Breathing in the Shadows

The moon is blue.  Super blue.

Yes, there are scientific reasons for the terminology.  You may seek them out for yourself.  For tonight, I am just happy to sit on a stump and watch the shadows.

I watched the moon for a while, beautiful thing that it is, but as it approached its zenith, my neck objected, so I bent down to relieve the tension.  That’s when I noticed the shadows.

The world is awash in shadows.  At midnight.

The old mulberry tree, its spindly limbs bereft of leaves, stretches bony fingers this way and that across the cold sleeping grass.  There’s a ghost story waiting to be told there, were the world not so brilliant in the moon’s glare.

I glance at the two Labrador retrievers cavorting nearby, and can’t help noticing their shadows mirroring their every leap and crouch.

Shadows in the moonlight. Creator’s handwork.

Basking in the beauty of the late night, I smile.  For a moment. 

Then I feel it.

I knew I would.  There is a high-pitched whistle as I breathe in.  And out.  I struggle a bit to hold down the cough that is inevitable.

Time to go in.  I bid goodnight to the dogs, with a warning for them to behave themselves until morning, and I head indoors.  Indoors, where it’s warm.

I bring my shadows with me.  Shadows of resentment.  Shadows of doubt.

Shadows of negativity.

Wait.  That’s a bit redundant, isn’t it?  A shadow is already a negative, of sorts.  If the object is the real thing—the positive, the shadow must be its negative.  The un-thing, one might say.  

So, here I sit, my un-thing weighing on my chest, and I watch the two dogs still cavorting outside—two black shadows dancing with their black shadows.

Not a care in the world.

I watch them and I am envious.  Nighttime is the worst when bronchitis hits.  The asthmatic aspect makes it difficult to breathe; the cough that follows makes it nearly impossible to sleep.

In the darkened house I lie watching the shadows.  Shadows on my soul because of the shadow creeping into my lungs.

Do you feel sorry for me yet?  You shouldn’t.  I have come to realize that some shadows are darker than others.  

Just tonight I read the words of a new friend, one I’ll probably never meet in the flesh, who is in his sixth year of suffering with cancer.  His lungs and other organs are full of tumors, some even visible through his skin.  Four surgeries, multiple courses of chemo, and still the shadows persist.

He sits in his chair, receiving the infusion of chemicals which will bring waves of nausea and pain, along with rashes, and he prays for those sitting in chairs around him.

He prays.  For them.

I breathe as deeply as I dare, trying to keep from coughing and waking the Lovely Lady, but my mind is already on another friend who has a constant shadow, as well.  Her lungs are working at a fraction of their capacity, the only cure, a transplant.  

She’s not a candidate for a transplant.  And yet, her cheerful encouragement comes as an almost daily occurrence—to friends, to strangers—she points out the bright spots rather than the shadows.

If we walk in light (as He is in light), we walk in community with each other, and in fellowship of His saving grace. (1 John 1:7)

We walk this road with heroes.  Heroes of faith who show us the light rather than point out the shadows.

When we are in light, there will invariably be a shadow.  But, you knew that already, didn’t you?

When we walk in light, there is always a shadow. Always. Click To Tweet

The shadow is strongest in the brightest light.  Sunlight—moonlight—streetlight—you name it.

We can focus on the un-thing, the shadow, that comes from walking in His light, or we can keep our eyes on the things that are.  

Life.  Love.  Heaven.  

Things that are.

The Apostle (my namesake) was adamant when he spoke of it.  The temporary things we are suffering here are nothing (un-things) compared to the glory we shall one day know. (Romans 8:18)

Some, like my bronchitis, are more temporary than any of them, likely to disappear within days.  Others may last a lifetime.  Or, they may claim that life even.  It’s still true.

The shadow is not the real thing.  It never will be the real thing.

The shadow is not the real thing. Click To Tweet

Breathe easy.  The day will come when the shadows will flee forever, the light in our eternal home, our God, Himself.

No more tears.

No more shadows.

Only Light.

Breathe deep.

 

Sometimes, all I need is the air that I breathe
And to love you.
All I need is the air that I breathe.
(from The Air That I Breathe ~ Albert Hammond)

 

Even though I walk
    through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
    for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
    they comfort me.
(Psalm 23:4 ~ NIV ~ Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

 
© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2018. All Rights Reserved.

Of Prisms and Vacuums

I closed the door behind the man, having shaken his hand and offered a spoken blessing in reply to his.  

Tears welled up in my eyes as I locked the latch and turned away from the door.  Looking through those translucent prisms, by then running down my cheek, I walked over and flicked the light switches to the off position. 

The rainbow-hued prisms disappeared along with the light overhead, but the vision in my mind remained.

