Retreat Sounds

They called them retreats.  

We couldn’t have told you what the word meant.  Not when used in that context.

Usually, a group of teenagers was loaded into cars to ride to unfamiliar surroundings, mostly campgrounds in the middle of nowhere.

For two or three days, we engaged in ambitious activities—games, hikes, group discussions, and the like.  Since we were usually thrown in with other teenagers we didn’t know, the stress level was high as we vied for the pretty girls’ attention and did our best to mark our territory and establish superiority over the other boys.

It wasn’t a relaxing time.

I am older now.  Much older.  The need to impress pretty females has faded into a dim memory (except for one particular Lovely Lady).  Mostly, I leave the butting heads process to younger men anxious to leave their marks on their corner of the world.

I have a much better comprehension of how to retreat now.  In a world filled with the imagery of battles and strife, the time to turn away from the fray and find a place in which to tend to wounds and basic emotional and spiritual needs is well within my power of discernment.

Quite obviously, the term is of military origin, although not necessarily in the sense in which we normally view it.  

Somehow, we have been taught to believe retreat is the same as a rout, a defeat in battle.  Although that might sometimes be the case, on many occasions a retreat is called simply to give the combatants a chance to rest and get ready to re-engage.

The wise leader always knew when his command was at the breaking point, the place where casualties would begin to mount catastrophically.  Sounding the retreat was a way of living to fight another day—on full stomachs and well rested.

Retreat is rightfully a tool of battle, not an admission of defeat.

Retreat is rightfully a tool of battle, not an admission of defeat. Click To Tweet

The warrior king who wrote many of the Psalms understood the value of the retreat.  In the worst time imaginable, a time when he was fighting battles with his own son, he writes of sleeping soundly and once again arising to courage and faith.  (Psalm 3:5,6)

In the most popular of all his writings, he speaks of lying down in green fields and of being led by still waters to be restored in soul and spirit. (Psalm 23:2,3)

David writes of the soul of the warrior at rest in the Prince of Peace.

The soul of the warrior is at rest in the Prince of Peace. Click To Tweet

I need that.  Exactly that.

Perhaps, I’m not the only one.

Our lives, to the uninvolved bystander, are completely unlike the one this man-after-God’s-own-heart saw unfold before him thousands of years ago.  And yet, for all that, our battles aren’t any less hard-fought, nor any less important.

My battles don’t look anything like those of folks around me, either.  Still, battles they are, with casualties to be counted and wounds to be dressed.

Retreat must come.  It must.

And Jesus told His followers it was time for them to retreat. (Mark 6:31)  Well no, not in so many words.  But, the meaning was exactly that.  They had so much more ahead of them, and they needed to be rested and healed.

Come aside.  Rest.  Recover.

Prepare.

Wait!  What?

If our retreat is not preparation to re-enter the field of the battle, it is nothing more than admission of defeat.  Complete and utter.  Defeat.

Yes, it’s time—perhaps, past time—for a retreat, a time of healing.  But, if that time isn’t used wisely, in preparation for what is yet to come, we could just as well have stayed out there swinging in exhaustion without stopping.

The man on the sidelines who is never coming back into the game is no longer a competitor.  

If we’re called aside, it’s only for a short season.  

A soldier fights.  A servant serves.  A teacher teaches.

Out there is where we fulfill our purpose.  If the trumpet has sounded retreat, it is to get us ready to go back out there.

Armor on.

It’s time to stand.

Again.

 

 

They don’t know that 
I go running home when I fall down
They don’t know Who picks me 
Up when no one is around
I drop my sword and cry for just a while
‘Cause deep inside this armor
The warrior is a child.
(The Warrior is a Child ~ Twila Paris ~ © Universal Music Publishing Group ~ All rights reserved)

 

 

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

Integrity. Again.

It was embarrassing.  To me, anyway.

I don’t suppose anyone else noticed it.  Even if they had, they wouldn’t have mentioned it.

