Not Going Back

She was so kind to write the note.  She gets it.  I’m always happy when I know folks really pay attention to what I’ve written.

The problem is, I think she may have come to the wrong conclusion.  It’s not her fault.

I wrote about Joseph and his unhappiness in Egypt, expressing my hope that at some point before my demise, I can learn to respond to new situations appropriately.

Her note complimented the article and then, with only three words, sent shivers down my back.

Welcome to Egypt.

My brain has been working on that statement all day.  Twenty miles, I rode my bicycle with a friend, and, in spite of good conversation as we rode, the question occupied my thoughts.

Am I in Egypt?  

Later, I mowed and trimmed my entire yard and, with only a moments rest, as I groused at the black lab who thought it appropriate to lick my face when I bent down (defenseless) to attend to an untied shoe, my poor brain labored with its problem nearly as hard as my body did with the obvious task at hand.

But by now, well past bedtime for most normal folks, I’m certain I have the answer.  Positive.

I’m not in Egypt.

I’m not.

Do you know that months before I was moved—against my will (and not quietly)—out of the my previous situation, I knew God had other plans for me?  I did.  Absolutely knew it.

I wrote about it, several times.

Crossing bridges. (Another Bridge, March 29, 2016) 

Doing a new thing. (New Things, February 29, 2016)

You may read about it for yourself.  It’s all there in the archives.

Oh, the arrogance.

I knew it.  I just wasn’t having any of it. 

Sometimes, our Creator has a way of moving us, when we’ve decided the place we are is just fine, thank you.

It’s sort of like the Children of Israel in the book of Exodus, when they thought they might like to stay in slavery.  You know, because it wasn’t all that bad.  

All their memories were of Egypt.  Not one of them had ever set foot in the Promised Land.

They would move, though.  When they were moved—against their will (and not quietly)—out of Egypt.

Out of Egypt.

If anything I’ve written over the last few months has led you to believe that I’m disappointed with where I am, I want to apologize.

It’s just that where I was was comfortable.  And safe.

And just like the complainers in the desert (and even like Lot’s wife before them) I’m looking before me at this unfamiliar and dangerous landscape over the bridge which has just been crossed, and yet, I’m still gazing back at the comfortable and safe place I’ve just vacated.  

I’ve stayed here too long—looking back.

Even now, He’s making paths in the wilderness ahead.

Even now, He’s making paths in the wilderness ahead. Click To Tweet

He’s filling the rivers in the dry wasteland before me with water.

Cool, clear water.

I don’t want to go back to Egypt.

Home lies ahead, not behind.

I’m going forward.

So thank you, my old friend, for the welcome.  But, I’ll pass.  I’m going the other direction.

Out of Egypt.

Going home.

 

 

The desert shatters the soul’s arrogance and leaves body and soul crying out in thirst and hunger. In the desert we trust God or die.
(Dan B Allender ~ American Christian therapist)

 

For I am about to do something new.
    See, I have already begun! Do you not see it?
I will make a pathway through the wilderness.
    I will create rivers in the dry wasteland.
(Isaiah 43:19 ~ NLT)
(Holy 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.

Drowning Fish

This is not what I was made to do.

I have said the words more times in the last weeks than ever before.  One might almost think I’m unhappy.

One would be right.  Some of the time.

I’m a communicator.  A people person.  I use words.  It’s how I survived in the retail market for nearly forty years.

That was then.

Today, I hung a kitchen cabinet door.  Three times.  The same one—three times.

I’m not good with cabinet doors.  Or sheetrock.  Or wall trim.

The red-headed woman who raised me had an apt simile for such a situation.  She usually did.

He’s like a fish out of water.

It’s nothing to joke about.  A fish out of water is terminal.  It will die.

I don’t think I will die from my attempts at home remodeling.  If you could be a spider in the corner though, you’d think someone was dying.

My griping and grousing are vocal and vehement.  I call myself names.  I call the materials I’m working with names.

I even bring God into the conversation, accusing Him and questioning His wisdom in trusting me with this task.

It does feel as if I’m drowning and can’t get enough air.  With sweat running down my back and face, I do the task once, twice, and a third time—all with the same result.

Do you ever feel as if you're drowning and can't get enough air? Click To Tweet

Drowning.  In frustration—and impatience.  But, mostly in self-pity.

And yet. . .

And yet, I am not a man drowning in water deep, nor a fish tossed up on the river bank to flop until, gasping for the water rushing through my gills from which to draw the filtered oxygen my body demands, I finally lie still forever.

I am not drowning.  I am in an uncomfortable situation—one in which I’ve never found myself before.

But, it’s not the first time.

And, I’m not the only one.

The King of Creation sometimes lets us know we’ve become too comfortable, too complacent.

It’s a good thing.

I keep telling myself that.  It’s a good thing.

I wish I could have remembered it earlier today.

I wonder if Joseph, he of the many-hued robe, was any better, day-to-day, in remembering that God only wanted good for him.