I talk too much.  That won’t be news to many who know me.  But, as the men had wrapped plastic around the old glass counters before carting them out to the moving truck in the parking lot, I couldn’t help reminiscing aloud.

They are the very same glass counters which were in the little music store the first time I walked into it, nearly forty years ago.  Then, the slight, white-haired old man leaned on the edge of the counter in front of him, a quizzical smile playing across his lips.

That is the vision that will not leave my head—the smiling man leaning, hands flat on the glass top of the counter.

Today (perhaps by coincidence; perhaps not) is the anniversary of the old man’s death.  I told the men as much as they worked.

I still miss him.  He was friendly and jolly, as well as stern and thoughtful.  I loved his stories.  I was frustrated by his stubbornness.

I love his daughter.  I love being part of his family.

But, this is not a sad tale, even though I began it in tears.  It’s not.

It is a story of blessings—blessings I can’t begin to count.  They are blessings that are likely to pass on to the third and fourth generation.  Or, so it seems to me.

You remember?  You who were raised in a church and Sunday School?  The words are right there in the Old Testament.

The sins of the fathers will be passed on to the third and even to the fourth generation.  (Exodus 20:5)  Years after the perpetrators are dead, their children will be dealing with the consequences.

You’ve seen it happen, haven’t you? Perhaps not in the extreme that passage brings to mind, but if you’re anything like me, you’ve seen it.

I’ll never be like my father!  How many times did I say it, growing up?  Fathers can make children so frustrated.  And, in our childish frustration, we make promises—assuming we’ll never ever do that thing that made us angry.

Fast forward ten years, perhaps fifteen.  A member of the current crop of teenagers in the house says or does something amiss, and the response comes from deep within us, without consideration.  Immediately, the brain spins back over the years and the chagrin sets in.  

How is it possible that I opened my mouth and my father came out?  How?

But, wait!  I said I would write of blessings, didn’t I?

So, I shall.

Just as the negative habits of our fathers and grandfathers are often stored up to be released at some later date, so too, good habits work to the benefit of future generations.

A heritage of blessings becomes to each succeeding generation a blessing, a way of life, a habitual practice of blessing those who come after.

A heritage of blessings becomes to each succeeding generation a blessing. Click To Tweet

My father-in-law was no exception, nor was my father.  Mothers, grandmothers, grandfathers—not a day goes by that I don’t recognize the blessing of a Godly heritage.

It is part of God’s natural law, if you will.  And, it does not in any way deny His power in changing hearts and in saving by His astounding grace.  

But, with His own hands, He set the worlds in motion, designing the way their inhabitants function, down to the minutest detail.

And, just as those tears in my eyes earlier today made me see momentarily through rainbow-colored prisms, I realize that we see our world with the collective sight of those who have shaped us.  

Good—bad—their influence is unmistakable. 

We function, not in a vacuum (if there is such a thing), but in a constantly changing and ever-expanding world of influence, seen and unseen.  Our every action and reaction has an effect on those around us.

Every one.

There is more, I know.  

When we are drawn by the Spirit and saved by God’s grace, everything changes.  His presence makes us want to do right, and even gives us the power to do it. (Philippians 2:13)

His presence in our lives makes all the difference.

Still, it should increase our understanding of our responsibility to those around us, rather than diminish it.

We have the power to affect the world for generations to come.  We get to choose.

Good.  Bad.

Blessing.  Cursing.

I like Joshua’s thoughts on the matter as he made his choice and declared, with no ambiguity whatsoever, as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord. (Joshua 24:15)

Many who have come before in my life have chosen well—some, not so well.  Most of us can relate.

There is no vacuum in which to live.

There may be tears to see through.  

I pray they’ll be tears of joy.  And, tears of temporary sorrow.

Prisms of light through which we see the world clearly.

Blessings.

 

 

 

 

I saw behind me those who had gone, and before me those who are to come. I looked back and saw my father, and his father, and all our fathers, and in front to see my son, and his son, and the sons upon sons beyond.
And their eyes were my eyes.
(Richard Llewellyn ~  Welsh novelist ~ 1906-1983)

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

Crying In the Open

I never knew him.

The same could be said of many whose voices have fallen on my ears—whose hands I have shaken—whose eyes I’ve looked into.

Him, I never spoke with—never laid eyes on.  

The young African-American man was moved by an article I wrote and was kind enough to send a note telling me so.  We were connected only by the information superhighway, a mode of transport that never brought us closer than a note here, a click of the “like” button there.

Friends, they call it.

As if applying the label could tie the cords to bind individuals together.  As if we could struggle past our differences in locale and in community.  

