How Low Can You Go?

I knew she’d listen to every note I played.  I wished the professor had suggested she sit somewhere else.  Somewhere she’d hear other musicians and their mistakes.

Instead of mine.

The young high school junior was visiting her university-going sister on campus.  No doubt, it was an exciting time for her.  I still remember that age.

Wide-eyed and inexperienced, the world held exhilaration at every turn.  College years would be a chance to be out on your own—away from the careful direction of overprotective parents.  A campus visit ahead of time offered a stimulating preview of the freedom that was to come.

Her sister is a member of the little chamber orchestra they are kind enough to allow me to participate in at the small liberal arts university.  Since the visiting young lady is also a French horn player, the professor thought it would be nice for her to sit in the horn section.

On my right.  Where the bell of my horn points.

I just knew she would hear every mistake and bobble proceeding out of the wayward instrument.

Well.  There was nothing for it but to get through the hour.  I started my warm-up.

I like to start with long tones—mid-range notes lasting several seconds each, descending down a scale before coming back up to finish on the original note.  After a few moments of that, I play some arpeggios—open chords—mostly descending until I reach a point at least two octaves below the starting midrange note.

The low pitch I end on is quite low, somewhere in the vicinity of what a tuba player would call mid-range.  Since my warm-ups always include that note and those leading down to it in the scale, I like to think I have developed a rather nice tone in that range, a range most horn players never attempt.

I end my warm-up by playing the arpeggios on up to the original mid-range and then up another octave before sliding back down to finish on the original note with which I began.

I saw her turn her head to look at me as I finished my warm-up.  I thought perhaps she wanted to say something, but the professor was already talking, introducing the young lady to the whole group.

It wasn’t a relaxing rehearsal.  We played a piece I only remember reading once before, so many of the passages were unfamiliar.  I stumbled and muffed more notes than I care to count, acutely aware of the girl’s presence beside me through all of them.

She heard every note.  Every one.

At the end of the rehearsal, I said a few polite words to her.  I hoped her visit would be all she was hoping for.  She was also polite.  We talked for a few seconds and she asked one question.

“What kind of range do you have?”

Immediately, I jumped to the obvious conclusion.  I supposed she meant: how high can you play?

I jokingly mentioned the highest note I’m comfortable playing is a high G, but pointed to the young lady on the other side of me, suggesting that she was the one who played the high C’s when necessary.

The girl wasn’t quite satisfied, starting another question.  

“But, what’s the low. . .” 

Before she could complete the question, her sister called her over to discuss what was next in their day’s schedule.  She never got a chance to ask what was on her mind.

I went on about my day, not thinking again about the girl’s curiosity.

I’m thinking about it now.

She wanted to know about my low range, not my high range.  She had heard my warm-up and knowing that most horn players avoid those low registers, wondered about how low I could go.

I’m wondering the same thing tonight.

Do you know I don’t have a very good high range when I play my horn?  Most players with similar experience to mine are quite adept at playing the highest notes on the horn.  Even many young players have a high range much superior to mine.

I wish it weren’t so. 

I want to play the high notes.  But, I can’t.

I’ve been thinking about this for a while now.

Why can I play the low notes (the ones most horn players eschew) with ease, but I can’t reach the high pitches?  What’s the problem?

As Mr. Tolkien puts it in his description of the scatter-brained innkeeper in his famous tale, even though he thinks less than he talks, and slower; yet he can see through a brick wall in time. . . 

I’m somewhat the same, thinking less than I talk (at times), but I believe I can see the answer to my problem.

You’ve probably already arrived at the solution, especially since it’s been explained at length up above. 

I’m good at the low notes because those are what I concentrate on every time—every single time—I pick up my horn to play.  My warm-up is a regimen I perform—without fail—before I look at a piece of music, before the conductor raises the baton for the first time, before even the first tuning note is sounded to be sure all the instruments are capable of playing the same pitch together.

I play low notes.  Every time, I play low notes.

I’m good at low notes.  Really.

But, I want to play high notes.