The pastor was talking.  Something about things the disciples misunderstood about Jesus.

I think that’s what it was.  I was paying attention.  I was.

But, looking down as he spoke, I noticed them.  The threads.  The ones hanging from the hem on the right sleeve of my shirt.  It wasn’t just one or two, either.  

The whole edge of the sleeve was frayed, with white strings dangling like the fringe around the shade of grandma’s old table lamp.

I don’t remember what the pastor said now.  I do remember looking quickly from my right arm to the left, only to find more frayed edges.

It is one of my favorite short-sleeved shirts, but I will never be seen in it again.  Years of wear, of putting on and taking off, of raising my hands in joyful triumph and of shaking my fists in angry frustration, have taken their toll on the woven cloth and left it weak and fragile.

It has lost its integrity.

No longer do the crisscrossed threads, woven over and under, keep their place.  No longer is there a sharp crease at the edge of the sleeve, a clear boundary between fabric and skin.

It has lost its integrity.

I stealthily ran my finger around the circumference of each sleeve, to try and hide the errant threads.  Pulling the sleeves tight against my biceps, I hoped no one would notice.

They may have.  Or not.  It doesn’t matter.

The Lovely Lady will remove the buttons, tossing them into a jar—why, I’m not sure— and the once-favored garment will find itself in the trash bin, come trash pickup day.

Well?  I can’t very well go around in a shirt with no integrity, now can I?

When last I wrote, it was scars.  Today, a lack of integrity.  Both hidden.  Both needing to be exposed to the light of day.

They are not the same—scars and lost integrity.  Somehow though, we punish folks for both, blaming the injured as much as we do the dishonest.

But, I want to make this clear—crystal clear:  Grace suffices for both.  

Grace heals our scars, restoring our damaged spirits and renewing our joy.  

Grace makes new the fabric of our broken lives, restoring integrity and revitalizing our resolve.

Because of grace, we can journey on.  In His redemption, we are made new, neither wounded nor dishonorable.

His offer is for a garment with integrity and without stain.  Ours—the price paid completely by our Redeemer. (Revelation 3:18)

No more embarrassment.

No more being tossed aside.

He doesn’t cut off the buttons and throw away the worn out fabric.

He doesn't cut off the buttons and throw away the worn out fabric. Click To Tweet

Grace makes new.

Integrity.

Again.

 

 

In great matters, men show themselves as they wish to be seen; in small matters, as they are.
(Gamaliel Bradford ~ American biographer ~ 1863-1932)

 

May integrity and honesty protect me,
    for I put my hope in you.
(Psalm 25:21 ~ 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.

Undressing in Public

My pocket was vibrating.  We were most of the way through Eternal Father, Strong to Save when the distraction began.  Ignoring the momentary buzzing, I bumbled my way through the end of the piece.

I don’t use my phone during orchestra rehearsal.  Usually, I don’t.  But you know—my house could have been burning or an intercontinental ballistic missile might have been heading our way— so, as soon as our conductor turned her attention to the violins, helping them to find the pitch which they seemed to have lost during the last piece, I checked my messages.

One was a reminder that I had promised to go to coffee with another member of the orchestra at nine o’clock, right after we finished the rehearsal.  The other was from another friend, inviting me to join him and a third friend at ten o’clock for coffee.

It was cutting it close (and there was a danger of caffeine overdose), but I snuck my phone onto the music stand and surreptitiously sent a return message saying I would try to be there.

I hope no one will squeal on me to the director.

Friends in this world are hard to come by.  Friends who will take the time to invite a grumpy old guy such as I to coffee are even harder to find.  

Time spent among such friends is never wasted.  Never.

I met with my red-headed tuba-playing friend and we laughed, and commiserated, and laughed some more. 

Then I met with the preacher and his/my guitar-playing friend and we laughed, and commiserated, and laughed some more.