He was a student of the martial arts; I a student of classical music.  He was city through and through; I lock the doors to my car on the outskirts of any urban center, unlocking them only if there is no other choice or when I have passed the city limits sign on the other side.

And yet, it seemed there was something there—a connection of sorts.

Tears filled my eyes on the day he wrote the words:  He’s gone.  Sitting right across the table from me, and he dropped dead.

His best friend had died of a massive heart attack as they sat eating and joking.  He never got over it.

I wrote a note, which he acknowledged.  We exchanged other notes, but they were vague and disconnected.  Something had changed.

A few months later, I was shocked to read the words from a relative in a message to the young man’s online friends.

Tonight, he decided there was nothing left worth living for.  I’m sorry to have to tell you this way.  Thanks for being his friends.

I know.  I cry too easily.  This was different.

A friend died, his life ended before he was a quarter of a century old.

I never knew him.  

Still, he was my friend, my brother.  The tears flowed.

They fill my eyes even now.

Can I tell you something?  Even if I had never exchanged a word with him, we would have been connected.  Even if his name had never been in the listing of friends I had made in my social network, it would be true.

If I haven’t made it clear enough before in my writing, let me say it again here:

We are all connected.  All.

There was one Man who insisted on it.  At the crossroads of history, He stood and said:  If I do this—if I allow myself to be the sacrifice—it will be for every human whose heart beats within his breast.  I will draw all men to myself.  (John 12:32)

I am not a universalist.  Many who are drawn will not come.  I know that.

And yet, what if all that is standing between one who is drawn and the Man-God I claim to follow is me?  

Or what if—on the flip side of the coin—what if I’m the one who will help that one who is drawn to make up his or her mind?

If I say I love God, but do not love my brother, I am a liar.  The truth is not to be found in me. (1 John 4:20)

I watch with horror as the barriers are being erected.  High and strong, the walls are being fortified.

gun-1210396_640Brothers dwell within every fortification, but few will venture out from behind their safety.  Few can abandon their petty claims—to hold out a hand in friendship, to embrace family.

Family.

We argue about words and slogans, while people die.  We insist on our version of truth while souls hang in the balance.

I’m convinced we will meet again one day, where no barrier stands.  Together, beyond that dividing line between this earthly existence and eternity in Heaven, we’ll stand and will weep as we realize the powerful truth of His words.

All men.  Black, white, brown—called out of every nation, every tribe.  

Drawn to Him—away from worship of false gods, from following false prophets, from teaching false doctrines.

We’ll weep until He wipes away the tears from our eyes Himself. (Revelation 21:4)

I said earlier that I cry too easily.  I wonder.

Perhaps we need to cry more while we’re here, not less.

We need to cry more while we’re here, not less. Click To Tweet

My young friend who abandoned hope sat and listened to music right before he took his last breath.  Missing his friend who had died before his eyes, he thought he heard in the words of the song an invitation to join him.

Perhaps, it seemed easier than walking a difficult, lonely road without him.

Another young friend, who also has known the horrible pain and emptiness of losing someone he loves, wrote recently of his struggle to comprehend a God who allows such things.

He has reached the conclusion—not lightly nor easily—that likely, it’s our understanding of God that is flawed and not the other way around.  

We build a box and stuff God in it, much as we do with people.

Neither will stay in the boxes we have built.

He is too big.

People are too stubborn.

And yet, out in the open seems dangerous, doesn’t it?  Too exposed, too brightly lit, too vulnerable. 

But we’ve tried hiding.  It achieves nothing lasting, leaving only suspicion and hatred.

Perhaps, it’s time to try openness.  

There’s more room for hugging and handshakes out here.

There will even be some tears.

Somehow, I don’t think that’s a bad thing.

 

 

 

 

So let the light guide your way, yeah
Hold every memory as you go
And every road you take, will always lead you home, home

It’s been a long day without you, my friend
And I’ll tell you all about it when I see you again
We’ve come a long way from where we began
Oh, I’ll tell you all about it when I see you again
When I see you again.
(See You Again ~ Franks, Puth, Thomaz ~ 2014)

 

How wonderful and pleasant it is
    when brothers live together in harmony!
For harmony is as precious as the anointing oil
    that was poured over Aaron’s head,
    that ran down his beard
    and onto the border of his robe.
Harmony is as refreshing as the dew from Mount Hermon
    that falls on the mountains of Zion.
And there the Lord has pronounced his blessing,
    even life everlasting.
(Psalm 133 ~ NLT)

 

 

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

Side By Side

Today, he seemed smaller somehow.

He was never a big man.  Still, the wizened little fellow who had wandered inside from the gray day wasn’t the man I remembered.  Something was missing.

