I Can’t Do This

So, this is the bathroom I’ve been hearing about!

We’ve been remodeling the old house for months now.  Soon, we’ll be living in the Lovely Lady’s childhood home.  Our hard work is beginning to pay off and I think the place is looking pretty nice.

A few folks in the neighborhood have stopped by to see how the work is progressing.  Everyone likes the bathroom.

Strange, isn’t it?  They also like the other rooms we’ve worked on, but the bathroom is the one they exclaim about.

I like the bathroom, too.  It’s turned out very nicely.  All in all, a comfortable space.

I stood in the middle of that room earlier tonight as a neighbor expressed her surprise at how beautiful it is now and I had a moment.  You know.  One of those moments.

The kind of moment when you don’t know whether to laugh or cry.  The realization hit me that we had actually finished it.  There was elation in that moment.

Done!  It’s done.

There was another emotion in play, as well.  I am reluctant to speak of it.

Really, I am reluctant.  I have sat, staring at the monitor for a long time, not sure I can write the words.  But, I think it’s important, so I’ll give it a shot.

Do you know how it feels to stand, faced with a job you know—absolutely know—you are not up to, and yet recognize that you have no choice but to try?

Have you ever simply stood and looked at a task, thinking I can’t do this, for hours?  Seriously.  Hours.

I lay under that house one day, pipe wrench in hand, having once again failed in my task, screaming—Really. Screaming!—at the pipes above, and then at myself, and yes—at God for putting me in that situation.

Again and again, in the course of the work, I was paralyzed by failure and fear—certain I was at the end of my resources.

I was sure I could only fail.  Absolutely and finally.

Two points, I want to make here.  More will come to mind, but I’ll stop at two:

1) When we look only at the problem and refuse to look past it to the solution, we ensure failure.  At least until we can change our focal point.  There is always a solution.  Always.

2) You’re never on your own in solving the problem.  Whether it was guys who wanted to offer advice—marginally better, to my mind, than sitting and staring at the offensive piece while imagining complete and utter failure—or whether it was friends and family who actually could help with the physical work, there was always someone to help bear the burden.

I suppose the reader will understand if I make it clear I am not simply talking about a remodel on a house here.  Sure, that has been my mountain to climb for the last few months, but it’s certainly not the only mountain there is.

Unclimbable, some of those mountains.  A person might be tempted to sit and wonder how in the world God expects us to get over that gargantuan pile of rock and rubble—perhaps, never even attempting the ascent.

Some have suggested the mountain need not be attempted at all.  Well?  Didn’t Jesus teach His disciples they could tell the mountain to be moved from one place to another if they had faith the size of a mustard seed? (Matthew 17:20)

Leaving aside the fact I’m not sure I have that huge a faith (have you seen the size of a mustard seed???), I want to assure you we don’t get to remove the mountains God has put in front of us in that manner.

It’s a funny thing, but when God puts mountains in our way, it is to help us grow in faith.  James says it’s a joy to have our faith tested, because it develops endurance. (James 1:2-4)

I’m not sure I would call it a joy.  These last few months haven’t been a walk in the park.

That said, the mountain cannot—will not—be prayed away.  God put it there for a reason.  There is only one way to the other side.  Over.

Over.

Now, when I look at the result (and, I’m still not only talking about that bathroom), there is joy in knowing what has been accomplished. 

Great joy.

And shame.  For my doubt.  Fading, but still there.

Is the mountain in front of you bigger than you can conquer? Good! Click To Tweet

Is the mountain in front of you bigger than you can conquer?

Good!  You’ll be stronger when you get to the other side.

Stronger.

Wiser.

Ready for the next mountain still ahead.  A mountain you don’t have the strength to conquer.  

Yet.

We’re still traveling.

Headed home.

 

Every mountain top is within reach if you just keep climbing.
(from Kilimanjaro and Beyond ~ Barry Finlay ~ Canadian author)

 

I look up to the mountains—
    does my help come from there?
 My help comes from the Lord,
    who made heaven and earth!

The Lord keeps you from all harm
    and watches over your life.
 The Lord keeps watch over you as you come and go,
    both now and forever.
(Psalm 121: 1-2, 7-8 ~ NLT ~ Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007, 2013, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.)

 

 

 

 

 

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

I Recognize You

“I must be Dorothy.”

I’ll admit it.  We had been ignoring the beautiful little girl.  In the room full of people, every one of us was looking at the window and offering an opinion about the shades being installed.  No one was focused on her in any way.

The sweet little girl sat on the cedar chest and swung her feet—thunk, thunk, thunk—against the sides, waiting for at least one of us to tear our eyes away from the window and speak to her.

It must have been a sore trial for the little tyke.  When one is used to being the center of attention, to be among a crowd of folks and not even be a part of the conversation would be most difficult.  Especially if you’re an almost four-year-old kid.

Then again, I don’t know.

This sixty-year-old man understands how she feels.  Anyone who’s spent time waiting while life goes on apace for others all around knows how the little girl feels.

