Climb It

Is that it?  I expected more.

There have been any number of nights over the last couple of weeks when I’ve sat and wondered.  Surely, I missed something.

I have written every Christmas season for the last few years about the Candlelight Service at the local university.  I’ve been privileged to play my horn in the brass prelude for the beautiful service several decades now.

A few years ago, I said the evening never fails to overwhelm, to lay my heart open before the Creator of the universe.  I never expected less.

I think it was less this year.

Oh, it wasn’t the fault of any of the performers or of the conductor.  The performances were wonderful.  Skillful even.  Well-prepared and talented, there was no fault to be found with any of the participants.

Still,  the big moment never came.  Three nights, I did my part and returned to my seat to listen to the end. 

It was nice.  Christmas-y.

But, there were no tears.  No ecstasy.  No wow! moments.

I did notice that, without it being planned, the first song—and the last—from the stage each night were the same song.  It wasn’t all that wonderful—just odd.

Go Tell It On The Mountain.

Our brass group played it to start the evening—a nice catchy version of the old spiritual.  It was fun.

The main choir sang a version of the song to finish their stage performance, upbeat and catchy as well.  It was fun.

I wasn’t moved by either version.  Not this year.

I’ve spent the year trudging along.  Manual labor and too many steps—every day. 

Somehow, after all the aching muscles and sore feet, I was looking forward to the euphoria of being carried away.  Kind of like a Calgon moment, if you know what I mean.

I did have the same thought in my head as I left each night.  I wondered if there was a reason the music on stage started and ended with the instructions to go and tell it on some mountain.  

I’ve said it at Christmas before:  There are no accidents.

Sometimes, I have to have things pounded into my thick skull.  I’m not the brightest crayon in the box, you know.

I packed up my horn the last night of the program and headed out into the cold to walk the few blocks home.  I was disappointed.

Nothing.  There were no visions, no spine-tingling solos, no ancient conductors who reminded me of the original Conductor.  Just a catchy version of an old spiritual.  A kid’s song, if you will.

It got worse.  I walked home in the cold and had the defining thought for the whole affair.  I even had Siri write a note for me on my phone as I walked.

To tell it on the mountain, one has to first climb the mountain.

Well.  There’s a bit of encouragement.  I’m getting old.  I’m already tired.  And, now I’ve got to climb another mountain.  And, probably another one after that.

Hmmm.  Does it seem as if I’m complaining?  It does, doesn’t it?  Perhaps, I am.

I’ve thought about this for awhile and I want a chance to defend myself.  I want to excuse my churlishness, my complaining.

Haven’t I done enough?

Somehow though, I’m remembering that He climbed a mountain or two in His time on earth.  Walking absolutely everywhere He went, He carried the good news, the gospel, to all who needed to hear—and experience—it for themselves.

He climbed the mountain in Samaria to sit by Jacob’s well and give living water to the woman there.  (John 4:4-26)

He sat on the mount and pronounced blessings to those who would listen to and heed His words.  From that mountain, He gave them, in essence, the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven. (Matthew 5-7)

He went one day with a few of his followers to the top of another mountain and somehow met with a couple of men from history.  (Mark 9:2-8)

And then, there was that day He plodded, bloodied and beaten, to the top of the hill where He would die for the sins of the whole world.  (John 19:17-18)

This was a mountain He had been climbing since before the beginning of time.  From the foundation of the earth, He was ordained to climb to the top of that hill and be raised high above it.

It is the mountain He was born to climb.

This Baby we celebrate, with all our pageants and all our concerts—all our lights and all our decorations, was born to climb that mountain and declare good news.  To all people.

I suppose I might be able to climb another hill or two.

I don’t know how beautiful my feet are, but the prophet Isaiah suggested they would be by the time the task is completed.

To tell it on the mountain, one has to first climb the mountain.

To tell it on the mountain, one has to first climb the mountain. Click To Tweet

He did.  The Baby, born in a stable.  The Man, carrying living water.  The Lamb, taking away the sins of the world. 

He did.

Time for me to start climbing again.

You coming with?

 

 

How beautiful on the mountains
    are the feet of the messenger who brings good news,
the good news of peace and salvation,
    the news that the God of Israel reigns!
(Isaiah 52:7 ~ NLTHoly Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007, 2013, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.)

 

Down in a lowly stable 
the humble Christ was born, 
and God sent us salvation 
that blessed Christmas morn.