All in all, the two encounters were probably the most important two hours I spent in the whole day.  They were completely uneventful.  By that I mean there were no important decisions made, no actions taken, not even any subjects of any great significance discussed.

There were two things which happened, which have had me thinking for two days.  The first happened near the end of my time with my friend from the orchestra.

An acquaintance, who knew both of us, wandered by on his way out of the restaurant and took a minute to stop and talk with us.  As we wondered aloud how he was doing, he began to unbutton his shirt.

Let me show you something. 

My friend and I exchanged quizzical glances.  I can’t speak for him, but people don’t normally undress in public while I’m talking with them.  We needn’t have worried.  

He just wanted to show us the scar.

The scar from his open heart surgery a few months ago went from just below his ribs up to the top of his chest.   He told us in colorful terms about his previous symptoms and the surgery, as well as its aftermath.  It was good that we had finished our coffee and buns already.

I only mention the event because the second thing that happened was very much like it.

I arrived at the second venue for coffee consumption just a few minutes after the agreed-upon time and grabbed my third cup of coffee of the morning before sitting down with my two friends.

Within minutes, the guitar player was unbuttoning his shirt.  Seriously.

Let me show you something.

His scar was horizontal, not vertical.  Just below his collarbone, the three-inch incision was not completely healed and it looked tender.

The pacemaker/defibrillator has only been in his body for a short time, but he joked and dismissed it as lightly as if it were of no consequence at all.  We knew better but didn’t dwell on it.

Two men, within a quarter hour of each other, had unbuttoned their shirts to show me something I would never have seen otherwise.

What a curious thing!

It was almost as if there was a message I needed not to miss.

There was.

I didn’t.

I couldn’t.

How many people do I see in a day?  Ten?  Fifty?  A thousand?  I suppose it depends on the day and the places I go.

Still, if inside of fifteen minutes, two men had shown me their scars, how many do you suppose I pass every day—every single day—who have scars they don’t show me?

How many people are walking around hiding scars?  Scars too ugly, too fresh, too painful to reveal to anyone.

You know we’re not talking about physical scars, right?  Well, maybe some of them.

Some physical scars work their way right down into the soul of the person wearing them.

Scars put there by hatred.  

Scars dealt out by people who were supposed to show love instead.  

Scars carved into their body by their own hand.

And yet, those scars are, as the red-headed lady who raised me would have said, only the tip of the iceberg.

We carry, in our bodies and souls, scars innumerable.  Scars we wouldn’t dare to show to anyone.

Not to anyone.

There is not one human being who is unscathed.  Not one.  We all have scars.  Words said.  Pain remembered.  War.  Old age.

Every part of our lives has its anguish.  Scars come from all types of injuries.

And, we walk around with the scars hidden from sight.  Walking wounded, many of them yet unhealed.  Oozing, scabby things—they threaten to drain the life from us.

Tears come as I contemplate it.  So much pain.  So much hopelessness.  All concealed and festering.

Some of it is mine.  Perhaps, yours as well.

Our Savior came to bind up the broken hearts. (Isaiah 61:1)

More than that, He came to heal the scars and take away the pain.  Because of His scars, healing is ours. (Isaiah 53:5)

There are some who take those words to mean physical healing. I won’t argue His power to do that.  It seems clear though, that the words are intended to give us an unequivocal promise of healing for our souls.

Our scars need no longer be hidden!  We need conceal our pain and our shame no more.

Thomas—the one we ridicule as the doubter—asked Him to unbutton His shirt and show him. Right in front of a houseful of His followers.

The scars of a common criminal—revealed for everyone in the room to see.  The stripes upon His back, laid on by the Roman soldier.  The holes in his wrists and feet, torn open by spikes hammered through (not gently).  

All uncovered without embarrassment.

For us, His flesh was laid open.

My heart breaks as I consider all who walk in shame and fear—fear of the exposure of their scars and fear of carrying them to their graves.

I wonder.  Maybe it’s time to show our scars to each other.

