Becoming

The girl-woman is becoming.

She is sure—but not all that sure—of what she knows.  A teenager, she sees a world that is too horrible to be lived in, but knows unequivocably that she will live in it (and wouldn’t miss it for anything).

And so, she is becoming.

Becoming is hard work.  Confidence and confusion coexist side by side.  Brilliant inspiration and murky misunderstanding vie constantly for the upper hand.

The child is giving way to the woman as choices are made, options are considered, and future pathways determined.

I used to think this was the norm.  Children become adults and the process of becoming is complete.  We make our choices and live with them.  And, die with them.

It’s not the way becoming works.

You see, this old man is becoming, as well. 

Sixty years have passed and the choices I have made and the roads I’ve taken are challenged nearly every day of my walk through this world—the world too horrible to live in, yet too precious to miss.

I was moved—even sad—as we talked, the girl-woman and I.  She made a statement to which I objected completely.

I’m pretty sure God is mad at me.

It seemed to me the words were largely a response to the horrible world in which she finds herself growing up.  I wanted to hug her tight and assure her it wasn’t true.

My intellect knows it’s not true.  My heart does also. And yet, since that evening, each time my mind goes to the words, my eyes fill with tears. 

The tears are for her.  No, not only for her.  

The tears are also for me.

I said I know it’s not true.  I do.

That doesn’t stop the questions.  It doesn’t keep me from wondering why life isn’t going the way I thought it would.  It doesn’t quiet the voice inside that wants to scream in frustration at every delay and inferred no from God.

I’m pretty sure God is mad at me.

But He’s not.

He’s not.

Without us making a move to please Him, He declared openly His great love for us by giving His only Son to die in our place. (Romans 5:8)

Does that seem like the act of someone who is enraged?  It’s not the way I treat folks when I’m angry at them.

His perfect love leaves no room for fear. (1 John 4:18)

My fears for the future, my fears for my family, my fears for the physical needs that are still waiting to be provided for—all of these fears and more—simply prove that I’ve not yet fully experienced the love of a Creator who can’t bear for His creation to be separated from Him and wants nothing but good for us.

And so, I am becoming.  

We are becoming.

God, who began this good work in our hearts, has promised to continue the work until the day we reach the finish line. (Philippians 1:6)

For all the starts and stops, the detours and the delays, the becoming has never stopped.

As we come, we become.  The meaning is essentially the same.  We are moving from one state of being into another.  Coming to His grace and becoming the men and women He is making us into.

The God who invites us to come, is causing us to become.

The God who invites us to come, is causing us to become. Click To Tweet

The God who is not mad at us gives us grace and mercy for the journey.  He gives us companions, both young and old, to walk beside us.

Becoming together.

As we walk hand in hand.

Becoming.

 

‘It doesn’t happen all at once,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.’
(from The Velveteen Rabbit ~ Margery Williams ~ Author ~ 1881-1994)

 

The Spirit and the bride say, “Come.” Let anyone who hears this say, “Come.” Let anyone who is thirsty come. Let anyone who desires drink freely from the water of life.
(Revelation 22:17 ~ 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.

A Word in Your Ear

They really are some of my favorite times.  One might even call them sacred interludes.  But, right now I’m too busy.

I’m too busy. 

I know I’m not the only one who says the words.  But somehow, they must have seemed like a challenge to someone—somewhere.

And, into the flying wheels of my frantic activity with no time for interruptions, the Creator shoves a stick between the spokes, bringing the entire juggernaut to a jarring stop.

The stick, He calls family.

It is, arguably, the most important institution there is.  At least in the order of appearance in the Biblical history of mankind, it is the very first relationship between humans the Creator saw fit to address.  The very first.

I’ve written before that the words attributed to God, it is not good for man to be alone, were not only about Adam, but also about every person who would be born thereafter.  Family was His solution.  (Genesis 2:18)

It still is.

But, when I have deadlines and goals in mind, I can’t be bothered.

I need to finish this! 

Stress builds and disappointment looms.  Interruptions are—well—interruptions.

“We’re having a family dinner.  Yes.  It’s already been scheduled.  They’re all going to be there.”

The dreaded stick slipped into the wheel spokes.

After I picked myself up (sudden stops aren’t all that comfortable), we headed to the dinner.  I did, however, pack my attitude along just in case, not having lost that in the commotion.

The attitude went with me, but it didn’t come home.  Somewhere along the way, I lost track of it.

I think it happened at about the time we asked the blessing on the massive piles of food that awaited.  Standing around in a circle, we joined, first our hearts and then our blended voices, in praise to a Creator who knew we needed to have food to live and family to thrive.

The food is gone.  The family is not.

May I share what I learned—in that blessed space called family—after I lost the attitude I had clung to as I was shoved through the back door?

It had little to do with the children screaming and having fights with pool noodles as they cavorted in the water, and even less to do with their entry into the house dripping said water on the floor.  The shooing out by aunts, uncles, and grandparents was of little consequence in the lesson—not of no consequence, mind you, just not the most important component.

It had even less to do with the reminder that any description of meat which is preceded by the word habanero should be given a wide berth by aging grandfathers with digestion issues.  Still, that most assuredly is one lesson from the evening I will remember for a long time to come!

No, the real truth driven home by the interactions of the evening has occupied my mind for most of the hours since then.

The Lovely Lady and her siblings sat at a table, along with a few additional onlookers, as they went through family treasures.  Jewelry, knick-knacks, and photographs were the subjects of their attention.

At times, the level of conversation was as quiet as a single voice reading an entry in a journal from seventy years ago.  But, as the cache began to spread around the table, the volume level increased markedly.  Individuals spoke with the person sitting next to them, and others called excitedly across the old table, itself a lovely relic from the family’s past, to exclaim about some memory from long ago.