Go, tell it on the mountain, 
over the hills and everywhere;
go, tell it on the mountain 
that Jesus Christ is born.
(Go Tell It On The Mountain ~ American spiritual ~ adapted by John W Work ~ Educator and historian)

 

 

 

 

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

Please Don’t Dog Ear The Pages

“Oh, yeah.  Tell him I’d like to have a new copy of Watership Down.  I can’t read the one I have now.”

My son, kind man that he is, wants to buy his father a gift for Christmas, even though I’ve said many times that I need nothing.  The Lovely Lady knows better and sends him ideas by text—secretly, she thinks.

We were riding toward home this evening, after a trip to a neighboring town, and my brain jumped to the thought.  As I usually do, I spoke without considering the consequences.

Well, I guess they will not be, strictly speaking, consequences. However, the Lovely Lady now has a new aberration to consider in her husband’s character, thanks to my premature announcement.  (I’m not sure it’s well-advised to give her too many of these points of oddness to think about at one time.)

She probably didn’t expect me to see the eye-roll that preceded her next question.  I suppose I didn’t really see it as much as I felt it.

What’s wrong with the copy on the bookshelf?  It looks perfectly legible to me.

She knew the answer.  She just wanted to hear it from me.

I fell in love with the story many years ago, back when I was young and full of dreams.  I still enjoy reading through it, now that I’m old and full of dreams.  The only problem is, I gave away my old, worn paperback copy back a ways. 

I thought I wouldn’t need it anymore.

We had been in a favorite book shop one afternoon, looking for bargains, when I saw it.  No, I saw IT.

IT was a beautiful hardback, with the dust jacket intact—paper, covered with clear plastic—and crisp, clean pages.  The price, written inside the back cover in pencil was exorbitant, ten times what I would normally pay for a good hardback—fifty times what I’d pay for a decent paperback.

We couldn’t afford it. 

We bought it anyway.

We walked out of the little book store with a near-mint First American Edition of the book.  I would never need to thumb through that old, tattered paperback again.  Never.

The truth of the matter is, I’ve never read the beautiful hardback.  Never.

I never will.  The book’s value is in its rarity, its exclusivity, its pristine condition.

The thing is, when I read, I live.  I eat.  Chocolate and grease stains attest to the fact.  I drink coffee or juice—suitable evidence can be provided.

I carry my books out to the bench in the back yard and, if interrupted rigorously enough, lay them down to scratch the ears of my dogs or play a game of fetch with them. 

I’ve always been told books are your friends, meaning I should handle them with kid gloves, but I don’t treat my friends that way.  I live life with them. 

I leave my mark on them and they leave their mark on me. 

Not so with this hardback.  It may be the worst fifty dollars I ever spent.  I can’t read it, nor can I sell it.  You don’t sell your friends  (unless your name is Judas).

She understands me, the Lovely Lady.  She just likes to make sure I know that, once in a while.

I think she sent a message to our son as we rode.  I don’t know for sure.  My mind was far away.  Even farther away than Watership Down.

Have you ever wondered?  Many do.  I can’t understand how one wouldn’t.

Why did the Savior of the world have to come like this?  Why a baby, born in a stable?  Why did smelly shepherds have to come, and weird foreigners have to follow a strange star?

Why did He live, wandering the land of His birth, homeless and un-celebrated? 

Why did He die a criminal’s death, hanging in shame on a crude cross of wood?

I would have had Him come as a triumphant conqueror, dressed in white and ruling from His palace, far above the smells and cries and demands of the filthy, backward people who walked the roads and worked in the marketplace.

I would have had. . .

Oh.

He came to be a friend to sinners, didn’t He?   

Like any friend, He would leave His mark on us.

And, we would leave our mark on Him.

He would leave His mark on us and we would leave our mark on Him. Click To Tweet

No pristine first edition, He.  Our very own volume, well-worn and dog-eared, to learn from firsthand.

The Word became flesh.  Living with us. (John 1:14)

His life an open book, one might say.

Maybe it’s time to read the book again.

I hope no one will mind if I dog ear a page or two.

                               

 

I wonder as I wander, out under the sky,
How Jesus the Savior did come for to die
For poor ornery people like you and like I;
I wonder as I wander, out under the sky.
(I Wonder As I Wander ~ John Jacob Niles ~ © 1945 by G. Schirmer, Inc. All rights reserved.  Used by permission.)

 

 

 

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

What He Said

Well?  What is it?  Desert, or Babylon?

The preacher sat across from me, nursing the same cup of coffee he had purchased over an hour before.  I suppose one might forget the cup in front of him if the conversation was interesting enough.

Still, he wanted an answer to his question.  I didn’t have one.  Not then.

