The Torrent

canadianbridge2I’ve written with increasing frequency about unhappy subjects of late.  Like a flood of epic proportion, they have overtaken me.  Death, diseases, disasters, drugs–for some reason the alliteration piles up and I cannot escape the dreaded D words

I want to quit dwelling on the D words.

I have, just tonight, realized I have been standing at the water’s edge, watching the level rise.  Mesmerized by the current and its power, I have awaited it’s inevitable surge above flood level. 

Away, I’m bound away,
Across the wide Missouri. 

It’s no coincidence the words to the old folk tune Shenandoah are coming from the speakers on my desk right now.  No, I didn’t select the song; it just happened to come up in the playlist which the streaming music service delivers while I sit at my computer.

When I say no coincidence, I mean I needed a nudge in the right direction.  I can take a hint; I’ll head that way momentarily.

You see, I’ve said many times our existence here is a journey, a life-long expedition to see what is around the next bend and over the next hill.  We are strangers in a strange land, headed for a different home.  Having said that, I also realize I have stopped here beside the rushing waters and taken shelter a little ways above the river’s edge in a place of safety. 

I’ve stopped here for too long.

Too long.  Too long, staring at the intimidating water.  Too long, wondering when the awful flood will recede.  Too long, waiting for rescue.

The road goes on up the mountain on the other side of the cataract of white water.  I can see it from here if I have the strength of will to tear my eyes away from the terrifying flood and lift them up to the hills.
                   

The painting you see above hangs in my den.  It is one of my favorites, although not necessarily from the brush of the most skillful of artists.  Still, the picture tells the story amazingly well.

The violent torrent roars and tumbles down the mountain rift with horrible menace.  Nothing in its path could withstand the overwhelming power it wields.  And yet, mere feet above the white water, on a rickety and cobbled-together wooden bridge, seemingly unconcerned and unfazed, a man stands resting.

The Lovely Lady and I jokingly refer to the piece of art as our Simon & Garfunkel painting, a none-too-clever reference to the duo’s song, Bridge Over Troubled Water.  A century old, the painting depicts nineteenth-century life in the Canadian Yukon Territory.  The best word I can think of to describe living in that rugged wilderness?  Hard.

Hard, and yet (dare I say it?) triumphant.  Here, in the midst of the most unfriendly environment man could imagine, a bridge spans the cataract of water.  In safety, where there was no safety, anyone can traverse the dangerous valley. 

Funny.  Someone had to build that bridge.  Over the troubled water. 

Over it.  While the river rushed and roared below them.
                   

And still, I stand beside the flood and consider.  It’s likely, you know, that if a bridge can be built over this river, there will be another one needing to be built up ahead, and another one, and another.  Rivers don’t run in a straight line, either.  I might even have to build another bridge over this very same cascade, further on where it runs even wilder and more furiously.

Funny.  I hear the voice of the red-headed lady who raised me as I stand and think.  We’ll cross that river when we get to it.  She is right.  She always was.

Today, the river right ahead needs a bridge over it.

It’s time to follow the road ahead, and it leads up the hill across this particular river.

Time to get building.  It’s a good thing I know a Carpenter who is only too happy to teach the craft to any who ask.

After all, He built the greatest bridge of all time.  Out of wood and nails.

Away, I’m bound away…

 

 

 

 

I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come?  My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth.
(Psalm 121: 1,2 ~ ESV)

 

When you’re weary, feeling small,
When tears are in your eyes, I’ll dry them all.
I’m on your side, oh, when times get rough
And friends just can’t be found,
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will lay me down.
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will lay me down.
(Bridge Over Troubled Water ~ Paul Simon ~ American singer/songwriter)

 

 

 

© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2015. All Rights Reserved.

Essentials

The thunder reverberates in waves outside.  Again.

I have been here before.

Usually, the sound gives me a warm fuzzy feeling inside and I smile and breathe a prayer of thanks to the Creator.

It is, after all, Springtime in the foothills of the Ozarks, and time for the thunderstorms and the rain that replenish the many rivers and lakes.  The farmers count on the rainfall for a good year, some needing plentiful hay crops for livestock, while others await the yield of fruit on trees and vines, come Fall.

Rain is essential to all life.

Lü-WenyingVillageinRainstormThere is no smile on my face tonight.  The prayers I’m breathing to the Creator are for relief from the torrential downpours which have caused incredible hardship for many and even loss of life for some.  The floods have carried away people and property alike.  To some, it must appear that rain is to be hated, an evil thing intent on their destruction.

Rain is essential to all life.

It’s still true, isn’t it?

He makes the rain to fall on the just and the unjust equally.  He sends the rain to fulfill His purpose and it will not return to the heavens without accomplishing what it was sent out for.  Rain waters the earth, and the earth give forth its harvest.  Again and again.  One season follows another, the cycle uninterrupted.

Still, I’m not smiling.  I don’t even know what to say in my prayers now.

I agree that we require rain for life.  I dare not ask for the cycle to be broken.  And yet. . .

My friend and his family spent last night in one end of his home, waiting for the old oak trees to topple onto the roof at the other end.  Two had already fallen and crushed cars in the driveway and these were leaning, their roots pulling loose from the wet soil.

Others I know have spent dark, damp nights waiting for the break of day to see where the water line is on their walls and furniture.  Still others have prayed and cried as the waters rose and then receded.