Near one end of the old table sat two delightful onlookers, both of them past the four-score mark in years themselves.  The ladies smiled and nodded at the parts of the conversation which were aimed at them, but as the volume level increased, I could see they were understanding less and less of what was being said.

It’s not an uncommon problem for older folk, but I’m beginning to realize it’s not all that unusual for younger ones, either.  Perhaps, not in the same sense, but the problem remains, all the same.

When all about us is incessant commotion, we have difficulty deciding what is essential and what is just tongues wagging.

When all about us is incessant commotion, we have difficulty deciding what is essential. Click To Tweet

I’m living in a noisy place right now, the yammering of the necessary overwhelming the still voice of the fundamental.

Perhaps, I’m not the only one who is swept away in the current of must-finish, while the peaceful eddy of life-abundant goes unnoticed in our passing.

I watched, on that night of discovery, as one of the older duo leaned near to the other and suggested that, since she was having difficulty hearing in the din, the other lady should speak directly into her good ear.

This.

This is why I needed to be here on this night.  Well, besides the pulled pork and home-made ice cream.

Not over the din and the pandemonium of the world does our Creator speak to us, but in our ear, as old friends who share secrets together.

He won’t stand amid the commotion of the marketplace and shout at us, but He beckons us to come near.  Then quietly, and with perfect diction, He shares His heart into ours.

Quietly, and with perfect diction, He shares His heart into ours. Click To Tweet

In my frenetic activity and the noise of life, I forget to turn my ear to hear His voice.

I forget.

Do you hear Him now?

Maybe, it’s time to lean in and let Him speak in your ear.

He waits for us to turn a listening ear to Him.

Still.  Today.

He waits.

I’m turning His way again.

 

 

 

Quietly, He comes,
Not on wings of storm, nor yet on backs of thundering steeds.
Quietly, He comes
By invitation, whispering truth—a breeze ‘cross the reeds.
(Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. Copyright © 2017. All Rights Reserved.)

 

My son, give attention to my words;
Incline your ear to my sayings.
(Proverbs 4:20 ~ NASB ~ Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation)

 

The Lord came and stood there, calling as at the other times, “Samuel! Samuel!”
Then Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”
(1 Samuel 3:10 ~ NIV ~ Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.®  All rights reserved worldwide.

 

 

 

 

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

Finishing the Job

The Lovely Lady isn’t talking to me.  

No, it’s not for the reason you might suspect.  She’s not upset—not with me anyway.

I am frustrated.  I have been for weeks.  Tasks which have been set before me have been tackled with purpose and intent.  As uncomfortable as I am with those tasks, I want to complete them.

Wanting to is not the same as doing.

Trying is not the same as succeeding.

For a variety of reasons, I have been forced to move from several of the tasks to other ones before the first jobs were completed.  It doesn’t set well in my spirit.

Today, I spent a few hours measuring and visualizing a solution while considering a task I never wanted to begin in the first place.  

What I really mean is I stood in one place and, staring at the impossible mess, racked my brain to come up with a way out of the predicament I find myself in.  Dinnertime interrupted the aggravation—which only made me more aggravated.

I came home, having accomplished not a single task.  Not one.

I said she’s not talking to me.  She just knows I need a little space.  I’m not much for consoling platitudes.  They only frustrate me more.  She knows that.

She knows me.

I like that she knows me. 

Later this evening, I needed to retrieve something I had left at the site of my earlier frustration, so I told her I would be right back, explaining what I was doing.  

It would take a little longer than that.

As I walked in the door, the frustration of the day landed on me again like an unbearable weight on my chest.  It was hard for me to breathe for a moment.  But, as I walked back where the item I needed was stored, I noticed another task I had left undone days ago.

A thought hit me.  Why not just finish that little project?  I had been putting it off for days, feeling guilty every time I walked past, but never stopping to complete the work.

Tonight, I picked up the necessary tools and I finished one task.  Just one.

I walked out of there with my head held high.  When I got home, the Lovely Lady talked to me.

She talked to me.

I like that she knows me.

I read her part of a poem, one I remember from my childhood days.  You’ve likely heard it before.  A single verse from Longfellow’s The Village Blacksmith:

Toiling,—rejoicing,—sorrowing,
   Onward through life he goes;
Each morning sees some task begun,
   Each evening sees it close;
Something attempted, something done,
   Has earned a night’s repose.

My voice cracked as I read the words.  It does that.  More and more, these days.

It was only a small thing I completed.  

No.  It was a very small thing.  

It doesn’t matter.  I needed to feel the success of completion—of working at something that mattered, and finishing it.

I have often felt that way about life itself—about living my faith.  I need to do something that matters.  More than that, I need to complete the job.

Perhaps I won’t finish it today, as Mr. Longfellow’s blacksmith did.  But still, the goal is not to start a plethora of tasks.  The goal is to finish what’s been begun, be it one enterprise or a dozen.

I want to be able to say with the Apostle who wrote so many letters, that I have fought a good fight and have completed the race.  (2 Timothy 4:7)

It will only be true through perseverance.  It will only be true if the race is run in His strength and not my own.  

I lose interest when the going gets hard.  Zeal turns to disappointment; the heat of good intentions cools until there is barely a spark of dedication.

But, He knows me.

My frustrations, my sadness, my disappointments, He knows all of them.  And, in all of them, He never wavers in His faithfulness.  

I waver.  I gripe.  I lash out.

There is no limit to His persistent love. Click To Tweet

But, there is no limit to His persistent love.  His mercies have no end.  Really.  In His faithfulness, His mercies are renewed every morning.  (Lamentations 3:22, 23)

Every morning.

Just when I need them to face the new day, with its frustrations and its challenges.  Mercies.

I like that He knows me.

I’ve got more tasks to complete.  

I think I’ll see what I can finish today.

I might even start something new.