I imagine he wasn’t—day after tedious day.

I want him not to have been any better.  It would make me feel less guilty, anyway.

I want Joseph to have muttered under his breath when he was forced to be a house slave in Egypt. I want him to have defended himself, at least in a whisper, when accused of acts he would never have committed. I want him to have screamed at God as he sat, forgotten and betrayed in that horrible dungeon.

It would be easier to look at my own face in the mirror if those things were true.  At least, it seems so to me tonight.

But then, griping and muttering past, I want, like Joseph, to understand God had a plan all along.

I also want—in the end—to have made the right choices, even when it felt as if those very decisions were what was making life an unfamiliar maze, one in which there was so little air that it felt suffocation was seconds away.

And, gasping for air, I finally want to trust a God I cannot see with the things I hold in my hands and the future I can just make out in the distance ahead.

I will go back tomorrow and take that cabinet door back down, only to put it back up again.

I will hear, over the dissenting voices in my head, the quiet tones of my father, quoting those familiar words from the heart of Jeremiah, the crying man.

I know the plans I’ve made for you, says your Creator.  They are for great good—for your benefit and not for your harm.  There is hope.  There is a future to which you should look with anticipation.  (Jeremiah 29:11)

And, whether Joseph did or not, I will probably yell some more.  I may even shout at God in my frustration and anger.

He can take it.

He knows (and remembers clearly) how we were formed.  He knows that we came from dirt.  (Psalm 103:14)

And still, He seeks to shape us into something better, something more refined.

And still, He seeks to shape us into something better. Click To Tweet

While we gasp for breath in a new environment, He is breathing new life into us.

It’s time to do the new thing He has put in front of me.

Perhaps, there is more for me to do.

Breathe deep.

Keep moving.

The future lies just ahead.

 

 

 

They did what soldiers always did.  They improvised.
(Geoffrey Norman ~ American writer/editor)

 

Alive without breath;
as cold as death;
never thirsting, ever drinking;
clad in mail, never clinking.
Drowns on dry land,
thinks an island
is a mountain;
thinks a fountain
is a puff of air.
(from The Hobbit ~ J.R.R. Tolkien ~ Ballantine Books, New York. Copyright 1937, 1938, 1966.)

 

 

 

 

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

No Good Deed

I never saw the cat.

Its teeth, now—those, I felt.  They were sunk into my calf, just above the ankle.  For about half a second before the pain registered, I remember hearing the sound of an angry (or was it terrified?) mama of the feline species.

It wasn’t enough warning.  

There was going to be blood.  I just knew it.

No good deed goes unpunished.

The adage has been in popular usage for a number of years now.  I find myself saying it now and then, not as absolute fact, but simply to explain the unhappy events which seem to occur even as I happen to be on my best behavior. 

I was helping move a dresser out of my daughter’s house.  Her husband and I had carried the unwieldy thing down a flight of stairs and wound our way through the dining room and then the living room.

I walked backward the entire time.  I don’t really mind going backward if the end result is to make progress in a positive direction.

The problem with walking backward is that one is dependent on other folk to sound a warning if you are about to do something foolish—like step on the sweet little mama cat who is rushing to get out of the way of that monster piece of furniture and the two humans on either end of it.

I was simply trying to be helpful.  It didn’t stop the sharp little teeth of the frightened feline from piercing my skin.

No good deed. . .

It’s not true, you know.

The cat bite was not payment for my good deed.  It was nothing more than a natural event.  I stepped on the cat’s foot and it did the only thing it knew to do.

It wasn’t her fault.  Nor mine.

I have heard the discussion innumerable times.  God is testing me. 

Possibly.  Possibly not.

There are passages in the Word which speak of that process.  I may be forgetting some, but it seems that, overall, God uses the tests which come along, but doesn’t necessarily cause them.

I especially like the words we find in the book of James.  They state the case simply.  More importantly, they give me hope.  

Really.  Hope.

I used to be discouraged because I have never thought it a joyful occasion when I was in dire straits.  I felt guilty and somewhat like a failure.

The reality is we’re told to consider it an opportunity for great joy.  The joy comes in persevering.  It comes in standing firm and then making our way out on the other side of the trial.  The finished product will be just that—finished and complete.  (James 1:2-4)

Joy comes with the finished product! Click To Tweet

Joy comes with the finished product!  But, here’s the thing:  We have to stick with doing the good things that have been put before us.

He will use the testing to make us into the men and women He wants us to be.

But, in the midst of disaster, we have to keep slogging on through.

Whether blood is running down our ankle or not, we keep carrying the burden.

Whether he is grateful or demanding, we help our neighbor.

Even if it means our livelihood or friendships, we stand on the side of truth and justice.

He knows me.  When I have been tested, I’ll come through as pure gold.

No, not this scribe.  I’m not ready to make that claim.  Yet.  

