New Things

Open your eyes.  I am going to do a new thing.

The voice in my head was as clear as if someone in the room had spoken.  The only problem was no one else was there.  The Lovely Lady had already left for her morning of work at the library.

I was by myself.  There was not a soul in the house besides me.

I’m not a dreams and visions type person.  I’ve always believed that God gives us wisdom and intelligence to follow the path laid out before us.  As we make educated decisions, His Spirit guides us.  Gently.

I never wanted to hear a voice in my ear as I awake in the morning.  Well, except for the Lovely Lady’s telling me there are doughnuts to go with the coffee. . .

I would understand it if I had just been reading that specific chapter in the Bible right before retiring.  Isaiah 43 is a powerful chapter, with reminders of who our God is, and what He intends to do.  I’ve read the passage several times since that morning.

But, I hadn’t read it in ages.  I don’t think it was put in my head by anything I had heard or read with a similar message.  

The words just hung in the air.

A new thing?  Really?

I don’t like new things all that much.  

My shoes, I like comfortable and broken in.  I’m using the same cash register at my music store I was using in the 1990s.  It’s not that it’s a great piece of machinery, but I understand how to make it work, and that’s enough.

I like to eat Kraft Macaroni and Cheese with fried tuna patties every Thursday evening.  Don’t ask me out to eat on Thursday.  Comfort food night is almost like going to church.  If I have my mac and cheese, I can almost believe everything is right with the world.

I don’t really care for new places, or new experiences, or new flavors.

I bought a bicycle the other day.  It sat for two weeks before I even threw a leg over the saddle.  Another two weeks later, I actually wheeled it out of the front door.

On Saturday, I put air in the tires and did something I had never done.  I locked my shoes into the clip-less pedals and took a turn around the parking lot out front.  I wasn’t happy to see a couple of big, burly fellows sitting on the roof across the street, working on the sign hanging there.  I certainly didn’t want to look foolish to them.

But then, I got started pedaling and it seemed to go well.  At first.

I actually thought the words as I rounded the lot for the first time.  

See!  I am doing a new thing!

Not for long did I keep that foolish thought in my head.  You see, I quickly discovered that I knew nothing about changing the gears on this particular setup.  It was right about that time I realized I would have to unlock my shoes from the pedals soon, too.  Without falling over.  

Bicycles have only two tires, you know.  They don’t balance when they’re not moving forward.  This one would come to a stop very soon, and I couldn’t remember meanttodothat_6855which foot I had decided it would be best to put down first.  I started to unclip the right foot, just as I slowed to a near stop.  It was right about then I remembered I had decided I should unclip the left foot first.

It was also right about then the seat tube decided to slide down about six inches.  Whump!

Did I tell you I was worried about looking foolish?  

I looked foolish.

I hate it when I look foolish.  Hate it.

And perhaps, we have actually uncovered why I dislike new things so much.  Unfamiliar territory is territory where I make mistakes.  I don’t appear intelligent and wise.  I don’t impress.

I am embarrassed.  Frequently.

I want it to stop.  I am approaching sixty years old, an age at which I believe it is my right to retain my dignity at all times.  

I shouldn’t be expected to learn new skills, to venture out on untried bridges, to balance on two micro-thin rubber tires while remembering which foot is which and which shifter changes what gear.

But tonight, I’m wondering—I who have declared in my brashest voice that I am a follower of the Son of God—I’m wondering what it means to really follow Him.

Is it enough that I have followed Him for these few years, the decades of youth and middle-age?

Is that enough?

What if He says to me, Better things are waiting—out there? What then? Click To Tweet

What if He says to me, Better things are waiting—out there—across the bridge?

Would I take the chance—the adventure—and strike out to a new and unknown field?2016-02-13 13.53.27

I’ve never been over there.  

What if there are strange people?  

Is the bridge safe?  

Will I have plenty to eat, a warm place to stay, a comfy bed in which to sleep when I reach the end of each day?

On the best day fishing Peter and his partners had ever had—the best day—the Teacher told them He had better things for them to accomplish. (Luke 5:9-11)

They abandoned their boats and nets—and fantastic catch—on the shore and followed.

They followed.

A new thing.  

Maybe it was only learning to ride a different bicycle for me.  Perhaps, that will be the end of the matter.

Perhaps not.

Probably not.

I wonder.  Could I cross the bridge, abandoning the comfortable, familiar place I’m in?  I want to believe that I could.

I might look ridiculous—foolish even.

Would you laugh?

Or, would you cross it with me?

Companions on the road are nothing to sneer at.

Companions on the road are nothing to sneer at. Click To Tweet

I don’t know where we’re going yet.

He does.

It will be enough.

 

 

 

Do not remember the former things,
Nor consider the things of old.
Behold, I will do a new thing,
Now it shall spring forth;
Shall you not know it?
I will even make a road in the wilderness
And rivers in the desert.
(Isaiah 43:18, 19 ~ NKJV)

 

“Doubtless,” said the Prince. “This signifies that Aslan will be our good lord, whether he means us to live or die. And all’s one, for that. Now, by my counsel, we shall . . . all shake hands one with another, as true friends that may shortly be parted. And then, let us descend into the City and take the adventure that is sent us.”
(From The Silver Chair ~ C.S. Lewis ~ British novelist ~ 1898-1963)

 

 

 

 

 

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

Glory Follows

Gloria virtutem tamquam umbra sequitur.