 

My therapist told me the way to achieve true inner peace is to finish what I start.  So far today, I have finished two bags of M&Ms and a chocolate cake.  I feel better already.
(Dave Barry ~ American author/humorist)

 

Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people.  Remember that the Lord will give you an inheritance as your reward, and that the Master you are serving is Christ.
(Colossians 3:23,24 ~ 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.

Mirror Image

Some things just mess with my brain.  I’m not the only one.

Selfies.

I know.  It’s a foolish name, but it is what we call them.  We want to see pictures, so friends snap photos of themselves, often while looking in a mirror.

One begins to wish there weren’t so many mirrors in bathrooms.  I can’t help it.  It’s my first reaction when I see the photographs.

The second is more enigmatic to me.  I can’t quite put my finger on it, but there is always something that bothers me about the selfies taken in the mirror.

Things aren’t quite as they should be.  Men’s shirt pockets are on the right-hand side.  Belts are threaded through the loops the wrong direction.  Oh!  And most folks are holding their phones in their left hand, but I know most folks are right-handed.

It’s all backward.  Mirror images are oriented in a flipped position.  Sure, the person still looks like him/herself, but the little niggling details irritate me.

But, truth be told, I didn’t invite you to sit down and read about my pet peeves.  There are more important issues to deal with here.

But, I do want to talk about mirror images.

Certain tasks—essential ones—have to be accomplished using mirror images.  I know it seems strange, but it is a fact.

Just the other day, my patient brother-in-law spent some time explaining it to me—one of those tasks.  I hope he’s not disappointed by what I have to say here.

The Lovely Lady has completed the painting job she began a few weeks ago.  The new ceiling in the living/dining room area has several coats of bright white paint.  The walls are covered in a beautiful contrasting color.  But, right up in the corner where the two come together at a ninety degree (or a close approximation of it) angle, we need to tack up a crown molding.

I say we.  I mean I.  I need to tack up a crown molding.

It’s very simple, Paul.  You take the measurements and then cut the trim pieces.  Upside down.  You have to put them in the saw upside down to get the cut and the angle right.  

On inside corners, the long end is the bottom, so it’s the top end when you put it in the saw.  It’s really easy.  You’ll have no problem.  Just flip it upside down.  Oh.  And, don’t forget to angle your saw in the opposite direction.

I haven’t cut a single piece.  I may not cut a single piece.

A couple of days ago, while I was looking for excuses not to start that particular job, I conveniently remembered a plumbing job I needed to do under the kitchen sink.

Ah.  Here is something I can do.  What can be hard about screwing a shut-off valve onto the end of a threaded pipe?

Remember.  Righty-tighty—lefty-loosey.  It’s so simple!

There would be more to it on this day.

When I worked on the plumbing originally, we had no plans for a dishwasher, so I needed two shut-offs—one hot and one cold.  This job would require adding another hot water shut-off for the newly arrived dishwasher.  No sweat.  Add a tee and attach two shut-offs.

I had turned the water off at the meter out near the street and had reconfigured the tee and valves.  Now all that was left was to check for leaks.  It was a perfect job for the Lovely Lady.  Our son had stopped by to check on our progress, but he wasn’t dressed for under-the-sink.  His part would be to keep an open line with me on his cell phone—just in case.

Just put your head under here, Dear.  Watch those two valves and the pipe near the new tee and see if they leak.  If you see any drips, have him (pointing to our son) tell me immediately.  Oh.  Make sure you look to see where it’s leaking before I turn the water back off.

Contingency plans in place and cell phone in hand, I went out to turn on the water supply.  It didn’t take long.

Dad!  There’s a lot of water coming out!

I stayed calm.

Make sure she knows where it’s coming from.  I have to know where it needs to be tightened.

There was no hesitation on his part.

No.  It’s a lot, Dad!  Really.  A lot.  She knows where it’s coming from!

I turned the water supply back off.

The Lovely Lady was soaked.  Really wet.  And, not all that happy.

I had left one of the shut-off valves completely open.  Turned on all the way.  In the contained space of the cabinet, the stream ricocheted off the wall it was aimed at and splattered everything under there.  She was under there.

How could such a thing happen?  I followed the righty-tighty, lefty-loosey rule.  I did.

I had, from my place near the new tee just installed, reached along to the end of the pipe, nearly a foot on and turned the shut-off to the right to close it.

How could that not have been clos. . .Oh!  I was reaching from the underside of the valve!  To the right from underneath the valve would have been left if I had been in the correct position looking from the top side.

I had turned the valve open all the way myself.  She was soaked and I was to blame.

Mirror image.

Later, that problem rectified, and a few other minor drips eliminated, I finished up by plumbing the drains on the new sink, too.  It was time to test it all out.

I turned on the cold water tap.  Voila!  Water rushed out and down the drain.  There was not a single drip!

But, as I reached over to turn off the tap, I realized something odd was going on.  The water—the cold water—was hot.  Really hot.

Backward.  I had them backward.

No, not the feeds to the sink.  I had actually extended the cold water line to go to the dishwasher.  It only needs a hot water line.  It won’t work with cold water at all.

When I had planned the day’s project, I had access to the back of the bathroom wall, so carefully  I selected the line I was to extend from there.  Everyone knows the hot water is on the left of the faucet.  I picked the one on the left and added the tee and additional shut-off valve to that one.

Mirror image.

It wasn’t a great day.  I might as well have been tacking up crown molding.

Perspective.

The apostle, my namesake, knew about mirror images.  He said life now is just like trying to see with a bad mirror.  Now, he says, we see dimly through the mirror, the details jumbled and sometimes confusing.

Boy, do I get that!  I turn one way when I should turn another.  I flip the switch on the right when I needed the one on the left.

I wonder if I’m the only one?

Oh but, the day is coming!  Twenty-twenty vision!  We’ll see everything exactly as it is.  We’ll see our Savior and know His perfect plan.

One day.

No more will we live life through the looking glass.  No more hot when we wanted cold.  No more confusion, no more wondering.