Job was, though.  (Job 23:10)

Talk about no good deed going unpunished!  That man knew the length, width, and depth of testing.  And still, he was determined.  He would follow his God.  

To the death he would follow Him, if need be.

And, come through with flying colors.  Shining as gold.

I have been discouraged a good bit recently.  The insignificant cat-nipping event aside, I have been wondering—both to myself in the dim and quiet hours, and aloud to others in the light of day—if the result will be worth the cost.  I know many who are in similar situations.

Discouragement and exhaustion are the detours frequented by those on the journey who are soon to fail in their missions.  

Discouragement and exhaustion are detours, frequented by those soon to fail in their missions. Click To Tweet

Encourage each other while it is still daylight.  (Hebrews 3:13)

While the blood is yet streaming from the bites, and the sweat is dripping from the foreheads, we help others along their journey.  We must.

The truth is that no good deed goes unseen and unrewarded.

Not one.

It’s not an adage.

It’s a promise.

Whether we’re walking backwards, with no way to see the path before us, or running at breakneck speed toward the finish line, we keep moving.

That way.  

Toward home.

 

 

God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them.
(Hebrews 6:10 ~ NIV)*

 

He had not yet learned that if you do one good deed your reward usually is to do another and harder and better one.
( C.S. Lewis ~ British author/theologian ~ 1898-1963)

 

*Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

 

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

Cool Water

The whole time I hacked at those stubborn stumps, the only thing I could think of was getting a drink of water.

Cool, clear water.

I stood out in the early summer sun again today, swinging that mattock.  One would think the pain from the blister I just tore the top off would give me something else to think about.  

One would be wrong.

The sweat poured from my forehead burning my eyes, all the while, soaking my clothes.  I gasped for breath from the exertion.  Water was all I needed.

Cool, clear water.

At my age, I can’t keep swinging the heavy tool over my head incessantly.  I stopped, again and again, leaning on the wooden handle and thinking about the two black labs over at their water dish, lapping up water to quench their thirst as if the liquid would never run out.

Lucky dogs.

Finally!  The last piece of wood was dug out of the ground and I threw down the heavy double-edged tool and headed into the house.  

My hand—with the raw blister oozing blood—throbbed painfully, but, do you think I looked for salve and an adhesive bandage the moment I came through the door?

I did not!

Water!  Nothing was more important to me in that instant.

Cool, clear water. 

I gulped it down, that life-giving elixir, pure and clean.

Ahhh!  I’ve never tasted anything better.  

Never.

But, there was something else I was going to write about when I sat down tonight.  What was it?

Oh yes.  I’ve got it!

Cowboy music.  That was it.

Some of you knew I was going to talk about it.  You’ve either reached a certain age when you can remember the Sons of the Pioneers, with Roy Rogers among their ranks, harmonizing sweetly on the song close to eighty years ago.  Or perhaps like me, your Dad sang it while working in the hot sun of South Texas or whatever place under the hot sun you hail from.

Cool Water.  Cool, clear water.

I hummed it while I stood and sweated in the sun myself today.  It is a song about a man and his faithful mule, Dan, who wander through the desert day after day, looking for nothing more than the next drink of water.  Full of warnings of false hope (mirages) and prayers to God above for relief, it’s a cautionary tale about wise choices and the drudgery of life when days and nights of hoping and praying turn into more days and nights of hoping and praying.

I don’t usually find much inspiration in cowboy songs.  This one makes me think.

All day I’ve faced the barren waste
Without the taste of water, cool water
Old Dan and I with throats burned dry
And souls that cry for water, cool, clear water.

Keep a-movin’, Dan, don’t you listen to him, Dan
He’s a devil not a man
And he spreads the burning sand with water
Dan can you see that big green tree
Where the water’s runnin’ free
And it’s waiting there for you and me?*

The Teacher said if we have open hands and will share cups of cold water with those in need, we’ll be rewarded.  (Matthew 10:42)

On a recent afternoon, our soon-to-be-neighbors demonstrated that generosity, offering bottles of water to our grandchildren, along with the Lovely Lady and me, as we worked raking a section of our new yard which had been neglected for many years.  It was a kind thing to do.

I believe the Teacher.  They will be rewarded.

But, I wonder if He had more in mind than the simple physical act of handing water to those who are thirsty.

I don’t want to discount that act—not at all.  There was a day when our Savior desperately could have used such an offer.  He had fasted and prayed.  In the desert.  Forty days, he had gone without food.  We’re not told that He was thirsty, but we do know He was desperately hungry.

The tempter showed Him a mirage and gave Him permission to eat.  Offers of safety and of glory followed, but the devil could give Jesus none of those things.  Like a magician’s tricks, not one of the things he offered was real. (Matthew 4:1-11)

Unlike old Dan the mule, the Teacher knew a mirage when He saw one.

We should offer the cold water.  But what about when it’s the “soul that cries for cool, clear water”?