My son has a huge cardboard box full of trophies that still sits in a closet in my house.  Now in his thirties, he values them not at all.  It’s funny, but even back when he was a kid, they didn’t mean all that much to him.

Except a few.  The ones that actually were given for accomplishing something had a place of honor on his dresser.  The participation trophies?  Relegated to the closet.

I will freely admit it.  I may have been part of the reason for his disdain of the you-matter-because-you-showed-up awards.  I never vocally disrespected them, but I did praise the hard work which went into earning the championship team awards, and the Best in Class plaques.

Praise should be given when praise is earned.  Accomplishment earns a reward.

Don’t misunderstand me.  I am an encourager.  Atta-boys and way-to-give-it-your-best-shot messages are important, even essential, in the development of a child. If all they live with is high expectations, without support, they become bitter and discouraged.  But, a pat on the back is not a trophy.

Encouragement is not glory.  

The Apostle, my namesake, was clear in how he put it.  In a race, everybody runs the best they can, but only one person gets the glory—the trophy.  (1 Corinthians 9:24)

In encouragement, no one could fault the Apostle.  Always, he built up his readers, coaxing them to reach new heights, but in this instance, he was blunt. 

Run so you can win.  

Period.

All of life, every part of it, takes place on the race course.  It’s not a dash—not a challenging five kilometer run—not even a half-marathon.  As exhausted as it makes me to contemplate it, the race is more like an Ironman Triathlon, only longer.

Swim nearly two and a half miles.  Make equipment/clothing adjustments and hop onto your bicycle.  Ride one hundred and twelve miles.  Yes.  One hundred and twelve.  Make whatever wardrobe changes are necessary.  Run just over twenty-six miles.  

The whole course.  If you want to win, you must run the entire series of races.  They’re all part of the whole.  Then and only then will a winner be handed the prize.

human-1045469_1280Did you notice the quotation at the top of this little essay?  Cicero, a Roman philosopher, who lived in the first century B.C. said the words.

What’s that?  Oh.  You don’t read Latin.  Neither do I, if it comes down to it.  Let me try again.

Glory follows virtue as if it were its shadow.

As if it were its shadow.

Imagine.  You’re in the race, swimming the first leg of the course.  Two and a half miles, you have battled.  Victory is yours!  The crowd waiting at the water’s edge goes crazy with adulation as you wade out of the shallows, well ahead of the closest competitor.

Glory!  They love you!  What an accomplishment!

You plow into the crowd, high-fiving and fist-bumping as you go.  Basking in the glory—glory you earned for yourself—you relax and exult in your accomplishment.

What’s that?  What do you mean I’m not finished yet?  I won, didn’t I?

Of course, you understand that it cannot be.  One leg is not the entire race. While you were beguiled by the praise and glory of a partial victory, others have gone on ahead to complete the course.

Enamored by the shadow—glory—you turned away from the task at hand.  And, just like that, the glory has disappeared.

Just for a moment, will you look with me at the picture Cicero has drawn with his words?  If it helps you may even want to glance at the photo that accompanies these thoughts.

Shadows follow behind.  As we walk toward the source of light, the shadow follows.  It never precedes us.  Never.

Glory only follows if we continue in virtue.

It almost seems cruel, doesn’t it?  We achieve, but we have no time to enjoy the reward.

Can I tell you a secret?  

Glory was never our goal.  Never.

Virtue.

That’s our goal, always before us.  Righteousness.    

As we follow closely after God though, His glory will be evident—to those looking on.  He himself upholds us. For His Glory.

His.  Glory.

It stays only as long as our faces are to the Light, pursuing the prize.  Turn to revel in the moment and it is lost.

Face to the sun, we keep running—or swimming—or riding.

Face to the Sun.

Glory follows.

 

 

My soul follows close behind You;
Your right hand upholds me.
(Psalm 63:8 ~ NKJV)

 

Swim 2.4 miles! Bike 112 miles! Run 26.2 miles! Brag for the rest of your life!
Whoever finishes first, we’ll call him the Ironman.
(Commander John Collins, USN ~ founder of 1st Ironman Triathlon ~ 1978)

 

 

 

 

 

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

Influencers Influenced

You’d think sitting in the seat of the bulldozer would be more comfortable.

The big man in front of me loves his work.  All his life, he’s run machines—big, get-your-attention, powerful pieces of equipment.  He has leveled mountains, and filled valleys, eliminating the vast differences between the two.  Rotting, uninhabitable houses have been knocked over, and foundations built up for impressive new edifices.

bulldozer-1178029_1280

Talk about influencers!  In forty years, he has never left a work site in the same condition as when he arrived.  Not once.

Hmmm.  I’m not sure I said that exactly as I intended.  If you re-read that last paragraph, you might actually think I was talking about the man not leaving in the same condition.

Funny how words work, isn’t it?

The site is never the same.  It’s perfectly true.  On some days, you wouldn’t recognize the parcel of land as the same location, it has been changed so much.  Structures razed, boulders moved, trees uprooted—nothing remains untouched.