On the day we get up and take that short journey around to the other side, the side on which He’s waiting for us, it will come sharply into focus.

He sees it all clearly, right now.  He’ll show us the way if we’re willing to listen.

He sees it all clearly, right now. He'll show us the way. Right now. Click To Tweet

Too often, I think I know all the facts.  Too often, I take situations into my own hands.

But, I’m learning the things I want aren’t always what He has planned.  I’m even realizing the things I’ve come to think of as His blessings are sometimes simply chains that keep me from what He really wants for me.

I don’t do that well with mirror images.

It’s time to surrender the job to the Master Craftsman.

I’m ready.  Perhaps, the Lovely Lady will appreciate the change, too.  It might be drier for her on the other side.

It’s His mirror.

I want to see through His eyes.

 

 

Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.
(1 Corinthians 13:12 ~ NLTHoly Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation.  All rights reserved.)

 

I’ve looked at life from both sides now 
From win and lose and still somehow 
It’s life’s illusions I recall
I really don’t know life at all.
(Both Sides Now ~ Joni Mitchell ~ Canadian singer/songwriter ~ © 1967 Gandalf Publishing Co ~ All rights reserved)

 

 

 

 

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

Where is the Queue?

Sunday night late—the stoop seems as good a place as any to ponder.
Big things, I always choose.  Tonight, all I see is the moon, and it is big enough.
Full, bright, and orange it was when earlier I stood with my love, taken with wonder.
Now murky and circled with clouds, it only warns of rain to come in the soon dawning day.  Monday with rain.

How does the joy and wonder turn so suddenly to foreboding?
Where does the elation go when I am overcome with dread?
It is not only the moon and not only the night that bring the sudden turnaround.
Still.  The questions remain.
How so suddenly changed?
Where can I go to retrieve the joy?
Where is the queue to reclaim peace for my soul?

I wrote the words a year ago.  They were never meant to share.  Not with anyone.

Two nights ago, he called me—the man who is the rock.  No, really.  The Rock of Gibraltar.  Or, so I have believed.

His close friends, two of them, have died in the last week.  Another, even closer to him, is in the terrifying uncertainty of awaiting the doctor’s report.

He is shaken.  Shaken.

We talked for some time and agreed on this certainty at the end of the conversation: We know the Peace-giver.  In our prayers and gratitude, He gives His peace that we cannot understand.

The Prince of Peace gives Himself.  

The Prince of Peace gives Himself. Click To Tweet

His words, fear not, are not meant as a command to be followed religiously, in fear of offense.  They are the assurance of a loving parent—a promise of safety, of wholeness, of perfect rest.  

They are words to comfort and not to condemn.

And, as children are wont to do, we forget.  We do.  

And, like a Father, He reminds again.  And again.  

His words are fresh every time.  His arms of protection cover—every time.

Peace.  I am leaving it with you.  Not the kind of peace the world offers, brokered by the powerful and ensured by weapons and threats.  No, my peace is a gift to hold in your heart, where no man and no circumstance can plunder it.  (John 14:27)

Where anger rules, peace dissolves.  Where terror dwells, peace cannot live.  Where worry spreads, peace is no more.

Does it mean our hearts will never be touched by these things?  By no means.

Fear may pass through, anger may swell up, anxiety may worm its way in.

But His peace reigns.  Just as Peter, when we begin to sink beneath the waves, we remember who rules those waves.  

As we walk through the valley of the shadow, we recall who waits for us over there.

You know—over there.  Where our home—our real home—is being made ready for us.

Here is the queue to reclaim peace—in exactly the same place it was the last time.

We’re next in line.  Every time.

Peace.

Shalom.

 

 

God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there.  There is no such thing.
(C.S. Lewis ~ British theologian/author ~ 1898-1963)

 

 

And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.
(Philippians 4:7 ~ KJV)

 

 

 

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

 

Treasure in the Dumpster

I usually punch the snooze button on my alarm once—maybe twice. Okay.  Three times.

Not today.

The noises outside my second-story window had been going for awhile.  You know how sounds creep into your slumber, disturbing your dreams, especially in the moments just before the alarm begins to sound.

 As I reached for the alarm button, a clatter from the dumpster reached my ear.  

I got up.

I stood at my upstairs bedroom window and watched the shirtless man for some time.  The dumpster had been almost full—or so I had thought.

He had stirred through the entire container, moving the larger items from the top to the bottom and around the sides.  By the time I was aware of his presence, he was standing on the bottom of the dumpster, just like Moses in the middle of the Red Sea, with the mountains of debris piled up on either side.

Items (my trash!) he wanted to keep were carefully balanced around the edges of the steel container.

I decided I wouldn’t interfere with the man’s treasure hunt.  I hadn’t wanted the items.  Why should I keep him from taking whatever he thought he could use or profit from?

Treasures from trash.  

The concept hasn’t left my head all day.

Trash.  Treasures.

It’s nothing new.  We don’t even have to say the entire maxim and most will finish the thought.  One man’s trash. . .

One man’s trash is another man’s treasure. 

The underlying premise is that one is no better than the other. 

I have no intention of demeaning the homeless man foraging in my dumpster.  He is doing what he knows to do to provide for himself.

Additionally, I have no desire to point a finger at any person, comparing them to others for the reader to make a judgment of character.

It’s just that I know something of dumpster diving.  

I don’t know quite how to put it.  Well, yes, I do.  It won’t make some people happy. 

The truth is like that.

I know two things about looking for treasures in the trash bin:

1.  Even if useful items may sometimes be found in the trash, most of the time, there’s nothing but trash to be found.

2.  If one digs for treasures in the trash long enough, eventually that person begins to forget that it’s trash they’re digging through.  

It will most likely become evident soon—if it hasn’t already occurred to the reader—that I’m not really that concerned with dumpsters and the practice of digging through the ubiquitous receptacles.

There are some who spend their lives dredging through the garbage.  Their lives and hearts are filled with the stench.