Maybe it's time to show our scars to each other. Click To Tweet

Maybe it’s time to tell the Good News, to do a little binding up of wounded hearts ourselves.

Maybe, it’s time to undress.

In public.

Let me show you something.

 

It has been said, ‘time heals all wounds.’ I do not agree. The wounds remain. In time, the mind, protecting its sanity, covers them with scar tissue and the pain lessens. But it is never gone.
(Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy ~ American philanthropist ~ 1890-1995)

 

He heals the brokenhearted
    and binds up their wounds.
(Psalm 147:3 ~ NIV ~ Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.®  All rights reserved.)

 

 

 

 

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

Fuzzy Reality

Cataracts.

It almost seemed as if the nice young lady said the word with a question mark after it.  You have cataracts?

I did say it with a question mark.  A big one.

CataractsMeOld people get thoseI’m not old.

The nice young lady, who happens to be an optometrist, was kind at least.  She agreed with me.  Sort of.

“Why yes, Mr. Phillips, most people are much older than–what are you?  Let me see. . . Oh. Well, fifty-seven isn’t that unusual for them to start.”

I’m still trying to work it out in my head.  Did she just call me old?  Ah, well.  No sense in beating around the bush, I suppose.

The years are passing.

I don’t heal up as well as I once did.  Arthritis is creeping into my hands, especially in the cold winter days, and even in these damp spring evenings I feel a few twinges in the joints.  Age does that to a fellow.  I’m doing what I can to fend off the evidence of aging, but it will inevitably be a losing battle.

Still, I stand here in relatively good condition and consider the young lady’s diagnosis.  Cataracts in both eyes means that the lens are gradually clouding over, beginning (just beginning) to block the light rays necessary to see well.  Over time, the cloudiness will grow thicker, blurring the sight and possibly robbing the ability to distinguish certain colors.

At last, I may actually have an excuse for wearing non-coordinated pants and shirts, or possibly even mismatched socks.  That could work to my advantage.

But, it seems to me that this is something of a paradox–perhaps even a bit ironic.  At a time of life when I believe I finally see things more clearly than I ever have, I find that I have a few years of clouded vision and blurry views to look forward to.

Oh, I’m sorry.  I seem to have mixed the applications up a bit, haven’t I?  We were talking about the physical issues of growing old and I injected a bit of the spiritual into the conversation.  Well, since we’re here already, perhaps we’ll spend a minute or two more on the spiritual, shall we?

You see, I’m struck–and when I say struck, I mean hard–with the sneaky way these things creep up on us.  We pride ourselves in having our eyes wide open, in seeing all the aspects of the life we live.  All the while, our vision is becoming cloudy, the details of reality becoming fuzzy.

Christ_and_the_pauper_MiranovDo we really see things as clearly as we think?

I wonder.  When the Teacher suggested that there were blind men leading blind men in the days when He walked this earth, do you suppose that those blind leaders got that way in an instant?

Wouldn’t it rather be true that they once strove to see God’s way clearly?  They hadn’t always been old men, blinded by the result of years of failing sight.  I have to believe that at one time, they too were wide-eyed idealists, hoping to change their world for the better.

Years–and bad decisions–have a way of altering dreams and vision.  It’s as true with our spiritual vision as it is with our physical sight.

The young lady tells me that I’ll need to wait a few years for the right time to remove my cataracts.  A simple and highly effective surgery will make things right again.  Until then, I’ll find ways to deal with the inconveniences of the disease.

I wonder if the other sight will be quite as easy to set right?

Perhaps.  The Teacher once used spit and mud to do the job.

I’d like to see things the way He wants me to again.

You?

 

 

 

“The only thing worse than being blind is having sight, but no vision.”
(Helen Keller ~ Blind/deaf author/lecturer ~ 1880-1968)

 

“And your life will be brighter than the noonday; its darkness will be like the morning.
(Job 11: 17 ~ ESV)

 

 

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