What if the soul cries out?  What then?

What if the soul cries out? What then? Click To Tweet

When Jesus sat at Jacob’s well in Samaria, he first gave the woman who came the opportunity to be the one who offered a cup of cool water.  But, He knew something more was needed. (John 4:4-15)

Her soul was thirsty, needing cool, clear water.

He gave it to her.  Water, so her soul would never be thirsty again.

I’m going to keep the bottles of water ready to share with other thirsty travelers.  But, I’ve got a dipper handy beside that other, ever-flowing spring bubbling up inside, too.

It’s no mirage.

The water’s running free, and it’s waiting there for you and me.

Cool, clear water.

 

 

When you drink the water, remember the spring.
(Chinese proverb)

 

Jesus replied, “Anyone who drinks this water will soon become thirsty again. But those who drink the water I give will never be thirsty again. It becomes a fresh, bubbling spring within them, giving them eternal life.”
(John 4:13,14 ~ NLT)

 

*(from Cool Water ~ © Songwriters Guild of America ~ Dan Nolan ~ American singer/songwriter ~ 1908-1980 )

 

 

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

Nothing Up My Sleeves

I still remember that evening, decades ago though it was.

My first magic show.  Words will never do the memory justice.

In the parking lot of the local Sears store, the stage stood, ready to snare the attention of any passing urchin with its bright spotlights and mysterious contraptions.

I was snared.  Captivated even.

Rabbits and doves out of a hat.  Handkerchiefs out of the mouth.  Water in cups which turned into confetti when tossed on the onlookers.  A beautiful woman sawed in half.

With mouth agape and eyes glued on the flashy showman,  I didn’t miss a move.

I thought.

I wanted to be a magician.  Nothing else mattered.  Forgotten was the determination to be a fireman, followed closely by the idea that a doctor’s life might be more rewarding.  I would be a magician.

Dad had an old magic kit in the garage and, immediately, I dug it out to began practicing for my life’s vocation.

Voracious reader that I was, I couldn’t wait to check out a volume or three at the local library on the mysterious art.

I wasn’t prepared for the disappointment.

It took no time at all to learn everything I needed to know about magic and magicians.

Magic was all trickery and deception.  All of it.

The men who practiced it?  Con men.  Charlatans.

Lies and sleight-of-hand.  Nothing more.

I wanted to do amazing acts and see magic (the real thing!) happen. There is no such thing.  Magic is all misdirection and props hidden up the sleeves.

What an unhappy let down!  And, what a disillusioned young boy!

                             

I’m older now.  Much older.

With the apostle who shares my name, I want to believe when I became a man, I put away childish things. (1 Corinthians 13:11)

For many years, I thought I had.

Now, I’m not so sure.

I saw the quote the other day, a phrase from a song by a popular vocalist.  As an aging man, realizing the years left in my earthly journey are fewer than those I’ve already traveled, it seemed an encouraging thought—for a moment or two.

I’d like to think the best of me is still hiding up my sleeve.*

I want that to be true.

Problem is, I’ve never had anything good up my sleeve at all.  I’m sure of it.  And yet, I have been practicing for many years.

All I’ve got is trickery and deception.

And, I’m terrified—absolutely certain the day will come when the facade will be pulled down to reveal the emptiness behind the curtain.

There’s nothing up my sleeves.  Nothing.

All the self-help books a man can check out from the library do no good, either.  It’s still lies and sleight-of-hand.

Just like the magic.

But, there is the one Book.  I’ve been doing some reading in that.

The Teacher, the one some thought was doing parlor tricks,  made clear to His followers there was only one way they could do good.

Live your life in Me and there will be much for them to see.  But apart from Me, you’ll have nothing—nothing at all.  (John 15:5)

There may yet be spectacular deeds done. It will be His doing. His alone. Click To Tweet

There may yet be spectacular deeds done.  The best could be just around the corner.

It will not be something to applaud me for.  There will be no adulation from the crowd for me.

Every good gift—every single one—and every excellent gift come from above, given by the Father of Lights.  (James 1:7)

I am content with that.

There’s still nothing up my sleeves.

There never was.

 

 

It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
(Galatians 2:20 ~ NLT)

 
I have seen the moment of my greatness flicker,
And I have seen the eternal Footman hold my coat, and snicker,
And in short, I was afraid.
(from The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock ~ T S Eliot ~ British Essayist ~ 1888-1965)

 

 

*from No Such Thing ~ John Mayer ~ American singer/songwriter

 

 

 

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

Grace Comes Quietly

I can’t remember when I’ve been more frustrated.

I like things to be done in a logical manner.  When rules are followed, all is right with the world.

Or, is it?

My morning—as truth be told, have many other mornings over the last couple of months—was spent in dealing with one single company.  The company promises to make life easier for me as the owner of a website.

The frustrating thing is, they aren’t.  Making life easier for me, that is.