Lonely isn’t only being by one’s self.  It’s not.

Lonely isn't only being by one's self. It's not. Click To Tweet

Isolation isn’t primarily about walls and distance.

We might even need to remind ourselves once in a while of who we are.  And, who we were.

I must be Dorothy.

Into the dark room of loneliness,  sometimes a shaft of light—a blazing ray of sunshine— sneaks its way through the blinds we have lowered ourselves and illuminates the entire room.

How’s this for light?

He already knows my name! (Isaiah 43:1)

I’ll never have to stand and remind Him, I must be Paul.  He knows.

He knows.

We don’t need to jump up and down, waving to make sure He is aware of our presence.  We have His undivided attention.

But, perhaps it’s time I—we— who have been shown such love and lavish attention should begin to show love and lavish attention to those around us.

Many are lonely in the crowd.  Many sit, kicking their feet, waiting for someone—anyone—to notice them sitting there.

I’ve been in that crowd.  Alone.  Lost.  I will attest to the loneliness and pain.  But, I also remember the approach of a member of the crowd who says, You must be Paul, and then that feeling of relief and belonging spreading to every part of my being.

It is a wondrous gift to be recognized.

It is a wondrous gift to be recognized. Click To Tweet

Who better to notice those who are alone than we who have been noticed when we were alone?  We have been recognized in a crowd.  Why would we not offer that same gift to others who desperately need it?

We are blessed so that we will bless.  It is a reasonable expectation.

I won’t deny it.  We laughed as we heard the words from the little girl’s mouth today.  And then, we paid attention to her.

But the truth is, most folks won’t ever say a word.  They’ll come into our lives and they’ll disappear just as quickly.  And, quietly.  If we let them.

Let’s not let them.

You must be         .  I was hoping you’d be here.

 

 

 

Only the lonely know the way I feel tonight.
(Roy Orbison ~ American singer/songwriter ~ 1936-1988)

 

All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us.
(2 Corinthians 1:3-4 ~ NLT ~ Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007, 2013, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.)

 

 

 

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

Rough Draft

The words are stubborn tonight—uncooperative.  Somehow, I think it may be my own fault.

They—the all-knowing experts who are certain about such things—tell me I must write a first—rough—draft quickly, not stopping to correct misspellings and syntax errors.  They don’t know me very well.

My drafts are never rough for long.  I cannot abide uncorrected errors.  I am barely into my third paragraph and already I have re-read the first two more than once.

As the red-headed lady who raised me would have said, this is like pulling teeth for me.  No, not the painful part of having teeth removed from my mouth.  

Writing a first draft is like the physical ordeal of pulling, of struggling, of wrestling a tooth out of the socket from which it never wanted to be unseated in the first place.

I look again over what I have written and a light bulb snaps on somewhere.  That’s it!  They call it a draft because it’s drawn from the paper (or is it drawn from my mind and heart?), stubborn words and reticent paragraphs, one after the other.

Draft.  The word applies to many things and activities, but all go back to one thought.  A draft is an article drawn out from something else.

A first draft is words on paper drawn from the mind of the author.  A bank draft is something authorizing funds to be drawn from a bank account.  Draft beer is beer drawn from a tap.  The military draft is the act of filling out the ranks by drawing from a pool of civilians.  A cold draft that makes us uncomfortable is frigid air drawn unexpectedly past our location.

The most famous of sales ads played during football games on American television is one for a beer company.  I laugh at the pun, intended or not, every time I see it.  The huge Clydesdale horses are harnessed to the loaded wagon as it spins down pleasant lanes.  They are beautiful beasts, also known as draft horses because they draw a wagon behind them.

Draft horses drawing draft beer.  What could be more clever?

So, I draft the words to the page.  Many seem to have become conscientious objectors, unwilling to be drawn.  The going is slow.  Sometimes—many times—the wrong word shows up to report for duty and has to be thrown back—4F.

But tonight, as I sat staring at that word showing on the side of the page of my computer’s editor—Draft—and considered the difficulty of drawing something from one place to another, the light that flickered on earlier blazed into bright midday glare.

I remember words David wrote in a Psalm.  Words about a God who drew him from a horrible pit—up out of the miry clay—setting his feet on the rock. (Psalm 40:2)

And again, I can’t help it.  The pun, certainly unintended this time, is stuck in my head.

The original Artist, who once drew His greatest masterpiece from the dirt, from the mud, must once more draw us from the mud into which we choose to crawl back. 

The first was an act of creation; the second, an act of love and mercy.

Both times, He drew us. 

From Him.  To Him.

We are His draft.  First. Last.

From Him. To Him. We are His draft. First. Last. Click To Tweet

Never rough, save by our own doing.

Nearly finished.

Another masterpiece.

 

“Child,” said the Lion, “I am telling you your story, not hers.  No one is told any story but their own.”
(from The Horse and His Boy ~ C.S. Lewis)

 

For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.
(Romans 11:36 ~ ESV ~ The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Text Edition: 2016. Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

 

 

 

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

Intervals

I love playing the horn.  Really, I do.

