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.

Not Home Anymore

It’s not really our home, you know.

I said the words jokingly—actually, only half jokingly—to a guest in our house the other day.

The visitor was visibly surprised.  We’ve lived in the house for a decade and a half, filling the walls with artwork we’ve chosen to fit our taste, and the bookcases with volumes to feed our souls.

The walls still seem to echo with the voices of our grandchildren and college students around the table.  If I listen carefully, I can almost hear the Lovely Lady’s mother’s musical laugh, her idiosyncrasies and stories far outlasting her years on this earth.

The Doxology still rings in the air, sung by voices young and old scattered around the little dining room.  And, before the strains of that beautiful old hymn of praise die down, one may be able to make out the joyful carols sung so many times over the years inside these thick brick walls. 

Many whom we love have crossed the threshold of this wonderful old house while we’ve resided here, a better home than I ever imagined it would be.  The welcome here was always warm, the food delicious, the fellowship all one could ask for.

That was then. 

Home is the place where even the host feels welcome, the retreat where the world is left behind at the door, even if only for a little while.

And God said to Paul and his Lovely Lady, leave behind this beautiful and welcoming home, along with the music store, your vocation and place of ministry for the last thirty years, and go to a place I will show you.  But, not yet.

But, not yet.

Am I comparing my circumstances to Abraham’s?  Really?  I tell you, there have been times over the last few months when I would have told you he had it easy compared to me.

All Abraham had to do was to obey and walk.  God showed him the rest.  Under the great oak tree at Shechem, God waved an arm around and declared that everything he saw was his.  Home.

I hope there is little need for me to reassure the reader I have no illusions about my importance in the grand scheme.  I’m well aware of the part Father Abraham had yet to play in the history of mankind.  

I understand the great faith it took for Abram to leave his family and country and travel, not knowing where he would end up.  I only make the comparison because this Hero of faith had merely to take one step after another until the Lord told him to stop.

A pilgrim no more, he would be home.  Home.

But, I’m sure many can identify with this unsettled feeling I have deep down when I look around me in this old house.  It’s not my home anymore.  Oh, my name (and the Lovely Lady’s) is on the title, but my home is somewhere else.

Or, it would be if I could leave here.  There are still a number of things that have to happen before I walk out the door for the last time.

So, I keep walking back in every evening.  I keep sleeping in (what will be) someone else’s bedroom.  I work in an office that will never truly be mine again.

I’ve got one foot firmly planted in the present, and the other poised to take the next step—to a different place entirely.

It should be time to close one chapter and move to the next.  Only, I keep reading the last paragraph again and again.

I don’t write these words to get sympathy.  Not at all.  I do wonder though, if anyone else can identify with how I’m feeling.

Anyone?

This unsettled feeling—this impatience and restlessness—I wonder, did our Savior ever feel it?

Earth was never His home.  He left His home to live here temporarily, before returning to His rightful home.  (Philippians 2:6-8)

He wasn’t welcome, didn’t get settled in.  He came to His people and they didn’t accept Him.  (John 1:11)  

He didn’t even have a place he wanted to call His own.  The birds and animals had homes, but the Son of Man didn’t even have a place to lay His head.  (Matthew 8:20)

He didn’t settle in.  He never got comfortable.  He was Creator of all that is and there was no place here for Him to call home.

The task for which He came still lay ahead of Him.  And, after that—home.  

Really.  Home.

And, after that—home. Really. Home. Click To Tweet

I’m realizing something, these days as I miss the home that was and look forward to the home that will be.  I’m realizing I’ll never really be settled-in there either.  It may be the place I reside for the rest of my life—or not.  Regardless, it won’t really be home, either.

Just as now, when I gaze across the bridge to the next place, in my heart, I’ll someday be looking across the river to that place, my last and final destination and feel the need to go home.

I may even wonder, as I do now, why I have to wait—why I have to keep one foot in the present and have the other ready to take that step into eternity.

For right now, I’d settle for simply taking the next step.

Just one will do.

For a start.

Leaving home—to go home.

 

And then it happens all at once and unexpectedly. That is how things happen, I suppose. You pack your bags and find yourself walking yourself home.
(Shannon L Alder ~ American author)

 

Abraham was confidently looking forward to a city with eternal foundations, a city designed and built by God.
(Hebrews 11:10 ~ 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.

Living in the Light

The ghosts in the old house have been disturbed and are keeping me awake.