As we talked, I remembered what it was that had made him bigger.

She was always with him.  Always.

I asked him how he was doing, really wanting to know.  It seemed he could tell that, so he answered as honestly as he knew how.

I’m lonely.  Just—lonely.

old-690842_1280Fifty-seven years, she had been at his side.  The farmer’s wife works harder than the farmer, and is concerned over twice as much.  Still, they raised a family, side by side.  They went to church, side by side.  They slept in the same bed, side by side.

He took her hand as they sat, side by side, one day a couple of months ago and told her he loved her, and she just went to sleep.  

Just like that—gone.

His days are still full of people and activity, but as the daylight ebbs and evening approaches, the sense of coming night takes hold in his spirit.  He returns to his empty house—alone—and prepares to lie down in an empty bed and it envelops him, leaving him again in black darkness.  

He is alone for the first time in nearly sixty years.

Alone and small.

And God said, It is not good for man to be alone.  (Genesis 2:18)

I will make a companion who complements him.

He was bigger when she was with him.  I’m sure of it.

He knows where she is.  The hope is in his eyes when he speaks of her being well and whole now.  Still, as he starts for the front door, I see the wistfulness that lingers.  He had plans for more time with her—side by side.

He knows she is side by side with another whom she loves now.  He wouldn’t take that from her for the world.  And, tonight when the loneliness begins to settle into his spirit once more, he will remember it.

Side by side, we labor through the brightest days of our lives.  Still side by side, we lean on each other through the darkest times, as well.

And, for a time—in the grand scheme, merely a moment—we may walk alone again to complete our task here in what some call a vale of sorrows.

But, know this:  The day will come.

The day will come when we stand side by side once more and rejoice.  There will be music, and shouting, and worship.

Side by side, we’ll see Him face to face.

Ah, sweet hope!

Somehow, I don’t expect my friend will be small in that place.  Every person there will stand tall.

Side by side.

 

 

 

The days of our lives add up to seventy years,
or eighty, if one is especially strong.
But even one’s best years are marred by trouble and oppression.
Yes, they pass quickly and we fly away.
(Psalm 90:10 ~ NET)

But life will call with daffodils and morning glorious blue skies.
You’ll think of me—some memory, and softly smile to your surprise.
(from When I’m Gone by Joey & Rory ~ Sandy Lawrence songwriter) 

 

 

 

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

Beauty and Chaos

He’s doing an art project.

artist-brush-983590_1280An art project. 

Only two months ago, his little boy died.

Today, he’s working at making something beautiful. 

I’m having a hard time wrapping my brain around this one.  I have a few questions.

Does God feel sadness?  How is it that He keeps giving us beautiful things, long after we, made in His image, have hurt and destroyed others, also made in His image? 

Long after we killed His only Son.

Why would He continue to bring us each new gorgeous dawn—each new colorful Spring—He who upholds all with the power of His hands?  (Colossians 1:16-17)

Does He feel sadness?

His Son did, as He walked on the earth.  I’ve told you before of one of my favorite verses in the Bible.  I’ve committed it to memory.  Even now, I can remember it word for word.

Jesus wept. (John 11:35)

Along with His followers, He felt intense sadness.  He had no fear of lessening His influence on them by allowing them to see His tears.  There was no embarrassment in showing His emotional state.

Yet, He was the embodiment of His Heavenly Father.  The exact image. (Colossians 1:15-16)

God feels sorrow.

He feels sorrow, yet He continues to astound us with beauty.

Me?  I mope when I’m sad.  I sit in my chair and sigh pitifully.  I gripe and I grouse, lashing out at those around me.

Work on an art project when I’m down?  Produce things of beauty when I hurt?  Hardly.

He does.

The young artist/father I visited with in my business today does, too.  He, in the midst of the storm, turns to creativity to bring beauty out of his chaos.  Then, when the art project fizzles, he makes music.

From the ashes of catastrophe, he draws out beauty.  

It doesn’t mean the pain of loss isn’t ever-present—a shadow lurking on the fringes.  He just refuses to wallow in it, to let it have the reins of his existence.

The sun didn’t show its face today in the sky.  The gray day worked its way into my spirit in much the same way the cold crept into my bones  But in my store, the brilliant illumination couldn’t be cloaked.

Light overcomes darkness.  Always.

Always.

Maybe it’s time for us to give the dark times to a God who still makes beauty from darkness.

Give your dark times to a God who still makes beauty from darkness. Click To Tweet

I’m thinking brighter days are ahead.

 

 

Every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness.
(Martin Luther King Jr. ~ American pastor/civil rights activist ~ 1929-1968)

 

 

And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.  And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.  And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness.
(Genesis 1:2-4 ~ KJV)

 

 

 

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

 

 

In Quiet Places

A giant in the world of rock music died yesterday.  