And, the Apostle said, the thing I want to do, I don’t do.  But, the thing I don’t want to do, that’s the very thing I do. (Romans 7:19

Of course, he’s talking about more important things than playing a horn, but then again, so am I. 

The thing I practice is the thing I will perform. Click To Tweet

The thing I practice is the thing I will perform.  It is true in all walks of life.

If I practice complaining, one would never anticipate that I would rest patiently and with confidence.

If I practice arrogance and pride, I will never perform with humility.

If I live continually in defeat and expectation of loss, I can have no expectation of joy or fulfillment.

When the time comes to play the brilliant high notes in a concert performance, if I have resigned myself to practicing only the low and middle registers during every rehearsal, I will never—ever—shape my lips to sound the right notes.

I read today the words of a friend who is, by all earthly wisdom, fighting a losing battle.  His battle is for his life.  I was shocked to read of his laughter and joy as he fights the battle.

But tonight, I understand.  He is practicing for the performance still to come.   In anticipation of what he calls a joyful death, he’s decided to practice joy now—today, and for the rest of his days, however many he has.  

I’ve been working on the low stuff for too long now.  I’ve gotten much too accomplished at it.

I want to play the high notes.  I want the folks who are doomed to sit and listen to me to hear the good stuff.

It’s time for a new warm-up routine.

Today’s as good a time to start as any.

 

For the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them.
(Aristotle ~ Ancient Greek philosopher ~ 384 BC-322 BC)

 

Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me—everything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you.
(Philippians 4:9 ~ 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. 2018. All Rights Reserved.

Changing the Future

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

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

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

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

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

“Go to the store with me, will you?”

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

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

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

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

I sort the items in the cart.

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s a good system.  I like it.

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

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

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

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

Maybe we should move on.  Shall we?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’m a failure.

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

Every one.

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

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

I can do that.  I’m still breathing.  

I think it’s time to be walking again.

That way.  Following His lead.

The future is still waiting.  

I can’t change the past.

The next moment will be the present.

Here it comes.

Ready?

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

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

Never Much Hope

It was a hot Saturday afternoon in the Rio Grande Valley.  That, of course, could have described almost every one of the fifty-some Saturdays which occurred in any given year, but this one, I remember.

flag-football-1329752_640I remember it because it was the day the band geeks were going to show up the jocks in a game of two-below football.  I was one of the geeks.  Still am, truth be told.

You never saw such a group of unlikely athletes.  Oh, there were a few who had the physique for it, but the coordination hadn’t come along with the build.  On this day, we weren’t worried about that.

We were a team.  A group of guys focused on the same goal.  All for one and one for all.  We had heart.

The jocks showed up, jeering and making predictions.  Seventy to nothing, one big muscle-bound fellow taunted.  Others foresaw pain in our collective future.  

We weren’t afraid—much.

The game began.  For a little while, we held our own and it seemed that the predictions were very much flawed.  Then, little by little, our confidence faded.

Two-below football is a minimum contact form of the sport which allows blocking, but not much other hitting of body on body.  The person carrying the ball should expect nothing more than the slapping of two hands below the waist to bring the play to a halt.

Somehow, the jocks had the idea that it meant you simply tackled with two hands below the belt-line.  It turned out that one of the predictions had been right:  There was pain in our future.  A good bit of it.

I played for the entire first half.  A fair portion of the second half was spent on the ground along the sideline biting back the groans that a knee to the groin had elicited.  I was not alone on the sideline.  But still, I did get back out and play, however hampered I was by the discomfort, to end the game.

Heart or no heart, confidence or not, we lost—big time.  I don’t think the score was seventy to nothing, but it might as well have been.

There had never been a chance.  We were beaten before it began.

What’s that?

You thought the story would end better?  Perhaps a miracle finish?  Maybe a secret weapon to unleash upon the callous football players?

It didn’t happen.

It wasn’t a Hollywood story, you know.  It wasn’t even an epic fairy tale.

Happily ever after didn’t happen.

We lost.  Utterly and completely.

That’s life.  No, really.  It’s what life is.  Reality isn’t all parties and happiness.  Nobody wins every time.  Nobody.

Some of my friends will be unhappy with me as they read this.  Many voices have spoken different words into their lives.