But, read what I said again.  In forty years, he has never left a work site in the same condition as when he arrived.

I realize a grammarian would wish to speak of the ambiguous antecedent and direct me to clarify the sentence.  I think I’ll leave it as stated.

No, I’m not just being stubborn.  The thing is, both ways of reading the sentence will lead to a correct conclusion.  

It is true the work site is always changed—every time he alights from the seat of his equipment.

But, it is also important to note that the man himself is affected—without fail—by the work he has done.  

For you see, every bump, every dimple in the ground under that powerful machine he controls impacts him.  Tossed from side to side by the motion of the dozer or grader, his back muscles stretch and contort, endeavoring to keep him upright in the seat.  

Day after day, the up and down motion—the back and forth assault—the sudden jolts and sudden stops, all of them conspire to make him a different person.

He feels it—from the soles of his feet to the top of his head, he feels it—the influencer influenced and, on some days, the leveler leveled.  Going home to lie down, he counts the bruises and sore spots.

Every time he walks away from a work site, he is changed.  The work site is too.

Did I tell you he loves his job?  He still does.

Do you want to change your world?

Prepare to be changed, yourself.

I will tell you, I have watched folks who were intent on impacting their world be folded, spindled, and mutilated.  Some have recovered.  Others surrender, giving up their dreams and, sometimes, even their faith.

I have seen friends working steadily—day after day, year after year—aware of the damage done to themselves, yet slogging on toward the finish line.  Goodbyes, diseases, physical need—all take their toll, yet all they see is the vision.

If anyone told you it was easy, they lied.

Nearing the time of His own death, the Teacher told His followers openly of the coming trouble, trouble which would devastate them personally. Then He said a strange thing.  It didn’t fit with the warning they were hearing.

I have told you about these things so you would be at peace. (John 16: 33a)

Wait!  He told them about terrible things which were in their future and then claimed the words should inspire a calm spirit?  

How does that make sense?

I sit and think.  Warnings are intended to instill fear and respect for danger, not peace.  Not calm.

But, in all that intense group of burly, seasoned men sitting around Him, I can’t imagine that at least one of them didn’t recall the storm they had been through as they crossed the sea in a fishing boat together some time before. (Mark 4:35-41)

With the lightning flashing and wind gusting, their Teacher had simply spoken three words.

Peace.  Be still. 

To the storm, He spoke those three words.  To His followers, the ones being molded and affected by hardship—five were needed.

Why are you so afraid?

In that whole group of men who sat and listened on that night to the Teacher who would be Savior, right before the world fell in on them, do you suppose any of them missed His meaning?  I doubt it.  

In this world, while you are shaping and influencing it, you will be shaped and influenced.  Don’t be terrified.  I have overcome the world. (John 16:33b)

Do we attempt to change the world in which we live?  

It will attempt to change us.  

In subtle ways, regardless of how hard we try—despite our best intentions—it will change us.

It will hurt us.  It hurt Him.

And yet, can we—just for one instant—can we consider the ultimate Influencer?

Greater.  Greater than any influence in the world.  

In us—still greater.

Change your world.  For good, change your world.

And, don’t fret.  

Peace.  Rest.

You might fasten your seatbelt though.  

The ride is likely to be a little bumpy.

 

 

“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo.
“So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”
(from The Fellowship of the Ring ~ J.R.R. Tolkien)

 

As you know, we count as blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy.
(James 5:11 ~ NIV)

 

 

 

 

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

Bellwether

Every day, my mail box has a smattering of the notices.  I’m being followed.  Again.  And, then again.

I glance at the messages and click the button to relegate them to their proper domain.  Twitter.

I don’t understand Twitter.  I tweet a message and hope it will be noticed by my followers.  It rarely is.  On those rare occasions when someone likes a tweet or perhaps even retweets it, the result is short-lived.  If they’re actually following, they’re not following far.

I’ve finally figured out my problem—I’m not an influencer.  I didn’t realize until just a few days ago that I needed—or even wanted—to be.  Now I want it so badly I can almost taste it.

Influencer.  The description often follows the twitter handle—the name by which one is known in that strange social universe.  I’m not sure how one gains the title, but I want it.  The title carries weight; it has gravitas.

I don’t have gravitas.

I want to be an influencer.  Followers would actually follow.  People would value my input.  My opinions would matter.  I could make a difference.

Alas.  Influencer is not in my resumé.  Not on Twitter, anyway.

But, I’m wondering tonight—am I an influencer already?  Maybe the Twitter universe isn’t the only place that matters.

I came across a poem the other day which used a word I thought I didn’t know.  The poem spoke of a flock of sheep following one specific sheep home to where food and shelter lay waiting.  It called that one sheep a wether.

A wether?  What’s that? I searched my memory.  Wait!  No, it couldn’t be.  I’ve heard of a bellwether.  I wonder if it has anything to do with that?

BellwetherSure enough, the wether is a neutered sheep, usually an older one, that the shepherd trusts to lead the other sheep. Out to the fields where sweet pasture is to be found—then, back home again to safety and rest. The bell goes around its neck to let the shepherd find the flock any time they are on the move.  Bell—wether.