From the beginning, the hoops have been held in front of me and I have dutifully jumped through them.  I like order and calm, you see.  My assumption, when this journey started, was that by jumping through the hoops, I would achieve the goal.  

Rules followed?  Goal achieved.  That’s the way it’s supposed to work.

The only thing jumping through the hoops has achieved in my case is the presentation of more hoops. Today, I would jump through what I believe to be the last hoop.  

Well, really, the last hoops. 

Muttering the entire time, I collected all the information the company required, and driving the well-traveled road to my bank, found a helpful young lady who was in possession of a legal stamp which proclaimed her to be a notary public.

I sat at her desk, proffering document after document to prove to the company that I am who I say I am.  She dutifully stamped the copies and, watching me sign the final affidavit required, asked me if I was sure I was done. 

I want to be done.  I wish this were the end of this particular journey.

I’m not convinced it is.  There will be more hoops to be jumped through—more rules with which to comply.

There always are.

While sitting at the nice young lady’s desk, I needed to separate a couple of pages of a document which were held together with a tiny staple.  I pulled it out with my fingernail.  She quietly mentioned that she had a staple remover, but I persisted in my quest without her help.

The tiny staple sat on her desk for a few seconds, only to find its way into my hand as I waited for her to make copies.  I bent it back into the shape it had been in the paper.  Then I bent it in half from that.  Fidgeting still, I bent it again.

By the time my visit to the bank was completed, the staple was just a dot of crumpled metal in my hands.  I would have thrown it away, but the trash can was behind the nice lady’s desk.  I didn’t reach past her to toss it in.

I carried the tiny thing out with me.  I could toss it into the dirt under a tree outside.

I didn’t.

Good people don’t throw trash on the ground.  I would toss it into the tray in my pickup.

I didn’t.

The same thought came to me as I considered the deed.  Someone would have to pick that up.

All the way home I held the tiny piece of metal between my fingers, its sharp ends and bent edges uncomfortable on my skin.  Not until I walked through my door and into the kitchen, did I release the minuscule dot from my hand into the trash can under the sink.

Even then, I wondered if it could have been put in the recycle bin.

I hear the words now.  

What a strange thing to write about!

What a stupid thing to do! 

What a ridiculous amount of energy wasted for nothing!

Nothing!

Did I forget to tell about the lady who followed me out the door?  I did, didn’t I?

I walked out the door of the bank, carrying my final (or not) hoop to be jumped through in one hand and the pesky little staple in the other.  Focused on the little inconveniences of the day, I didn’t realize that a lady carrying her young child was close behind me.

Yep.  I let the door close right in her face.  

And the Teacher said to the religious leaders gathered there, calling them blind guides: You strain the gnats out of your drink, and satisfied with the result, swallow a camel instead. (Matthew 23:24)

I left the lady and her child to deal with the door on their own.  I had more important things on my mind. 

I carried my little staple all the way home.  All the way.

Later this afternoon, as I sat at a traffic signal, I felt that old familiar surge of pride as I watched the driver of the car ahead toss the still-smoking filter end of a cigarette out on the pavement.

I’m better than that one!

No.  I’m not.

I’m not.

If I could (which I can’t) follow the law in every facet, save one—if I only mess up one tiny rule—I have still broken the law.  (James 2:10)

Two things I know about the law.  Two things.

One, it is not possible for me to jump through every hoop without getting something wrong.

Two,  pride and comparisons are always—without fail—the result of my little successes in keeping the rules.  When I succeed, I think I am better than those who fall short in the same attempt.

Did I say there were two things I knew?  I should have said there were three.  The third is the most important.

Grace trumps law.  Every time.

The nice lady at the bank offered me grace today.  Quietly she said the words.

I have a staple remover.

Such a simple offer.

I just needed to give up my claim to the tiny metal staple.

Grace comes quietly.

Quietly.

Grace comes quietly. Quietly. And, it waits for us to respond. Click To Tweet 

It waits for us to respond.

I think I don’t want to carry around the little staples anymore.

I’m not all that good at hoops either. 

Grace waits.

For us, it waits.

                              

Grace puts its hand on the boasting mouth and shuts it once for all.
(Charles Haddon Spurgeon ~ English evangelist ~ 1834-1892)

Sin is no longer your master, for you no longer live under the requirements of the law. Instead, you live under the freedom of God’s grace.
(Romans 6:14 ~ NLT)

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

All Together Now. Lift!

The boy was determined.  He didn’t mean to argue.  He just meant to help his grandfather do what he had said he was going to do.

This one’s a little too big to get over the fence.  We’ll have to drag it out the gate, after all.  Hopefully, the dogs won’t get out while we do it.

The boy’s aging grandfather was only being pragmatic.  After all, the mulberry limb was twelve feet long and loaded with unripe mulberries.  There was no reason to strain anyone’s muscles when the gate was just ten feet away.

Why don’t we lift together and just see if we can get it over, Grandpa?