The tributes to David Bowie have filled the pages of social media.  Videos have been shared, stories told, organ solos have even been performed in cathedrals.  And now, the questions are being raised.

Is David Bowie in heaven?  Did he become a believer in the waning days of his life?

I’m not going to talk about him.  Not exactly, anyway.  

You will find the discussion of his final destination in the days to come upon the sensational pages of other blogs.  Anger and name-calling will follow—both by believers and non-believers alike.  I choose not to participate.

Still, in the quiet of this night, I consider the possibilities.  For him—and for all of us.  

I wonder—what about these quiet hours, the lonely time between times, when no one else is stirring?  They are some of the most soul-searching intervals I have experienced.  Surely, there’s a chance?

I’m aware that I’m a man of strange habits—late-night writing sessions, followed by wandering through the house speaking to shadows and arguing with the walls.  Not everyone spends their nights in the same fashion.

But, many who are creatures of habit, making their way to bed at regular hours and planning for early morning arising, sometimes find themselves at the mercy of the night.  

For some, when life is proceeding smoothly and all is well in their world, the nights are blissful oblivion.  No questions are whispered into the dark; no prayers are addressed to the ceiling (and beyond).

But life is not all smooth lanes and well-oiled machinery.  

Trouble will come. Sleep will flee.  Rest will escape.

Pleas will be delivered to Heaven and promises made.  Tears will be shed. 

I don’t suppose it’s true for all, but I suspect it happens to more than will admit it.

chairAnd finally, in the receding years of my life, I have discovered a truth I never imagined.  

Those times in the quiet hours are precious.  They are life-changing.  They are priceless.

When all is as we imagine it should be, we have no time for God.  We have no need for God.  Rich in things, we fill the days with noise and commotion, and exhausted, fall into our beds, never giving a thought to the poverty of our souls.

Yet, in our darkest night, He will be found.  It seems it’s always, finally, in our darkness that we seek His light.  

He’s there waiting, too.  (Psalm 139:11-12)

When the one who slept beside you in your bed all those years never will again and you cry for them in the night, He will be found.

When disease tears at the body of your child and you scream silently into the dark, He hears.

When the emptiness of life on your own drives you, at last, to give it all to Him, He’s waiting.

He’s always been waiting. (Revelation 3:20)

Did David Bowie find Him in the darkness of his night?  Perhaps.

Perhaps not.

I don’t know.

But you can.

I have.

Again and again.

 

 

 

You, Lord, keep my lamp burning;
    my God turns my darkness into light.
(Psalm 18:28 ~ NIV)

 

 

But something tells me that you hide
When all the world is warm and tired
You cry a little in the dark, well so do I.
(from Letter to Hermione ~ David Bowie ~ English singer/actor ~ 1947-2016)

 

 

 

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

Frosted Glass

I woke up this morning and, looking out the window, wondered about the fog.

Didn’t the weather man say it would be sunny this morning?

Mere seconds later, the fog cleared.  No, not the fog I was seeing through the window.  The fog in my brain.

Looking at the window again, I remembered that the exterior storm windows, set at a distance of a few inches from the original single-pane glass, hold in the moisture of the night.  On cold mornings, the view through the windows is dim and foggy, regardless of the weather outside.

road-815297_1920Sunny.  There was no fog—no mist.  

A beautiful morning.

It would not be many more hours before the fog was back.  The fog in my head, I mean.

I read the words once.  “Saying goodbye to my father…”

I read them again, this time through tears.  His father is a friend, an encourager, a tease.  One of my favorite people.

It’s not true.  He can’t be dead.

I don’t know what happened to the sun.  Perhaps the tears that came unbidden fogged up the view, but it was dim even after I wiped them away.

The rest of my day was viewed through a dark lens.  Tears, sarcasm, anger—all of them were close to the surface and likely to be unleashed without provocation.

I argued with two young men on separate occasions this afternoon.  They needed to know how dark the world is.  

I took care of that task.

One of them, a man in his late twenties, now clearly understands that his days of carefree happiness are numbered. The reality of death, which will close in to take scores of his friends as he ages, has been explained thoroughly to him.

The second, a slightly older father of two, now grasps fully the ugliness of sin hidden inside every person he respects and loves.  I did my best to explain to him that it would be every person who would disappoint.  Every person. 

The red-headed lady who raised me would have suggested at this juncture that misery loves company.  

I wasn’t done yet.  

Late this afternoon a longtime friend about my own age related his enjoyment at watching a documentary of a famous singer who, though struggling with Alzheimer’s, still finished his farewell concert tour.  It seemed, to my friend, a triumph in the face of overwhelming odds.

