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.

Ripples

We could go out and look at the leaves—or—you could stay there all afternoon and be unhappy.

Maybe it was the fact that we had just turned on the heat for the first time this fall.  It could have been.  The chill was creeping in from outside.

I’m not fond of the cold.  Oh.  I may have mentioned that before.   I probably have.

I had sat, huddled under a blanket, as I watched the Lovely Lady leave to go grocery shopping that morning.  I didn’t offer to accompany her.  When she arrived back home an hour later I hadn’t moved.

She knows me well.  A few well-placed inquiries, with a hint of concern, led me to the conclusion that I probably should take a drive with her through the countryside.

As I suspected, it was still chilly outside, but the sun was shining brightly.  It was, as she had averred, a beautiful day.  In the car.

Still. . . 

I thought, as we drove out of town on the busy highway, that it didn’t seem the right way to experience God’s creation.  In a car along with hundreds of other drivers speeding down the tarmac, the experience left much to be desired.

Then, I remembered the old bridge.  The turnoff was only a couple of miles on up the road.  She was all for it, even though she hadn’t worn her hiking shoes.  We stopped.

There are some who would have you believe the world is a horrible cesspool of a place to live in, God’s creation marred beyond recognition by sin and degradation.  They are partly right, but only partly.

On that brilliant afternoon, all I knew was I agreed with the Creator as He viewed the work of His hands in the beginning.  (Genesis 1:31)

It was good.  It was very good.

The Creator was right. It is good. It is very good. Click To Tweet

We tramped through the brambles and brushed beside the reddening poison ivy, laughing at the annoyance of thin branches that smacked us in our faces as we passed.  The sun on our backs felt wonderful and the scent of autumn woods refreshed our spirits as we breathed deep.

We had visited the old steel bridge only once before, but the way was clear and we didn’t mind the walk.  As we approached the old structure, it was reassuring to see that it hadn’t altered—an old friend almost, standing firm in spite of change and shifting conditions all around.

But, somehow the river drew us today.  We paid our respects to the old bridge and headed to the rock-covered landing up the waterway a few hundred feet.

Glancing down as we neared the water’s edge, I noticed a number of flat stones, worn smooth by years of tumbling against others in the current of the mighty river.

They were there for only one reason, of course.  Anyone who has spent any time at all at the river’s edge can tell you what that reason is.

I picked one up and, holding it with the flat side parallel to the water’s surface, spun it toward the other side of the river almost like a frisbee.  Just the slightest lift of the leading edge of the flat rock as it left my hand guaranteed that aerodynamics would do the rest.

skippingstonesI wasn’t disappointed.  The stone struck the water’s surface and instead of sinking—as we say, like a rock—skipped up to smack the water anew and to skip again, and again, and again.

One stone wasn’t enough.  Others followed the first.  They weren’t all perfect attempts.  On a couple, I didn’t get the front edge up and they quickly sliced into the water, sinking immediately with barely a plop.

Inadvertently, I picked up one or two rocks which weren’t flat.  For some reason, I didn’t just drop them to the strand on which we stood, but tossed them into the water.  They disappeared with a solid plunk, sinking down to the bottom to be tumbled along on their journey.  Perhaps, in another century or two, when they have worn flat, some other old man, or perhaps even a young one, will feel the joy of skipping one of those very rocks across the surface of the same river.  Perhaps.

The Lovely Lady took a photo or two of the result of my rock-skipping.  I’ve posted one above.  It’s a beautiful thing, showing the old bridge, along with the pretty autumn colors.

But the part that catches my eye, again and again, is the series of circular ripples on the surface of the water.

In my memory, I rub my fingers across the smooth stone that made all those ripples.  Thin and without sharp edges, it is perfect for slipping across the surface, leaving evidence of its passage, but slowing hardly at all as it spins quickly on to its next place of impact.

I remember, with amusement, the other stones I tossed into the water.  They too made ripples.  One ring.  Plunk.

Do you know what makes some stones suitable for skipping across great expanses of water?  They have tumbled and scraped and banged, for ages, against other stones going through the same process.

If I were to carry a huge stone, as big as my head, to the riverside and drop it in, there would be a tremendous splash, but it wouldn’t have as much impact, overall, as one of those small flat stones that spun out of my hand on that recent autumn day.

Oh, it would make an impression, the initial result being a single ring which would multiply and repeat itself into the distance.  But, it would still be only one circle, limited in its reach.

I want to shift the world around me.  Not in a spectacular way, but enough so that when I’m gone, folks will remember the impact.  Not me, but the result.