I think I do now.  Maybe I should let him know.  Oh, let him wait.  Our next coffee morning is sure to find us sparring a bit—verbally, I mean—and we’ll discuss it again.

I had mentioned that it was a little hard to pick up my old writing habits in a new place, somewhat unfamiliar to me, and then I referenced the Psalm which wonders how it would be possible to sing the Lord’s song in a strange place.  The people of Judah had been taken into captivity in Babylon and, being asked to sing their familiar praise songs there by the river in that foreign place, declined, breaking down and weeping instead.  (Psalm 137:1-4)

I have been feeling sorry for myself for a few months.  I think perhaps my nobody-loves-me-everybody-hates-me-I’m-going-to-go-to-the-garden-and-eat-worms lament was getting tiresome, so the preacher decided to shut me up about it.

Well?  What if you’re really in the wilderness on your way to the Promised Land instead of in captivity in Babylon?

We bantered about it for a few minutes more and I left—headed back to Babylon—or the desert—whichever.

And yet, like a Labrador puppy with a new toy (or, more likely, an old stick), my mind kept worrying at the question.

Babylon?

Desert?

Oh, what was the difference?  Neither was desirable.  I didn’t want to be in either place.

No. Wait.

Babylon was a place of punishment—a place to go and either die or repent.

The desert, on the other hand, was simply a part of the journey to a country dreamed of for centuries.  A reward, if you will.

Funny.  They complained in both circumstances.

Me, too.

Why is that?  Why do we complain about the process when we know—absolutely know—what’s coming is glorious?

I understand the unhappy folks in Babylon.  They have nothing to look forward to, only dimming memories to hold in their hearts.  It would be nearly impossible to sing their joyous tunes there.

I’m not being punished.

I’ve known, for many years now, I will never arrive at my goal here in this world.  Well, I say “I’ve known”, but I guess I never really believed it.  At least, I don’t live like I believe it.

It’s easy to become complacent, isn’t it?  To begin to be satisfied with less.  Less than what we’ve envisioned.  Less than what has been promised us.

Less.

Because, less is easier.

And the angel of the Lord told young Mary she would have a child and He would be the Son of the Most High—a King who would rule forever.  (Luke 1:30-33)

And Mary said, I’ll take that.  What you said, I’ll take that.  (Luke 1:38)

The angel didn’t explain about the stable.  He didn’t describe the terrifying flight to a foreign country to save the young boy’s life.  Nothing at all was said about the boy wandering off to the temple.

I didn’t read anything about that horrible, horrible day when the Roman soldiers would torture and kill him right before her eyes.

Gabriel, that bright messenger, never told her that would happen.  Not a whisper.

But, she had a promise.  And, she accepted the promise.

Funny.  I also don’t remember ever reading anything about Mary wanting out of the deal.  Ever.

She simply tucked the memories and confirmation away in her heart and she kept up her part of the bargain.  Through the pain and the heart-numbing sorrow, she did her part.

Somehow, I think I may have the wrong things tucked away in my heart.  Somewhere along the way, I’ve forgotten the original deal.

This isn’t the place the story is going to finish.

This isn't the place the story is going to finish. Click To Tweet

Just as the story of Mary’s Baby never ended on that horrible hill, ours won’t be done until our Creator says it is.

Every step—every one—brings us closer to the place of joy and peace He’s promised.

And, along the way, we enjoy His provision.  In the midst of desolation and hardship, He feeds our spirits and sustains us.

The deal stands.

I’ll keep walking.

Milk and honey are still up ahead.

Through the desert.

 

 

I have always loved the desert. One sits down on a desert sand dune, sees nothing, hears nothing. Yet through the silence something throbs, and gleams…
(from The Little Prince ~ Antoine de Saint-Exupéry ~ 1900-1944)

 

The Israelites called the food manna. It was white like coriander seed, and it tasted like honey wafers.
(Exodus 16:31 ~ NLTHoly Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007, 2013, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.)

 

 

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

 

Changing Keys

She’s my favorite pianist, by far. For forty years, I’ve been listening to her play.

I sat in my easy chair watching television yesterday as she practiced the songs she would play for the Sunday morning worship service. The longer I sat there, the more annoying the racket became.

I muted the television.

What? You thought I meant the piano was the unwanted racket? I did say she was my favorite pianist. Without the intrusive noise of the TV, I just sat and enjoyed the music.

Many times, as I have listened with my eyes closed, the music stops and she begins to play other notes—notes not in the melody of the current song. It is almost always between verses of a song and sometimes, it can become a little tedious. Again and again, she goes through the progression, trying different notes here—substituting a new chord there.