Their homes were untouched, but not their spirits.

And suddenly I know how to pray.

Why do we focus on the physical, when God clearly places a premium on our spiritual well being?  Are we really that short sighted?

“Please God, take this away from me!  I don’t want to suffer.”

It’s the prayer I have prayed again and again.  The same prayer I have heard from loved ones.

I’m still not smiling.  I am filled with hope, though.

I will sit, here in the comfort and safety (for now) of my home, and pray for the protection of the spirits and souls of my friends and all those affected by the disasters they are suffering.

God has not promised ease and comfort, nor has He guaranteed physical immunity from disaster.  What He has vowed is that the uncomfortable and dangerous times will not touch the real us–the center of our being which is of infinite value to Him.

When you walk through the floods, they will not overwhelm you!  When you walk through the flame, you won’t be burned.  Have no fear; I have redeemed you; I have called you by name.  You are mine!

Is the physical suffering real?  Does He care about that?  Yes and yes!  But, He cares so much more about who we are beyond the physical and the temporal.

He intends to spend eternity with us!  How would He not keep us from harm?

It doesn’t mean I’m about to start smiling yet.  People I know are still frightened and sad.  He made us to care about that.  But, deep down, I know that God’s got this.

He’s got this!

The waters will recede.  The trees will be cut up to use as firewood next winter.  Life goes on.

The cycle is unbroken.

Here comes the rain again.

God is good.

 

 

When a train goes through a tunnel and it gets dark, you don’t throw away the ticket and jump off. You sit still and trust the engineer.”
(Corrie Ten Boom ~ Dutch author/Nazi Holocaust survivor ~ 1892-1983)

 

 

“Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.
(Isaiah 43:2 ~ ESV)

 

 

 

© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2015. All Rights Reserved.

Light the Match!

What a day!

It had been a beautiful time–the stuff of dreams for the skinny boy.  Twelve years old, he was on his first real camp out.  The two-hour ride to the lake in the back of the old pickup truck wasn’t nearly as uncomfortable as it might sound.  Besides, Mr. Bell had the foresight to find a place about halfway to the campsite where the group of Junior High boys could play a game of basketball in an old dilapidated gymnasium.

When they reached the lake, the tattered old tent was erected quickly as all of the eight or so boys and their two leaders pitched in.  The tent had seen a lot of these trips over the years Mr. Bell had given his time for groups just like these boys.  They didn’t care.  It looked perfect to them. 

That job complete, they grabbed their cheap Zebco spinning rods and reels from the floor of the truck and headed down to the lake to see what they could catch for supper.

The skinny kid chewed on the stem of a match as he cast his hook out again. All he had snagged so far was a tiny bream or two, and he wasn’t about to keep them.  The rest of the boys had about the same luck, but still, there were a couple of perch caught worth keeping. 

They weren’t worried about starving.  The cooler packed with hot dogs was back at camp, along with the makings for S’mores.  Even the boys who couldn’t stand the taste of fish were assured of having a decent meal.  There were a couple dozen eggs in the cooler, too.  Breakfast would come, in time.

“Time to head back up to camp, boys!”  The big voice from Mr Bell, himself a big man, echoed across the lake.

From all along the shore, the boys groaned, but they dutifully wound up their lines and headed for the tent and a hot meal.  Before that could happen, there was a fire to be built and even a couple of fish to be cleaned. 

The skinny kid wearing the horn-rimmed glasses knew how to clean fish, so he volunteered to help while the others gathered kindling and firewood.  Scraping scales and removing the unneeded parts of the perch would be messy work, so he took the match from between his teeth and dropped it into his pocket.  It would be safe there.

He finished his part of the job before the others began returning with the makings for the fire, so he headed up the trail toward the restrooms.  Not that the boy was all that fastidious, but fishy hands needed to be washed.  Even he couldn’t eat with hands covered with scales and. . .  Well, you get the picture.

He approached the little wooden structure and, finding a young bat with its wings spread clinging to one of the window screens, spent a few minutes trying to coax it into flight with a long sprig from a nearby mesquite tree.  It wouldn’t budge, so finally he just found the water faucet and washed up in the cold water.

Clean again and drying his hands on his tee shirt,  he headed back down, realizing as he did that the wind off the lake had picked up quite a bit.  It was unusual for the month of June, causing him to shiver a little as he felt the cool gusts in his face.

No matter.  The fire would be going soon.  They would be warm enough.

The boy arrived at the campsite just in time to hear Mr. Bell ask the question.

“Well, now what do we do?  Does anybody else have matches?”

The situation was immediately clear to the lad.  Someone had forgotten to check the match supply.  When the box was opened, only three of the sulphur and pine fire-starters were to be found.

“No problem,” Mr. Bell had said.  “It only takes one.”

He had lit the match and then shoved it down toward the newspaper wadded among the kindling.  The wind snuffed it out on the way down.  The second followed, with the same result.

Carefully shielding the third and last match in his hand and keeping it right next to the paper, he managed to get the flaring flame to light the edge.  Still shielding the blazing kindling, he waited a moment before backing away.  A gust of wind puffed the flame out in that instant.

lighted-match“Anybody?”  The big voice was almost plaintive as Mr. Bell repeated the word.  “A match?”

The skinny boy clamped his mouth shut.  He said not one word about the match in his pocket.  Not a word.