And still, they dive in.

A friend, many years ago, regaled me with the story of his sister-in-law and her experience at the local casino.  

The first time—the very first time—she entered the casino, against her better judgment and at the urging of her friends, she won a large sum of money while gambling.  

Willingly, eagerly, she returned to the gaudy, glitzy place again and again, certain she would find treasure once more at its tables.  She never did.  Even if she had, the losses could never have been surpassed by her gains.

There was never treasure to be found there—never more than false promises and empty hopes.

Still trash.

As to the second point, I can’t help but think of the Tolkien character of Gollum in The Lord of the Rings.  He had lived in the dark and stinking places of the world for so long that when he, starving and weak, was offered the delicate cake of the elves’ lembas, he choked on it and called it ashes.

Ashes.

As I write this, in the wee hours of the night, the sun will be rising soon on another Independence Day in the United States.  I’m saddened by what I see in the hearts of many in our country, even in my little town, and I have to wonder, what do we have to celebrate this July 4th?  

We, and I include most folks I know—Christians and otherwise, liberals and conservatives, politically active and indifferent—seem to revel in the trash pile.  We delight in all that is negative and hateful, dredging it up again and again, in whatever form we find it in the garbage container, only to throw it in the faces of our used-to-be friends and acquaintances.

It almost seems we believe this is how we were meant to live.

It wasn’t.

It isn’t.

In our interactions with others, we must—absolutely must—rise above the garbage and restore community.  If we don’t, our country is lost, I fear.

And yet, there is an even more essential element to this conversation.

The Teacher,  imploring His followers to set their affections on more important things, warned against the garbage.  

Where the source of your treasure is located, your heart by nature will turn to.  (Matthew 6:21)

If we do things the way we’ve always done them, the result will always be the same.  

Every time.

Soon after that astounding Day of Pentecost, the disciples Peter and John were going to the temple to worship.  A lame man sat there, in the place he had sat every day for as long as he could remember.  It was all he knew, this detestable begging for his living.  And yet, as the two men passed him, he looked at them, expecting nothing more than a few pennies to extend his unhappy misery an hour or two more.

Peter looked at him and said, “It’s time you stopped dumpster diving.”

Well, that’s not really what he said.  What he told the lame man was that they had no money.  I assume the disappointed man would have turned his eyes toward the next party approaching.  Well? He wasn’t going to get what he needed here.  Why shouldn’t he?

We have no silver, nor do we have any gold.  Here’s the thing:  What we do have, we’re going to give to you.  Get up.  Walk with us into the temple to worship.  (Acts 3:6)

You know, there’s no treasure in any dumpster worth more than what God offers every single one of us.

His Grace and mercy will lift us out of whatever garbage receptacle we’ve been digging through to find our worth.

His love reaches down right where we’re searching, whether ankle deep or neck deep in refuse.

He sets us in higher places.

He sets us in higher places. Click To Tweet

Higher.

It’s time to stop hoarding trash that looks like treasure to us.

It’s time to begin storing away the real thing.

In a place it will be safe.

In a place where we’ll be safe.

It’s time.

 

 

I lived through the garbage.  I might as well dine on caviar.
(Beverly Sills ~ American opera singer ~ 1929-2007)

 

Why spend your money on food that does not give you strength?
    Why pay for food that does you no good?
Listen to me, and you will eat what is good.
    You will enjoy the finest food.

“My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the Lord.
    “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine.
For just as the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so my ways are higher than your ways
    and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.
(Isaiah 55:2, 8-9 ~ NLT)

 

 

 

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

Trusty

She had stored the instrument in an attic.

Attics are hot.  

I know.  I spent most of an hour in one today.

Sweat poured from my face and body—almost as if I were melting—while I completed my task.  When I finally crawled out, filthy and soaked through, from the sweltering darkness I wanted nothing else but to escape outside to the relative coolness of the mid-eighty degree afternoon temperatures.

Attics are hot.

As I sat and drank down a cold bottle of water, my mind, as it tends to do, brought back the picture of the old lady, who has long since left this life.  Thirty years ago, she wandered into my music store, carrying the large container that looked almost like a suitcase.

Her head shook up and down as she spoke in a squeaky voice.

“I’ve been holding on to this for a long time, but it won’t play anymore.  Can you fix it?”

I opened the huge case and lifted out the ancient accordion.  As I shifted it to sit on the countertop in front of me, there was a clatter from the interior of the instrument.

That wasn’t good.

The lady had left the squeeze-box with a friend she trusted for safe-keeping and the friend thought it would be safest in his attic.

Attics are hot.

All the reeds—the part of the accordion that air blows through to make the sound you can hear—are held in with beeswax.  That’s all—beeswax.

You do know what happens to wax when it gets hot, right?.  You know, like when you light a candle?  

Sure, you do.  It liquefies.

Every single reed had fallen out of place and into a huge pile inside the center of the instrument.  It wouldn’t make a sound.  Well, except for the jangle of loose reeds bumping against each other, it wouldn’t make a sound.

Useless.  Absolutely useless.

Somehow, the remembrance of the experience—one that eventually had a happy ending, with a repair being effected and the instrument being saved for the lady—the remembrance brings to mind another story of great heat and complete failure.  

The mind does run on, doesn’t it?

I have always loved to read.  In my childhood, I was especially drawn to myths and fantasies, a juvenile escape, I suppose, from the hard and sometimes unhappy realities of life.

One of my favorite myths, probably a favorite because I have always dreamed of what it would be like to fly, was the story of Icarus.  In Greek mythology, Icarus and his father were imprisoned on an island, but escaped by flying away on wings they fashioned from feathers and wax.

Icarus ignored his father’s warnings and, trusting the make-shift wings too much, flew higher and higher until the sun melted the wax, causing the feathers to fall off.  He fell into the ocean below and drowned.

