was broken for us.  As He set this stone into place, He reminded us to rehearse it as we gather.  The rehearsal tells the story powerfully, every time we meet at the table.
But, we don’t get to live around the stone.  We can’t stay here constantly.  You see, if you stand right here in front of the table and look at that most important memorial which we celebrate and rehearse as a fellowship, you can’t help but lift up your eyes and see that each one of those other memorials pointed in a straight line to the cross.  However, as you consider it, you realize that they also point past the cross.  Joined with the other stones of God’s faithfully kept promises, together they all point in a straight line to the future, to the place where we walk and talk, and live today.  I think that it may be no coincidence that in this place they point, not to any prayer closet, not to any conference room or fellowship hall, but straight outside into the world.  In here may be where we rehearse the story of the memorials, but it is out there that the stones are being laid still.
Because, you see, as important as that great stone, the stone of Christ’s sacrifice was, it is not the last stone which has been or will be laid.  To be sure, the Apostles and the early Church set up more, but all throughout history, God’s people have laid down memorials, stones of words, stones of actions, stones of lives given in sacrifice to Him.  All of them have pointed, not to the people themselves, but to God and His faithfulness, set in a straight line from those that came before.
Paul made it clear that the stones were not the stones of personal conquests or of prideful exploits.  In Philippians 3, he names his own successes (really failures) in that area, “circumcised the 8th day; of the stock of Israel; of the tribe of Benjamin; a Hebrew of the Hebrews; concerning the law, a Pharisee; concerning zeal, persecuting the church; concerning the righteousness which is in the law, blameless;”.
(A small trophy is set off to the side of the communion table.)
He had set up his own little altar, a trophy shelf stocked with items of personal pride.  “Look at me!” they proclaimed.  But you will note, won’t you, that they took their own little tangent away from the stones of proclamation.  At his coming to Christ, he suddenly became aware that they were out of line with God’s direction, just as little appendage off to the side, leading to nowhere.
The personal trophies weren’t anything to brag about!  They were actually negatives – He calls them “loss”.  Paul understood that his own righteousness, gained apart from his life in Christ, was less than nothing.  In verse 13, when he says, “…forgetting those things which are behind…” he is pointing straight at those personal trophies.  They’re not even something he wants to recall any longer.  Those personal victories and advantages are simply a tangent away from the line of promise, the line of memorials that make the construction of who we are in Christ.  Paul leaves them behind without a backward glance and, aligning himself with the faithfulness of God, reaches forward to the goal. 
We must do the same, kicking over our little hand built memorials to ourselves in the process.  The memorials of the past still stand, giving us direction for the future.  I realize that I’m skipping many stones to get to the present day, but time dictates that I must do that.  There are stones still being placed.  This church is founded on such stones.  We have the foundational stones, but those have been built on again and again.  I think of the Pittman family, who were founding members here and gave the property upon which our buildings stand, before serving the church for many, many years themselves.  Marvin and Wanda Eck gave years of selfless service, building and teaching.  The Hoods gave tirelessly.  I see John Hood in my mind’s eye, standing in an evening service, reminding us that it was time for our music program to move past his generation’s music and on to the future.  “I’ve had my day…”  I still hear his voice, even though he’s been gone many years.  Stones to remember how we got to this place.
I walked through the cemetery the other day and my eye was caught by a stone with the names of Wayne and Betty Brown.  My mind went back thirty-six years as Wayne and Betty worked selflessly to keep New Life Ranch’s facilities working smoothly, cleaning toilets and doing whatever else needed to be done to enable the camp to reach children for God.  When they moved into town, they went to work at JBU, cleaning toilets and anything else that had to be cleaned, to help the university train leaders for ministry in the world.  Throughout, they got up every morning before dawn to meet with their God and start the day in communion with Him.  They raised a daughter who was a missionary in Haiti for many years, and a son who is a Bible translator, and a daughter, Keri…who envisioned and heads up the Right Lead program out at the Ranch today, serving alongside many of you, while rescuing children who are at risk in this world.  Wayne and Betty laid lasting stones to point, not to them, but to a faithful God who saves us still today.
The list goes on, including living builders.  Leo and Sona Setian, Leroy and Wilma Reese (Grandma Reese to many children who grew up in this church), Jim and Barb Caldwell with their rope to keep the Sunday School class in one place while they rehearse the memorials to the two and three year-olds we entrust to them.  There’s a whole sermon in that rope, I think.  The names are too numerous to list, but the names really don’t matter.  The stones don’t point to the people, but to a faithful God who does what He says He will do.
I’d like for us to look at just one more monument today.  I first saw this stone in the fall of 1977.  My sister-in-law asked me to go to the cemetery with her.  My brother was in a class, but she heard that the stone had been placed and she just had to see it immediately.  I went and stood at the stone and wept with her.  I didn’t know Maudie and Dale, but they left behind a monument.  If you’ve ever been in the north edge of the cemetery up along the side near John Brown University, you’ve probably seen this stone.  It doesn’t look like it belongs in a graveyard.  About five feet long and two and a half feet high, it sticks out like a sore thumb.  It did way back then, too.  In 1977, the words were cut into a board.  The family must have figured out over the years that stone stands up to the elements a little better than wood, so the marker is now of granite. 
Maudie and Dale were married before that very stone…Fifteen days before they stood in heaven.  They were killed in a car wreck a short two weeks after they became man and wife.  They didn’t have long to set many stones in this life.  But, “They, being dead, still speak.” 
Here’s the inscription on the marker over the big stone:
“’For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.’  Romans 6:23
“By faith, Dale and Maudie had accepted that gift.  Through death, the gift was unwrapped for them and its splendor revealed.
“On August 13, 1977 they stood before this old rock and were married.  Just 15 days later they stood before Jesus Christ, the One who gave His precious blood to pay for that gift of eternal life.
“Look at these graves and face the reality of life’s brevity and the certainty of judgment.  Sinner, don’t turn your back on Jesus; to do so is hell forever.  Christian, let’s get the Gospel out.  You may not have known Dale and Maudie.  They were great kids.  When we get to heaven I will take you over to their place and maybe Maudie will fix supper for us.
“God is Good and He makes no mistakes.”
The past stretches behind, the stones piled up to remind us of God’s promises and the ways He keeps them.  The future lies before us, waiting to see what stones we will leave as we walk through it.  What are the markers that will testify of who we are?  Personal successes, even good deeds done for personal glory, point only to ourselves and are of no benefit whatsoever.  If our memorials point back clearly to who God is and the great good news of His salvation for all men, others will be able to follow the markers to a future with Him. 
It’s time to place some stones along the way, ourselves.  It’s time for us to make every day Memorial Day. 