I will respectfully and (hopefully) gently insist that our Creator has a different path for us.

For the last few years, the muttering has been growing.  Folks are unhappy with the thought that many good things are coming to an end.  We expected, as followers of Jesus, to live peacefully and unharmed in a bounty-filled land.

Wealth and plenty have been ours.  Our voices have been the only ones we heard, as we have grown fat and selfish.

Perhaps, I should speak for myself.  I have heard my own voice as I spoke words I believed to be true.  Speaking and not acting, I have grown fat.  In the absence of opposition, I have grown selfish beyond belief.

And now, in a way my grandparents and my parents never experienced, the world just outside my front door has grown increasingly unfriendly to my comfort and ease.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not claiming persecution.  I’ve seen—from afar—what happens to believers when they are persecuted.  I haven’t experienced even a fraction of that, nor have most folks I’m acquainted with.

But, it may come to that.  Being neither a prophet nor the son of a prophet, I cannot say.

Still, we are promised, not comfort, but discomfort.  We are promised, not open arms from the world around us, but reproach.  Folks we call our neighbors will turn on us.

I’m not talking about end-times prophecy.  I’m simply averring that this is what life will be for us if we truly follow Jesus.  

After all, He is the One who promised hardship.  Promised it.  (John 16:33)

He never asked us to win the battle for men’s hearts for Him.  That’s His job.  He simply asked us to stand firm to the end.

He never suggested that we would be happy and trouble-free because we serve Him faithfully, but He did promise that we will inherit His kingdom.  (Matthew 5:10)  

And, that brings us to the one other thing He did promise:  The day is coming.

The day is coming when all of this will fade into nothingness.  All the pain.  All the sadness.  All the jeering.  All the hardships we’ve ever faced.

All of it.  Nothing.  Nothing at all.

The Apostle Paul wrote down the words he was given by the Spirit:  

There is no comparison in any way between the passing inconveniences of this world and the unbelievable glory which will be ours in the next.  (Romans 8:18)

There are days when I am overcome with weariness—with sorrow—with despair.  This mountain I am facing can never be scaled, can never be conquered.

A friend reminded me tonight of that great fortress called Doubting Castle, kept by the Giant Despair.  John Bunyan wrote of it hundreds of years past.  

Many I know have been held captive there.  Many I know are still chained in its dungeon.

Still, it’s as true today as it was in the days when Mr. Bunyan sat in prison for his faith—still as true as in the early days of the Church:  The world has been overcome by the One we follow.  The outcome has never been in doubt.

Our day is coming.  

Hope’s spark still burns deep within each one who follows Him.

Our enemy doesn’t play by the rules.  He never has.  He seems so much more powerful than we are.  That hasn’t changed, either.

We seem so easily injured and tired out.

But, the game is not over yet.

And, he has been fooled before.

And, defeated.

As it turns out, he’s the one who never had any hope of winning.

I’m going to stick it out.

You?

 

And if our hope in Christ is only for this life, we are more to be pitied than anyone in the world.  
(1 Corinthians 15:19 ~ NLT)

 

“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo.
“So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times, But that is not for them to decide.  All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”
(from The Two Towers ~ J.R.R. Tolkien ~ English novelist ~ 1892-1973)

 

 

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

Keep Walking

Yesterday was Windsday.  I know, I know—that’s not how it’s spelled, but it is what happened yesterday.  

windy1My late father-in-law would have shoved the door open, leaves floating around his white hair, and announced that it was a bit air-ish out.  He would have been right, too.

Throughout the whole day, the wind blew at least fifteen miles an hour, sometimes with sustained winds of over thirty.  There were even a number of gusts blowing at almost fifty miles an hour.

Trash cans flew over, canvas signs flapped noisily, and the black walnuts falling on the tin roof made a racket like a kid throwing rocks at a stop-sign. 

The black monsters in the back yard eventually got so tired of disengaging themselves from the debris and struggling to stay upright that they spent most of the day inside their doghouse.

I wasn’t as bright as the dogs.  Needing to conduct business with one of my instrument technicians, I headed out into the blowing night after work.  Flying in the same direction as the wind in my pickup truck, I hardly noticed it at all.  It would be an uneventful evening ride.