Ah.  The light comes on.  A bellwether is an influencer.  An influencer.

I want to be a bellwether.

But—and there is always a but—I’m wondering about a couple of little issues.  Well, just one actually.  And, of necessity, this part of the discussion may be a little earthy, perhaps even crude.  It must be.

You see, the wether is neutered.  Always.  A high price, one might think, for the privilege of leading the flock with a bell around one’s neck.  The fact is, the shepherd will not trust a ram with the flock.  Rams tend to be a bit self-centered, intent on doing what male sheep do.

Leaving for the moment, the earthy part of this discussion, one might wonder how it enters into the conversation at all.  We’re not, after all, going to be physically, nor even emotionally, neutered in our quest to be leaders or influencers.  

What is the point?

Simply put, in order to lead, to influence, without doing so in a self-serving and self-aggrandizing way, we will have to make a conscious decision to fulfill the role of the bellwether.  

In our case, there can be no consideration of taking advantage of those who follow or are influenced. We don’t get to personally advance our station or reputation as we serve.

Let this mind be in you then, which was in your Shepherd, who gave up His right to the green pastures of His Father’s land, to come and be one of you, going so far as to be slaughtered in your place.  (Philippians 2:5-8)  Sorry, the words are a little mangled, but you will see the meaning is nearly unchanged.

Our Savior, the Shepherd we follow, specifically and with purpose, gave up His claim to all rights and privileges so that He might lead us into His sheepfold.

How do we dare attempt to influence His people with any less assurance of selfless intent?

How could we even think that any person who is led by our influence might be called our follower, and not His?

If I want to influence, if I want to lead for Him, it will be on His terms.  

Not mine.

We don’t like to talk about this.  Our service requires the end to our self-centered plans, our platforms, our brands.  

And the Shepherd said, If any man wants to be my follower, he will deny himself, taking up his  own cross daily, and actually follow me.  (Luke 9:23)

Whoa!  I have to wear the bell.  And, I have to fulfill my calling with no intent on my part to benefit from it.

It is what He did.

I think I might be willing to wear the bell for awhile.

Influencer?

Bellwether?  

Perhaps someday.

Meanwhile, we all still follow the Shepherd—and He still leads us to good places.

Time to head for green pastures—maybe even some still waters.

You’re coming too, aren’t you?

 

 

 

 

My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. 
(John 10:27 ~ ASV)

 

Every one comes between men’s souls and God, either as a brick wall or as a bridge. Either you are leading men to God or you are driving them away.
(Canon Lindsey Dewar DD ~ Scottish Rector)

 

 

 

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

The Instrument

I am the instrument.

I’m trying to remember the first time I heard the words.  It must have been in high school, muttered by a friend in the choir as he prepared for a contest.  One never knows what tools will come into play when the self image needs a boost.

I’ve heard the words a few times since.

Invariably, they come from a vocalist, to whom the words give evidence there is no additional accoutrement necessary to accomplish his or her artistry.  Somehow, even though I’m sure no such thing is intended, it seems—almost—a mantra, calculated to cause jealousy in the heart of any lowly instrumentalist within listening distance.

Oh, if only I didn’t need this stupid guitar (or horn, or piano, or…) to make my music.

I wonder—do vocal teachers make this a part of their curriculum, a required piece of information which all students must practice saying daily, much as they practice their scales or vocalises?

Have you said the words today, choir?  Say it with me, “I am the instrument!”

Ah, I’ve got your attention now, don’t I?

FinallyHe’s going to write something controversial.

Now we’ll get some angry comments, won’t we?

I hate to disappoint, but this little essay was opened with the introduction of that catch phrase merely to make a point.  The point is fairly simple:

I am the instrument.

Yes, I know.  We’ve covered that.

But, have we?

There is more to be said.  The words don’t apply only to vocalists.  They’re not even exclusive to musicians.

Even if you can’t tell a C chord from a rip cord, you are an instrument.  Even if you hate every genre of music known to man, you are an instrument.

You are an instrument.

I have worked in the music business all of my adult life, and I’ve listened to a fair number of musicians.  Maybe more than a fair number.

One customer suggested to me the other day, after hearing an amazing guitarist in my music store, that I was fortunate to be able to hear so many accomplished musicians come and go.

He is right.

But then, there is the flip-side of that coin.

As often as I hear the talented and disciplined musicians, I have to endure those who only think they are good.  The cacophony is horrific at times.  It is all I can do to keep from clapping my hands over my ears.  It has been true of both instrumentalists and vocalists.

Did you know that an instrument is only as good as the one playing it?  Beautiful music or ghastly noise can come from the same instrument, depending on who is manipulating the equipment.

I have heard cheaply made, even defective, instruments played beautifully—beyond what one would believe are its capabilities.

I have heard the shrieks, almost of pain, from some of the finest and most valuable instruments imaginable being manipulated by untalented hands.

Hmmm.  Perhaps there is more to this than meets the eye—or ear.

In an earlier era, the folk singer Bob Dylan reminded us of the not-so-subtle piano-453845_1280truth beginning to peek through in our conversation here.  He croaked the words (in an almost tuneful way)—Gotta Serve Somebody.  His mumbled lyrics echoed the words of the Teacher, who made it clear that no one could serve two different masters. (Luke 16:13)

One way or the other, we will serve.