Two things kept him quiet.  The first thing was a little silly.  But, not to him, it wasn’t. 

The match was his.  His.  And, nobody else’s. 

What’s that?  Selfish, was it?  Sure.  But, he wasn’t wrong.  It was his.  Besides that, the second thing wasn’t silly at all.  Well, maybe a little silly, but again, not to him.

He needed that match.  In case.

In case what? 

Duh!  If he was starving, he could light a fire to cook something.  If he was freezing, he could get warm.  If he was lost in the wilderness, he could build a signal fire to attract attention.

His.  His last match.

If they used that match and it blew out, all hope would be gone.  No chance of a fire over which to cook, nor to be warmed by.  As long as it remained unlit, he had hope.

No fire, but hope.

They ate cold hotdogs and chocolate bars with whole marshmallows that night.  There were no fried eggs for breakfast the next morning either.  Bread and apples slices.  That was what the shivering boys ate before they broke camp to head back home.

The skinny kid kept the match in his pocket all the way home.
                   

Silly, huh?  Dumb twelve-year-old kid.

What adult would think like that?  Why would anyone keep quiet about a treasure they had hidden which could be of value to others?

What good is hope if a person never bothers to put it to the test?

When I write, there is usually no dearth of words to make my point.  The narrative complete, I always have a moral to offer.  Tonight should be no different.

But, I don’t want to fill the page with more words.

You see, the twelve-year old kid still lives in me. 

Maybe, it’s time to light the match and see what happens.

 

 

“But whoever has the world’s goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him?”
(I John 3:17 ~ NASB)

 

“One who cannot cast away a treasure at need is in fetters.”
(from The Two Towers ~ J.R.R.Tolkien ~ English author/poet ~ 1892-1973)

 

 

© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2015. All Rights Reserved.

Good Things

But words are things, and a small drop of ink,
Falling, like dew, upon a thought, produces
That which makes thousands, perhaps millions think.
(Lord Byron)

Leo_Tolstoy02

Thousands?  Millions?  Hardly that, for all the words I will slather on this page like so much honey onto a slice of bread, but perhaps some will think anyway.  A few.
                   

I left her a few moments ago, sitting in her customary place under the lamp, patiently placing stitch after stitch of thread into the canvas on her lap.  She looked into my face just before I turned away.  What the Lovely Lady saw there, I don’t know, but she interpreted my emotions in that split second.

“Don’t be depressed.”  The words came out more as a supplication for a favor than a demand.  

She knows me.

My work day was a little tumultuous, emotionally.  More than a little. 

The day started with a visit from a young man with whom I’ve been acquainted for a number of years.  I knew him when he was a middle-schooler,  still in his early teens.

I still picture him–No, not just a picture, but a video–in my head, sitting on a stool over in the corner.  There is an acoustic guitar in his hand, and he is singing.  Clear and pure, the melody flows from his mouth, his vocal chords producing tones I could never dream of making myself.  The ordinary guitar in his hands has become an instrument of magic, the chords and arpeggios flowing effortlessly to blend with the sonorous vocals of the song. 

I have listened to hundreds, perhaps thousands, of individuals, both young and old, as they sit and play in my store.  For almost forty years, they’ve come through.  Many are just beginners, the chords they play halting and timid, the strumming patterns almost not patterns at all.  Some, more experienced, are quite good, their playing pleasant to hear, the vocals (when they come) adequate.  There are even a few who are accomplished musicians, confident in their skill, and comfortable with the few customers who make up their audience.

This young man though–I have never seen a more natural performer, nor listened to more raw talent.  Never.  He played flawlessly, his fingers flashing over the strings.  And, when he sang?  Ah, when he sang, he was in a world all his own, oblivious to anyone else in the room.  From a beautiful broad baritone range, up to the powerful high tenor voice, and then on into a beautiful clear falsetto, he sang without fear and without imperfection.

I remember thinking, this one–this one is going to go places and do amazing things with his gifts. I had no doubts success would be his.

It was inevitable.

It was not.

I’m not sure where the young man’s experiences have taken him in the ten years since I first heard him, but those years have not been friendly to him.  Gone is the genial, confident boy I knew.  Gone too, is a large part of his raw talent, sacrificed on the altar of drugs.

I will not dwell on the sadness in my heart; it will come through on its own.  As I looked into the chemical-clouded eyes of my young friend, I saw no sign of recognition, no smile of joy as in days past.  His voice was flat and emotionless, his responses to my questions slow, sometimes not coming at all.  Drug usage is a thief, stealing abilities and ambitions, leaving in their place detachment and resignation.

Don’t be depressed?  Why should I not?

How could I not?

I said it was a tumultuous day, didn’t I?  Tumultuous describes both highs and lows, a heady mixture of good and bad.  Today was such a day.

As the workday drew to a close, another friend came in.  A transplant from New Orleans, this middle-aged fellow has made his home in our small town for almost ten years now.  A little hurricane named Katrina blew him our way and he decided to stay.

An avid jazz lover, he hasn’t always found fellow musicians to play with, since this part of the country is not exactly a hotbed of jazz music.  Still, he slogs along, guitar in hand, making disciples where he can.

This afternoon, he and I were deep in conversation when another young man walked in.  The young college graduate picked up a guitar and strummed a chord or two.  Well-trained in a number of styles of music, he has developed a love for jazz recently.  Talk about a coincidence!