If it sounds as if I’m trying to convince myself, perhaps I am.  Of all the endeavors I have undertaken in my life, playing the horn has been the most mercurial.

By that, I mean to say it has been the most enjoyable and the most frustrating.  I’ve had astounding successes and disastrous failures.  Most days, I love playing with other musicians.  Then again on others, I detest the very thought of it.

Mercurial.

Up.  Down.

Hot.  Cold.

I suppose my attitude toward the activity may be tethered to my commitment to preparation for it.  For some odd reason, when I don’t take the horn out of its protective case and play it between rehearsals, the rehearsals themselves are less than satisfactory.  Often, much less.

The lady is kind if nothing else.  She is.  Standing there on her podium, she has no intention of hurting anyone’s feelings.  All she’s after is music—correct notes, played at the right time, and at the volume indicated in the dynamic marking.

It’s not much to ask.

Still, it requires more than just attempting it in the instant of need. Sometimes, a lot more.

She was frustrated on the last occasion.  The violins may have been a few cents off pitch.  The timpani player might have played that roll too loudly.  The bass voices could have been dragging the beat a little.

None of those was the cause of her frustration.  This time, anyway.  No, it was something else.

The horns had blown their entrance.

Three notes.  That’s all it was.  Three.  Play a G in the middle octave, then a jump to the G in the higher octave, then a little slur down to the F#.  

Except, it didn’t happen.  The first note was nowhere near to a G, nor was the next even close to the octave interval required.  Perhaps, we shouldn’t even talk about the F#.

The exasperation was obvious as she motioned with her baton.  A big circle in the air.  That meant stop.  No.  It meant stop now!  

She needn’t have bothered on my account.  I wasn’t playing any more notes after that flub anyway. 

She looked back at the horn section, the frown on her lips replaced quickly with a smile.  If not one of confidence, it was at least one of hope.

You’re going to get that.  I’m sure you will.  Next time.

She didn’t insist we play it again in front of all the other musicians.  She didn’t berate us for our second-rate performance.  She extended mercy.

Mercy and grace.  

A second chance.

An interval in which to work on our interval, you might say.

A wise man would spend the time judiciously, these minutes—and hours—and days—in that interval of grace. 

I wonder if I fall into that category.  I suppose time will tell.

But if you know me, you know I wonder about other things, as well.  It’s impossible for me to consider that little ragtag group of musicians we like to call a chamber orchestra and not get a glimpse in my mind of this great, huge symphony in which all of us are participants.

Every single one of us plays a part.  The phrase fits the subject perfectly—not by my design—but because it is true that all of us understand we play, at least in some capacity, a part of the music of life.

Everyone plays a part in the great symphony of mankind. Our Conductor has high expectations. Click To Tweet

Even with the high expectations, we’ll all play a clinker at some point.  Our Conductor understands.

He does.

He once played in the symphony, too.  Is it too much to believe He’d be sympathetic with our weaknesses?  (Hebrews 4:15)

He hasn’t forgotten the music; hasn’t lost the rhythm of creation.  And, He knows how difficult it is to play those intervals sometimes.

Grace.  Mercy.

Intervals.

I wonder.  This might be one of those other intervals.

Maybe, we should use the time wisely. (Ephesians 5:15-16)

The Day is approaching—the day when the baton in our Conductor’s hand sweeps toward that down beat.

I’m not going to miss this interval.

 

 

In theory, there is no difference between practice and theory.  In practice, there is.
(Yogi Berra ~American baseball player/manager ~ 1925-2015)

 

This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin. So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most.
(Hebrews 4:15, 16 ~ NLTHoly Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007, 2013, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.)

 

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

Basking

A year ago, life took a turn.  Let’s just say it was a turn I didn’t want to make and leave it at that.

A year.  

A wise man I know sent me a poem early on in that year.  Something about being called aside.  I didn’t want to be called aside.

We closed our business—and waited.  We worked in a yard—and waited.  We emptied a house—and waited.  We watched our bank account empty—and waited.

Many would say it’s been a hard year.  If you pressed me, I might agree—for a few seconds.

Earlier this week, when a hint of good news arrived, a friend called it a blessing from God.

He’s not wrong.

Good news—hope for the future—is a blessing from God.  It is.

Still, I wonder.  Why do we assume only the things we want and desire and then receive from the hand of God are the blessings?

Why not the yard work?  Why not closing down the business?  Why not the filthy, heavy labor?

Why not the waiting itself?  Couldn’t that be God’s blessing?

I’m not going to argue theology; I won’t break any new ground here.  Still, there is one thing I need to say.  Well, one thing before I say other things. 

God gives good gifts to His children. (Matthew 7:11)

Always.

Good gifts aren’t defined as wealth or power, or the good life.

The Teacher sat down on the mountain one day and began with a list of blessings.  It is a famous list. Most who are seeking blessings don’t seem to want to consider it in their search.  Matthew 5 has the complete list.