The Apostle suggested that we are better off if we don’t loan ourselves out  for evil purposes.  (Romans 6:13)  The result of that collaboration can only be ugliness, raw and angry.  It’s not the stuff of harmony and spectacular beauty.

The Master Musician has the talent to make the most insignificant of instruments create the most exquisite harmonies ever heard.   But, unlike the inanimate instruments we employ on whatever whim takes us, His instruments get to choose who will take them up.

We choose.

It’s not about arrogance—only the finest instruments being held in the hands of the Master—but about humility.  Frail and battered, out-of-tune and muffled—all can make glorious music in His hands.

We choose.

I want my choice to be a wise one.

You see, I love beautiful music—sweet music—music that touches the heart.

That kind of music only comes from the hands of a Virtuoso.

I will be held by Him.

I am the instrument.

 

 

But the Master comes,
And the foolish crowd never can quite understand,
The worth of a soul and the change that is wrought
By the touch of the Master’s Hand.
(from The Old Violin ~ Myra Brooks Welch ~ American poet ~ 1877-1959)

 

It’s easy to play any musical instrument: all you have to do is touch the right key at the right time and the instrument will play itself.
(Johann Sebastian Bach ~ German composer ~ 1685-1750)

 

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

Tip-toeing and Holding My Breath

The house is old and the floor creaks.

Since I was old enough to notice such things, I’ve not lived in any other kind of house.  The sneaky kid I was at seven years of age learned where the noisy spots were.  When one was stealthily slipping out at nap time, that information was key in avoiding detection by lightly sleeping parents.

In much the same way, the sneaky grown-up I am at nearly sixty years of age has learned where the noisy spots are in my current house, as well.  That information is key in maneuvering through the downstairs rooms quietly when the Lovely Lady is sleeping upstairs.  This is not so much because I want to escape detection, as it is that I don’t want to disturb her rest.

I have a suspicion that I am not any more successful at it in these later years than I was as a child.  Still, an attempt must be made.  If one is to wander the house late at night, it won’t do to have the other inhabitants lose sleep because of it.

In all my years of living in creaky old houses, I’ve never encountered a ghost.  Oh, the floorboards pop on their own sometimes, and there are unexplained noises in the night.  Somehow, I think we can eliminate ghosts from the causes there.  No shimmering essence has ever brushed past me on the way down a hallway, and certainly, I’ve never heard the clank of chains.

But, in my head?  That’s a different story.  My head is rife with ghosts.  Some of them are as kind and benevolent as one could wish.  A few are not remotely like that—all screams and anger.   Still others, I barely recognize—long forgotten memories from the dim past.

Tonight, I’m sneaking around on the creaky old floors in my head, in much the same way as I do in the house.  It is an equally vain attempt at not awakening the ghosts who are usually resting there.

Somehow, being ill has that effect on my thoughts.  Perhaps it’s the not-so-subtle reminders of my mortality—the lack of breath, the pain in my joints, the sleepless nights—that lead to the tiptoe walk though the past.

So I said to him——I said——that’ll never go through the door.

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

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

As I tried to talk with the Lovely Lady today and gasped for air, mid-sentence, I heard his voice in my head.  Then again, I walked from the den to front door and had to stop and lean on the buffet for a moment and I saw the old man standing there at the desk.

Experience tells me I will breathe freely again very soon.  But, these moments, these brief seasons of walking through the old, creaky house remind me of folks who’ve gone before—people I have loved and who have loved me.

They remind me of other things, as well.  

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

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

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

May I talk about the storytelling for a moment?  I promise to be nearly succinct.  (Scroll down the page to see if I’m being truthful—I’ll wait.)  The reader will have to be the judge of whether the time is well spent.

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

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

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

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

Tell the stories!

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

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

A monument—nothing more.

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

I will build bridges.  

With my last breath, I will tell the stories.

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

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

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

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

To our last breath.  

Tell the Story.

 

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

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

Because—Love

Flowers for my heart with tender words
And a gentle touch that says so much
This is how I’ve heard that love should always be.*

Valentine’s Day.

Again, the commercialized and cloyingly cute messages are filling the in-boxes, mail boxes, and trash boxes across the country.  More flowers, candy, and cheaply-made cards will be purchased than at any other time of year.

All to express a love that never was and never will be.  

Love, that is.  It will never be love.

Love isn’t flowers, isn’t a close embrace, isn’t sweet nothings whispered into an ear as you dance in the dark.  And, it certainly isn’t the thousand dollar diamond necklace slipped around the throat of the picture-perfect beauty queen primping in the mirror before slinking out to a romantic dinner for two.

Our culture lies.

It lies every time an ad suggests all you need to keep your mate’s love is some pretty new bauble.  It lies with each new revelation of ways to keep love fresh in some exotic destination or with an amazing new scent.

I want some new images to exemplify love.

How about a toilet seat?  Either up or down will do.  Love is him, putting it down for her.  It’s her, ignoring the fact that it never gets put down.

