Reaching

I think I first heard the insult from one of my brothers.  He didn’t make it up himself.

Maybe you’ve heard it, too.

“Well, I. . .”

“That’s a deep subject—for such a shallow mind.”

It was funny the first twenty times. Eventually, I learned to start my sentences without the mention of the water source.

I thought about it again today when my young friend interrupted my monologue about some things I’ve been pondering recently.

“Those are some big thoughts you’ve been having, Paul.”

In my head, I immediately finished the idea for him.  

. . .for such a tiny brain.

He didn’t say the words and probably didn’t even think them, but still—I couldn’t help but wonder.  The red headed lady who raised me used to say it differently.

“You’re getting a little too big for your britches, Bub.”

It’s a funny thing, though.  I remember her buying me bigger pants when I outgrew the ones I was wearing.  Same thing with shoes, and shirts.

She didn’t want me to stay a small person.  From her diminutive height of five feet and four inches she looked up to her taller sons, two of us eventually reaching six feet, with pride.

She never wanted anything else but for us to grow.  She never wanted anything less than for us to reach further.

Parents are like that, you know.

Somehow, much of society wants nothing more than to pull us back into the teeming mass of the everyday.

Don’t get above your roots!

Remember where you came from!

Time and time again, the crowd pulls us down and reminds us that we need to fit in—to conform.

Ah, but I remember being in crowds with my Dad.  When you’re a kid, crowds are a pain.  You can’t see anything—can’t get anywhere.

stack-1230254_640But, with Dad, all I had to do was ask and, within seconds I was sitting on his shoulders, above the crowd.  No more looking through legs and around fat torsos.  No more stumbling and being shoved.

Parents are like that, you know.

But the day comes when the child is too big to sit on shoulders, too heavy to be carried through the crowd.  By then, they’ve learned to stand on their own feet and to see far ahead of the crowd.  One would hope anyway.

I encouraged and aided my own son to adulthood and then, stood aside and bragged.  Well, not exactly bragged.  But, I still remember the first time a co-worker of his praised his abilities and his work ethic.  

Ha!  The first time?  I remember the last time it happened, just a day past.

Parents are like that, you know.

And a voice came from heaven, telling them, “This is my only Son.  I am exceedingly pleased with Him.”  (Matthew 1:5)  

Evidently, there is another Father who wants His children to excel.

He gives us the tools to do just that—lifting us when we can’t see, carrying us when we can’t walk, encouraging us as we gain strength and wisdom.

Parents are like that, you know.

One has to wonder:  Why is it we seem to be satisfied, all too often, with the norm?  

Why do we stay a part of the crowd, when we have the advantages we’ve been given?

Why are we afraid to grow?  Why are we afraid to excel?  Why are we afraid to stand tall?

I wonder.  Surely I’m not the only one with big ideas (rattling around in a tiny brain).

Perhaps, it’s time we started acting on the big ideas.

It seems likely that we’ve stood on the edge of the dream for too long.  I think I hear a voice, almost like that of Aslan the Lion in the Chronicles of Narnia, calling us further up and further in.

Still encouraging.  Still calling.

Parents are like that, you know.

 

 

He turned swiftly round, crouched lower, lashed himself with his tail and shot away like a golden arrow.
“Come further in!  Come further up!” he shouted over his shoulder.

(from The Last Battle ~ C.S. Lewis ~ English theologian/author ~ 1898-1963)

 

Now look here, gal, you’d better be yourself
And leave that other stuff on the shelf
You’re country, baby
That’s plain to see

Don’t get above your raisin’
Stay down to earth with me
(Don’t Get Above Your Raising ~ Flatt/Scruggs ~ American Songwriters)

 

 

 

 

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

If Tomorrow Never Comes

Faint not—fight on!  Tomorrow comes the song.

“I’ll just take this with me, okay?  There might be a poem in it I can use.” 

I looked over at the Lovely Lady as I headed toward the door earlier tonight, waving the thin volume in the air as I spoke.  The little book of popular poetry from the nineteenth century had come from her parent’s home (and possibly her grandparent’s before that), so I felt I needed her approval.

Smiling at me, she told me to take it.  She never expected anything less when she brought it home a while back. 

The little book of verse is lying open on my desk even now, along with three or four others.  I really didn’t think I would find anything spectacular in it. 