At the top of the list?  Those who are broken, helpless, and destitute in spiritual resources.  Knowing we bring nothing of our own, we are blessed.

The blessing of God is Himself.  Himself.

The blessing of God is Himself. Himself. Click To Tweet

Everything else is peripheral.  Anything more is simply icing on the cake.

He blesses in the waiting.  He blesses as we labor and as we pray.  He blesses as we walk in faith—painfully placing one foot in front of the other.

And, when He answers our prayers, the blessing is no more spectacular than when we walked with Him in the dark.

When He answers, the blessing is no more spectacular than when we walked with Him in the dark. Click To Tweet

I would be lying if I told you it’s not good to see the hint of dawn on the horizon.  But, in the dark I knew He was there.  

I basked in His presence in the dark.

The morning will be no different.

You see, God is good.

Always, He is good.

Bask.

 

Here sat Marilla Cuthbert, when she sat at all, slightly distrustful of sunshine, which seemed to her too dancing and irresponsible a thing for a world which was meant to be taken seriously…
(from Anne of Green Gables ~ L.M. Montgomery ~ Canadian author ~ 1874-1942)

 

 

Thou art giving and forgiving, 
     ever blessing, ever blest, 
Well-spring of the joy of living, 
     ocean depth of happy rest! 
Thou our Father, Christ our brother, 
     all who live in love are thine; 
Teach us how to love each other, 
     lift us to the joy divine.
(from Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee ~ Henry Van Dyke ~ American author/poet ~ 1852-1933)

 

 

 

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

Is Grandpa Crying?

I stood silently for a moment, looking at the young man kneeling on the floor.  I needed time to let my bruised ego heal.

I know.  It’s a pretty fragile ego that can’t stand up to a boy’s question, but there it was.

He had asked the question several times.  That could have been it.

No.  It was just the idea that I wasn’t enough.  I wanted to be enough.

But, I’m getting ahead of myself, aren’t I?  Let’s see if we can sort this out.

The lad’s father had dropped him off earlier, telling me he’d be happy to pick him up if there was any trouble.  I didn’t expect any and told the young man’s father so.

He is my grandson, after all.  Grandpas and their grandsons can do a job together without falling out, can’t they?

I wonder if the last time had anything to do with his offer.  It was a month or more ago.

I have this vision of a man on his knees in the kitchen struggling with the tile he is laying down.  The old guy is clearly an amateur, unsure of his next move, but determined to make one anyway.

Oblivious to his grandfather’s quandary, the fair-haired boy at his side has a tape measure in his hand and is talking a mile a minute.

“Look, Grandpa!  Six inches!  Is that long enough?  Hey, what does that rubber roller do? What are you going to do now?  Can I help you cut the next piece?  Do you think I could pound on it with that hammer thingy like you did? Are you ever going to finish this job?”

I don’t remember what happened next.  Well, in truth, I don’t want to remember it, so we’ll just say I’m ashamed and move on, okay?

That memory, or lack thereof, is the reason I invited the boy back for another shot at laying vinyl tile—in the bathroom this time.  I reasoned that I was now a pro at the task, having successfully (mostly) completed the original job in the kitchen.

I wanted another chance at being a better Grandpa as much as I wanted him to have another chance at laying the flooring with me.

What could go wrong?

We were using the left-over material from the kitchen job.  We had enough to cover the bathroom floor with nothing to spare. 

We couldn’t make a mistake.  Not one.

The first cut I made was on the wrong end of the directional vinyl.  The very first cut.

I did the only thing I could do.

I yelled for the Lovely Lady.

The boy’s grandma quickly came in from the front bedroom where she had been painting the walls.  I showed her my error and enlisted her puzzle-solving skills to help us determine where we could work in the pieces I had cut wrong.

I think it may have gotten us off on the wrong foot.  Every time after that, when we came to a moment of indecision or panic (on my part—not his), the young man looked up and asked if I wanted him to go get Grandma.

Well?  Every kid knows if Grandma can’t fix it, it can’t be fixed.

It’s only logical.  Grandma fixes boo-boos with Wonder Woman bandages.  She can thread a needle in three seconds.  She can make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich like nobody else.  She knows just when to get out the chocolate chip cookies.  She mends the ripped dollies. 

Grandma can fix it.

I get it.  Still, it hurt.  After the third time he asked the question, I stood for a moment considering.  I didn’t want a repeat of the event we’re not talking about, so I took my time.

Finally, in a calm, unhurried manner, I told him the only time he’d need to call Grandma for help on this job was if Grandpa was crying.

I had no intention of crying.

The handsome young lad gazed at my face, a smile playing around his mouth.  He wasn’t sure whether to laugh or simply to nod seriously and wait for my next move.

He didn’t suggest we call Grandma again.  Grandpa never cried.  Well, there was that time the trim board fell on my head, but I suppose rubbing your skull and yelling Ow! isn’t crying, is it?

Nobody cried.  This time.  But, I’ve been doing some thinking.  

Why are we experienced humans (old people) so slow to ask for help? 