The two men had met before, and they greeted each other as the older jazz lover from New Orleans seated himself on a stool near the younger man.  Now both of them were holding guitars. 

They had just begun to play together, when still another young friend pushed the door open.  This fellow also has extensive training in various styles of music, having a few years of studio recording and touring with a popular Christian group under his belt.

Before I knew it, they were all holding guitars and playing, with some skill, the jazz chord progressions the older man called out to start with.  A moment later, you might have thought they had played together for years, the sound was so smooth and clean.  It wasn’t flawless, but it was good.

I left them to enjoy each other and the music, and I sat down at my desk.  

Disappointment had been my companion from the start of the day.  I wanted to hold that tight and wallow in the feeling.  My sadness at the waste of such talent was palpable.  The ten-year old video in my head was still playing, the once joyful vocals and accompaniment now solemn and tragic.

But, the music from around the corner intruded.    Yes.  That’s the word.  It intruded, driving out the dark, lighting the place with hope.  Joy, even.

A voice took up a melody–an old tune from the classic age of jazz.  Oh the shark has–pretty teeth dear, and he shows them–pearly white. . .

I have a new video to play in my brain now.  Mack the Knife is sitting ready to play and replay again when I need a good memory.  Two young men, sitting beside their new friend, a street-singer from New Orleans, are playing along in fine form.  His old voice, rough and soft all at once, is belting out the lyrics as he swipes at the strings of the old acoustic guitar. 

This moment is one to add to my collection.

A tumultuous day.  Just as it started with disappointment, so it ended with joy and satisfaction.

And, what of my disappointment?  What of the wasted young man?  Is that nothing?  Is he nothing? 

The answer is clear.  I am still sad.  And deeply concerned.  I will do everything that is in my power to help him.  But I cannot stay there. 

I will speak of the sad and the unseemly.  I will speak of it, but I won’t dwell there. 

I will dwell on the beautiful and the good.  There is, it seems, still a good bit of those left in this wide world which our Creator has given us to sojourn in.  And, we are still just passing through it.  Passing through on our way to a place where the beautiful and the good are all which will be seen and experienced.
                   

So, Lord Byron, these words in figurative ink have fallen onto my thoughts, here in the middle of the night. 

Let us see if perhaps, just perhaps, a small percentage of your thousands, or millions can be induced to think.

 

 

And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.
(Philippians 4:8 ~ NLT)

 

 

 

 

© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2015. All Rights Reserved.

Buffing Nails

It happens every week day, usually more than once.  The Lovely Lady answers the phone at our business, only to hear the voice on the other end of the line ask for me.  As often as not, she has to tell them that I am not available to talk, but she can help.

She can.

Still, it gives a little boost to my self-esteem to know people all over the country are asking for me by name.  They’re even disappointed when I don’t have time to talk with them.

Clearly, it would be nicer if they wanted to speak with me because I am well-known or even the keeper of some secret knowledge.  If I were a world famous author with umpteen best sellers to my credit, then I could really feel proud to have them call for me.

I wish you could see me now.  I’m sitting at my desk, breathing on my fingernails, then rubbing them on my shirt in the region of my left shoulder.  It’s a gesture I haven’t seen for many years, but I remember it well. 

I think the once popular rap artist MC Hammer would say it this way: Can’t Touch This!  Maybe you remember it as hot stuff.  In my childhood, we just said the words easy as pie, to indicate that it was nothing for us, but anyone else who tried was likely to fail.

So I sit here, feeling superior and polishing my nails, as I think about the lady from Brooklyn who needs my personal attention, the fellow from Dallas who can’t make a decision without me, and the senior citizen from San Jose who is lost without my guidance.

Then I remember. Again. 

When the Lovely Lady says the words, “He’s busy; may I help you?” not one of them insists on waiting or calling back.  Not one.

You’ve heard the words before, haven’t you?  No one is indispensable.

I can be replaced.

I stop my nail polishing and think about that for awhile.  It’s a sobering thought, isn’t it? 

And then, there’s that other thing.  You know, the fact they’re only calling to order something which we’ll mail to them.  They’re not asking me to make a decision about whether it’s time to bomb our enemies out of existence.  No one is wondering if I know the best way to cure the common cold.

So, it’s not only that I can be replaced.  The plain fact is, what my fans want to talk about is not really all that important in the grand scheme of life.

I stick my hands in my pockets this time. 

What’s the point, anyway?

Perhaps, as the Preacher said, all is meaningless,  simply vanity upon vanity.

Ah, but I don’t believe that.  With my hands in my pockets, leaning back in the old oak desk chair, a picture comes to mind.  It is from a story I’ve never really cared for, mostly because it was not real, but a contrivance.  I always like real-life stories to illustrate real life. 

For now though, the exception:

The boy walked along the sea shore, bending down again and again to pick up starfishsomething and throw it into the water.  The jaded businessman, walking along the beach behind him, finally caught up with the boy and asked him what he was doing.  Opening his arms up wide to indicate the stranded starfish lying on the beach, the boy let the man know he was helping to save their lives.

The man looked around them and saw hundreds, perhaps thousands, of the starfish lying on the sandy shore.  Laughing at the  boy, the rude fellow made it clear he believed him foolish, telling him he couldn’t make a difference to all of them.  Many would die.