Poetry is just poetry.  Sometimes.

Men and women in the past did just as many of us do today, sitting and meditating on our days and nights—remembering that we haven’t accomplished what we intended—recalling some important lesson we don’t want to lose in the gray haze of our busy lives.  Dashing down words onto a page, we save the thoughts for another night, or another morning.  Line by line, the thoughts and words take shape, achieving a semblance of wisdom or wit—or not.

As I glanced through the little book tonight, my eyes fell on the concluding line of a poem by the man who penned the words to that great old hymn, This is My Father’s World.  The line is copied above, but I’ll repeat it here to save you the trouble of looking for it.

Faint not—fight on!  Tomorrow comes the song.

I froze in the act of flipping to the next page.  Then I reached for my phone.  Only a week ago, I saved a thought in my notes there, a thought that had arrested me one afternoon.  One afternoon—on one of those days.

You know the kind of day I mean.  The cares and troubles of the world already pressing down on you are joined by a mountain of tasks to be completed.  To add to it all, nothing is going as it should.  Nothing.  One failure after another—one disgruntled patron after another, lead to the terrifying feeling of drowning.

The words I wrote that afternoon are still there, where I saved them in black and white, and the fear returns.

There are days when I panic and wonder, how do I get to tomorrow from here? Click To Tweet

underwaterThere are days when I panic and wonder, how do I get to tomorrow from here?

The fear of drowning is real—the fear is—even if the danger is not. 

My mind wanders and I see an eight-year-old lad with short blond hair and brown skin crouched beside a swimming pool.  Wound up like a spring, he is watching the camp’s activity director closely.  The man holds a silver steel ring in his hand and then with a quick motion, releases it into the air to fall in the deep end of the pool.  Within a second, the boy is diving into the water, eight feet deep and well over his head. 

The idea is to retrieve the ring from the bottom of the pool more quickly than the other boys have achieved the task.  He is sure he can do better.  There is no fear at all in his mind—yet.

Dropping quickly, he heads for the spot he last sighted the target.  As he nears the bottom, his ears begin to pop; the water pressure at that depth is much higher than in the air above or even in the shallows of the other end.  No matter, he is still confident, but for some reason cannot see the ring.

His eyes have started burning in the chlorine-treated water and his ears are actually hurting a little now.  The boy finds himself a little disoriented, but looking above through squinted eyelids, determines where he is in relationship to the sides and the water’s surface, and continues feeling along the bottom of the concrete pool.  Then he feels it.

No.  Not the ring; He feels the fear

He is running out of oxygen in his lungs.  He had taken a huge breath prior to jumping in, but his discomfort has used up precious time and burned more air than he expected.  It is all he can do to persevere and grab the ring as his hand contacts it. 

No, it wasn’t the ring after all, but only the grill around the pool’s drain. 

Now panic really is gripping him, his heart pounding uncontrollably in his chest, but he won’t give up. 

There!  There it is!  He has it in his hand and heads to the surface.  But, in his panic, he forgets to push off on the bottom and is left to flail and kick his way up, eight long feet to the life-giving oxygen.

In his mind, he is drowning.  He can’t get there; the pressure in his lungs is too great.  He will have to exhale and breathe in before he reaches the surface.  It hurts too much!  He knows he will die, simply knows it!

Just as he exhales, the pressure exploding from his mouth and nose, his blond head emerges from the water.  Gasping the precious, life-giving oxygen into his lungs, he stabs his hand above his head in triumph—just as if he hadn’t given up all hope just seconds before—and shows the ring to the waiting group.

Two things I remember, fifty years along the road of life.  Two things.

The waiting group of swimmers wasn’t all that impressed.  No one congratulated me on persevering though the panic.  In fact, not one of my fellow campers ever admitted to feeling that same fear.  Not one.

Neither did I.  Never.  Until now.

The second thing?  I had to do it all again the very next day.  And the next day, and the next.

Life keeps coming at us.  Daily.  And, we either face it and go through, or we fail in our aspirations.  We persevere and push on, or we are overcome and give up.

I don’t want anyone to believe they are the only one who feels that fear.  The thing I’m sure of is there is someone close to me and to you right now who is feeling it.  Maybe you should ask the person next to you if they’ve ever felt the panic.  If they’re honest, they will remember a time.  They might even be going through it right this minute.