Why doesn’t she just go on to the next verse? What does she suppose she’s accomplishing?

But, I hold my tongue and bide my time. I’m sure it will happen in a moment or two. Just give her time to work it out. . .

There it is. She goes back and repeats the last phrase she had completed, along with a few notes—and a chord or two—between it and the first line of the next verse. The result is always a little surprising.

She has modulated to a different key. She’s simply changing keys, nothing more.

If all you did was listen to that part of the practice session, you might not be impressed at all. She stumbles sometimes while finding the right chord to go between the former key and the new one. Don’t tell anyone, but she might have to practice it a few times before she gets it in her head and plays it right consistently.

But, if you’re in the congregation the next morning? All you’ll know is the music is lighter— loftier—with more impact and piqued interest.

The change is worth the effort. It’s worth the trouble.

I’m changing keys, too. But, I should tell you—they’re a different kind of key.

The keys I’m referring to now are the ones in my pocket, on my key ring. Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve replaced half of them with shiny new ones.

Thing is, I like the worn, slightly bent ones a little better. Maybe, a lot better.

The worn keys don’t have sharp edges. They slide into the locks they’re paired with smoothly and comfortably. No fumbling. No jiggling. No complaining under my breath.

But, the doors I used to open aren’t in use anymore—at least, not for me. Someone else will soon unlock those doors early in the morning, and later, turn the keys in the locks as they leave that evening.

I’m practicing with the new keys now. Fumbling in the dark for the right one, I feel for the lock, wishing for old comfortable doors to open in front of me. 

Then again, as I consider my condition, the realization begins to dawn. 

I don’t want to go back.

As I’ve walked through this world, with the companions God has generously provided for the road, there has never been a reward in going backward. Further up and Further in is where He leads.

He gives new keys to open new doors, because He wants me to trust Him and walk through them.

Whatever lies on the other side, if He gave the key, the lock will be worth opening.

Whatever lies on the other side, if He gave the key, the lock will be worth opening. Click To Tweet

New doors. Leading to new adventures. The old doors no longer open for me, their keys passing to others who need to trust as I once did.

I still trust Him.

Time to change keys.

Better and brighter things lie ahead. (Jeremiah 29:11)

He promised.

 

                             

 

A very little key will open a very heavy door.
(Hunted Down ~ Charles Dickens ~ English writer ~ 1812-1870)

 

I’m pressing on the upward way.
New heights I’m gaining every day.
Still praying as I onward bound;
Lord, plant my feet on higher ground.
(Higher Ground ~ Johnson Oatman Jr.  ~ American hymn writer ~ 1856-1922)

 

 

 

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

 

Calloused

My hands hurt. Most of the time, these days, they hurt.

I’m not complaining, really I’m not. Well, maybe just a little. And, I certainly don’t think it’s my fault. But then, if I stop to think a moment, it could be.

A quick search of Google shows that I need to have soft hands for them to be considered beautiful. Or, is that just women? I really can’t tell, but I’m pretty sure gnarled and scarred hands aren’t all that attractive, regardless of which gender they belong to.

I’ve never worried much about the appearance of my hands, but recently I’m a little more aware of it. Having worked with my hands all my life (and talked with them, too), the osteoarthritis now settling in my joints is beginning to mar the symmetry of my once-straight fingers.

Other things are conspiring to make them less physically attractive, as well.

In just the last week, I’ve pinched them with pliers (twice), cut them with a saw blade, with the sharp edge of an air conditioner duct, and the corner of a file. While I was at it, I smashed a knuckle using a power sander, and sliced the tip of my thumb with a utility knife (just tonight). I even have a jammed thumb on one hand, although I have no recollection of how that one happened.

The mind wanders—as it does—and I recall my last day of working for an electrician in another life, decades ago. I was leaving that job to return to the music business full-time, and the electrician I worked with mentioned he’d be calling Johnson & Johnson to warn them they might need to make some adjustments to their business plan. The puzzled look on my face led to his tongue-in-cheek explanation.

Since you won’t be working for us anymore, we won’t be purchasing all those bandages. They’re likely to face bankruptcy soon, I’d think.

When I work with my hands, I bleed. It’s a given. And yet, I keep working with my hands. Blood washes off. Cuts and scrapes heal.

Even now, as I sit and write, my hands hurt again. I rub them gently, feeling a few new callouses ,and again my mind wanders—further back, this time.

I was in my twenties. With young children, money was scarce, but we took the trip to South Texas anyway. Babies need to see their grandparents, and vice versa.