Perhaps it could be black olives.  He loves them, so she includes them in her recipes.  She hates them, so he removes them from the frozen pizza before it goes in the oven.

The list could go on, including not a single item that Hallmark could market.  The old toothbrush he used to clean up that ugly old vase that she bought at the second-hand store.  The spool of thread she emptied to mend his favorite old work coveralls.  The ice scraper he uses on frosty mornings, so she doesn’t have to stand out in the cold and do it herself.

In recent years, I have found some new items that illustrate love.  You don’t want to hear about them.  They are uncouth and will make you say the word gross as you see them in print.  

And that’s a shame. Because, you see, the other lie that our culture tells is that your mate will always be attractive and will always be healthy.

He won’t.  She won’t.

The bedpan and the urinal spring to mind.  Bodily functions become the concern of the one who loves.  Embarrassment and squeamishness are abandoned as love does, not what it wishes, but what it must.

Not so uncouth, but still not an attractive thought, the fork and spoon push their way into the symbolism, as one mate must feed another.  The memory of feeding the cake to each other at the wedding comes back with a rush, and we realize that it is a promise we will keep.

I believe the one item I would chose to symbolize love most is nothing more than a simple handkerchief.

 These cloth relics of the past have fallen out of fashion—replaced by the paper tissues we use and crumple into the trash by the thousands, but I like to have one in my back pocket.  I would be lost without it.

With the handkerchief we dry the tears of children, and yes, wipe their noses too.  I mop my forehead when the perspiration beads and threatens to run down my face.  But, all through my life the one thing I have used that square bit of cloth for, more than any other use, has been to wipe away the tears that have come.

When puppy dogs died suddenly, the tears from the children’s eyes were soaked up; those from my own, as well.  When the frustrations of financial want were too much, the handkerchief once again dabbed away the tears of fear for the future.

I have seen the tears of spouses as they turned away from the hospital bed their lover lay upon, perhaps for the last time.  Other tears have been wiped away as elderly parents departed from this world to a better place; they were wiped away as conversations led to the realization that mental faculties were failing.

Tears fall.  Sometimes, they are tears of happiness.  More often as life progresses, they are tears of worry and of sorrow, but always, they are tears of love.

Tears fall.  And we wipe them away.  For each other.

And, there’s nothing cheap about that.

You can keep your cheap paper valentines.  You can keep your sugary-sweet chocolates (well, maybe just one).  You can even keep your diamonds and jewels.  They’re cheap too, in a way.

Tears fall.  And we stay.

Because—love.

 

 

 

 

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

He will wipe every tear from their eyes.
(Revelation 21:4 ~ NIV)

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

* from How Love Should Be by Jeremy Michael Lubbock ~ American singer/songwriter

Grace and the Wolf

My morning at the music store was all planned out.  

I always come in an hour ahead of time to get an early start.  Product to be sent to customers has to be pulled and moved to the shipping room.  Emails must be checked and answered.  Repaired items needing to be picked up are checked again and moved to the proper section.

When the doors are unlocked, the objects to be worked with are no longer inanimate, but human.  Somehow, planning goes out the window.  Phone calls are answered, problems addressed, and merchandise is sold.

Still, I hadn’t counted on the Peter and the Wolf kids.  Mom wondered if I would mind too very much giving them a demonstration of the musical instruments they had heard in the orchestral composition by Mr. Prokofiev.

She had a set of picture cards, but the children wanted to see the real instruments if they could, please.  That is, if you don’t mind.

I didn’t mind.  I’m a good guy who loves helping children.

The first card showed a bassoon.  We dragged one out of the back room and assembled it, taking care to show the two tykes the double reed which gives the instrument its distinctive tone.  The little girl was surprised to see that the strange instrument was much taller than she.

The next card showed an image of an oboe, so an oboe came out of its case and the smaller pieces were shoved together to make an instrument a little smaller than a clarinet.  Again, the double reed made an appearance.

As each instrument came into view, the character in the musical story was named.  The bassoon had been the low, naggy sound of a fussing grandfather, the oboe—Peter’s quacky duck.  

One by one, we located the characters the children had met in the recording.  The pretty silver flute was the little bird, and the clarinet, long, black, and sinister, was the cat that stalked the bird.  The drums, such as we could find—I’m sorry ma’am; we don’t sell many timpani—were the hunters, come to help Peter in his time of need. 

Of course, we had to find as many of the stringed instruments as we could, making do without a double bass viol.  Peter was represented in the musical tale by the entire violin family, regardless of size.  

hornvoiceBut, we forgot one, didn’t we?  Oh yes!  The French horn.  What shall we say about the horn?

I’m a horn player.  It was a proud moment.  Surely the children would be impressed.  

I’ve played it nearly all my life.

The little girl, friendly and twinkly for most of the tour of instruments, stared at me, her mouth open and eyes wide.  Disbelief was written all over her face.

You’re the wolf?

Why, yes.  No!  

Wait a minute!  I’m not the wolf!  I just play the instrument that represents him in the symphony.  I’m not really the wolf.

The children are gone.  That was hours ago.  

I’m still a little shaken.

Am I the wolf?

Am I?