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

A Safe Place

An afternoon of helpless standing by as the power of nature was displayed for the world to see in a town in Middle America.  Death and shattering devastation seem to defy words of comfort and explanation.  And later, a few moments of fear and relatively minor destruction in our own little town this evening left all of us in the dark, both figuratively and literally.  When the dark closes in, we begin to realize what is true and what is lasting.   

A Safe Place

“Help me, Daddy!”  the terrified young boy screamed.  The family was spending the afternoon at the beach, but things were not going as planned.  The young father had made sure that all of his children learned to swim, at least enough to get out of most normal circumstances they would encounter in the water.  This, however was no normal circumstance.

As Mom and the older sister waded and looked for sea shells, the boys and their dad had opted to swim in the breaking surf.  It was an incredible experience for the boy of nine or so.  He and the others walked out twenty or thirty yards through the breakers; sometimes letting them hit him on the bare stomach; sometimes jumping up in the air as they approached, watching them go past with the white water swirling around his legs.  Deeper and deeper the water became as the shore was left behind.  Chest high, it would reach and suddenly, he would stumble as the ocean floor underneath him rose quickly and he was only knee deep again, yards from the shore.  And the waves!  One after the other, they came incessantly; water piling over on top of water.  Wave after wave pummeling his body, again and again, until he tired of it and just wished for it to stop for a moment.  But, more waves came, wearing the young boys and their father out.

They were spread out a little distance when the father called out to them to head in.  Normally, the call to quit playing would result in a bit of cajoling and coaxing to stay for just a few moments more, but there was none of that this time.  The tired boys headed for the shore.  And then, just feet away from the shore it happened.  The youngest of them suddenly felt the motion of the ocean stronger than he had felt it before.  He couldn’t stand up any longer as he was drawn away from the shore ahead of him.  The beach at South Padre Island is famous for its “rip currents” or undertow, and he was caught in one of those dreaded waves, moving under the surface much faster than it appeared.  The terror was instantaneous.  Along with his brothers, he had learned to swim and was pretty good at it.  Even at that, he was no match for this kind of power.  As his father attempted to swim toward him, he realized the now all-too-apparent phenomenon that accompanied the rip current.  To either side of the outgoing current, the water was still moving strongly toward the shore.  It was immediately clear that he couldn’t reach the boy in time, so he did the only thing he could do.  He yelled!  “Swim!  Swim to the side!  Swim toward me!”  It made no sense to the scared little boy, who was trying to swim directly into shore against the current that was pulling him away from that safe haven, but he turned to the right and swam for all he was worth.  It seemed an eternity that nothing happened, except that he was drawn further out, but stroke by stroke, inch by inch, the lad pulled out of the current and into calm water and safety.

