Wind in the Oaks

I sit at my desk and listen to the wind.

Change is coming.

At the end of the street, the last leaves from an autumn, very nearly forgotten, whirl and take flight.  The commotion is impressive to the casual witness—less so to one who has observed the scene from the vantage point of my window over the last couple of months.

From his play, Macbeth, Mr. Shakespeare’s description of life seems apropos:

It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

The leaves go in circles.  Now to the end of the road, now across to one yard to lie breathless for a time.  With the next gust of wind, they revive, shoving each other aside in their hurry to rise on the current, only to scurry back around the cul-de-sac and alight once more.  Right back where they started.

Probably, within feet of where they tumbled from the tall oak trees last fall.

Going nowhere fast.

But the wind roars still.  Through limbs of trees, standing naked in the late winter sun, it shoves—and grabs—and pulls.  Like so many windmills twirling in the sky, the giant oaks twist their extremities this way and that, almost it seems, trying to catch hold of the leaves spinning below.

I’m sure it may be only my imagination—it is my imagination, isn’t it?—but, for just a moment—the barest hint of a moment—I have the idea that they would—if they could—reattach themselves to the leaves that abandoned them mere weeks ago.

What a silly notion.  Old dead leaves are of no use to the trees now, save possibly to nourish the ground around them as the natural process of decay and deterioration does its work.

I know this wind is blowing in another change in the weather.  A warm day today, but cool again tomorrow with the front blowing in.  Spring is coming.  Rain will fall. Stronger winds than these will swirl and stream through the treetops.

Even now, the mostly sleeping giants are showing tiny dark nubs on the spindly ends of their gray branches, nubs that will become leaves.  They will be new, green, living things—luxurious and lush—covering the entire tree with vitality and vigor.

And yet. . .  And yet today, the towering trees are naked—bereft of their former glory.

The wind blows, and merely accentuates their lack—adding insult to injury, the red-headed lady who raised me would have said.  Surely, there is something about which one could complain.

But, you know, as much as I prefer spring to winter, as much as I love a leaf-covered tree more than a bare one, I would never look at a tree in winter and suggest it would be better off with the old leaves back on it.

I complain frequently about winter, suggesting that everything is dead.  I am reminded, as I sit in my chair and watch the empty branches wave, that the tree has never been dead.  Never.

It is simply directing all its resources to the roots underground and getting ready for something spectacular to happen.  A little rest before breaking out.

It seems to me that things are a little drab right now.

Am I the only one who thinks about the past and how good that life was?  Am I the only one who wishes I could turn back the calendar a season?

Do you think we really could put the old dry leaves back on the trees?  No, I suppose not.

But, here is what I know.  Without worry of being proven wrong, I know it is true.

The earth turns and revolves around the sun; the wind blows and the rain falls.  Suddenly, without warning—well, almost without warning—the explosion of color and life will be upon us.

To everything, there is a season; a time for every purpose under heaven. (Ecclesiastes 3:1)

And, the Creator has made everything to be right in its season.

And, He puts eternity in our hearts so we know to look ahead and not behind.

He puts eternity in our hearts so we know to look ahead and not behind. Click To Tweet

Seasons come.  They go.  Sometimes, we are so busy, we have no time to consider the work He is doing in us.  But, we gain strength; and, we grow.

Sometimes, in the drab time, we sit and contemplate the reason for our very existence.  That also, is a season through which He moves us and makes us stronger.

And, sometimes, as they have this week, tears come.

And the tears, like the rain which has just begun outside my window, fall to the ground and water the future, to ensure that it will be brighter.  

Through tears, and even a little bit of dreariness, He will bring us, step by weary step—to spring once again.

There are indeed, Mr. Lewis, far better things that lie ahead than any we’ve left behind.

I wonder if the wind will still be blowing.

                              

I sit beside the fire and think
of all that I have seen
of meadow-flowers and butterflies
in summers that have been;

Of yellow leaves and gossamer
in autumns that there were,
with morning mist and silver sun
and wind upon my hair.