The question was never an argument; it was simply a trial balloon, floated through the air in hopes that the old man would agree to help share the load, rather than insist on opening the gate.

For some reason, opening the gate seemed like failure to the kid with the faux-mohawk adorning his head.

The old man smiled.  He’s never worn a mohawk, but in the mischievous eyes of the boy (and also in the lad’s thought processes) he sees so much of himself fifty years past.

He wonders how different life might have been if offering such helpful alternatives had been possible in similar situations when he was that age.

He grew up in a day when no meant no.  One didn’t argue, or even offer alternatives.

And, I don’t mean maybe!  The red-headed lady who raised him said it often enough.

But, it was also a day when you pulled your own weight.  Period.

No, thanks!  I can get this just fine.  You go on and do your own job.

Self-sufficiency.  Take care of your business.  I’ll deal with mine.

Okay, Grandpa?

He jerked slightly and, looking toward the source of the words, saw the grinning boy lifting the end of the long branch already.  The boy’s older brother did his part in the center of the hefty limb, and Grandpa took a grip on the thickest section, lifting and hurling the whole affair over the tall chainlink fence with their help.

With their help.

Over the last few years, and especially in the last few weeks, I have come to realize, again and again, how much I need the assistance of others who care.  Many folks, none of whom were under any compulsion other than that of love, have helped me to lift the loads I couldn’t begin to carry myself.

The boy with the almost-mohawk is merely following the simple instructions the Apostle who loved to write letters gave to the good folks in the region of modern-day Turkey two thousand years ago.

He said, Share each other’s loads.  It’s how you fulfill Christ’s instructions. (Galatians 6:2-3)

The child, a sixth of my age, is learning to live by the words already.

Our creator designed us to function at our best when we perform in concert with each other.  He doesn’t need any one-man shows.

Elijah thought he was a one-man show and it nearly cost him his sanity.  God, speaking in His gentle whisper, suggested to him that wasn’t the way He worked.  No, my child, there are thousands more doing the same thing you are in the place I put them.  You’re not the only one—not even close.  (1 Kings 19: 12-18)

Somehow my mind needs pictures.  I read recently about direct drive motors, and it seems the perfect example. 

Direct drive motors.  None of us functions as one of those.   As the name intimates, direct drive needs nothing else to get the job done.  A power source and the motor.  That’s it.

We are not that.

Gearbox motors are a bit more complex, perhaps even a little less reliable.  Still, the Creator selected that technology when He determined how we, who are made in His own image, would interact with each other and the rest of His creation.

Gears, interacting with thousands, perhaps millions of other gears—teeth meshing with teeth, rotating in the exact place the Master Designer planned for each individual one of us.

Each gear is exactly as important as those it meshes with; not one could stop rotating without adversely affecting the movement of the whole.

No, we’re not merely cogs in a wheel.  We’re cogs in THE wheel.  Absolutely essential, every single one.  

A gear spinning by itself serves no purpose.  Sure, it’s pulling it own weight.

But, it’s going nowhere.  Fast.

A gear spinning by itself serves no purpose. It gets nowhere. Fast. Click To Tweet

We need each other.  

Just as I needed my grandsons today, we, on our journey, falter and fail without the interaction kindred spirits offer.

We help lift the load for others.

And, we allow them to help lift our load.

Funny.  That’s the way love works.

But, you already knew that, didn’t you?

 

 

 

He makes the whole body fit together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love.
(Ephesians 4:16 ~ NLT)

 

Doing nothing for others is the undoing of ourselves.
(Horace Mann ~ American educational reformer/politician ~ 1796-1859)

 

 

 

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

Sidewalks to Nowhere

Well, that’s it.  We’ll head down to City Hall and pay our fine now.  After that, we’re done.  The new owner can move in tomorrow.

I grinned at the builder’s words, thinking he meant that fees still needed to be paid—for inspections or permits, possibly.  Then, looking into his serious eyes and noticing his chin shaking back and forth, I realized he was serious.

A fine?  Why would you have to pay a fine after building this beautiful new house?

With a wry chuckle, the man with the sun-bleached blonde hair explained.

Our little town, a forward-looking village of sixteen thousand residents, has a requirement in the building code which is intended to make all of the roadways friendly to pedestrians.  Every new home built must include a sidewalk across the front, the specifications of which may be found in the city code, and the cost of which may be passed on to the new homeowner.

It’s a good idea.  I like it.  Except . . .

Well? What’s the problem?

Why wouldn’t the man just have the forms prepared and lay a sidewalk at the same time the big truck backed up to dump the liquid concrete for the driveway?  Another hour or two; it would have taken no more.

I stood there on the side of the little cul-de-sac, looking around the neighborhood, and I laughed out loud.

It is an old neighborhood.  The little craftsman bungalow just finished next door is almost certain to be the last house ever built on the street.  The last one.

Not one of the other houses has a sidewalk in front of it.  They never will.