Astounded that anyone should see even one ray of sunshine on such an obviously dark day, I set him straight, citing my mother’s experience with the horrible disease before her death last summer.  I wasn’t gentle, helping him to understand with graphic descriptions of the horror.

I have apologies to make.

More than that, I need to learn to trust a loving God, who sees the beginning and the end.  When events overwhelm, He sends messengers to offer words of comfort, but I, drowning in the dark waves, attempt to pull them down as well.

I will make my apologies.  

Learning to trust will take longer—perhaps a lifetime.  

Tonight, I’m in agreement with the Psalmist, who suggested that he had some complaints to make and asked that they be heard.  (Psalm 64:1)

Funny thing.  He got to the end of his complaining and found there was light at the end of the darkness.  (Psalm 64:10)

Light.  And hope.

It is not so dark here as I thought.

I’m hearing from lots of my friends who believe the entire world is dark and without hope.  Events and fears have colored the glass through which they view all of God’s creation.

This morning, as I walked out of my house, the sunshine was brilliant beyond description.  The storm windows, designed to protect, had given an illusion of a world covered in cloud.

Beyond the illusion, the sun is still shining.

The light has shined into darkness and has not been overcome by it.

It is not so dark out here.

 

 

 

Following the light of the sun, we left the Old World.
(Christopher Columbus ~ Italian explorer ~ ca. 1451-1506)

 

Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
And lean not on your own understanding;
In all your ways acknowledge Him,
And He shall make smooth your paths.
(Proverbs 3:5-6 ~ NKJV)

 

 

 

 

© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2015. All Rights Reserved.

Arise and Go

I will arise and go.

The words came to me as I sat among the mud and scattered corn husks tonight.

You laugh.  Perhaps with good reason.  

And yet…  

And yet, I find it easy to drift away into the dark places of my mind these days.  People are gone from my life and from the lives of friends.  Some have gone beyond recall, never to be reunited this side of eternity.  At times, the pain is nearly palpable, the sadness overwhelming.

Others are separated by events no less catastrophic, but perhaps less permanent.  Perhaps.

The sadness of broken relationships has become more personal and more crushing with every passing year—indeed it seems—with every passing day.  The hopeless feeling bewilders me and doubts grow that broken marriages can be salvaged, or that adult children estranged from parents and siblings
can ever put aside their petty feuds and be reconciled. Somehow, that feeling is hardly less devastating than what I feel for those separated in that final, irrevocable farewell of death.

On the heels of the abrupt loss of an old friend last week have come numerous reminders of other recent losses by friends and in my own family.  mourning-77382_1920I listened to a beautiful song by a young friend this evening and wept anew for the cruel scars left by the theft of once-bright minds in aging parents and grandparents.  The never-ending stories of broken friendships and rifts in family relationships only add to the sadness.

No.  The mud and corn husks of a pig wallow seem to be an apt description.  

I may have even heard the startled grunt of a pig a moment ago, as I shifted my position in my seat.  It is dark in here.

But, the words come to mind again.

I will arise…  

I will arise and go.  

Although the path leading here didn’t jibe with the story those words belong to, I’m thinking the cure may be the same.

Funny, isn’t it?  Some places, you just arrive at by chance.  Without even trying, I find myself frequently at the doughnut shop miles away, and once in awhile, at the ice cream parlor just down the street.

I don’t have to decide to go there.  Why is it the places that are not healthy for us just seem to appear before us?

When we want to do healthy things, we have to struggle.  We must force ourselves out of our easy chairs, or push away from the dinner table.  We dress for the specific activity and select the correct shoes.  Protective gear is carefully adjusted and equipment is checked again.

I never, never, just find myself exercising.  You?

Come to think of it, we have to make an effort to do most everything which is profitable for us.  But the dark places, the damaging activities, almost seem to find us on their own.

I certainly didn’t go looking for this place.  I just found myself in here.  

I am going to have to take action if I want to leave it behind, though.

I will arise.  My Father has things so much better for me.

There might even be a party going on there.

You’ll come too, won’t you?

It might take some effort on your part, as well.

I will arise.  And, go to the Father.

He’s already waiting.

He always has been.

 

 

 

But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him.
(Luke 15:20 ~ KJV

 

There are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind.
(C.S. Lewis ~ British novelist/Christian apologist ~ 1898-1963)

 

Flee as a bird to your mountain,
Thou who art weary of sin;
Go to the clear-flowing fountain,
Where you may wash and be clean;
Fly, for temptation is near thee,
Call, and the Savior will hear thee;
He on His bosom will bear thee,
O thou who art weary of sin,
O thou who art weary of sin.