Standing on the firm bottom and shaking from the experience, the only thing he could think about was that his father hadn’t saved him.  All the time he was sure he was drowning, the only thing his father had done was to yell at him.  “Why didn’t you try to pull me out?” he asked accusingly.  The father, no doubt terrified himself, didn’t try to explain his actions, but picked up the little fellow and carried him to shore and his mother.  It would be a long time before the boy understood what had happened that day.  But, he never forgot the experience.

I’ve heard the poem and the song based on it, entitled “Footprints In The Sand” for years.  It’s a tear-jerking piece of poetry that talks about a dream of seeing two sets of footprints and the explanation that they were God’s and the writer’s walking beside each other.  But all of the sudden, there is only one set of footprints and the writer accuses God of leaving, only to learn that at those times which represented troublesome events in life, God carried her or him.  All very beautiful and romantic.  And wrong.  You see, what actually happens is that throughout life, God is imparting his wisdom and knowledge specifically to equip us for the difficult times.  And, as harsh as it seems, when those times come, He knows that we have the tools to face them and get through them.  Truly, we often wonder where He is when the night is darkest, when we fear the worst that can happen.  No, I don’t believe that He leaves us to “sink or swim”, but we’ve been trained in the good times, learned the lessons, and His strength is adequate.  We can face the challenges before us and come through just fine.

As I write tonight, I’m grieving for families who have lost loved ones, suddenly and unexpectedly.  My heart is torn apart for them, envisioning the pain they are feeling and even possibly, the sense that God has left them in the riptide.  Right now, they may be drowning in their loss and emptiness.  My prayer for them is that they will recover with the strength and courage that He has already provided and prepared them with.  His strength is perfected in our weakness.  A Father’s love never fails and never deserts us.

I have never forgotten the terrifying experience in the waves, but sometimes I still need a jolt to be reminded of the real lesson there.  We are safe wherever we go, led by our Father’s strong and able hands.  

“…Be strong and courageous.  Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged,  for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”
(Joshua 1:9)

“Comfort and prosperity have never enriched the world as much as adversity has.”
(Billy Graham~American evangelist)

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

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From Where I’m Sitting

There is a trumpet on my desk.  Not mine.  I don’t play the trumpet.  Well, let me rephrase that.  I can play the notes on a trumpet.  When you know some of the people I’ve had the privilege of calling friends, you’ll understand.  These people play the trumpet.  They don’t push air through their instruments; they breath life into it.  In their hands, the inanimate piece of brass becomes a thing of beauty, evoking emotions, bringing tears to the eyes, inspiring laughter in the soul.  Being able to manipulate the valves and form your lips into approximate shapes to call forth the individual notes?  I don’t call that playing the trumpet.  I don’t play the trumpet.

No.  This trumpet is on my desk because I’m selling it for someone and I need some photos.  Since my former hoarder’s room and photo studio has become my office, the desk has to serve as a prop for the pictures.  But, as I sat at my keyboard tonight and prepared to write again, I happened to glance up from my chair.  The photo you see here is the view from where I’m sitting now.  

Do you see it?  No, not the trumpet.  Do you see what I see?  I see a bridge.  Okay; I will admit it.  I love images of bridges.  My walls are covered with them.  That said, this view tonight inspired an interesting line of thought.

Those of you who play music will understand what a musical bridge is; that passage of music which moves you smoothly from one section of a song to the next one, usually in a different style or possibly even a different key.  But, tonight I’m thinking about music and bridges in a different light.

There is a personal realization that, in many ways, music has itself been a bridge for me.  Watching a video earlier tonight about being bullied, I realized that in my youth, music was a bridge for me from being the odd-man-out to being a part of something important.  “I’m in the band!” was a badge worn proudly by many of my fellow band-geeks.  Before, we had been weird and alone, tormented by the athletes and socialites.  Now, we were weird and part of something!  That bridge had been crossed with music.  Over the years, this bridge has become more familiar, as I have enjoyed helping many folks find the approach to the span between musical illiteracy and the brilliant expanse that is the world of music.  The amazing thing is that other bridges have been built to many people I would never have encountered if my path had never led over the music bridge in the first place.  You will not be surprised to learn that I am still weird and still part of something…

So, the view from where I’m sitting is one of music and of bridges.  There is no doubt that there are many of you who don’t see the same thing from your vantage point.  But, it is just as certain that there is something in your life which you can point to as your bridge – to a different life, to different people, to a different place – where you could never have arrived without it.  It may be a skill you possess, may be a passion burning in you, may even be simply a dream for the future.  Just as in real life, our bridges come in all varieties, some basic and utilitarian, others elaborate and ornate.  All serve the same purpose; to provide passage from one place to another, over barriers that once seemed insurmountable.