There is no need.  In this neighborhood, folks walk across lawns to the house next door, or three doors over, leaning over fences to talk with anyone sitting on a patio, or in their garden, or trimming the shrubbery.

If they’re going farther, they cross the pavement at long angles, perhaps even walking down the middle of the street.  Nobody will run them down.  The turnaround is just a few feet up ahead; why would anyone be going that fast?

He’s going to pay a fine of two thousand five hundred dollars.

Rules are rules.

One complies or they pay the price.

I don’t understand.  A segment of sidewalk must be laid in a neighborhood which will never have other segments of sidewalk to join it.

By itself, a sidewalk to nowhere will lie unused.  It will still require care.  Weeds will eventually grow in the expansion cracks filled with dirt that no schoolchild returning home will ever kick out.  If the homeowner doesn’t run a trimmer religiously along both edges, the lawn will inevitably cover it.

In the end, it will lie, cracked and useless, for all the world to laugh at the folly which required its construction in the first place.

The builder will pay the fine.

We don’t believe in sidewalks to nowhere.  We wouldn’t think of making useless rules that are ultimately costly and purposeless.

No one I know would ever make someone pay the price for not complying with the book of rules.

Or, would we?

Adamant, that’s what the city inspector will be.  Unmovable.  Unyielding.

Set in stone.  It’s what adamant means.  Like a diamond, harder than anything around it.

Adamant.  Too often, it’s what we are.

Unmovable. Unyielding. Too often it's what we are. Click To Tweet

It’s why we still build sidewalks to nowhere.

The Stone we should be building on, the one the other builders and their inspectors rejected?  (Matthew 21:42)

Turns out, He’s made of love—flexible, movable love.

Love that bends over backward to reach out to its neighbors.  In ways the rule makers and enforcers can’t possibly understand, love reaches every time.

Every time.

And, He wants us to be the same.

It’s the law we live under, the law of love. (Romans 13:8)

It’s time to stop building sidewalks to nowhere.  Even the old builder knows that.

Love reaches.

Every time.

Sometimes it pays the price first.

Love reaches. Every time. Sometimes it pays the price first. Click To Tweet

 

 

“Yes,” said Jesus, “what sorrow also awaits you experts in religious law! For you crush people with unbearable religious demands, and you never lift a finger to ease the burden.”
(Luke 11:46 ~ NLT)

 

He’s a real nowhere man,
sitting in his nowhere land;
Making all his nowhere plans
For nobody.
(Nowhere Man~ McCartney/Lennon ~ British singer/songwriters)

 

 

 

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

Before I Sleep

“Don’t worry, Mr. Phillips.  You’ll be asleep through the whole process.”

I think she meant it to be reassuring.  No, I’m sure she did.

I’m not all that reassured.

I like being awake.  I’ve spent most of my life being awake.  I remember things that have happened when I’m awake better than otherwise.

I don’t sleep much—a habit the man who’s doing the procedure in a day or two says I need to break.  Come to think of it, that may be what he’s trying to help me with by having me sleep while he works.  He’s going to give me a jump-start on breaking the habit of not sleeping.

It’s a habit I’ve cultivated over a lifetime, one I don’t wish to have meddled with.

A few years ago, my young son-in-law sat at the dinner table one day and voiced his complaint.  The month-old baby in my daughter’s arms was the object of the young father’s concern.

“He just won’t go to sleep.  It’s like he’s afraid he’ll miss something while he’s out.”

All of us gathered at the table chuckled sympathetically, but the words rattled around in my head and hit a little closer to home than he intended.

I don’t want to miss anything!

I don’t.

Oh—in a day or two, I’ll lie down and let them put the IV into my arm and I’ll sleep.  I really don’t think I need to be awake while that nice man runs a probe through my arteries.  I actually believe that may be one of the few things I’d like to miss.

But the rest of it?  The conversations, the mealtimes, the concerts, the bike rides, the hugs, the tears, the singing, the soccer games, the shopping trips, the weddings, the funerals, and all the other events that make up a lifetime?

Those I don’t want to sleep through.

It’s time to be awake.

I remember sitting in the pew as a boy and singing at the top of my lungs (I always did) as the song leader swung his arm in that familiar 4 beat pattern.

Work, for the night is coming,
When man’s work is o’er.

It’s a great hymn, reminding us that we need to be up and doing while we have time.  The figurative night is the end of our life.

But, I have a problem.

I don’t know about you, but it seems to me it’s pretty dark in the world now.  The shades of night are all about us.

Is it time to sleep yet?

Shades of night are all about us. Is it time to sleep yet? Click To Tweet

In what we once called the Dark Ages, people gathered together in walled cities for protection against each other, closing the gates to any who were outside.  Inside lay safety.

Religious factions disparaged each other from the safety of their fortresses. Petty kings and rulers did the same from theirs.

Outside, chaos ruled.  Fear was the law of the land.  Those with power took whatever they wanted.  The common man survived, but only just.