Picking up one more of the strange creatures from the wet sand, the boy tossed it out into the surf and blurted out obstinately, “I made a difference to that one.”

The story is a contrivance–yes.  It was made up to prove a point.

I get the point.

So–what I do isn’t going to save humanity.  It doesn’t matter.

Tomorrow, I’ll pick up the phone and, remembering to smile, I’ll ask the person on the other end of the line if I can help them.  It’s what I do.

I’ll make a difference for that one person. 

And, the next time the phone rings, and the next time, and still the time after that, I’ll remember to smile and I’ll do what I can to help.

Every person who reads this has a purpose for their existence.  Some will be more important than I can imagine; others will perform a menial, seemingly insignificant, task day after day–a task that must be done.  And each one will make a difference.

Without exception, each one will impact the life or lives of others around them.

I do matter!  Sure, I can be replaced.  And yet, my Creator placed me in just this place and time to make an impact on the world around me. 

While I’m here, I’m going to work to make a difference.

Before, I said I was proud my customers know me and ask for me by name.  That’s nothing.  God knew my name long before any of them did.  He calls me by name and wants me to walk with Him.

I’m pulling my hands out of my pockets again

Can’t you see me?  With the palm of my right hand facing me, I’m puffing gently on my folded over fingertips, putting a little condensation on the fingernails.  Time now to buff them with the cotton material of my shirt front.

Ah.  You’re doing it too, aren’t you?  It’s a good thing.  He knows your name, as well.

The Preacher did say one thing I agree with:  Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your strength.

If God puts the work in front of us, it’s a sure bet that blessings will be ours as we accomplish that work.

We got this!

Easy as pie!

 

 

“Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.”
(Isaiah 43:1 ~ ESV)

 

“Not all of us can do great things.  But we can do little things with great love.”
(Mother Teresa ~ Roman Catholic missionary ~ 1910-1997)

 

 

 

© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2015. All Rights Reserved.

What Are We Saving It For?

“Aw, save your breath!  They’re not listening to you anyway.”

The inexperienced freshmen in the marching band were gathered around their squad leader, a seasoned senior, all of three years older than they.  As the other senior in the group glanced around the group, he noticed the expressions on their faces and realized they were far too confused to follow the instructions the leader was droning on about.

The leader, cut off short in her spiel about lifting the knees waist-high and pointing the toes to the ground, looked as if she wanted to kick him hard with one of those pointy toes at that moment.  Nonetheless, she asked the question.

“Well?  What do you suggest?  They have to learn this stuff.”

The other upperclassman looked frustrated and then blurted out, “Stop talking and just show them what you want.”

Imagine!  What a concept.  Show them.

It worked.  Within minutes, the entire group was lifting their knees in front of their bodies, toes pointed to the ground, and moving forward, exactly eight steps to every five yards.  Well, perhaps it wasn’t as skillful as all that, but they had the general idea and were well on their way.

The bossy senior saved her breath–for the moment.  There would be more yelling, but the process went much easier if there was a demonstration instead of a lecture.  She would remember that.

I remember it.

I was one of those freshmen who couldn’t quite grasp the verbal instructions, but I could look at the action and figure out how to duplicate it.  It was a lesson I would remember for many years.

JesusintheTempleI haven’t always heeded the lesson, much preferring talking to action. However, with a few more timely reminders to save my breath, I think I’ve got the concept firmly in mind now.

My old friend, the Bible professor, made the point years ago, with these words:  If you don’t strike oil in the first half-hour, quit boring

I won’t tell you he lived by the words, but I am finally beginning to learn to do just that.  But, I’m wondering. . .

What are we saving it for, if we actually are saving itOur breath, I mean.

Oh, I’m aware that many aren’t.  I read page upon page of arguments and diatribes in social media.  Everywhere I go today, I hear people shouting–either into the phones glued to their faces, or into the thin air using head-worn devices digitally connected to the phones in their pockets. 

Restaurants are so loud, quiet conversations can’t be heard.  Talk radio and television are filled with non-stop breath-wasting. 

When everyone is talking, no one can listen.  No one will listen. 

But more and more, I’m beginning to notice that not everyone is shouting.  I saw a bunch of folks get together a few weeks ago and plant a garden for the community.  It’s a place where people who can’t afford groceries will be able to get fresh vegetables to put on their empty tables. 

Those folks weren’t shouting.

I see the local preacher who builds ramps up to handicapped and aging folks’ houses at no cost to them.  He’s the same one who visits the shut-in folks at the nursing care centers. Every day, he visits them.

Not much shouting going on there.

Then, there are the volunteers who run the food pantry, along with the ones who keep the crisis pregnancy center going strong.  And yes, I see the ladies who bake bread and arrange flowers for their hurting friends, along with the men who do odd-jobs for widows in their spare hours.  The list is expanding. 

None of them are shouting.

What’s the old saw?  Actions speak louder than words.

What a concept!  Don’t just talk about it.  Do it.

Funny thing, though.  As a general rule, when we do what we’re intended to do, people start listening to the words we have to say.

I’ve heard many people quote the witty saying:  Preach the gospel always.  If necessary, use words.  It’s a little silly, actually.  Obviously, for the gospel to be communicated accurately, words must be used.  That said, if there is a clear change in one’s life and actions, the words will have more impact.