Our kids have no such reticence.  Yet we, in our great wisdom (or ignorance) keep muddling through, making mistake after mistake, swinging the hammer thingy when we ought to be operating the roller, smashing thumbs and sucking the blood.

All we need to do is call. Aid is ours, simply for the asking. Click To Tweet

The writer of the Psalms knew it.  The reason I call on you is that I know You will answer me.  Listen now, and hear my request. (Psalm 17:6)  

And, it is a fact that even David wept before God as he prayed.  But, most of the time he asked long before that.  Long before.

Why does somebody have to cry before we will accept help?

I said earlier I wanted to be enough in my grandson’s eyes.  It is the desire all of us have.  I read over and over these days, in the self-help, self-image propaganda that we need to know we are enough.

I don’t want to offend, but it’s a lie.

I am not enough.  I never have been.  On my own, I stumble along in the dark, feeling my way and frequently, falling apart.

I am not enough, but He is.  Again and again, He is enough.

I am not enough, but He is. Again and again, He is enough. Click To Tweet

More than enough.

I can’t tell you if we need to call Grandma.

I do know that before the trouble starts, prayer works.

In the hardest days of our lives, God is there.

When the tears fall, He is enough.

And, He doesn’t need second chances to be a good Father.

But, I’m kind of glad He gives second chances for this old man to be a good Grandpa.

I need lots of practice.

                              

If nothing is going well, call your grandmother.
(Old Italian proverb)

 

So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask him.
(Matthew 7:11 ~ NLT ~ Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

 

 

 

 

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

Sugar Is Good For You

It was just an overheard conversation.  

Funny, how a few words directed at someone else can change the tenor of the day.  A thought, tucked away in a vacant corner of the brain and carried through the afternoon unnoticed, gives a different perspective which can’t really be explained. 

The earlier parts of the day hadn’t worked out at all as I had planned.  

A trip into the attic to correct a simple problem had turned into three trips into the attic.  I had planned to be up there only during the coolest hours of the morning.  

When I finally tumbled out at noon, drenched in sweat and nearly choking on the dust from the rock wool insulation, the mood was set for the rest of the day.

That’s the way it seems to go, isn’t it?  I’m not saying it has to; it’s just what we expect after a morning filled with disappointment.

I was gloomily mowing in the hot afternoon sun when my labor was interrupted by a message from the Lovely Lady.

He says we should come over now if we want it.

She had found a cabinet she wanted that someone in a town thirty miles away was selling.  Did I mention it’s the weekend for one of the biggest motorcycle gatherings in the country?  

The busiest weekend of the year as far as traffic goes, and we were going to be on the highway.

Great!  Just great!

I told you it would only get worse.  You just watch!  We’ll get behind a bunch of those bikers out cruising and will be stuck for miles.  Miles!

We stopped at the ATM to get some cash for the purchase.  The machine only gives cash in twenty dollar increments.  We would have to stop and break the bill to have the amount of the asking price.

Frustrated and ready to do something desperate, I suggested we just buy a couple of Cokes.  It was, I suppose, my way of making a statement of protest while demonstrating my problem-solving abilities.

I do like to solve problems.

Well?  It’s in my nature.  I am a man, you know.  This fit perfectly.  I could break my self-imposed no-sugar rule while getting the correct change into my pocket.  

It was a rotten day already.  Why not just wallow in it?

Someone had different plans.  I would like to say it was to show me that sugar is good for me.  That’s probably not it.

Inside the convenience store, I walked back to the cooler and picked out a couple of twenty-ounce bottles, carrying them back to the counter.  The two ladies behind it were just talking. With each other.

I wasn’t included in the conversation.  Except, I was.  

I was intended to hear every word.  I’m certain of it.

“We were listening to the news last weekend and they reported that the boy with autism was missing.”  

I set my items on the counter and she scanned them without missing a beat.

“My little boy wanted to pray for him to be found, so we did—right then.  That’ll be three dollars and sixty-three cents, please.  The next morning we heard he had been found.  My son was so excited!  So excited!”

I pocketed my change and walked out the door, a different person than I had been when I walked in.

It took us almost two hours to go over, pick up the cabinet, and come back.  And, just as I had predicted, we did get behind a group of touring bikers on the way back.  They rode about forty-five miles per hour on the winding two-lane road all the way home.

What a great afternoon!   No.  What a perfect afternoon!

There might still be some who would credit the sugar-high from the Cokes.  They’d be wrong.

The apostle who loved to write letters said it this way as he closed his missive to the good folk at Philippi: Whatever is great news and worth talking about, that’s what you need to keep in your mind. (Philippians 4:8)

He wasn’t talking about the power of positive thinking.  He never said you could name it and claim it.

The reality is this world is an unhappy place.  We wrestle with things we don’t understand.

When we dwell on those things, we are overwhelmed.  

Overwhelmed with fear.  

Beaten by pessimism.  

Conquered by worry.

But, I’m sure of this one thing:  The truth we know is bigger than the doubt we feel.  