No, not like the ghosts of movie fame—nor even poltergeists or apparitions in chains.  I mean those people who once were part of my life, but who only live here now in my memory.

Sometimes I wonder if I have awakened them, causing them, in turn, to interrupt my own sleep.  It’s only a thought, of course, not borne out by facts.

Still.  Here I am—awake.

I wrote of old light fixtures being made new to shine brightly the last time I shared my thoughts here.  Since then, something’s been niggling at the edges of my mind.  And, it’s not just the ghosts—although they have a good deal to do with it, truth be told.

I sat at a table in a restaurant with my children tonight, both adults, long since.  Showing them photos of the light fixtures we are putting back up in the house their grandparents lived in for most of their lives, I expected my offspring to exclaim about their memories of the fixtures.

They didn’t.  Not at all.

I couldn’t have told you that was on the ceiling in that house, Dad.

The other one nodded his head.

Never saw it.

How is that possible?  

Many hours of their childhood were spent in that house.  They played.  They worked.  They ate.  Surely, in all that time, those light fixtures were powered up and the light shone from them.  Surely.

I know it was so.  On any number of occasions, as we pulled into the drive to visit, the light blazed out from the windows, welcoming us in from the dark.

How could they not have noticed the fixtures?

As I consider the issue, a light begins to glimmer in my own brain.  In a moment, the notion is blazing as brightly as any of those ceiling lights ever did.

You see, on the first few occasions the light switch is turned on, if a fixture is particularly attractive, folks might notice and, perhaps, even be overwhelmed with the beauty.  But, after the process is repeated day after day, night after night—for weeks, months, years even—we forget about the light fixture on the ceiling and simply live in the light. 

We simply live in the light.

We don’t see the implement anymore.

We see only what is produced.  The thing necessary for life—light—fills the house.  Absolutely fills it.

And, that’s as should be.  

It is true in more than just our physical, everyday needs.  The light we require for our faith life is very much the same in the way it works.  

We are, indeed called to shine.  But, the purpose is that the watching world will see (and praise), not us, but the God who shines through us. (Matthew 5:16)

John—the one also called the Baptist, said it succinctly:  He must increase and I must decrease.  (John 3:30)

In the old house we’re taking the light fixtures which have kept the shadows at bay for the generation past, and are doing what is necessary to keep the shadows away for the generations in the future.

The same is true for the spirit life of our families and fellowships.  Saints of old, faithful in walking with the Savior, have lit the way for successive generations.  We can do no less than take up the same light and share it into the future.

Light from the past, shining into the future.

The light from the past is shining into the future. Click To Tweet

We’ll leave the light on for you. 

It’s not an original thought, and others before us have actually made the promise and kept it.  To do the same will take a lifetime of faithfulness from us. 

A lifetime.

It’s time we were started.

Flip the light switch!  

Live in the light.

 

 

Lighthouses don’t fire cannons to call attention to their shining—they just shine.
(Dwight L Moody ~ American evangelist ~ 1837-1899)

 

And the city has no need of sun or moon, for the glory of God illuminates the city, and the Lamb is its light. The nations will walk in its light, and the kings of the world will enter the city in all their glory.
(Revelation 21:23-24 ~ NLTHoly Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. All rights reserved.)

 

 

 

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

Never Much Hope

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

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

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

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

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

We weren’t afraid—much.

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s that?

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

It didn’t happen.

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

Happily ever after didn’t happen.

We lost.  Utterly and completely.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All of it.  Nothing.  Nothing at all.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our day is coming.  

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

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

We seem so easily injured and tired out.

But, the game is not over yet.

And, he has been fooled before.

And, defeated.

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

I’m going to stick it out.

You?

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

Perhaps, More Than a Dream

Winslow_Homer_-_RowboatRow, row, row your boat
Gently down the stream.
Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily,
Life is but a dream.

I was once again contemplating the idea of eternity tonight when suddenly, I became aware the notes of this song were wafting through the air in my office.

I had to laugh.

Already, I see the heads nodding.

No, not in agreement with the humor I found in the juxtaposition of the old folk song alongside thoughts of eternity.  Heads are nodding in the realization that it has finally happened.  The idiot has finally snapped.  Gone over the edge completely.

Why would one be contemplating eternity?

And, what in the world is funny about hearing a children’s song while contemplating such a peculiar subject?