Both stories reminded me that good intentions—and even solid planning—don’t always work out the way we expect.

As I sat outside today, nearly back to normal, I realized words were running through my head—either the result of the strange line of thought or, perhaps, the cause of it.  It’s hard to tell sometimes.

We’ve wanted to be trusty and true, but the feathers fell from our wings.

A week ago, a friend shared the song.  I had never heard it before.  The words hit hard as I listened, and moved me as much as any I’ve heard in recent memory.  I found myself agreeing with the artist throughout.

Even though it’s not a Christian song, its truth is still profound.

I want to be dependable, to act as one who has proven, time after time, to be trustworthy.

I want to be trusty.  

I do.

But, again and again, I do the thing which shows the disaster I really am.

Flapping for all I’m worth, my feathers have all melted away and I’m going down.  Again.

The Apostle, my namesake, tells us he had the same problem, as well.  The things I say I want to do, I don’t seem to be able to accomplish.  The acts I want to avoid at all costs—those are the ones I find myself performing.  (Romans 7:15)

Somehow, the heat is always on.  Somehow, our feathers never will stay put.

And, the harder we try, the more the notes won’t sound.

Some would say we’re trying too hard.

I just say, we’re trying.  And, we can never succeed in the strength we have.  Never.

The problem is not that we're trying too hard, it's that we're trying at all. Click To Tweet

Every attempt we ever make at being trusty on our own will ultimately end in failure.  Every one.

We fly, only when He gives us wings to do so.  We make music because He puts the reeds into place.

He saved us, not because of our own righteousness, but because of His unending mercy.  By the washing and renewing of His Spirit, we are His.  (Titus 3:5)

Even when the heat is on, our faces dripping with perspiration and lungs filling with the filth of this world, we are His, saved by His Grace.

Time to fly.

Fly high.

The only One who is Trusty and True has us.

We just have to come.

We’ve wanted to be trusty and true
But feathers fell from our wings
And we’ve wanted to be worthy of you
But weather rained on our dreams.

And if all that you are
Is not all you desire,
Then, come.
(from Trusty and True ~ Damien George Rice ~ Copyright © 2014 Warner/Chappell Music, Inc.)

 

 

So I advise you to buy gold from me—gold that has been purified by fire. Then you will be rich. Also buy white garments from me so you will not be shamed by your nakedness, and ointment for your eyes so you will be able to see.
(Revelation 3:18 ~ 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.

Not My Tree

Look, Grandpa!  The tree’s broken!

The sweet seven-year-old, disheveled blonde hair flying into her eyes, spoke the momentous words without any idea of the turmoil they would bring.  Within seconds, she was standing on a stepladder pulling little green fruit from the branches she could reach.  I almost didn’t remember to warn her of the impending stomachache.  Almost.

I was the one who felt as if he had been punched in the stomach.

The tree will die.  It is inevitable.

I am sad.

It’s really not my tree.  It doesn’t change how I feel about it.

The Lovely Lady and I are returning to her roots.  For nearly seventy years, the old house and surrounding property have been part of her family, her parents having moved in the house within a few years of being married.

We’ve spent several months breathing new life into the house, with the property needing as much resuscitation as the building.  Days, we’ve spent clearing overgrowth and dead limbs, along with more than a few saplings which had poked their branches up where they weren’t wanted.

But the old apple tree, with its gnarled limbs and bowed trunk—looking for all the world like an ancient fellow bent by years of backbreaking work—the old apple tree was meant to stay forever.

Forty years ago, it was.  Four decades back, this summer, I first tasted the fruit from that tree.  Sitting at the table, long hair to my shoulders and skinny as one of the branches of the tree, I ate—gobbled down, really—the serving of apple crisp set before me by the Lovely Young Lady’s mother.

Before the meal was done, I asked for another serving, and then another.  Slightly tart, yet pleasingly sweet, the crunch of the crumbly crust almost a surprise as one chewed, it was a treat to be savored and assigned to the memory banks for a lifetime.

I expected a repeat performance later this summer when the little green apples—the ones the neighborhood deer herd can’t reach from their hind legs—have turned to shades of yellows and reds.

My granddaughter is right.  The tree is broken.  An errant wind, whipped up in a rainstorm a week or so ago, has twisted the gnarled, bowed trunk and opened a crack that, as an old friend used to say, you could sling a cat through.

I feel as if an old friend has been told he has mere weeks to live.  The thought of losing this old companion is more than I want to contemplate, but still, my mind mulls over the future.

That night, my daughter assures me, the children went to bed with nary a sign of a bellyache.  I’m the one who is sick to his stomach.

I suppose it’s laughable.  I could understand an uninvolved individual chortling at the idea.

It’s a ratty old tree!  Who cares if it dies?  Plant another one there.  Or—better yet—build a fire circle with a pit.  Parties are better than apple crisp any day!

It’s not even my tree.

Well, in a way, I suppose it is.  You might call it the family tree.

I know.  Puns aren’t universally loved.  I love them, though.

You see, the Lovely Lady can’t remember a day when that apple tree wasn’t there.  I don’t know if her dad planted it or not, but he certainly tended it for decades, ensuring it would bear fruit and be there for the foreseeable future.  In a way, you might say, it was his legacy.

A legacy.

Better than money or belongings, this thing left behind, this family tree, carries with it special powers.  I look at it and am carried back forty years to apple crisp and fresh applesauce, straight from the Foley Food Mill.  The Lovely Lady goes back another decade and remembers climbing the old tree with her siblings, each in their own quadrant, to pick and eat the not-so-sweet fruit to their heart’s content.

Years of family history have gone by, and the tree that is not mine has seen every minute of those years.

But, this I remember and take heart:  The legacy will not die with the old tree.

Memories live in our hearts.  Long after that old tree is gone, I will, in my mind, taste the delicious desserts made from its fruit.

The legacy left behind is so much more important than trees that perish in the storm or money that is soon exhausted in the marketplace.