The truth we know is bigger than the doubt we feel. Click To Tweet

When we fill up the corners of our mind with the reminders of His love and power, His peace reigns.

Sometimes, it’s no more than the knowledge that He cares about little boys who pray, as well as the little boys who wander away. 

Just in time, I stood at that counter to overhear, eavesdropping on a conversation I wasn’t part of.

I’m saving up those worthwhile stories, squirreling them away in the vacant corners of my memory.

It may be time to sweep out some other cluttered nooks and crevices to make room for more.  

It has become so easy to collect darkness and gloom from almost every source we see.  Our lives will be swept away in those currents if we allow them to take root.

Courage to walk on is born in the corners where excellence is stored.

Courage to walk on is born in the corners where excellence is stored. Click To Tweet

Peace along the road is the product of true and honorable thoughts. 

I do wish it had more to do with the sugar.

I’m fixing my mind.

                             

 

Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.
(Romans 12:2 ~ NLTHoly Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. All rights reserved.)

 

Suppose we have only dreamed, or made up all those things – trees and grass and sun and moon and stars and Aslan himself. Suppose we have. Then all I can say is that, in that case, the made-up things seem a good deal more important than the real ones.
(from The Silver Chair ~ C.S. Lewis ~ English novelist/theologian ~ 1898-1963)

 

 

 

 

 

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

What if my Best Isn’t?

Don’t you know that’s a youth song?  You sang it like an old hymn!

The silver-haired lady didn’t actually shake her finger in my face, but I had a vision of it being waggled there.

I almost laughed.  It was an old hymn.  To me, it was.  Why—right there on the page, beside the author’s name, it told when he wrote it.  1902.  

Really. 1902

It was an old song.  For old people.

Then I read the words again.  And again.

Give of your best to the master.
Give of the strength of your youth.

I apologized to the dear saint.  The next time I led it, with the Lovely Lady accompanying me, we sang the song with a tad more pep, and just a little more vigor.

I learned a lesson that day.  It’s profound.  You’ll want to save this.

Old people were young once.

Most of them still remember it.  Some, vividly.

I know young Timothy’s instructor didn’t mean for me to take it this way, but I can’t help but think it.

Let no man despise your youth.  (1 Timothy 4:12)

It is disrespectful to the aging and elderly for us to disregard the experiences they had as young folks.  The things that shaped the adults they would become haven’t diminished in importance in all the ensuing years.

It is a youth song.  Written in 1902.

I dare not speed on past without revisiting the words our old friend, my namesake, had to say to his youthful protegé, though.

Don’t let anyone think less of you because you are young. (1 Timothy 4:12

I wonder how many times a day I hear—or read—disparaging words directed at the younger generation.  The generalizations are rampant, the vitriol nearly universal.

All coming from old folks.  Okay, aging folks.  People who once were young themselves.  People who can’t stand to have the days of their own youth ridiculed.

I’ve done it myself.  

These kids today. . .

I repent.
                              

A young friend sent me an invitation a few weeks ago.  The local university, as it has for a number of years, was sponsoring an evening dedicated to promoting writing and the arts in a faith-based environment.

I glanced at the two guests who were on the schedule.  A comic-book illustrator and a spoken-word artist.

Lightweights!  This is what passes for writing and art?  Pass.

I repent.  Did I say that already?  It doesn’t matter.  I may do so again.

The Lovely Lady encouraged me to go.  Friends were going to be there.  There was ice cream.

I went.  Don’t tell the friends, but the ice cream is what tipped the scales (no pun intended).

May I tell you what happened?  

Surrounded by young folks who could be my grandchildren, I saw respect.  They were attentive.  They were appreciative.

My eyes were opened.  Well, when they weren’t filled with tears, they were opened.  The tears were a surprise.

I detest spoken-word poetry.  All angst and anger and foul language, it falls somewhere on a scale with rap music, without the music.

I thought.

The young man, in his jeans and untucked shirt, skull-cap pulled over his head tightly, looked for all the world like a street punk to this old man’s eyes.

I sat back, arms folded across my chest, and dared him to move me.

I dared him.

He moved me.  

No.  That’s not right.

The Spirit moved me.

It was all I could do, when the young poet, arms windmilling above his head and waggling in front of his face and hanging down at his side, spoke the names of Jesus—it was all I could do—not to jump up and shout like a Pentecostal in a Holy Ghost revival.

And, I’ve never been to a Pentecostal Holy Ghost revival.

I looked down and I was sitting on my hands with my legs to keep them still, the tears streaming down my face.

There is a power that comes, not from experience, nor from age, nor from practice, but from the Word.  From the mouths of babes, through the writings of old men, by the witness of all who are His, He speaks.

From mouths of babes, writings of old men, & witness of all His own, He speaks. Click To Tweet

Disregarding our differences, ignoring our preferences, and brushing aside our objections, He will be heard.