There are days when I feel old and worn.  I’m finally realizing that those days—the ones when I feel especially useless and weak—may be the days when I am finally ready to go spinning across the water.  In the hands of the Master Stone-Skipper, the ripples might be felt forever.

It’s possible.

The woman who poured expensive perfume on Jesus’ feet was such a person.  The impact of her act is still being felt today, as He promised it would be.  (Matthew 26:13)

You know—those plain, smooth stones were completely unimpressive as we walked over them on that riverbank.  But, in the right hands, they had a far-reaching effect.

We, who are being worn smooth by life and its hardships may be given the same opportunity one day.

Will today be the day we leave the ripples that will be felt forever? Click To Tweet

I wonder if today will be the day.

I’d like to make a few more ripples.

 

 

 

Success is more dangerous than failure; the ripples break over a wider coastline.
(Graham Greene ~ British novelist ~ 1904-1991)

 

Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong.  And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is.
(Ephesians 3:17,18 ~ NLT)

 

 

 

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

He Still Hangs the Moon

The cares of this life are thieves.  They rob from us while we watch, eyes trained on their every move.

I wish I could tell you I am too much a veteran of their schemes to be taken in anymore.  At this time of life one would imagine experience has taught me its lessons, and all danger of being victimized is past.

One would be wrong.

For some time now, I have allowed those rascally cares to run amok in my soul, robbing me blind.

Really.  Blind.

It is what they crave.  The little creations of our tiny imaginations and self-centered natures are themselves blind to the reality of joy that fills our lives as humans made in the image of a loving God.

And, you know what they say.

Well, the red-headed lady who raised me said it all the time anyway, so I assume it must be true:

Misery loves company.

If the little monsters can’t see joy and truth, they are determined to steal the ability from anyone foolish enough to afford them shelter and sustenance.

And so, with my permission, they have been at work again in my own soul.

At times when they work their craft, the darkness is profound.  The black of this night is, I think, made all the more encompassing by my willing participation in the malfeasance.

An evening or two ago, as light shone brightly—too brightly for me—in my house, I crept to my office to let the thieves practice.  While the Lovely Lady and our guests worked and laughed and played happy music, I sat alone in the dark and pulled the misery over me like a blanket.

After the lights were finally extinguished at the house and all were asleep in their beds I left my office and, blindly walking hand in hand with the little unseeing pickpockets, headed toward home.

Three words.  Really.  Just three.

I know folks who hear a voice that speaks whole volumes.  Entire poems.  Sometimes, they carry on conversations with the voice.

Me?  I get three words.

Lift your head.

I know.  It seems a bit inadequate, doesn’t it?  It’s kind of like saying chin up to a guy heading to the gas chamber.

Lift your head.

Then I noticed it.  All around me, in what is normally a pitch black yard, the air fairly glowed with light.  Long shadows were cast by the tree branches above me.

I lifted my head.

The brilliant and huge full moon hung almost directly above, washing the night time world in its reflected light.  It was astoundingly beautiful.

He still hangmoon-1055395_640s the moon.  Every night.

He still wakes the sun every morning and sends it on its daily rounds.

I’ll admit it.  The notion isn’t all that scientific, nor is it an accurate description of what actually takes place.

Still, it is His power that keeps all of creation doing what it was designed for.  (Colossians 1: 6-17)

The realization struck me as powerfully as those beams of light had just seconds before.

His plan is still in place.  I’m part of that plan.

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I’m part of that plan!

Every one of us is.

I looked back down to check on my cares, but all the little felons had disappeared.  They can’t stand to be in the company of light.  Just as in nature, the darkness of doubt and despair flees at the coming of light.

I’m not naive.  Darkness will come again.  It always does.

Cares will crowd around to steal again.  They always do.

But the truth is, light will come again as well.

It always does.

He still hangs the moon.

And, not just for me.

Lift your head.

 

 

 

But you, Lord, are a shield around me,
    my glory, the One who lifts my head high.
(Psalm 3:3 ~ NIV)

 

 

‘Now, lord,’ said Gandalf, ‘look out upon your land! Breathe the free air again!’

. . .Suddenly through a rent in the clouds behind them a shaft of sun stabbed down. The falling showers gleamed like silver, and far away the river glittered like a shimmering glass.

‘It is not so dark here,’ said Théoden.
(from The Two Towers ~ J.R.R. Tolkien ~ English novelist/poet ~ 1892-1973)

 

 

 

 

 

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

Storm Warnings

If the thunder comes, I’ll have to sleep in Mama’s bed.