He will protect thee forever,
Wipe ev’ry falling tear;
He will forsake thee O never,
Sheltered so tenderly there!
Haste then, the hours are flying,
Spend not the moments in sighing,
Cease from your sorrow and crying,
The Savior will wipe ev’ry tear,
The Savior will wipe ev’ry tear.
(Flee as a Bird ~ Mary Dana Schindler ~ American hymn writer ~ 1810-1883)

 

© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2015. All Rights Reserved. 

One Clear Call

“I’m looking for Ivanhoe by Egghead.  I know you’ve got it, Mark!”

The rag-tag children were scattered around the old scarred-up dining room table.  There was a huge bowl, now nearly empty, on the wood surface between them.  The smell of popcorn hung in the air, but there was nothing to be seen in the bottom of the bowl, except old-maids—the unpopped kernels—and none of the kids wanted to try chewing on them.

The scruffy boy who had spoken held a number of dog-eared cards in his hand, as did all the children.  Their father had an unqualified contempt for gambling games, so the family didn’t own a deck of standard playing cards—the type with suits and numbers, along with royalty designations.  

sirwalterscottNo.  They were playing Authors, already an old game, even in the 1960s.  With cards bearing pictures of classic authors and a list of four of their most famous works, each player would struggle to remember who had called for which author and work, and then attempt to amass complete sets of all the cards bearing that particular author’s writings.

I was the scruffy boy calling for Egghead’s Ivanhoe.  Well, the author’s name was really Sir Walter Scott, but his depiction on the card looked for all the world like the shape of an egg.  The man shall, unfortunately, forever remain so in my brain.

I hadn’t thought about the game for many a year, although the names of those classic works have come up in my collection of books and in my reading list numerous times in my adult life.  Yet, tonight, as I sat at my desk and thumbed through a book of English poems (copyright 1902), my eye fell on the poem entitled, Crossing the Bar by Alfred Lord Tennyson.

You guessed it.  Another of the denizens of that old card game.

You’ll find the poem below.

Funny.  Life back then was full of teasing and laughter.  Our poetry consisted of John and Debbie sitting in a tree;  K-I-S-S-I-N-G, and the like.

We had no idea that the classic works, whose names we memorized simply for the sake of winning a game, consisted of deep, thought-provoking material which spoke of death and of meeting God.  Unbeknownst to us, in the works inventoried on that tattered card stock, there were monsters, Muslims, and ragamuffin boys traveling the Mississippi, along with many other wonders.

I have read many of those works over the years, loving some, disappointed in others.

But tonight—tonight—I read the poem.

759px-Samuel_Bough_-_West_Wemyss_Harbour_FifeTonight, I am remembering people who were part of my life back then, folks who have already crossed the bar.  People who have seen their Pilot face to face.

It is a long list—a list growing longer all the time.

Lord Tennyson expressed his desire to choose how he would depart this world.  We don’t get to do that.  I’m not sure we really would want that anyway.

I know by long experience that my timing stinks.  I leap when I should wait, and stand still when I should fly.  

But, my Pilot knows exactly when to embark.  And, precisely where to steer the ship.  I can’t see Him, but I know He is there at the rudder, just as surely as I know my own name.  

Come to think of it, even if I forget my own name, He will still be there.

Even if I forget my own name, He will still be there. Click To Tweet

Earlier this year, my cousin passed away suddenly.  There was no warning; there were no days of preparation for the journey.  Just a call for her from the other side of the bar.  

Just like that, she was gone.

Others I love have taken years to complete their time here—years of suffering—years of moaning as the long days and nights dragged on.  

My experience is not unique.  All suffer the losses.  All look forward to the day themselves.

For all the sorrow and sadness, for all the emptiness and loss, we have a promisewe who are believers.

I’m going to get the house ready for you.  I wouldn’t make the promise if I didn’t intend to make it so.  And, if I go and prepare the home for you, I’ll be there to welcome you.  (John 14:2,3)

Face to face.  

The day is coming.

Perhaps we shouldn’t be sitting around playing games while we wait.

There is business to attend to.  

I think I’ll clock in again in the morning.  You?

 

 

 

 

CROSSING THE BAR

Sunset and evening star,
And one clear call for me!
And may there be no moaning of the bar,
When I put out to sea,

But such a tide as moving seems asleep,
Too full for sound and foam,
When that which drew from out the boundless deep
Turns again home.

Twilight and evening bell,
And after that the dark!
And may there be no sadness of farewell,
When I embark;

For tho’ from out our bourne of Time and Place
The flood may bear me far,
I hope to see my Pilot face to face
When I have crost the bar.
(Alfred Lord Tennyson ~ Poet Laureate/Great Britain & Ireland ~ 1809-1892)

 

 

 

© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2015. All Rights Reserved. 