I’m just now realizing that the breath utilized will be as much for exertion as it will be for explanation.

Walk the walk and talk the talk

Oh, I’m just full of adages today, aren’t I?  But, they make the point adequately this time.  If we want folks to hear what we are saying, they must see that we believe it so much, we will live it out.  Even if they never stop to listen to the words, we’ll live out the truth we know.

Even if they never listen.

The thought almost takes my breath away.  A lifetime, spent in living out the love and grace God has placed in our heart.  In our interactions with neighbors and strangers–failures, dead ends, rejection–each one must be overlooked as we walk the narrow road we have claimed as our pathway.

We need to be reminded the breath within us isn’t ours.  Job knew it.  How did he put it?  Oh yes–The breath of the Almighty gives me life.

Somehow, I don’t think it was given us to hoard. 

ExertionExplanationRepeat.

Ad infinitum.

What are we saving it for?

 

 

 

 

 

“Action is eloquence.”
(William Shakespeare ~ English poet/playwright ~ 1564-1616)

 

“Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.”
(Hebrews 13:16 ~ ESV)

 

 

 

 

© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2015. All Rights Reserved.

Angry

angryfistI said the words today. I’ve never said them before.

Never.

I’m mad at God.

Not what you expected, is it? Me either.

The preacher and I sat today–not my preacher, just a preacher–and we talked about things we don’t understand. Yes, the preacher has things he doesn’t understand, too. It is a difficult thing to remember sometimes, but they are on the same road as we–still stumbling, often taking wrong turns, and at times, falling into the very ditches from which we are attempting to climb out.

I told him about my troubled young friend who believed that he had run out of options, save one. My young friend took that option, the final act he would perform in this world. The alcohol to numb the fear and the pistol to end the pain were the only tools he needed to do the deed.

I have mourned the loss of my friend. The tears have flowed and been wiped away again and again. As I considered how to express my thoughts tonight, they came again. But, in a strange way, his death is not the reason for my anger.

I am still learning how to be a friend. I am still learning how to reach out to people who are unlovely and unloving–folks who are outcast and lonely.

I have written of my first meeting with the tormented young man. I was afraid to touch him, worried that he was a lost cause from the start. There seemed a good chance that my first encounter with him would also be my last. I thought he was a heartbeat away from doing what he took the next two years to work himself up to.

Two years.

Two years, during which he stopped by with some frequency. Two years, I picked up the phone any number of times to hear his voice. I thought he was doing much better.

He was better!

I said that, in a strange way, his death was not my reason for being angry. It actually was about his death, but I finally came to realize today that I am angry because I was dragged into a relationship which was always going to end the way it did.

God knew it. He knew it and yet, He brought the man into my life. For two years, I would believe the situation was getting better, and then, one day a simple phone call would tell me that it had been for nothing.

And today–today, as I talked with the preacher, I finally said the words right out loud. 

No. I didn’t, did I?

I whispered them.

I’m mad at God.

The whispered words sounded like a shout in my ears. They still do, even as I sit in the quiet of my office and listen to peaceful music tonight.

The preacher knows better than to hand out pat answers to the big questions.  He listened. I talked, spilling my disappointment with God out in plain sight.

And as I talked, what I had known all along became clear. That’s the way it often is, isn’t it? The truth lies mingled in among the lies. We just have to peel the lies–our lies–away and God’s truth remains. 

Right there where it was all along.

The truth is that He faces the same disappointments with man’s failure, and has faced it from eternity past. He knows rejection of His love is right around the next bend and yet He reaches out His hand again and again.

The pain must be excruciating.

How should we expect any other result if we do His will? What He asks of us is not that we continue in obedience to Him as long as success is guaranteed.  He wants us to walk in obedience. Period.

It seems an ugly truth.

I’m still a little mad. Better men than I have been in the same boat. Job, for instance. And, Jonah. Even Elijah had his moment of sulking.

But, here is what I know. God loves me. Even when I’m angry. Even when I’m wrong. He understands my pain, because He has felt the same pain.

We’re talking about it, He and I.

I’ve got an idea that I’ll keep heading along the same road I’ve been on for more than a few years now. There is more work to be done; there are more people to be ministered to.

I wonder who will shove open my door tomorrow?

 

 

“There was a man here last night–you needn’t be afraid that I shall mention his name–who said that his will was given up to God, and who got mad because the omnibus was full, and he had to walk a mile to his lodgings.”
(Dwight L Moody ~ American evangelist ~ 1837-1899)

 

“The Lord said, ‘Do you have good reason to be angry?'”
(Jonah 4:4 ~ NASB)

 

 

 

 

© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2015. All Rights Reserved.

Misdemeanors

She carried thousands of them. And by thousands, I mean more than twenty.

That big old suitcase of a purse had everything in it. Kleenex, on the off-chance a bloody nose should need immediate attention (hey–it had been known to happen) or even for the occasional tear that might dare to escape from the corner of a little boy’s eye. Band-aids for scraped knees–a virtual certainty–and pricked fingers. Scissors, nail clippers, maps, Bible, suntan lotion (no sunscreen back then), pens, pencils, notepad. . .Well, you get the idea.

The object she carried by the thousands though (or more than twenty–whichever), was a round silver thing with ridges around the circumference. That red-headed lady who raised me carried plenty of quarters for any eventuality. 