Somehow today, it seems dark to me again.  Nighttime, one might say.

Still, it’s not time for sleep yet.  Now is the time to be up and doing.

In the dark.

We’re not home yet.

It’s time to shake off the sleep.  Time to drink another cup of coffee or splash cold water on the face.

Whatever it takes.

Perhaps, Mr. Frost said it better than I can.  If it comes to that, I’m sure he did.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,

And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep. *

I’m still awake.

I want to keep my promises.

You?

 

 

 

This is all the more urgent, for you know how late it is; time is running out. Wake up, for our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is almost gone; the day of salvation will soon be here. So remove your dark deeds like dirty clothes, and put on the shining armor of right living.
(Romans 13:11-12 ~ NLT)

 

 

*(from Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening ~ Robert Frost)

 

 

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

The Ladder

Let’s just put in a new window.

She had a point.  The old single-hung window was pathetic, the lower pane broken, with a piece of plywood covering the missing glass.   The combination of dirty, scratched glass and the not-so-efficient plywood patch made it seem that the natural light outside had to squeeze its way in, rather than streaming in from the sky, as one would expect.  The paint on the window frame is peeling and it is easy to see that water has been leaking onto the wood for years.  Perhaps it really is finished.

One might have thought that—before today.

Today, I made what seemed like fifteen trips up a ladder with the sole intent of proving the old window still had some life left in it.  Fifteen trips up to a window twelve feet off the ground.  Fifteen trips back down.

I carried tools up to remove the old glass, tools to clean out the old glazing compound and glazier’s points, tools to scrape peeling paint, and even a tool to make sure the window won’t keep sliding open on its own.  I brought broken panes down.  I carried new panes up.

In between, I stood near the top of the ladder and labored.

Tomorrow, I’ll make a few more trips up and down.

The window is going to be fine.  Really.  The building contractor working on the new house next door to my old one looked over at it this afternoon and told me so.  He says it’s looking great.

The window is going to be fine.

I’m not so sure about me.  The old legs are shaky tonight.  Muscles ache and I have a slight cramp in the arch of my foot, where it rested on the rung—when it wasn’t climbing up or down the rest of the rungs.

I had a different scenario in mind when I insisted we save the old window.  It involved one trip up the ladder.  It involved one trip down the ladder.

No one wants to cover ground they’ve already covered.  Like Longfellow’s blacksmith, we want to see something attempted and something done.  Just like that—all on the same day.

Try.  Do.  Wipe your hands.

Tomorrow, I’ll go up the ladder again.  And very possibly, the next day, I’ll go up the ladder again.

And, in that realization, I see before me the analogy of my existence these days.

Each morning finds me in the same valley, looking up at the job I know must be done.  The mountain must be climbed, tasks will be attempted, but it seems certain the goal won’t be reached.

Weary and frustrated, I’ll slide down the mountainside one more time, only to tackle it again tomorrow.  The words Mr. Shakespeare put into the mouth of Macbeth centuries ago make their way even now into my own: Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow.

Hmmm.  One might get the idea I’m discouraged.  Perhaps, even angry.  

I have been.  Both of them.

As I did today when I descended the ladder for the last time, I have looked up and have seen, not the progress which has been made, but the great amount of the task yet to be accomplished.  

Standing on the ground, looking up this afternoon, even after hearing my contractor friend praise my attempts, it was easy to wonder why I even considered reviving that old window.

What an astonishing waste of time!  How do I justify the effort and expense?

And yet…

As I put away the tools and my ladder, a thought hit me.  They do that, you know.

I wonder what it looks like from inside the room?

Wearily, but with just a hint of anticipation, I clomped up the rough staircase inside.

I won’t say I was awestruck.  I wasn’t.  Still, as I stepped off the top step into the room, the difference was surprising.  Light, from the sunny Spring sky, filled the room.  All the dingy impediment of the old panes was a thing of memory.  

Now, we’re getting somewhere!

Sometimes, all it takes is to look at the thing from a different perspective.  We’ve been looking at it from the same side for so long, we can’t see how close we are to reaching the goal.

Tomorrow will be another day.  The journey still beckons, in all of its unromantic tedium.

I’ll climb the ladder again.  And again.

It’s how the light gets inside.

Climb the ladder again tomorrow. It's how the light gets in. Click To Tweet

 

 

Toiling, rejoicing, sorrowing,
Onward through life he goes;
Each morning sees some task begin,
Each evening sees it close
Something attempted, something done,
Has earned a night’s repose.
(from The Village Blacksmith ~ Henry Wadsworth Longfellow ~ American poet ~ 1807-1882)

 

Patient endurance is what you need now, so that you will continue to do God’s will. Then you will receive all that he has promised.
“For in just a little while,

the Coming One will come and not delay.
And my righteous ones will live by faith…”
(Hebrews 10: 36-38 ~ NLT)

 

 

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