There is an innate beauty in any bridge, a beauty which derives from its basic function.  But, I am also partial to the ornamented bridges which, by their decoration, demonstrate the joy which their creator took in designing them.   No ordinary means of mobility, these works of art make it clear that the greatest enjoyment is in the journey itself.  For myself, there are many such bridges in life; faith, family, music, art, friendship; the list goes on and on.  They are bridges to love or to an enriched spirit; even bridges to God Himself.  That’s right.  One of the strongest bridges I know is the bridge of grace, put in place by our Savior as He laid Himself down for us; surely, a very important bridge to traverse.

And, once again, this old rambler has stumbled around for long enough.  Time to head for home. I hope along the way tonight, you’ve seen a bridge or two that you never noticed before.

Beautiful, aren’t they?

Well, they certainly are from where I’m sitting.

“People are lonely because they build walls instead of bridges.”
(Joseph Fort Newton~American pastor~1876-1950)

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

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A Perfect Mother

Every mom aspires to be the World’s Greatest Mom, and by some crazy quirk of logic, most succeed.”*

In this week preceding the day some politician has randomly designated “Mother’s Day”, possibly driven by payoffs from the florist and greeting card lobbyists, our thoughts seem to go back in time to the days when our own mothers were the moving forces in our lives.  The images that are depicted by said industries in their commercials and on their product are of sentimental and unrealistic scenes of domestic bliss.  The regal women in their pretend world are always perfectly coiffed and put-together, make-up applied professionally and coordinated designer clothing clinging wrinkle-free to a model’s body.  I sit here tonight and from nowhere in my dimmest memory, can I draw forth such a vision.

What I remember is a slightly overweight woman in mule slippers and an old terry-cloth robe, standing at the bottom of the stairs and yelling, “If you don’t get out of bed and down here right now, you’ll get no breakfast, AND you’ll miss your bus!”  The sack lunch we were given wasn’t filled with Lunchables or with Jiff peanut-butter (“Choosy mothers choose Jiff!”) and Smucker’s jelly sandwiches (unless those were on sale that week), along with an apple and a note, but was more likely to have a potted meat sandwich (bargain bread with the paste-like stuff smeared over it) and some slightly stale potato chips (from the 5 pound bargain package) tucked into a baggie inside.  By lunchtime, it would taste like a gourmet feast to the hungry urchin into whose hands it had been shoved as he ran to catch the bus.

You see, my mother never was anything like a Desperate Housewife or one of the Real Housewives of (fill-in-the-blank).  She was Mom – sometimes grumpy, sometimes doting – often harried, frequently docile –  but always loving and teaching and pushing.  There was never a time when we didn’t know that she wanted the best for her children.  Oh, we didn’t always show her respect and she didn’t always have a quiet demeanor when dealing with us, but there was no doubt that she was on our side.

I learned to think on my feet from Mom, as we sat and argued for hours.  Truly, that trait of mine (the arguing) comes from her and not from my father, who hated arguments of any ilk.  But, I will always have the picture in my mind of Mom, as she stopped to think about a point her adversary had just made.  She would purse her lips, then stretch them thin, tapping her cheek with a long finger, considering carefully what had been said.  Within seconds, the answer was on her tongue and the verbal joust would resume.  Even into her old age, she has been an able debater, leading some of her children to avoid delicate subjects, should she decide to challenge any random premise.  The skills of logic I learned in those encounters have served well in many situations.  The argumentativeness, I’ve had to work to control a bit more than I’d like to admit.

I could spend hours discussing her traits, good and bad.  The strident defense of her children when they were accused unfairly, the stubbornness of refusing to be bullied into paying fees for useless services, the tirades at us for our lack of initiative in housework – all of these and countless more, went into who the woman was and is, but only one more occurrence will I burden you with today.

I will admit that I was the strangest of her children and the hardest for her to understand.  I would cry at nothing, stomping up to my bedroom and sulking for hours over the least of slights.  I could work with tirelessness on a project that caught my fancy, but then would sit in indolence and procrastination when presented with a job which had to be accomplished, but in which I had no interest.  I remember one particular evening, when I had once again stormed up the stairs long before bedtime and lay sobbing on my bed.  As the time to be asleep passed and my tirade continued unabated, Mom called me downstairs.  At that time of night, it was an action which usually meant only one thing; that corporal punishment was imminent.  But, this time, she led me to her chair and, sitting down in it, set me on her lap and just held me.  I was eight, and hadn’t been in this position for a number of years, but it was comforting.  Kindly, she asked what was really bothering me.  I actually didn’t know, but the words just popped out, “I want a puppy!”  My Dad, sitting in his recliner across the room, snorted.  But, Mom just talked with me gently about the situation, explaining quietly and lovingly that the family dog would have to do for now, since there was no way possible that each of the five kids could have their own pet.  (We weren’t licensed to be a zoo…)  I didn’t really want a puppy; it was just the first thing that came into my head.  But, the loving and tender way that Mom responded was all I needed to calm down and stop crying.  Within a very short time, I was on my way to bed, comforted and secure.  It was one of the few times that I dropped right off to sleep upon lying down.  A mother’s love can do that.