Disregarding differences, ignoring preferences, brushing aside objections, He will be heard. Click To Tweet

I wonder if it’s time for us to realize that our Creator uses—He always has—the methods He thinks best to ensure an audience for His words.

I wonder if it’s time for us—young and old—to close our mouths about those methods we don’t especially like.  

I haven’t always given of my best for Him.  Sadly, I may have left it a bit late to give of the best of my youth.

I’m grateful that all the young folks aren’t waiting around until their golden years to work on it seriously. 

Still, I have begun to look at youth a little differently.  I wrote recently about that great cloud of witnesses the writer of the book of Hebrews in the New Testament describes.  I realized that these men and women are my peers.  

Really.  Moses, Abraham, Rahab, Sarah, and all the others—all of them, my peers.  Yours, too.  

We’ll join them one day, to live without any time limit there. 

If we’re to live forever, and I believe we will, we’ve only lived a minuscule percentage of all the days we have ahead of us.

I’m still young.

There’s still time.

I’ll give it my best.

                              

I invite you to watch the video linked below.  Powerful words—from the heart of the poet and directly from God’s Word.

 

When we’ve been there ten thousand years,
     Bright shining as the sun,
We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise
     Than when we’d first begun.
(from Amazing Grace ~ English clergyman ~ 1725-1807)

 

 

 

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

Changing the Future

Our past meets our future in this place we call the present.

The words, I wrote a few years ago.  They still rattle me every time I re-read them.

Well?  Why wouldn’t they?  The concept is enough to mess with anyone’s brain.  Momentarily, at least.

We like to keep things in boxes.  Neat.  Logical.  With labels to identify the contents.

Some of us are more interested in keeping things in boxes than others.  I freely admit it.

“Go to the store with me, will you?”

The Lovely Lady stood at the door, notebook in hand and ready to buy groceries for the week.  I, wise husband that I’ve become in nearly forty years of practice, quickly agreed.  Cheerfully.

There is a hierarchy at the grocery store.  It’s not complicated.  She puts things in the cart and marks them off her list. 

I push the cart.  That’s it—just push the cart.

Oh, wait.  There is one other thing I do.

I sort the items in the cart.

Don’t make that face!  You’re rolling your eyes too, aren’t you?

That’s just what she does when I start sorting.  Well—it’s what she used to do when I started.  She’s come to expect it now.

If there were boxes in the cart, I’d use them.  There aren’t, so imaginary quadrants must suffice.

Fresh veggies go at the back of the cart, heaviest on the bottom (potatoes will smash bananas).  The Lovely Lady wants to keep me around (for sorting things, I suppose) as long as possible, so there are more fresh veggies than anything else.

From there, logic rules.  Canned goods go in one section, boxed in another.  All the refrigerated items stay together.  It keeps them colder; I’m sure it does.

Fragile items, such as chips (not nearly as many of these as there should be) and eggs, go in the flip down compartment that once served to corral our children.

It’s a good system.  I like it.

The problem comes when we get to the checkout counter.  I am careful—fanatical, some might say—about keeping the items in the same quadrants as they progress to the checker.  What would they think of me if I sent the milk down the conveyor belt beside the flour?

And, now we come to it.  The fly in the ointment, so to speak.  The bee in my bonnet, if you will.

The checker, somehow oblivious—utterly—to my care and prudence, callously snatches each item from the belt, swiping it past the scanner and tosses it, willy-nilly, into the empty, waiting cart beside her station.

Boxes are jumbled at angles with cans. Potatoes smother celery and toilet paper.  The milk, heavy enough to be placed on the bottom of the cart instead of tossed, is at the front of the conveyance while the meat is at the back, both warming much too fast for my overloaded sense of order.

Maybe we should move on.  Shall we?

Our past meets our future in this place we call the present.

Past meets future in this place called the present. Click To Tweet

I’m not obsessive-compulsive about everything in life.  Still, I have, for many years, considered what I would like to see when I look back over my life on that last day.  To that end, I have attempted to keep a semblance of order in how I have lived.

What was it Mr. Shakespeare said?  What’s past is prologue was the phrase, I believe.  The meaning is clear.

What we have done in the past leads us, without fail, into the future.  The nano-second of the present, a mere blink of the eye, will forever affect what is to come.

My trip through the grocery is the past.  Plans, all laid carefully, were executed flawlessly.

All it took was just seconds—an instant in which I lost control—and the present had altered the future catastrophically.

Hmmm.  I think perhaps—for this example anyway—one could call that hyperbole.  

Regardless, the point is clear enough, is it not?

There’s an old maxim, not quite in line with Scripture, but still it comes to mind.  It says the road to hell is paved with good intentions.  

I think, if the road to hell is paved with them, the road to heaven is, at least, littered with them.  

We know what the road to heaven is paved with; it’s paved with the grace of our loving Savior.

It is specifically because of His great love for us that I want to be able to look back and know I have journeyed in a faithful way, leaving a clear record for those who walk the way after me.

But, in the most crucial moments, it all gets jumbled and messed up in a colossal manner.

My past is introduced to my future with moments I am ashamed of.  Again and again.