Perhaps, we’ll consider just one thought at a time, okay?

I was an odd child, I will admit.  At a very young age, I struggled internally with big ideas, while the everyday things went unnoticed.  Perhaps all of us did, but I really can’t speak for anyone else.  I know eternity was one concept with which I wrestled many times.

I would sit in church and sing the words of that last verse of John Newton’s Amazing Grace and I would be AWOL for the rest of the church service–lost deep in thought.

…Ten thousand years, bright shining as the sun…We’ve no less days…than when we’ve first begun.

How does that not mess with a kid’s head?

The idea of eternity terrified me.  No, not the idea of Hell or Heaven—just the thought of a period of time that went on and on without ever ending.

To a child of seven or eight, the concept was as foreign as having all the ice cream you could ever consume and no one ever making you stop eating it.

Everything came to an end.

Church services ended with Amen.  Cowboy movies ended with the hero riding off into the sunset.  Trips in the car ended with us pulling up to Grandma’s house and piling out of the old station wagon.  The school year ended with all the kids walking out and throwing their papers in the wind to cover the playground.

Everything came to an end.  Everything.

I never thought to talk about it with a grown-up.  This was too big, too–I don’t know–sacred.  You didn’t talk about such things; you just grappled with them until you could move on. I think eventually, I just decided if the grown-ups in my life could face that terrifying endless and timeless uncertainty, so could I.

Besides, Jesus would be there.  I wanted to be where He was.

As an adult, I still want to be there.

I have come to realize though, eternity is not only on the other side of that door we don’t want to talk about.

Eternity doesn’t begin with death.  It didn’t even begin with our entry into this world at birth.

Funny thing–if I had known it back then, my mind might have been boggled even more than it was.  The reality is, eternity works both ways–both backward and forward.  How’s that for an enigma?

We live smack-dab in the middle of eternity!  We’re not waiting for it.  We’re not looking forward to it.

Eternity is now!

I’m not a kid anymore.

Today, I look to the future and I want to be sure I’ve done everything I can do with this little piece of eternity I’ve been given to work with, here in this place and time.

I’ll relocate to another neighborhood for the next part of it.  But, right here–right now–I have things that must be accomplished before this part of the eternal timetable moves on and I am no longer able to do what needs to be done.

In some ways, I feel like Alice’s White Rabbit as he rushes about, terrified that he is late and will miss the very important date.  Eternity is passing at a frighteningly rapid pace.

Those were the thoughts in my mind tonight as the little bit of doggerel we began our conversation with made its way into my consciousness. Talk about a dichotomy!

Life is but a dream.

The old children’s song lulls us to sleep, convincing us our lot in life is nothing more than a summer afternoon’s outing on the quiet stream.  All work together, rowing in cadence with those around, and everything will come out just fine.

It almost seems apropos that the song is a round, the endless cycle sung repeatedly by all the voices, each one carrying on the hypnotic mantra, urging the boat’s occupants to move gently.

Don’t rock the boat!  Don’t, for heaven’s sake, attempt to go upstream!

Happy, Happy, Happy!

I can just hear Phil Robertson’s (of Duck Dynasty) voice, calling out the words to keep the natives calm.

Life is but a dream?

Okay, perhaps I wasn’t really amused.  It wasn’t funny ha-ha, just wildly inappropriate that the two ideas should occupy my brain at the same time.

I have noted recently that a number of my friends are attempting to slow down the pace of their lives.  Don’t worry, be happy, say their notes.  Jettison the things that stress you; do only the things which make you feel good; friends who make demands on you aren’t really friends, so dump them.

How can we live the dream when rude people keep waking us up?

But, you see–that’s just the trouble with dreams.  You always wake up.  Reality intrudes.  They end.  Just like everything in that seven year old’s world a lifetime ago.

Life isn’t a dream.

I’m kind of happy to know that it isn’t. I want to row upstream.  I want to blaze paths where the placid stream doesn’t flow.  And, eternity won’t wait; it just keeps moving through our lives, as it has for everyone else in all of recorded history.

Eternity won't wait. Time to wake up and get busy! Click To Tweet

Time to wake up and get busy!

I’ll take eternity, thanks.

 

 

As if you could kill time without wounding eternity!
(Henry David Thoreau ~ American philosopher/author ~ 1817-1862)

 

Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time.  He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end.
(Ecclesiastes 3:11 ~ NLT)

 

 

 

 

© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2013. 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.