Do I have a point?  Just this…the fact that Mom didn’t fit a single one of the ideal requirements that makes up the perfect mother in the eyes of the rest of the world, had nothing to do with her ability to do the work that God had set in front of her.  She wasn’t a perfect person in any way, but she was exactly the mother that I needed to help me grow up into a man who could think for himself, learning to love another woman who would also be a perfect mother, and becoming a father who could love and teach and support his own children.

By writing this, I mean to honor, not only my own mother, who needed the patience of Job and the wisdom of Solomon to raise her brood, but I want to honor mothers everywhere who daily do the task in front of them.  It is largely a thankless job for 364 days of the year, but it does continue for every one of those monotonous and unexceptional days, in spite of the lack of notice on our part.  I hope you will take the time to let your mother know of your honor and love, and respect in a very real way, not only this weekend, but also upon every opportunity which presents itself on the other days of the year and indeed, for the rest of her life.

It will only be a partial payment of a debt which is owed her. 

“If you have a mom, there is nowhere you are likely to go where a prayer has not already been.”
(Robert Brault~American writer)

“Her children stand and bless her…”
(Proverbs 31:28 NLT) 

* Robert Brault, “A Robert Brault Reader”, May 5, 2012

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

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Ten Foot People

It’s a cynical viewpoint, is mine.

I suddenly realized that I have spent my life expecting the worst of people.  Maybe it hurts less that way.  If you don’t expect much, you won’t be surprised when you don’t get much. Lowered expectations.

The idea that people will always disappoint is one which grows with every instance of being let down by folks who appeared to be trustworthy.  But strangely, as the calamities keep coming, the cynicism grows until, one day, you wake up and find that you’re not really even disappointed anymore.  

“I knew something like this was going to happen,”  you mutter to yourself as the latest shining knight falls off of his steed.

Let’s see…maybe I can give you a for-instance.  Rather than talk about people, perhaps we can talk about old guitars…
The fellow called me a couple of weeks ago.  “Paul, I’ve got a great guitar from the seventies.  It’s a pretty desirable instrument.”

I talked with him a few minutes and got the particulars about the guitar; then I asked him to send some pictures to my phone.  The guitar looked great in the pictures – really great.  I wanted it!  I checked my resources and determined a fair price for this model in the condition he claimed it was in, a claim the photos seemed to confirm.  It was a fair amount of money.  He said he’d bring the guitar right down.

The guitar that he carried in turned out to be a very different instrument than either his description or his photos promised.  A can or two of spray paint had ruined the value for me, while he was actually proud of his cover-ups, believing that they enhanced the aesthetic value.  I cut my offer in half, much as he had cut the value of the vintage instrument in half by his amateurish bumbling.  He took my money and left, not quite as happy as he had been when he first came in.
“It’s a pretty good ten-foot guitar, Paul.”  The guitar player stood near my counter the next day.

He had stepped to the wall, where the monstrosity hung, just moments before.  It took him mere seconds to recognize what had been done to the guitar.  Stepping back again, he sought to console me in my disappointment.

“From ten feet away, it looks just fine.”

I wasn’t mollified.  The guitar will never again be a desirable collectible. 

So it is with people.  Again and again, I get close enough to find that the finish isn’t genuine, the veneer simply a cover-up for the ugliness that lies inside.  Do you want to know a particularly nasty secret?  The same thing will happen to you if you get close enough to me.  I know the stench of rottenness inside, the ugly inner me.  What you see is the spray paint and the make-shift cover-up I have in place to make myself more acceptable to you.  But, don’t get too close! 
Maybe the ten-foot rule should be in effect.  Hmmm…no disappointment, no surprises.  Don’t approach, don’t examine, don’t touch.

Nothing to see here!  Move along!

But, let me turn a corner here.

I’m finding, the longer I walk through this life, that people aren’t like guitars.  Well, except for the occasional chance resemblance, that is.  You see, a guitar, once ruined, is ruined for the rest of its days.  Not so with humans.  Oh, I’ll grant that some will never recover.  Many don’t wish to live any differently.  But I firmly believe in grace, in new beginnings, even in deathbed conversions.  That last option is not one I would recommend, because it precludes the opportunity to demonstrate what grace accomplishes when lived out.  That said, grace is still grace, at whatever point in life it touches us.

I am not a cynic, although sometimes life conspires to convert me into one.

I am a believer in the power of love to change men’s hearts.