I was grafted into her family tree decades ago; although once a stranger, I was never treated as anything but a son and brother.  Her legacy is mine, and vice versa.

Funny.  Suddenly, I’m thinking of that other family tree I’ve been grafted into.

You know the one I mean.

We’ve been grafted into God’s tree, to be a part of His family forever.  (Romans 11:17)

Wild, unproductive branches, we.

Once, we were.

No longer.  With roots that go deep, this tree’s legacy is ours forever.

Even though it was never our tree, to begin with.

What a gift!

How would we not carry on the legacy and share it freely?

Carry on His legacy. Share it freely. Click To Tweet

I’m still sad about the apple tree.  Perhaps, I’ll plant another one.

Future generations may need to taste that apple crisp again.

I know I can still taste it.

And, it’s still good.

 

 

The great use of life is to spend it for something that will outlast it.
(William James ~ American philosopher ~ 1842-1910)

 

And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.
(Psalm 1:3 ~ KJV)

 

 

 

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

Jubal’s Tribe

Have you ever considered how music touches our souls?

The preacher sat toying with his coffee cup, now mostly empty.  When we first sat down an hour before, it had been filled to the rim with the hot, black elixir.  

We had talked of history and faith and friends, along with a sentence or two about the glory days of our youth.  As our time together inched toward its termination, the conversation turned toward the philosophical.

My guitar-playing friend was there, as well.  He, as was his habit, contributed to the direction of our discussion with a short narrative about a man and his wife of many years who had sung together at a recent music event the storyteller had headlined.

The thing is, the lady has Alzheimer’s.  She doesn’t know her husband anymore, nor is she able to comprehend even simple questions or enter into conversation.  But, she sang.  

She sang.

It’s not the first story told about music and how it is so deeply ingrained in our very being.  Many others have their own anecdotes, family lore which lightens the darkness of sad periods in their memories.  I have my own. too. 

The last time I visited with the red-headed lady who raised me—my mom—before she left this life, she didn’t know me.  Told me I was no good.  Ordered me out of her house.

But, when I sat beside her in church that morning and held my hymnal in front of her, she nearly pulled it out of my hand as she tugged at it.  And, she sang.

She sang.

Tears came to my eyes as I visited with my friends that morning, just a week or so ago.  The three of us sat on the sidewalk at the cafe, conversations abuzz all around and cars passing by on the busy downtown street; all I heard was my Mama’s voice singing praise to her Creator.

Why does music touch our souls?

How is it that the words and melodies are written indelibly on our hearts when all else has gone dark?

From the depths of our being, when neither voices nor photos, nor even faces can bring familiar, well-worn paths and fellow-travelers back to mind, the introductory notes of an old hymn—or even a folk song or ballad—stir the synapses of the mostly unresponsive brain to recall the words and tune faultlessly.

Even my father-in-law, in the last years of his life almost completely unresponsive, would sit beside his wife as she played the piano, and his once strong voice would ring out the tenor part as if he had no impediment whatsoever.

Why does music touch our souls?

I attempted to interject my thoughts on the effect music has on our emotions, the right sequence of notes drawing tears in appropriate places during the course of a movie, or even the use of certain types of music to inspire courage and fidelity on the battlefield.

The preacher dismissed that as simply emotions, not actually the heart.  I, not sure I agreed, ceded him the point, since it was clear that any argument would have been merely subjective, without any possibility of claiming definitive proof.

Perhaps that’s a discussion for another day.  I’m not fully convinced.  I’ll have to think on that awhile longer.  

For today though, the question still demands an answer.  Why does music touch the soul—or heart, if you prefer—and leave its mark stamped thereon?

Jabal had a brother, whose name was Jubal.  He was the father of all who play the harp and pipe. (Genesis 4:21)

Jubilation and jubilees had arrived.  Seven generations after Adam, the gift of music began to be ingrained in the human spirit.  The birds in the trees no longer had any advantage over humanity, save that they could fly.  

Henceforth, the human spirit would be moved, not only by words and emotions, but by music.  Notes and chords, strung together and played or sung, would make their way inexorably and irretrievably into the hearts of men.

For those of us who hold a worldview shaped by Scripture, music would have the purpose of drawing men to God and glorifying Him.  The Word is full of evidence.  Read Psalm 95:1, Ephesians 5:19, 2 Chronicles 5:13, to only begin.

Scripture’s pages are full of the act of making music.  Across the ages, hearts were drawn irresistibly to God in song.

What a gift!

The weekend after that coffee morning with my friends, I stood in the Sunday morning worship service where the Lovely Lady and I fellowship and, once again, the point was made as clear as a mountain spring to me.

Although, I am often privileged to be part of the worship team on-stage, on this day I stood in the midst of the main group on the floor level.  My mind, as is too often the case, was on the more practical issues of my life—work, finances (or the lack thereof), uncertainties of the future—rather than focused on worship.

There was nothing spectacular about the music.  Nothing.

And yet, as I stood and sang, as I had been taught to do early in life by that red-headed lady I spoke of earlier, the eyes of my soul were drawn irresistibly to higher things.  

The God of all the universe has come to live within us.  To walk with us.  To put eternity in our hearts.

My voice broke.  As the tears flowed, my voice fell silent.

My heart did not. 

I wonder if He hears the song in our hearts when our voices fail us.

I wonder if He hears the song in our hearts when our voices fail us. Click To Tweet

I wonder.

Music touches our souls because the God who is Love knew we would need to be reminded.  Often.

What a gift!  The gift that soothes, that inspires, that makes the heart to soar.

Jubilation!