How about it?  Are your eyes burning?  Are your lungs bursting?  Is your heart beating so fast you think it may never recover?

Me too.

Hang in there. Today, we fight. Ah, but tomorrow? Tomorrow, we sing. Click To Tweet

Hang in there.  Today we fight.

Ah, but tomorrow?

Tomorrow, we sing.

 

 

 

 

Be strong!
It matters not how deep intrenched the wrong,
How hard the battle goes, the day how long;
Faint not—fight on!  Tomorrow comes the song.
(From Be Strong by Maltbie Babcock ~ American hymn writer ~ 1858-1901)

 

When I am afraid, I will trust in You.  In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust.  I will not be afraid.
(Psalm 56:3,4 ~ NIV)

 

 

 

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

Noonday Bright

The birthplace of Christianity was the tomb.  The birthplace of splendor is desolation.  Spring is conceived in the dark womb of Winter.  And light is inevitably the offspring of darkness.  All this present heaviness of night is surely but the prelude to a better dawn.  The voice of God and the voice of Nature proclaim that the best is yet to be—always, the best is yet to be.
(Robert Cromie)

There is an unseen current of distress which I sense in much of my interaction with folks these days.  From my friends who use their understanding of the Bible to prop up their dim view of the future of civilization, to those who see the changing political landscape in our country—indeed, in the world—as proof of our impending calamity, there is an air of certainty and of finality.

I myself, and no time more than when I sit down to write, have of late been overcome by the melancholy sense of things which have passed beyond recall.  Friends are missing from my life—friends who were here just moments ago.  Family members have disappeared—people I loved and who loved me—never to be encountered again while I breathe this air.

All is dark.  The end will soon be upon us all.

But, is it?  Will it?

I cannot begin to count the number of times in my lifetime I have heard folks predict the ending of this world.  From the same Bible I read and believe, they have found proof of days and seasons, and some, even times.  But, again and again, the day, the season, and yes, even the time has passed and life continues here on this spinning ball.

I do not wish to discount the prophecies cited, but I am skeptical of the ability of any living man to  successfully render an accurate reading of passing events with hopes of naming the day or even the season in which the end will come.

It seems to me that it is not our purpose in this life to look to the ending of time, but to work while we still have it on our side.

springsongBut, I have a different purpose here, a purpose not tied up in prophecy or politics.  The writer of Hebrews suggests we have a responsibility to encourage each other.  He says it is even more imperative as we see the end approaching.  Even more.

Encourage, verb:  Give support, confidence, or hope, to (someone).

I’m ready to be done with the doom and gloom, to move out from under the cloud of defeat and into the light of victory.  That said, it seems we start from a position of disadvantage.  It is dark and cold here in the real world.

In this dark world, where is the light of day to be found?

If you noticed the painting above, you may have had the passing thought: how sweet—a little girl looking at a songbird.

You would be partially right.  There is a little girl.  There is even a songbird.  You would also be partially wrong.

She is not looking at the bird.  The artist’s daughter, the subject of this touching tableau, is completely blind.

The world in which the little girl grew up and lived was permanently dark.  It didn’t stop her from hearing the song of the robin and knowing winter could not last forever.  The barren ground would explode with grasses and flowers; the trees would burst forth into bloom, filling the air with the aroma of their buds.  In the heart of that little girl, who would never see Spring, the glory of that blessed season was already bursting forth.

Spring is conceived in the dark womb of Winter.

I refuse to live in the dark of  night, when all about me is the orange of the sunrise.  I cannot remain in the black grip of sadness, when the joy promised in the morning is already at hand.

Do you hear the robin’s song too?  Are you ready to head out in the early blush of dawn on a road that leads to a noonday bright?

It is not so dark here.  Maybe we could travel together a while.

The voice of God and the voice of Nature proclaim that the best is yet to be—always, the best is yet to be.

 

 

 

For the darkness shall turn to dawning,
And the dawning to noonday bright.
And Christ’s great kingdom shall come on earth,
The kingdom of love and light.
(from We’ve a Story to Tell to the Nations ~ H Ernest Nichol ~1862-1928)

 

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.
(John 14:27 ~ NIV)

 

 

 

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