Grace reaches through the thickest of coverings to bring the soul to the light of day.  My guitar-painting friend might think the result ugly.  All the scars and pain of a lifetime are laid open to public view.  And, you know, the truth is not always pretty, is not always pleasing to the eye.  I’m fairly certain though, that in the honest wear which is left when the facade is stripped away, we can see the original beauty, in which our Creator intended us to walk all the days of our lives.

I like the idea of living in elevated anticipation.  It sure beats lowered expectations.  You see, I know – am absolutely sure – that it is possible to make a ten-foot wall hanger into an approachable, touchable human being. It starts with grace.  
Come to think about it, it ends with grace too.  
So, put away that can of spray paint!  Those painful scars and old injuries?  They’re just good, honest wear, and they’re much more beautiful than any cover-up we could improvise.
Time to get closer.  
“Then the lion said – but I don’t know if it spoke – You will have to let me undress you.  I was afraid of his claw, I can tell you, but I was pretty nearly desperate now.  So I just lay flat down on my back to let him do it.”
(Eustace Grubb~”Voyage of the Dawn Treader”~C.S.Lewis~English author/educator~1898-1963)
“Therefore, if anyone be in Christ, he is a new creation:  old things are passed away; behold, everything has become new.”
(2 Corinthians 5:17~KJV)
© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2013. All Rights Reserved. 
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Beauty Shared

The helpful lady handed me the headphones, along with the MP3 player.  She assumed that I, like the other silver-haired folks in line, would need help with how to use it.  She may have been right…but that didn’t stop me from waving her on to the next person.  I don’t read instructions, nor do I need road maps.  Hmmm…for some strange reason, we do always seem to be exploring odd places in big cities.  Well, be that as it may, I had time while waiting in line to figure out how the device worked and listened to the introduction.  “One of the most popular American artists of the last century, Norman Rockwell…”  No, I won’t bore you with the details.  You know who Norman Rockwell was.  We were at the local art museum to see an exhibition of his spectacular original works.  After a ten minute wait in line, the doors to the gallery were opened and we filed in expectantly.

The place was packed.  And amazingly quiet.  I was surprised at the silence in the room.  I started to remark on it, but the Lovely Lady at my side had already put on her headphones and pointed to the indicator on the wall next to the closest piece of art.  I clicked in the appropriate number and a voice began.  The description was pleasant and almost friendly, as the narrator, Mr Rockwell’s son himself, began to tell us about the work we were viewing.   Still, something was missing that I couldn’t quite put my finger on.

We wandered along, surprised that so many people were grouped around the works with narration indicators, but avoided the other paintings altogether.  They would walk, almost rudely, in front of patrons viewing a piece, simply to see the indicator number on the next one down and then would punch the number into their own device and stand, annoyed at the others who walked, almost rudely, in front of them to do the same.  We all wandered along, stopping for the same length of time before each piece, and then, tapping the screen that activated our electronic guide, moved on to the next framed work with an audio indicator, to repeat the process. I saw heads nodding and smiles forming, but there was almost no talking; virtually no pointing.

The battery indicator on my device showed that the power was low.  I ignored it, moving along and listening.  Soon however, the voice gave out altogether and the screen went blank.  Dead battery!  I considered turning it in for a newly charged one, but, thinking better of it, simply put the headphones down around my neck and moved to the next piece.  Suddenly, I knew what was missing!

When we go to art galleries and antique shops, the Lovely Lady and I talk constantly.  “I like that…”  “Did you see what he did with this?”  We speculate about details and origins.  We prod each other with ideals and cautionary points.  On this day, I was on my own.  She listened to her canned guide, taking in the details as he spoke, but I was alone with my thoughts.  Alone in an art gallery packed with people.  No one at all to talk with about the artist’s ideas or techniques.  No one to laugh with, as his sense of humor demonstrated itself.  I soaked in what little my feeble mind could comprehend, but I know that I missed so much, simply because I had no one with whom to discuss the works.  What was missing was the interaction of another human being.  That MP3 wasn’t interaction.  It was information, but not application.  It gave facts, but not ideas; not conclusions.

I left a little disappointed and slightly resentful.  Oh, the art was magnificent.  I love Norman Rockwell’s perception of the American spirit, the families, even the faith of his subjects.  That said, I wanted to  share that with someone on this day and had been kept from fulfilling my intent.  I wonder, can I have a do-over?  I’d like another shot at it.  Perhaps, I’ll get the chance yet.

Say, do you like road trips?  I do too.  With other people.  I know that some folks love solitude, love to travel alone, taking in the sights and storing them up in their memory, to be divulged, bit by bit, at some later time.  Not me, buddy.  I want to say, “Hey!  Would you look at that?”  “Man, what a beautiful sunset.”  “Wow!  Look at the snow-covered mountains!”  Beauty shared is twice as beautiful.  The other person in the car may notice a rainbow across the valley, may see an eagle soaring high above that I didn’t observe.  Even if I see it, if I have no one to share it with, I feel robbed.  A secret one is forced to keep is not nearly as satisfying as a discovery made together.