 

 

Musick has Charms to sooth a savage Breast,
To soften Rocks, or bend a knotted Oak.
(William Congreve ~ English playwright ~ 1670-1729)

 

 

Sing a new song to the Lord,
    for he has done wonderful deeds.
His right hand has won a mighty victory;
    his holy arm has shown his saving power!
The Lord has announced his victory
    and has revealed his righteousness to every nation!
He has remembered his promise to love and be faithful to Israel.
    The ends of the earth have seen the victory of our God.
Shout to the Lord, all the earth;

    break out in praise and sing for joy!
Sing your praise to the Lord with the harp,

    with the harp and melodious song,
with trumpets and the sound of the ram’s horn.

    Make a joyful symphony before the Lord, the King!
Let the sea and everything in it shout his praise!

    Let the earth and all living things join in.
(Psalm 98: 1-7 ~ 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.

Never Satisfied

I wish I knew how it happened.  Maybe I’m just too competitive.  Someday, I’ll learn.

Nearing the end of a bicycle ride today, I noticed an athletically-built young man on his bike some distance ahead of me.  Going the same direction as I, but with the interval between us lessening steadily, it appeared I would be ahead of him fairly soon.

He rounded a curve in the road and glanced back to see me a couple hundred feet behind.  Immediately, he stood up on his pedals and began to pump away, swinging the bike wildly from side to side with his muscular grip on the handlebars. 

It was hard to misinterpret his intent.  There was no way this old man was going to pass him!

Oh, man!  Challenge accepted!

I didn’t stand up.  I didn’t throw the bicycle from side to side.  I simply spun the pedals faster, exerting myself where I had been on autopilot a moment before.  As I reached a higher speed, I flipped the right-hand brake lever (also the shifter) to the side and the derailleur on the back wheel dropped the chain over one sprocket, sending more of my expended energy to the wheel propelling the lightweight machine of metal and rubber.

Within a quarter mile, I had overtaken the young man and, acting the part of the gracious winner (merely acting, mind you), greeted him in passing, only to hear his backdoor criticism of my feat.

“That’s an awesome bike, man!”

I sputtered out a comment about it being a great day for a ride and pedaled on past.  He turned a corner moments later and was lost from the view of my little rearview mirror.

I pedaled on at the same speed for awhile, but slowed gradually as the short, odd interaction took over my mind.

He’s not wrong.

It is a wonderful bicycle.  

It’s a lot more bicycle than a rider like myself deserves.  It was offered to me for a very reasonable price by an old friend just over a year ago.  Since the Lord had recently blessed me with an extra sum of money earned playing my horn, I had the wherewithal to afford it and I purchased it.

I understand how nice the bike is.  That’s not my problem.

The thing is, the bicycle didn’t overtake the fellow on the road today.

I did.

Lest you think I’m getting a size or two too large for my lycra shorts, let me assure you I understand very clearly my limitations as a cyclist.

I’m not that good a rider.

But, here is what I know, mostly from long periods of time spent doing just the opposite:  If one rides regularly, one develops the ability to ride faster and farther.

You have to ride your bike.

A month ago, the young athlete would have pulled away from me easily, showing up this old man on his awesome bike.

That beautiful bicycle sitting in the storage barn could never have passed anyone by itself.  And, ridden by a cyclist on the road for his first outing in a year, the result would certainly have been a losing effort.
                             

As often happens, while my mind was still chewing on the remnants of this earlier event, a seemingly unrelated activity later in the day gave me something new to contemplate.

I was glancing at my smartphone, and decided it was past time to clear out the notes reminding me I need to pick up eight-penny finishing nails (the 8d nails are in the pine window jamb already), or that I couldn’t forget to buy a new battery for my truck’s key fob (I did that six months ago). There were lots more, but most are just as mundane—and outdated—as these, so I won’t bore you with a recitation of them all.

One note caught my attention as I flipped past though, so I quickly scrolled back up to it.  It was a little blurb I wrote months ago, thinking about who-knows-what? at the time.

Be content with what you have, but never with where you are.

Somehow tonight, the words jumped off the screen at me.  I’ll delete those other notes later.  This is important stuff!

The apostle who once was called Saul made the statement.  Well, he actually made two different statements, but both are rolled up in this one.

Thanking his friends for sending a gift to him, the letter-writing apostle hastened to let them know he had no problem functioning with whatever God provided.  I have learned, in whatever condition I find myself—with that, to be content. (Philippians 4:11)

Earlier in the same letter, he had encouraged them to keep moving—leaving the past and its accomplishments behind—to the goal, never staying in the same place. (Philippians 3:12-14)

The two statements stand, seemingly in opposition to each other.  When combined though, they form a principle with the capability of radically changing the way we live our lives.

Be content. 

Never be satisfied.

It messes with the brain a bit, doesn’t it?

Be content with what you have, but never with where you are.

Never.

I have a very nice French horn which sits in its case on my floor.  Well sure, I have the horn, but why didn’t our Creator make me a prodigy so I could play it effortlessly and flawlessly (and even earn money for more nice cycling equipment)?

I wonder.  I have the horn.  Perhaps, I could practice and then possibly, I might someday be able to play it adequately.

Some may wish they could execute beautiful counted cross stitch projects, having needle and thread already in their possession, but lacking the ability and the training to immediately achieve their dream.  I wonder if such a person might start by sewing buttons on shirtsleeves and then see what comes next.

If I gaze longingly out toward the storage barn, remembering the awesome bicycle out there, but wishing for the strength and understanding to operate such a conveyance, I’ll never have more than that bicycle—sitting idle in storage.

It takes time and dedication to be able to use His gifts properly.  

And somehow, when we commit ourselves to moving forward, He seems to give better gifts with which to make the journey.

Be content with what you have, but never with where you are. Click To Tweet

It’s time to take what He’s blessed us with and move in the direction He points us.

Towards Him.

Closer to home.

It is an awesome bike.

Time to get in the race.

 

 

 

Our battered suitcases were piled on the sidewalk again; we had longer ways to go. But no matter, the road is life.
(On the Road ~ Jack Kerouac ~ American novelist ~1922-1969)

 

 

 

 

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