The girl says the words matter-of-factly, without an inkling that they might possibly cause laughter.  Her grandpa, with an effort, does not disappoint, realizing the little sweetie is merely stating the truth as she knows it.

Any child knows that Mama’s bed is a safer place to be than his or her own unprotected expanse of mattress.  And yet…  And yet…

And yet the boy, just a couple of years older, made certain to assure me he would not be seeking shelter in the safe haven of Mom’s bed.  The bravado is comical in its own way, but I hold my laughter in, not wanting to hurt feelings.

lightning-378069_640The storm warnings are out tonight.  Tornadoes, say the weathermen.  Strong winds.  Hail.

Take cover, they tell us.

Accordingly, some friends are spending the night in storm shelters, some in their bathrooms.

I will not fault them.  It’s hard not to be afraid when the experts we trust say we should be.

A friend shared a little saying the other day.  I don’t remember all of it, but I recall the core thought:

Fear is a lie.

I don’t disagree.  But sometimes—even often—it feels more like the truth.

When the wind is ripping limbs off trees overhead, when the rain is blowing sideways and debris is careering crazily across highways, when hail is pounding rooftops, terror seems a reasonable response.

Mom’s bed may not be safe enough.

The bathroom may not be secure.

The storm cellar doesn’t seem quite as impervious as it once did.

In spite of it all, I like thunderstorms.  The power, the beauty, the replenishment of the earth, all these and more inspire admiration.

Don’t get me wrong.  I understand there is danger.  I pray for those who don’t have adequate shelter.  I feel empathy for folks (and a certain little girl) who are terrified by the potential for loss of life and property.

In truth, I realize that none of God’s creation is safe.  All of it has the potential to wreak havoc on our lifestyle.  

I also realize that all of His creation is fantastic!  The mountains, the forests, the rivers, the sea—all are beautiful, dangerous evidences of His sustaining and yes, frightening, power.

I wonder though, on what or whom do we depend for safety?  

The easy answer is that we put our trust in God.  Even the psalmist said the words; When I am afraid, I put my trust in You. (Psalm 56:3

You’re scratching your head, aren’t you?

Did he just say, “the easy answer”?

I did.  It’s on the tip of our tongues.  We may even claim that God is our very first recourse, every time we are afraid.

It’s an admirable thing.  

He wants us to call on Him.  One of the saddest moments I think of in our Savior’s ministry (beside His trial and death) is the moment when He looked over the beloved city, Jerusalem, and lamented their steadfast refusal to accept His protection. (Matthew 23:27)

But, what if we were willing to give our fears to Him, instead of insisting He save us from the object of our fears?  

What if we simply trusted Him in the storm? 

In it.

The Teacher’s followers, in that storied storm on the lake, believed they were showing faith in Him when they woke Him up to voice their fears.  

Do you remember what He did?

He rebuked the wind and the waves.  He scolded them.  And then, turning to His followers, He did the same to them.  (Mark 4: 35-41)

Have you no faith?

For so long, I have not understood.  Certainly, they had faith!  Why would they have awakened Him if they didn’t believe He could do something about the storm?  Wasn’t that faith?

It’s the kind of faith I have.

The storms of life require a command from Him.  Peace!  Be still!

That is what I believe—or, at least what I have believed.

And, as I write, in my mind’s eye I see the little girl running to her Mama’s bed in the midst of the storm.

Ha!  Do you know what she is going to do there?

Will she insist that Mama quiet the storm?  Will she quiver and quake until the last lightning flash and the last rumble of thunder is past?  No.  She will sleep.

She will sleep.

Safe.

Why didn’t the Disciples think of that?  Why didn’t they lie down on the deck beside Him and sleep?

More to the point—why don’t I?

What safer place could one want?

How much more protection could you ever have?

Safe.  In the arms of Jesus.

The storm is passed.  

For tonight.

The little girl sleeps in her Mama’s bed.

Childlike faith.

Safety.

 

 

 I’ve anchored my soul in the Haven of Rest;
I’ll sail the wide seas no more.
The tempest may sweep o’er the wild stormy deep;
In Jesus I’m safe ever more.
(Haven of Rest ~ H L Gilmour ~ American choirmaster/poet ~ 1836-1920)

 

The waters are rising, but so am I. I am not going under, but over.
(Catherine Booth ~ Co-founder of the Salvation Army ~ 1829-1890)

 

 

 

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