We weren’t meant to keep good things to ourselves.  I don’t even think that we were made to learn on our own.  Perhaps, it’s just the way I process things, but when I’m in a group discussing a concept, the ideas just seem to flow from the interplay between minds that work differently and people who come from varied environments.  On my own, ideas become stagnant and repetitive.

We need each other.  Iron sharpens iron. In the presence of many counselors, there is wisdom.

Perhaps it is time to put away the headphones.  Time to point, and share, and learn.  You know how to do that.

Talk amongst yourselves.

“Our best thoughts come from others.”
(Ralph Waldo Emerson~American essayist/poet~1803-1882)

“As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend.”
(Proverbs 27:17~NLT)

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

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Ultimate Honesty

The thoughts are flying through my brain.  I sit and try my best to capture one – just one – and pin it down so that I can see if it will be an appropriate specimen for dissection in tonight’s post.  It feels as if I’m in one of those game show money booths…you know the ones…where the contestant walks in and the door is closed behind him or her, right before the fan starts swirling dollar bills all around them.  There may be an incredible amount of cash inside, but you can only keep what you are able to pluck out of the air.  And, the bills are elusive, so many of them that it is impossible to focus on any one to snare.  Very few contestants emerge with a significant quantity of cash in their hands.  Well, if thoughts were dollar bills tonight, I’d be a very poor man walking out of the booth.

Yet, as I attempt to snag just one cogent thought from the atmosphere, I hear the indicator tone of the fax machine in another office.  A look at the incoming document brings a sigh of disgust.  Someone in China has died and left a huge sum of money unclaimed and I must help the banker embezzle the nest egg before an official in the government can get their filthy paws on it.  Annoyed at the waste of my paper and ink, I reach over to toss it in the waste basket, but I pause in the motion.  A sentence near the bottom of the page catches my eye.  “It’s my utmost concern to demand your ultimate honesty.”  The final sentence assures me that the process will be executed in a legitimate arrangement which would legally protect me from any breach of law.  My disgust turns to laughter as my mind processes this hypocrisy.

And, just as suddenly as the tone of the incoming fax had turned my attention away from my dilemma in the thought machine, I reached out and snagged one of the ornery critters from mid-air in that office.  It is a question which has been nagging at me recently and which I discussed with an old friend today.  If I sell my integrity for money, can what is left still be called integrity?  My friend says no.  I say no.  But my new benefactor in the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China says yes.  He wants me to sell my honesty for forty percent of twenty-two million dollars, but insists that he is counting on my honesty in the process.  I wonder…who is right?

You laugh, as I did, but the issue for me is that we live in a world that does not.  Again and again, I am astounded as companies that claim integrity and honor prove that they have abandoned those virtues to pursue instead, the profit margin and bottom line they value above all else.  Closer to home, I deal, on a daily basis, with folks whose intention is to defraud me in order to enrich themselves.  One person came in today asking if I would purchase a guitar.  When I made an offer based on the actual value of the instrument, the tear-jerking story began.  Electricity about to be turned off, children who would be removed from the home if that happened…the details were embellished to move me emotionally as the person spoke.  I told my old friend later that I quickly gave them a little more than the guitar was worth, just so that they wouldn’t have to make up more lies.

Life is full of just such disappointments, in our hope for honesty and integrity from those we rub shoulders with, as well as from those across the nation from us, and yes, even from people across the water.  But, I’m not sure that I would be doing you a great favor by drawing these disappointments to your attention and then leaving you in the depressed state which such thoughts evoke.

As I spoke with another friend this afternoon, he talked about those who are doing the best they can, but still need help.  We commiserated about the difficulty in differentiating between the dishonest deadbeat and the deserving destitute.  (I suppose I really should reword that, but face it, the alliteration is delightful, is it not?)  Our conclusion was a little unnerving, but liberating nonetheless.  You may want to read the following sentence more than once.  It’s not our problem!  That’s right.  Not our problem.  We have our mandate.  Help the poor; clothe the naked; feed the hungry.  Period.  Our mandate doesn’t include instructions to be sure that they won’t misuse the aid we offer; there is no command to only give to those who deserve our gift.  Simply, help.

Are you depressed because someone has taken advantage of you?  Don’t be.  Be glad that you were able to be generous.  Unhappy because they keep doing it?  It’s not your problem.  You see, integrity demands only that we ourselves do what is right.  I was never called to be a conscience for anyone else.  I am sad when people and entities I trust don’t live up to my expectations.  But, I know that this is reality.  I can’t fix them.  I can do something about how I treat other people, and about how I do business.