Lunch money? Get a couple of quarters. Sunday School offering? Pull out a quarter. A stop at the gas station for a few gallons of gas? Four of them would put four gallons in the tank, enough to get around town for another week.

Mom carried quarters. The gargantuan purse’s weight without them? I have no idea. It would have felt feather-light to her if it had ever happened. It never did.

I knew better than to dig through Mom’s purse on my own. If a dig through was called for, she did it herself. I never took a quarter from Mom’s purse. Never.

Did I also mention she kept thousands of quarters on her dresser in her bedroom? No? She did. I think they were the reinforcements for the purse, should it ever feel lighter than normal.

Is it pretty clear where this is headed? Well, let me get right to the point.

I am a thief. 

Was.

Am.

Again and again–I cringe as I write the words–and again, I crept into my Paul-Charles_Chocarne-Moreau_The_Cunning_Thiefparent’s bedroom at times when I was sure their attention was on other things–preparing dinner, hanging laundry on the line, changing the oil in the car–and I slipped a quarter into my pocket. A quarter bought a coke in those days. Or, even a play on the pinball machine in the convenience store. Important stuff.

Never more than one at a time did I steal. I convinced myself that it was not as bad as taking two. Or four. Or ten.

No mention was ever made of the missing money. None. But, the red-headed woman knew. She knew.

It was fifty years ago. And still I know myself to be a thief.

Was.

Am.

In the present day, I would never steal from anyone knowingly. Folks leave items at my business–nice things–and I find ways to contact them. I realize a customer has been overcharged and I make sure they get their money back. To a fault, I ensure unhappy folks are compensated. I never want to cheat or steal from a single person again.

I’m not sure how we manage to convince ourselves, but we can certainly fool ourselves, can’t we? I’m not a thief anymore! With Tolkien’s Faramir, I can say, “Not if I found it on the highway would I take it!”

Was.

Yeah. 

Am.

You see, stealing is about recognizing who the proper owner of anything is and not taking that thing for ourselves.

Anything.

This is not the time for me to make a list of the things I have stolen just in the last 24 hours. The reader will probably find enough to make his or her own list. It may or may not be longer than mine.

The man limped out of the rain and into my store this morning. I had work to do and was already behind schedule. He needed to talk about important things. Needed to. I grudgingly gave him five minutes of my time and sent him on his way with my variation of go in peace; be warm and be fed.

Recently, I wrote boldly of knowing that nothing I have is my own. The opportunity to serve was not my own. The time was not my own. I am a thief.

Was.

Am.

My Creator has, in His bag, thousands of such opportunities. How many have I sneaked in and stolen, to waste on myself? How many minutes, one at a time, have I slipped into my own pocket?

Let me be clear. I am not legalistically suggesting we cannot have leisure time. It is clear we were created in such a way that rest and recreation is a prerequisite for physical and spiritual health.

The minutes and opportunities I am suggesting have been stolen and squandered do not, by any stretch of the imagination, fit into the category of leisure time.

I knew when I hurried the man out the door, I had not fulfilled my responsibility to him.  I knew, and I sent him away. I am a thief.

Was.

Am.

Ah! But, grace. . .

Was.

 

 

 

“Then he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ Jesus answered him, ‘Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.'”
Luke 23: 42, 43 ~ NIV)

 

 

“Enter, stranger, but take heed
Of what awaits the sin of greed,
For those who take, but do not earn,
Must pay most dearly in their turn.”
(J.K.Rowling ~ British novelist)

 

 

 

© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2015. All Rights Reserved.

Picking My Brain

“Say! You’re a great teacher! Thanks for helping me understand all that!”

I had never seen the slender young man before, but we had spent the last hour in my music store discussing a myriad of subjects. Banjos, violins, vintage guitars–you name it, if there was one of them in the store, we talked about it.

The twenty-something fellow was like a sponge, soaking up every bit of information I laid out for him. After we had talked about the construction of the century-old violin he brought in for an appraisal, we also discussed its accessories and value. By the time I had exhausted my knowledge of the violin family, he was profuse in his praise.

“How can you know so much about this?”

A little embarrassed, I gently brushed aside the compliment, and he wandered through the store for awhile, stopping to admire a vintage acoustic guitar on display. Before we finished our conversation about that subject, we had widened the field of the discussion to include several other old instruments hanging in the place. Again, he was amazed.

brainpicking“Really! I’ve never had anyone who could tell me so much about musical instruments.”

He continued to pump me about the various instruments, asking questions that made me reach back into my memory of the basics and methodology of each one. I must have passed his test, because at the end of the hour, he concluded his comments with the above statement about teaching.

I’m laughing.

I tried teaching one time. 

Tried. Failed

Really.

I didn’t have the patience. Seriously, when I told a student something a single time at a lesson, I expected them to retain that information as long as they were studying the subject. Why else would I have told them?

I taught you this last week! Why do I need to tell you again?

Now you’re laughing. I’m not a teacher. The nice young man is wrong.

May I tell you what I do know?

What I do know is that not one idea in my brain belongs to me. Not one.

What I do know is that there is no knowledge which I retain about any subject that I acquired without the assistance of someone else. None.