Thoughts swirl in my head.  The horn is forgotten for the time being, but other things are not.  Memories of acts committed, never to be undone, are mixed with the cacophony of voices that have filled my ears.  

All have sinned—there is not one righteous person—whoever breaks one law is guilty of breaking all—those who live like this will not see God. (Romans 3:23, Ecclesiastes 7:20, James 2:10, Galatians 5:19-21)

There are times—perhaps only for a moment, but often for days—when the memories of what I have been and done haunt my waking hours.  They even stretch my waking hours, leaving me restless in my bed, denying sleep.

Always, finally, the reality of grace hits home.  Always.

Do the voices not speak truthfully, then?  Am I not a sinful man? 

They do.  I am.

I was the wolf.  Was.  And, just like the wolf in Peter’s tale, I deserved death, but found instead life.  

While I was still doing damage to Him, grace was offered.  To an enemy, He offered comfort and safety. (Romans 5:8)

Grace is stronger than the wolf.

I am not who I was.

I’ll play my horn again in the morning. I know I’ll smile as I remember my little friend, mouth agape and eyes opened wide.

No, my dear.  I am not the wolf.

Not anymore.

Grace is stronger.

 

 

 

 Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.
(1 Corinthians 6:11 ~ NASB)

I have many regrets, and I’m sure everyone does. The stupid things you do, you regret if you have any sense, and if you don’t regret them, maybe you’re stupid.
(Katharine Hepburn ~ American actress ~ 1907-2003)

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

Light Shines

They came to take him to Radiology today.  With a gurney.

He slid his legs over the side of his hospital bed and his feet hit the floor.

“No, you stay in bed.  We’ll move you over with the sheet.”  The aide was insistent, almost worried.

The slight man glanced at the two staffers and acquiesced, lying back down and waiting for them to bring the bed to the same level as the gurney.  Then he went quietly with them down into the bowels of the huge hospital, to have his hip X-rayed, while his wife waited for him in his room.

I visited him this evening in his hospital room.  He is unhappy.  Who wouldn’t be?  Two weeks away from home and he is not much better.  At least his disease has a name.  Congestive heart failure.

He is unhappy.

Yet, as he sits, face on his hands, he tells me the story of his visit to the radiology department.  His body shakes as he talks for a minute and then stops to catch his breath.  I wonder if he is so unhappy that he is crying.  Then he gets to the part about the hip X-ray, and I realize that he is laughing.

He tells about his visit with the coronary specialist later this afternoon, in which he asked the doctor about the hip X-ray.

“Hip X-ray?”  The doctor is confused.

The nurse, at his side, is not.  Abruptly, she runs from the room and makes immediate arrangements for the man down the hall, who has been limping strangely, to be taken to Radiology for his hip X-rays.

The man with his face in his hands laughs outright.

“Well, at least I didn’t have to stay all day in this room and be bored.”

With a quip about being glad the trip wasn’t to get a leg amputated, he quiets down again and the reality of his situation intrudes into the room once more.

I think he will laugh again.  There will be other bright spots.
                   

A friend posted a picture online the other day.  The sunset was beautiful, but not all that spectacular.  I wondered what was special about this particular sunset.  It wasn’t until I read the words under the photo that I saw how spectacular it really was.

The hashtagged comment was: #neverhadsunsetsbeforethewildfires. 

A couple of years ago, she and her family lost their home and everything else—all their recorded memories, all their photos, everything—in a wildfire.  They are slowly rebuilding their lives from the ashes.

In the meantime, they are finding the bright spots.  Trees cleared away by fire?  Look for the sun lowering to the horizon in the west.

Light shines through.
                   

You see, the thing about finding yourself in a dark place is this:  You look for the bright spots.

And you find them.

As a child, I remember waking up in a dim bedroom and seeing the sunbeams streaming through the window.  The dingy room was brighter in spots because of them.

But, if you sat and just gazed at the beams shooting their way in from the bright sun, you suddenly noticed something: Little tiny dust motes dancing in the light.  They would twirl and twist, rising and falling with even the tiniest wind current, perhaps the slightest puff of your breath, or even a hand waving several feet away.

It is almost as if even the denizens of the dark room were happy for the sunlight, welcoming it in to chase away the shadows.

In spite of the darkness, we find light.

We laugh in the face of disease.  We rejoice in the aftermath of loss.  We move on from the dark places in which we find ourselves to walk in the light of day.

What’s that?  

You’re still in the dark place?

Perhaps you could come a little nearer to the window.  Even now, the beams are sliding in through the panes to welcome the dancers from the dark.

You don’t want to sit this one out.

 

 

The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.
(John 1:5 ~ NIV)

 

Now God be praised, that to believing souls gives light in darkness, comfort in despair.
(from Henry VI ~ William Shakespeare ~ English playwright ~ 1564-1616)

 

 

 

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

A Great Adventure—Still

I knew he was going to attempt to sell me something before he said a word.  Well, before he said five words.

He shifted his leather valise (my first clue) from one hand to the other, as he reached out for mine.

I’m looking for Mister Phillips.

Why do they call me mister when they want something?  My customers, even the teenagers, call me Paul.  I like that; it feels like we’re on equal footing.

Mister Phillips,  I know you’re a busy man, so I’ll get right to the point. . .