The car didn’t make it all the way to my childhood home in the Rio Grande Valley. Well, it did, but we could only drive 30 miles per hour the last sixty miles of the trip.

I spent my vacation under the hood of that old car. By the time it was running right again, my callouses had callouses, as the red-headed lady who raised me would have described it.

One afternoon after the problem was sorted out, my dad introduced me to a friend of his. As I shook his hand, he looked down at mine, then back up at me and smiled.

It’s nice to meet a young man these days who knows how to work with his hands.

Callouses. On callouses. I was embarrassed. And proud—if you understand how that could be true as well.

Lend me a hand.
Get your grubby hands off!
I’ve got to hand it to you.
He knows this town like the back of his hand.
We’re just living hand to mouth these days.
Don’t bite the hand that feeds you.
Give your hand in marriage.
My right-hand man.

These are only a small sampling of the phrases in our language in which the word hand plays a major part.  Hands are important to us.

They are important to our God, as well.

His Word is full of hands.

Hands that took the fruit and put it to the mouth—original sin. (Genesis 3:6)

Hands that blessed a young man who was wearing animal skin on his own hands, to deceive—the father of the Children of Israel. (Genesis 27)

Hands that stretched over the sea, parting the waters—a journey begun to freedom. (Exodus 14:21,22)

Hands that built a tabernacle—a place for God to dwell among men. (Exodus 25:8)

Hands that played a harp to calm the soul—and later, to compose psalms of worship which endure until this day—a sacrifice of praise. (1 Samuel 16:23)

A hand that wrote on a wall—a warning to God’s enemies. (Daniel 5:5)

Hands that were stretched wide in love. Hands through which spikes were driven—the blessing of God’s saving grace to all mankind. (Isaiah 53:5)

There are more.

Thousands of them. Hands. Doing good.

And yes, thousands doing evil.

I’ve heard the words of God to Moses innumerable times.  (Exodus 4:2)

What do you have in your hands?

I’ve always thought the important thing was the answer to that question. Moses had a staff. I have other things. But, here’s the deal.

God doesn’t need my things.

He needs my hands.

My hands. 

To be willing to be open. For Him.

Or, holding on. For Him.

My beaten up, scarred, stiff, sore hands.

With our hands, yours and mine, He will touch the world—perhaps one person at a time—perhaps thousands.

On second thought, I’m certain that hands don’t have to be soft to be beautiful.

Hands don't have to be soft to be beautiful. Click To Tweet

Hearts. Hearts have to be soft.

The hands—cracked, calloused, gnarled, and stiff—are beautiful simply because they serve. Wiping away a child’s tears, touching the cheek of a newborn baby or a nervous bride, stroking the hair of a frightened mate, reaching out in love to serve.

And sometimes, they hurt. His did, too.

His did, too.

 

Oh, be careful little hands what you do,
For the Father up above is looking down in love.
Oh, be careful little hands what you do. 
(from Oh Be Careful ~ American children’s song ~ Anonymous)

 

Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us;
And confirm for us the work of our hands;
Yes, confirm the work of our hands.
(Psalm 90:17 ~ NASB ~ Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation)

 

 

 

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

I Can’t Do This

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Done!  It’s done.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Over.

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

Great joy.

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

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

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

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

Stronger.

Wiser.

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

Yet.

We’re still traveling.

Headed home.

 

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

 

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

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

I Recognize You

“I must be Dorothy.”

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

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

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

Then again, I don’t know.

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

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

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

Isolation isn’t primarily about walls and distance.

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

I must be Dorothy.

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

How’s this for light?

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

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

He knows.

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

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

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

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

It is a wondrous gift to be recognized.

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s not let them.

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

 

 

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

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

Rough Draft

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Both times, He drew us. 

From Him.  To Him.

We are His draft.  First. Last.

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

Never rough, save by our own doing.

Nearly finished.

Another masterpiece.

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

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

Intervals

I love playing the horn.  Really, I do.

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

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

Mercurial.

Up.  Down.

Hot.  Cold.

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

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

It’s not much to ask.

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

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

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

The horns had blown their entrance.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mercy and grace.  

A second chance.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He does.

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

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

Grace.  Mercy.

Intervals.

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

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

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

I’m not going to miss this interval.

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

Basking

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

A year.  

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

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

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

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

He’s not wrong.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Always.

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

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

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

The blessing of God is Himself.  Himself.

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

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

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

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

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

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

I basked in His presence in the dark.

The morning will be no different.

You see, God is good.

Always, He is good.

Bask.

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

 

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