Everything I have has been given me. Everything. Some may wish to argue the point, but I contend that none of us has acquired anything of ourselves. Oh, I don’t mean that we haven’t worked to attain it, but we cannot even claim the credit for the strength to do that work, much less the intellect to understand the subject in which we claim expertise.

Captain of my own ship? What a fraud! 

Many who have affirmed that status find, to their chagrin, that it is a complete falsehood. Physical strength may be gone in a moment’s time. So too, the intellect is as likely to be snatched away as it is to remain at our beck and call throughout our lives.

I must share my meager store of information because it was never mine to hoard. It was never mine to dole out. It has never been mine to sell to the highest bidder.

I may not be able to teach skillfully, but I can talk endlessly. That will come as no surprise to those who know me well, nor to quite a few folks who know me hardly at all, but nonetheless have endured my oral ramblings at length.

The Lovely Lady and I sneaked out to eat at a fast food restaurant tonight. The girl at the cash register called out the total for our meals and then added a phrase I’ve never heard before. I don’t even think it’s a real thing.

“With your Wise Person Discount, your total will be eleven dollars and seventy-nine cents.”

Huh?  Wise Person Discount?  Are you kidding me?  Just because I’m getting old?

I took the discount. I’m grateful for the compliment. 

Still, I’m not sure she really understands the concept of wisdom. Wrinkles and gray hair aren’t equivalent to wisdom. Some of the most foolish folks I know are much older than I. That said, it is to be hoped that the passage of years has brought with it a tiny bit, perhaps just an iota, of wisdom. But that too will be a gift, unearned, unmerited.

I still believe that every good thing comes from the Giver of all good gifts.

Freely we have received; freely we must give.

It’s not much, but I’m going to keep dispensing the knowledge contained in my head. Perhaps a bit of wisdom will be thrown in here and there.

Hey. It’s possible.

Come see me and pick my brain. We’ll see.

 

 

 

 

“True wisdom exists in knowing that you know nothing.”
(Socrates ~ Classical Greek philosopher ~ ca. 469 BC-399 BC)

 

“If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.”
(James 1:5 ~ NIV)

 

 

© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2015. All Rights Reserved.

Fuzzy Reality

Cataracts.

It almost seemed as if the nice young lady said the word with a question mark after it.  You have cataracts?

I did say it with a question mark.  A big one.

CataractsMeOld people get thoseI’m not old.

The nice young lady, who happens to be an optometrist, was kind at least.  She agreed with me.  Sort of.

“Why yes, Mr. Phillips, most people are much older than–what are you?  Let me see. . . Oh. Well, fifty-seven isn’t that unusual for them to start.”

I’m still trying to work it out in my head.  Did she just call me old?  Ah, well.  No sense in beating around the bush, I suppose.

The years are passing.

I don’t heal up as well as I once did.  Arthritis is creeping into my hands, especially in the cold winter days, and even in these damp spring evenings I feel a few twinges in the joints.  Age does that to a fellow.  I’m doing what I can to fend off the evidence of aging, but it will inevitably be a losing battle.

Still, I stand here in relatively good condition and consider the young lady’s diagnosis.  Cataracts in both eyes means that the lens are gradually clouding over, beginning (just beginning) to block the light rays necessary to see well.  Over time, the cloudiness will grow thicker, blurring the sight and possibly robbing the ability to distinguish certain colors.

At last, I may actually have an excuse for wearing non-coordinated pants and shirts, or possibly even mismatched socks.  That could work to my advantage.

But, it seems to me that this is something of a paradox–perhaps even a bit ironic.  At a time of life when I believe I finally see things more clearly than I ever have, I find that I have a few years of clouded vision and blurry views to look forward to.

Oh, I’m sorry.  I seem to have mixed the applications up a bit, haven’t I?  We were talking about the physical issues of growing old and I injected a bit of the spiritual into the conversation.  Well, since we’re here already, perhaps we’ll spend a minute or two more on the spiritual, shall we?

You see, I’m struck–and when I say struck, I mean hard–with the sneaky way these things creep up on us.  We pride ourselves in having our eyes wide open, in seeing all the aspects of the life we live.  All the while, our vision is becoming cloudy, the details of reality becoming fuzzy.

Christ_and_the_pauper_MiranovDo we really see things as clearly as we think?

I wonder.  When the Teacher suggested that there were blind men leading blind men in the days when He walked this earth, do you suppose that those blind leaders got that way in an instant?

Wouldn’t it rather be true that they once strove to see God’s way clearly?  They hadn’t always been old men, blinded by the result of years of failing sight.  I have to believe that at one time, they too were wide-eyed idealists, hoping to change their world for the better.

Years–and bad decisions–have a way of altering dreams and vision.  It’s as true with our spiritual vision as it is with our physical sight.

The young lady tells me that I’ll need to wait a few years for the right time to remove my cataracts.  A simple and highly effective surgery will make things right again.  Until then, I’ll find ways to deal with the inconveniences of the disease.

I wonder if the other sight will be quite as easy to set right?

Perhaps.  The Teacher once used spit and mud to do the job.

I’d like to see things the way He wants me to again.

You?

 

 

 

“The only thing worse than being blind is having sight, but no vision.”
(Helen Keller ~ Blind/deaf author/lecturer ~ 1880-1968)

 

“And your life will be brighter than the noonday; its darkness will be like the morning.
(Job 11: 17 ~ ESV)

 

 

© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2015. All Rights Reserved.