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. 

On a Clear Day

I hear her still, the beautiful pure tones spilling into the air like bird song in the early morning quiet.

“On a clear day, you can see forever…”

It was many years ago I first heard the heart-stopping sound of Barbra Streisand’s unique voice singing that song.

I thought she was right.

All of life lay in front of me.  In plain sight, I could see the future—the beautiful wife, two kids, a great career.  I could see all the way to grandchildren and retirement.  There would always be friends, and always a church.  Always.  

I could see it vividly, on those clear days.

It may come as a surprise to some.  It did to me.

They’re not all clear days.

Oh, there have been days, when as Christian in Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, I stood on the mountaintop and thought I could just make out—barely—the lights of the Celestial City.

Lately, I’m not even sure they’re mostly clear days.

I certainly haven’t stood on any mountaintops recently to take a peek through the telescope at what’s coming.  Days are just filled with daily things.

Family concerns, friends with health concerns, and loved ones lost—all these and more are what is reality for me—and many others—these days.  Happy times?  They come too, but somehow we can’t see far beyond them.

Step by slogging step, the road goes past.

Frederic_Leighton_-_The_Star_of_BethlehemI may not see forever all that clearly anymore.  But what I do see, by the calendar and by the frenzy of last minute preparations around me, is that it’s Christmas week.

I used to wonder if the Baby, whose birth we celebrate this week, saw it all before Him as He stepped out to take His place among men.  

Did He see the path laid out from His lowly birth in a cow barn, all the way to an ignominious criminal’s death on a man-made tree?  Was every step clear to Him?

They are questions I cannot answer.  Theologians have been arguing them from that day until now.

Here is what I do know:  

He knew who He was. As a young man He taught in the temple, calling it His Father’s house .  (Luke 2:49)

He knew why He was here.  He went about His Father’s business.  When He began His ministry, He never faltered in His purpose.  Always, without leaving the path, He moved steadily toward the day when He would die on that cross.

He knew who He was here for.  Along the way, He touched people’s hearts and their bodies, healing and making whole.  Teaching them, feeding them, exhorting them, He demonstrated His heart and drew them to Himself—by the thousands.

He was, indeed, the light of the world! (John 8:12)

And with that thought kindled in my mind, I begin to see the truth about my own situation.

The truth.

I don’t have to see the end of the journey; I just have to put one foot in front of the other.  

There’s enough light for that.

The Word, the One who came and lived among men, is the same Word that is the lamp to my path and the Light for my feet. (Psalm 119:105)

Barbra needed her clear day.

We’ve got a light for the darkest night.

 

 

 

 

And on a clear day…
On a clear day…
You can see forever…
And ever…
And ever…
And ever more.
(from On a Clear Day, You Can See Forever ~ Alan Jay Lerner ~ American lyricist ~ 1918-1986)

For we walk by faith and not by sight.
(2 Corinthians 5:7 ~ NIV)

 

 

 

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

My Father’s House

I joked with the Lovely Lady as I headed for my office tonight.

“I’m not sure there are any words left in me, but the morning light will tell the tale.”

“Ha!”  The humorless laugh burst from her lips.  “You said that awhile back, and I’ve had to proof thousands of your words since then.”

She has a point.  Only days ago, I felt the well was bone dry, and my efforts at pumping the handle utterly futile.  I had said all I had to say, shared all the wisdom I have gathered over my lifetime.  Hopelessly, I gave the handle one more push.  One final, desperate attempt.  I don’t know from whence the words came (I never have anyway), but suddenly they gushed out.  Like water on the parched earth, they washed away the dust and debris, leaving fertile ground in their tracks.  

For awhile.  You may have read some of them.  They may even have made sense to you.  

I hope you enjoyed the experience.

The well has dried up again.  Or, so it seems to me.

I remember when all I had to do was to walk up to the warehouse where the nouns, the adjectives, the adverbs, and the verbs were stored, and yell at the building. Immediately, they all piled out the door in a long conga-line of letters and punctuation, ready to swing into action.  I could always find a few conjunctions to hold them all together, as well.

Tonight, I stood outside and yelled, but nothing stirred.  Then, like the police SWAT team, I even walked through the building clearing each room, but only turned up two or three words in my search.  They’re lined up outside now, after I ordered them out of the building.