That was before.  

Before I turned the other direction to head for home.  Before I felt the buffeting wind lifting the body of my truck.

Before I began to see things.  

In the wind.  I saw things in the wind.  Coming right at me.  

It is fall in the Ozarks and the leaves are barely clinging to the branches as it is.  The blustery wind needed to do little persuading to convince the trembling foliage to turn loose.  The problem is, I was driving into that gusting blast.

It wasn’t only leaves that attacked me.  Plastic shopping bags of all sizes danced on the wind, spinning and diving madly.  In front of me and beside me, they tore past, along with other unidentifiable objects.  

It was, to say the least, disconcerting.  I didn’t know whether to brake the truck and creep into the wind, or dodge the debris, swerving right and left, hoping against hope that there wasn’t something solid about to crash through my windshield.

I wasn’t the only one.  The scariest moment on the twenty-five-mile drive home came on a busy four-lane highway, as all of us motorists scooted for our destinations at sixty or seventy miles an hour.  

In the lane beside and just ahead of me, the car suddenly swerved toward the shoulder.  Looking at the road right in front of where he had been, I saw a huge mound of some sort of reflective material.  Relieved that he hadn’t hit it, I continued on.

Suddenly, I realized the mound was moving quickly into my lane, shoved over in his wake.  Worried about the cars in the lane beside me and riding my bumper, I held my ground, heading straight for the object as I steeled myself for an impact.

Swish!  The air-filled mass of flexible plastic sucked under my truck and blew up and over the cars following me.

Only a huge plastic bag blowing on the wind!  Nothing more.
                              

Say the word.  Say the word and I’ll come.

The man nicknamed The Rock was speaking to his Teacher.  Impetuous and not a little blustery himself, he was sure it would be safe.  

The Teacher waved a hand.  Come on, then.

You know the story.  Peter walked on the water.  Until he noticed something.  No, it wasn’t the water.  He was fine with that.

Walk on water?  Pssssssh!  Easy stuff!

No.  He saw something else.  It was there when he set out.  It had been there when he blurted out his challenge to the Teacher to let him walk with Him.  But, now it worried him.

The wind was blowing.  Hard.

What if the Teacher hadn’t figured on that when He called him?  What if the wind made him lose his balance?  What if he got salt water in his eyes and couldn’t see where he was going?

What if?
                              

The wind outside has stopped blowing.  The weather system moved on to the east during the dark hours last night.  It was sunny and warm by this afternoon.

Not so in my soul.

Inside there a storm was brewing.  Events and conversations this morning stirred up the storm to an intense blast within a small amount of time.  A hurricane of epic proportions.

It’s not my imagination.  The storm is real.

I’m seeing things in the wind—Coming right at me.

Do I stop going the way I’m headed?  Swerve off on a tangent?  Go back?

You know what I’m going through, don’t you?  You’ve been here, too.  I suspect every one of us has been in the storm.

So—what of the options?  Do we stop?  Should we go a different direction?  Maybe it’s time to just turn around.

No.  None of those are any good.  

The place we need to get to—Home—is out there, ahead of us.

I’ve thought of that old story I learned in Sunday School years ago a lot.  Do you realize that the guys back there in the boat were in the storm, too?  The wind was blowing stuff at them just as hard as at Peter.

They just weren’t out there with Jesus.  They were still in the storm—still on their own.

Who was safer?

I think I’ll keep walking.  Against the wind.

You, too?

 

 

 

 

WIND
Voiceless it cries,

Wingless flutters,
Toothless bites, 
Mouthless mutters. 
(J.R.R. Tolkien ~ English poet/author ~ 1892-1973)

 

“Goodbye,” said Eeyore.  “Mind you don’t get blown away, little Piglet.  You’d be missed. People would say, ‘Where’s little Piglet been blown to?’—really wanting to know.”
(from The House at Pooh Corner ~ A.A. Milne  ~ English author ~ 1882-1956)

 

“Come,” he said.Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!” Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”
(Matthew 14:29-31 ~ NIV)