Turning

I’ve begun to map out my bicycle rides a little more carefully.

Oh, I remember how I used to laugh at my riding friends who would explain how that highway has too many patches, or there are a few too many hills to follow this road.

Wimps!  Why do you ride if you’re afraid?  What’s a little hill to a rider?  Who’s concerned about a bump or two?

Odd.  I’m still not much worried about the bumps or the hills.  No. I can dodge potholes with the best of them.  And, I’m learning how to trim the gears on the forty-year-old ten-speed well enough to climb most of the hills I encounter along the way.  Most of them.

So why would I be careful about planning my rides?  You’ll laugh.

I hate hand signals.

It’s the lane changes and turns that get me now.  Turning left?  Left arm straight out, fingers together, warning approaching traffic (both front and rear) that the lightweight bicycle is about to brave the crossing of a lane or two of oncoming cars.  Right turn?  No, not the right arm, but again the left—this time straight out from the shoulder with a right angle at the elbow aiming upwards, still with the fingers together, pointing to the sky.

I hear the laughter already.  What could be hard about that?

If you had seen the number of people who wave back at my right-hand turn signal, thinking I’m just being friendly, you’d laugh even more.  But the icing on the cake—the epitome of turn-signal blunders—was a left turn I made recently across a busy four-lane highway which has a turn lane in the center.

I rode north about half a mile along the heavily traveled state highway, staying as close to the right hand side of the shoulder as possible.  Carefully, glancing over my left shoulder repeatedly as I neared the intersection at which I was turning to the west, I stuck my left arm straight out and crossed both lanes of northbound traffic.  Riding on in the center lane to my turning point, I kept my arm out at the ninety-degree angle to my body to warn the oncoming traffic of my intentions.  It worked beyond my wildest dreams.

I was twenty feet away from the corner when I realized the next car coming toward me was a sheriff’s deputy.  He saw my arm stuck straight out and stood on his brakes, stopping short in the southbound lane, turning on the blue flashing lights in the light bar atop his vehicle.

He thought I was waving him down! 

The traffic behind him, as well as the cars coming up behind me, all stopped as I flew across the lanes and around the corner.  How embarrassing!  When the officer saw I was merely turning, he sheepishly turned off the lights and went on his way.

I didn’t look back either, but pedaled on down the little country road as fast as my tired legs could spin the wheels.

I am realizing something as I grow older.  I don’t enjoy changing directions.  For one thing, I have to take a hand off the handlebars, a decidedly tricky feat for me as my balance erodes and confidence fades.

I must also turn off the road on which I’m riding, usually a familiar route.  I like familiar routes, roads mostly chosen for ease of travel and lack of traffic.

Who knows what lies around the corner?

Often a new route leads steeply uphill—then again, sometimes just as steeply downhill, reminding me that another hill to climb will be in my path on the road back home. Just when I’ll be tired and running out of enthusiasm.

sunset-on-the-curving-roadAround curves, dodging stray dogs and potholes, the thought of unfamiliar terrain overwhelms and yes, sometimes frightens.

I don’t like transitions.

Besides how poorly I execute the maneuvers, I abhor the unknown.

During this last week, I’ve been approaching one of those turns.  As it does eventually, life has progressed to the point at which I’ve lost the first member of my nuclear family.  Things are going to change.  Again.

The status quo, the reality I have lived with for nearly sixty years, has come to an end, and my arm is out—signalling a change in direction.  I don’t want to make this turn.

We all, without exception, face these transitions.  Some are more adept at making the turn—even better at signalling their intention.  No one will mistake their turn signal for a plea for help.

Change is coming.  But then, it always has done that.  The difference is that there will be no turning around from these changes.

Realization hits and I see clearly that I actually don’t want to turn around.  This is not some bicycle ride—out a few miles and then back home.

No.  I’m headed on the home lap right now.

Home is out there ahead of me.

Around one of those corners.

I’ve been signaling this turn long enough.

Time to move on through the intersection.

I can’t get home just sitting here.

 

 

Hear my prayer, O Lord! Listen to my cries for help! Don’t ignore my tears. For I am your guest—a traveler passing through, as my ancestors were before me.
(Psalm 39:12 ~NLT)

 

 

This world is not my home, I’m just a’passin’ through.
My treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue.
The angels beckon me from heaven’s open door,
And I can’t feel at home in this world anymore.
(Albert Brumley ~ American songwriter ~ 1905-1977)

 

 

 

 

© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2015. All Rights Reserved.