Surrounded by that great cloud of witnesses (Hebrews 12:1), I’m chagrined.  Mortified.

I’m a failure.

But then, I look into those faces, the witnesses I mean.  For one or two who are named, there is no record of failure.  The rest of them? Failures, every one!

Every one.

Failures who fell flat on their faces.  Liars, con men, drunks, womanizers, bad parents, murderers even.

But, they got up (or were picked up).  They took the next step.  And the next one.

I can do that.  I’m still breathing.  

I think it’s time to be walking again.

That way.  Following His lead.

The future is still waiting.  

I can’t change the past.

The next moment will be the present.

Here it comes.

Ready?

 

Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.
(Sir Winston Churchill ~ British Prime Minister ~ 1974-1965)

 

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us.
(Hebrews 12:1 ~ NLTHoly Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. All rights reserved.)

 

 

 

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

Live Boldly

I’m not sure when it stopped mattering to me.  At some point in the last forty years, things changed drastically.

I don’t care what they think anymore.

But, I’m getting ahead of myself, aren’t I?  Perhaps, a little explanation will aid in unravelling my boast.

It was during the last semester of the school year.  The beloved director of the student orchestra, which graciously allows me to participate—I think, just to have the part covered—had handed out a new music piece.

We sight-read the piece.  Sight-reading is the act of playing a piece of music through without having ever rehearsed—or even seen—it before.

I didn’t realize it was true of my playing, but it must have been.  After the rehearsal session was over, as we were putting away our instruments, one of the students mentioned that he had heard my solo line clearly.

I don’t know how you dare do that—play it loud enough for everyone else to hear.  And, on the first run-through, too!

I thought a minute before replying.

There’s no one here I’m afraid of.  Why not play it out? 

It hasn’t always been the case.  My old horn teacher hammered the thought into my head.  I’ve written the words before.

If you’re going to make a mistake, make it loud enough for me to hear!

The last time I wrote the phrase, someone responded with Martin Luther’s words, paraphrased a bit.

Sin boldly.

I cringe a little at the words.  I don’t want to encourage anyone to live a life of debauchery, claiming the grace of God as their get-out-of-jail-free card.  That’s not the way it works.

But, Mr. Luther knew and understood our lifelong tug of war with self and sin.  He affirmed the grace of God to be more than adequate to the task of cleansing us from all sin.

Still.  I will say it again.  Play it out!  Speak with authority! Belt out the tune!

I’ve not always followed that advice.  For many years, what I wanted was to be loud enough that everyone would hear the good and compliment me for it, but soft enough that not one listener could detect the rotten inconsistencies that were bound to turn up sooner or later.

What changed?

What changed was the realization that there was nobody—either in the ensemble or in the audience—I was afraid of.  There is nothing they can do to hurt me.

I’m just sorry it took me so many years to realize it.

All those wasted years spent sliding around wrong notes and playing out of tune—meekly and quietly—when I could have been making a difference.

Bold and certain of my sanction, I could have been a voice that made a difference, sounding with clarity and purpose.

Hmmm.  I think we’re not just talking about playing in the orchestra anymore, are we?

And the Teacher told His disciples that they had been practicing in the dark and behind closed doors at low volumes for long enough.  All that was about to change.

What you’ve been playing at the pianissimo level behind closed doors and in the dark will soon be played out in the town square at fortissimo.  You’re afraid of the wrong people!  Don’t fear them.  Fear God. (Luke 12:3,4)

I’ll admit, I’ve taken a little liberty with the context.  To my knowledge, that little band of men has no record of having played musical instruments, even though they did sing a time or two.

Still, the meaning is the same.  Very nearly.  

Don’t be afraid to be heard.  Be loud!  Be bold!

But, maybe you don’t play a musical instrument.  Perhaps you simply answer a telephone.  Or clean floors.  Or write code. Or sell flowers.

Whatever you do, you can do it with boldness.  You’re not doing it for anyone who has the power to harm you.

We perform for the One who has made it clear, unequivocally and emphatically that He will not allow us to be harmed.  Under His direction, we find safety.  (Psalm 46:1)

Does that imply that no one will laugh at us?  Is it a promise of physical protection, that we will lead charmed lives?

You know the answer.  Damage to the body is not damage to the soul.

He holds our souls in the palm of His hand.  It is the only safe place—the only one.

So, we speak boldly.  We act courageously.  We love audaciously.

Speak boldly. Act courageously. Love audaciously. Click To Tweet

There’s nothing to hurt us here.

There's nothing to hurt us here. We're held firmly in His grip. Click To Tweet

Held firmly in His grip, we live life out loud.

Fortissimo.

ff!

 

Live well.  Sing out, sing loud, and sing often.  And God bless the child that’s got a song.
(Nanci Griffith ~ American singer/songwriter)

 

The wicked run away when no one is chasing them,
    but the godly are as bold as lions.
(Proverbs 28:1 ~ NLTHoly Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation.  All rights reserved.)

 

 

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