Tonight?  I’m going to help my new friend at the bank in China and throw away his letter.

Well?  He did demand my ultimate honesty.

I owe him that, at the least.

“If someone slaps you on one cheek, offer the other cheek also.  If someone demands your coat, offer your shirt also.”
(Luke 6:29~NLT)

“No man can purchase his virtue too dear, for it is the only thing whose value must ever increase with the price it has cost us.  Our integrity is never worth so much as when we have parted with our all to keep it.”
(Ovid~Ancient Roman poet~43 BC-17 AD)

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

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Had Enough?

The email arrived late  one night.  “I only wanted one,” was the terse statement.  The missive was in reply to a question I had asked earlier in the day of the customer.  Her order had arrived in my in-box and I had promptly pulled the merchandise and prepared it for the shipping room.   Coming back to my monitor a moment later, I was surprised to see another, identical order from the same lady.  The time stamp showed that the two orders had been placed within two minutes of each other.  I had a pretty good idea of what happened, but wanted to hear it from her.  Sure enough, she clicked twice on the button which finalizes her order.  In bold black type, the online instructions plainly say, “click the button below ONLY ONCE.”  The directive goes on to say that it could take up to three minutes to process the order.  In spite of the instructions, the order was placed again.  I’ll cancel the additional charge to her credit card and will only ship one item.  I wish all the consequences of impatience and self-gratification were so simple to remedy.

Tongue-in-cheek, I have told you on occasion about some of the quirky sayings that the Lovely Lady’s father passed on to me when he was still living.  There was one in particular which I hear repeated too many times, mostly from my own lips.  “That was really good!  It tastes like another one!”  This phrase is best emphasized by grabbing another doughnut, or serving up another piece of pie.  One was good, the second one can only be better.  Unfortunately, my scale registered a result something over the two century mark as I gingerly stepped onto it earlier this week, another reminder that the old days of eating what I want without penalty are a thing of the long distant past.  I’ve said, “Maybe just one more,” a few times too many over the last thirty years and the evidence is literally right in front of me.

On a different front, in my music store, I have threatened to have tee shirts printed up with the slogan “You can’t have too many guitars” emblazoned on them.  These, of course, would be intended for the unhappy wives of a number of our guitar customers.  Once again, the suggestion is facetious, but in fact, it’s almost a serious enough issue to be concerned about and not to laugh about.  There are people to whom common sense is a stranger when they see a guitar they have read about, or seen a friend playing, or heard played on their favorite recording.  They must possess that instrument and will go to almost any length to obtain it.  I’m not sure that I know of this problem causing any divorces, but there is no question that a fair number of family squabbles have been started by the purchase of one of these beautiful ladies with their glossy finish and siren-like qualities.  Perhaps it is possible to have too many of these wonderful instruments.  Maybe it would make more sense to print up some tee shirts with a blurb that says “Listen to your wife!” and distribute them to my married customers.  Nah…that wouldn’t be good for business.   Anyway, some of those wives have the same problem when it comes to purchases in their field of interest.  We haven’t yet discussed shoes, or handbags, or…I think I’ll stop there or I may have to face some consequences later.

Indeed, we live in a day when self-control is not encouraged.  The messages with which we’re perpetually barraged tell us to give in to our desires.  See something you want?  Get it.  Can’t afford it?  Charge it.  Been taught that it’s not good?  Ditch your belief system.  We live in a new reality; a reality without consequences.  What once was good is actually bad, the formerly forbidden is to be desired and attained.  The new truth is that if you want it, it can’t be wrong.  The only problem with this new reality is that it is a dream-world, one guaranteed to turn into a nightmare the further you proceed into it.  We’re surrounded by the evidence in ruined lives; stars in recovery programs, politicians (and preachers) resigning in shame or going to jail, marriages in shambles, hoarding, alcoholism, drug addiction…the horrendous list is almost without end.

As I write this, I’ve started practicing a new phrase, one which I’ve not had much experience saying; “No, thank you.”  I don’t want to super-size it, don’t want seconds, don’t want another one in the driveway.  I’m thinking that the great man who said many centuries ago, “True Godliness with contentment is itself great wealth,” had his head screwed on straight.

I’ve had enough, thank you!

“Self-control is just controlling myself
It’s listening to my heart
And doing what is smart
Self-control is the very best way to go
So I think that I’ll control myself”

(Mike Milligan~Singer-Songwriter~”The Music Machine”) 

“And even when you ask, you don’t get it because your motives are all wrong–you want only what will give you pleasure.”
(James 4:3)

Edited from an essay originally posted on 6/28/2011. 
© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2013. All Rights Reserved. 

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