I wonder if they’ll be any help to me.  I’ll hit them with the spotlight just in case.

father. house.  

That’s it?  No wait.  There’s something hiding behind the first one.  Yes, I see it.  An apostrophe and the letter s.  

Father’s house?  Oh.  I know what this is about.  I don’t want you guys.  You can go.

What’s that?  You want to know what it’s about?  

I warn you.  It won’t be pretty.  They’re only a couple of scrawny little words right now, but as soon as I use them, they’re going to be joined by a lot of other words you don’t want to hear—words like memories, the past, sadness, moving on, maybe even death.  

I’ll tell it, but it won’t be a pretty picture, I can assure you.  I know I don’t want to see it.  In fact, that’s the reason the words were hiding.  I stashed them there in the dark myself and told them to stay out of my sight.

I was going to say the story started just a few days ago, but suddenly I am aware that it really began over fifty years in the past. 

HomeThat’s when we moved into that home.  Seven of us moved in, fresh from a tiny mobile home on the two-acre lot across the street.  Seven.  We thought the place was a mansion.  Well?  After cramming seven people in that little two bedroom trailer, it was a mansion.

Fifty-two years of living, loving, arguing, yelling, crying, singing, eating, playing, talking, listening, sewing, writing, hair-cutting, nursing, reading, sleeping, cleaning fish, plucking chickens, and—well, you get the idea.  

It all happened there, and a lot more.  A lot more. Cousins came to visit, along with grandparents, aunts and uncles, friends, preachers, missionaries, and tattooed men riding motorcycles.

Mostly, it was the seven of us.  Making memories to last a lifetime, some warm and fuzzy, some not so nice.  We’ve all got the good with the bad.  For many of us, time rubs the rough edges off and the good memories shine brightly, while the bad ones fade into the background.  

And, what’s so bad about all that, one might ask?  I told you it wouldn’t be pretty, didn’t I?

The not pretty thing is that it’s all coming to an end.  I mentioned the story begins a few days ago.  That’s when the letter arrived.

The place is going to be sold.  It sounded so calm and businesslike.  Clean.  Painless.  My intellect agrees.  I told the man so.  

“It’s a great idea, Dad.  You should have done it years ago.”

My intellect doesn’t rule my heart.  My heart wants to know how you sell your memories.  My heart wonders if perhaps it would be less painless to cut off a hand.

I sit and look over all the words which have trooped out to join the original two and the truth dawns.

I haven’t set foot on that property for nearly ten years.  Except for sporadic periods of time, no one has lived in it for nearly twenty years.  Yet somehow, my memories of my time there are still intact and clear as they ever were.  The loving feelings for my parents and siblings, nurtured and tended to there in that two-story residence, remain to this day.

The old ramshackle frame building is in need of someone else to inhabit it.  Perhaps it will, one day soon, be home to another young family who will abuse and test its structural limitations, much like the Phillips brats did.  

It’s time.  Still, the act of selling it is so final.  We can never go back.  Never.

Except in our memories.

It’s time.

Those two words are still slouching against the warehouse, though.  They haven’t been used yet.  Perhaps, I can put them back away for another day.  But then again, maybe not.

Father’s house.  

Funny.  The words never described the building I’ve been writing of.  That was my family’s residence.  Sure, it was a home, as far as homes go here.  It was a great place to live and love and share.

It was always temporary.  

You see, my mom has already moved on to the Father’s house.  My dad is recognizing that it won’t be many years and he’ll be changing his address permanently, as well.  Going to his Father’s house.

My intellect knows that it is a better residence than what they’ve had here.  Absent from the body.  Present with the Lord.  (2 Cor 5:8)

My head knows this.  

Still, my heart aches to think of it.  It is so for all of us.  

And again, I look at those words and contemplate others I also believe, and I know the memories will have to do.

For now.

We’re all just here temporarily—pilgrims—nomads—headed for our Father’s house.

We're all just here temporarily—pilgrims—nomads—headed for our Father's house. Click To Tweet

It’s not for sale.  

But there are mansions to live in there.

My Father’s house.

Good words.

 

 

 

There are many dwelling places in my Father’s house. Otherwise, I would have told you, because I am going away to make ready a place for you.
(John 14:12 ~ NET)

 

Where we love is home—home that our feet may leave, but not our hearts.
(Oliver Wendell Homes, Sr. ~ American physician/poet ~ 1809-1894)

 

 

 

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