The contents of the valise scattered about on my counter, the fellow began his pitch.  I want it understood that this was not my first time at bat.  When he offered a home run ball, I declined.  I’d rather tap the bunt, thanks.

You see, the man is selling a dead product.  Well—it’s nearly dead.  He wants to sell me an ad for the telephone book.

A telephone book.

Remember when the phone book was the most important source of information available?  For a hundred years, it was an indispensable tool for professionals from every walk of life.

The police department used it as much as the sales community.  Delivery boys needed its information, as did churches and schools.  No home or business would be without the local phone book.

That was true for the better part of a century.

No more.

The Internet has replaced the phone directory.  Databases the likes of which phone-499991_1280would have been incomprehensible to the brains of mid-twentieth-century computer scientists are carried around in our shirt pockets.

Need a number?  Touch one button.

Directions to an address? Watch the screen and listen to the computer-generated voice.

Buy a telephone directory ad?  Not likely!  Well, perhaps a small one.  You never know.  Some of my customers might still be stuck in the twentieth century.

It’s true.  Old habits die hard.  The Baby Boomer generation—of which I am a part—is made up of stubborn folks.  For all the changes we have seen—or even been responsible for—there is a remnant of us who refuse to budge.

All around us, change is happening at the speed of light.  Technology, societal norms, scientific discoveries, even medical treatments—all these and more are almost unrecognizable from two or three decades ago.

For those of us who are reaching that certain age, there is a propensity to simply shrug our shoulders and ignore all change.  We can’t decide which is good and which is bad.  And besides, who can figure out those strange new devices anyway?

I hear my Grandfather’s voice, even as I write.  Grandpa was born in 1902, at the start of a new century.  He watched the flying machines soar through the air.  I can’t believe that his imagination didn’t, at some point in his life, take to the air as well.  Still, you’d never know it to listen to the words.

If God had meant for men to fly, He would have given us wings!

He was an intelligent man.  Not altogether unlike many I know around me today.

They’re the very same ones using phone books.

Oh.  I’ve stepped on some toes here, haven’t I?

I’m not preaching; really, I’m not.  I just know that we need to live in the world our Creator has given us, thriving in the time in which He placed us.

I want to be a steward, faithful to use the tools placed in my hands for the task I’ve been assigned.

The Apostle, intent on fulfilling his own commission, averred that he would become all things to all people if, in doing so, he could win at least some. (1 Corinthians 9:21-22)

I’m not sure the words but I was old will be an acceptable excuse when we reach our eternal home. 

Our Creator has instilled in us a natural curiosity, a desire to learn, that burns in our core from the cradle to the grave.  It is only through our sloth and love of ease that we divest ourselves of the ability to learn new things.

It hurts when I push the strings down.

The lady, a middle-aged grandmother, stood in front of me with the guitar she had purchased only days before.  She was quitting.  It was too hard.

It’s supposed to hurt.  That’s how your fingers get toughened up, so you can play longer.

I could have been more sensitive in my explanation, but she needed the truth.  Learning is hard.  It always has been.

When the learning is complete, then comes the sense of accomplishment, the knowledge that we pushed on through the pain and finished our task.

It’s worth it.

One of my young friends wanted to show me his new skill the other day.  He beckoned me out to the parking lot at the music store and, reaching behind the seat of his pickup truck, drew out a unicycle.

No, not the kind clowns ride in the parades.  This was a powered mobility-513823_1280unicycle.  It did have only one wheel, but there was a powerful motor that drove the wheel while he stood with his feet on either side of it upon small metal platforms.

Zipping around the lot, between cars and then, zig-zagging in and out, around the flower pots on the sidewalk, he simply stood and let the single wheel beneath him carry him wherever he guided it.  I was amazed.  

I wanted to do it.  He looked at this nearly sixty-year-old before him and shook his head adamantly.

No.  I don’t think so.  It took me awhile to get it figured out.  I fell down.  A lot.

As he stood there, I bent down to examine the contraption.  It was battered and bent.  I thought he had told me it was nearly new.  I asked him about the damage.

That’s from all the times I fell down.  Again and again.  I got back on it every time.  Totally worth it.  Totally.

 With that, my young friend stepped back on the death trap (funny how perception changes) and sped around the lot a time or two more before tossing it back in his truck.  Then, waving goodbye to the jealous old man standing in front of his music store, he headed for home.

Did you get that?  Totally worth it, he said.  Every bruise, every skinned knee, even the sprained shoulder.  Worth it.

The Lovely Lady has made it clear that no funds are available for a unicycle, nor will they be—ever.  I get it.

Still, there is so much to do—so much to learn.

What a great adventure our Creator has placed before us!  

You can keep using your phone book if you want.

I’m moving on ahead.

He’s got more.

 

 

Because, this is a very great adventure, and no danger seems to me so great as that of knowing when I get back to Narnia that I left a mystery behind me through fear.
(Reepicheep in Voyage of the Dawn Treader ~ C.S. Lewis ~ 1898-1963)

 

Do you not know that all the runners in a stadium compete, but only one receives the prize? So run to win.
(1 Corinthians 9:24 ~ NET)

 

 

 

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