I sit beside the fire and think
of how the world will be
when winter comes without a spring
that I shall ever see.

For still there are so many things
that I have never seen:
in every wood in every spring
there is a different green.

I sit beside the fire and think
of people long ago
and people who will see a world
that I shall never know.

But all the while I sit and think
of times there were before,
I listen for returning feet
and voices at the door.

(J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, The Fellowship of the Ring )

‘The glory of this present house will be greater than the glory of the former house,’ says the Lord Almighty. ‘And in this place I will grant peace,’ declares the Lord Almighty.
(Haggai 2:9 ~ 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.

How Low Can You Go?

I knew she’d listen to every note I played.  I wished the professor had suggested she sit somewhere else.  Somewhere she’d hear other musicians and their mistakes.

Instead of mine.

The young high school junior was visiting her university-going sister on campus.  No doubt, it was an exciting time for her.  I still remember that age.

Wide-eyed and inexperienced, the world held exhilaration at every turn.  College years would be a chance to be out on your own—away from the careful direction of overprotective parents.  A campus visit ahead of time offered a stimulating preview of the freedom that was to come.

Her sister is a member of the little chamber orchestra they are kind enough to allow me to participate in at the small liberal arts university.  Since the visiting young lady is also a French horn player, the professor thought it would be nice for her to sit in the horn section.

On my right.  Where the bell of my horn points.

I just knew she would hear every mistake and bobble proceeding out of the wayward instrument.

Well.  There was nothing for it but to get through the hour.  I started my warm-up.

I like to start with long tones—mid-range notes lasting several seconds each, descending down a scale before coming back up to finish on the original note.  After a few moments of that, I play some arpeggios—open chords—mostly descending until I reach a point at least two octaves below the starting midrange note.

The low pitch I end on is quite low, somewhere in the vicinity of what a tuba player would call mid-range.  Since my warm-ups always include that note and those leading down to it in the scale, I like to think I have developed a rather nice tone in that range, a range most horn players never attempt.

I end my warm-up by playing the arpeggios on up to the original mid-range and then up another octave before sliding back down to finish on the original note with which I began.

I saw her turn her head to look at me as I finished my warm-up.  I thought perhaps she wanted to say something, but the professor was already talking, introducing the young lady to the whole group.

It wasn’t a relaxing rehearsal.  We played a piece I only remember reading once before, so many of the passages were unfamiliar.  I stumbled and muffed more notes than I care to count, acutely aware of the girl’s presence beside me through all of them.

She heard every note.  Every one.

At the end of the rehearsal, I said a few polite words to her.  I hoped her visit would be all she was hoping for.  She was also polite.  We talked for a few seconds and she asked one question.

“What kind of range do you have?”

Immediately, I jumped to the obvious conclusion.  I supposed she meant: how high can you play?

I jokingly mentioned the highest note I’m comfortable playing is a high G, but pointed to the young lady on the other side of me, suggesting that she was the one who played the high C’s when necessary.

The girl wasn’t quite satisfied, starting another question.  

“But, what’s the low. . .” 

Before she could complete the question, her sister called her over to discuss what was next in their day’s schedule.  She never got a chance to ask what was on her mind.

I went on about my day, not thinking again about the girl’s curiosity.

I’m thinking about it now.

She wanted to know about my low range, not my high range.  She had heard my warm-up and knowing that most horn players avoid those low registers, wondered about how low I could go.

I’m wondering the same thing tonight.

Do you know I don’t have a very good high range when I play my horn?  Most players with similar experience to mine are quite adept at playing the highest notes on the horn.  Even many young players have a high range much superior to mine.

I wish it weren’t so. 

I want to play the high notes.  But, I can’t.

I’ve been thinking about this for a while now.

Why can I play the low notes (the ones most horn players eschew) with ease, but I can’t reach the high pitches?  What’s the problem?

As Mr. Tolkien puts it in his description of the scatter-brained innkeeper in his famous tale, even though he thinks less than he talks, and slower; yet he can see through a brick wall in time. . . 

I’m somewhat the same, thinking less than I talk (at times), but I believe I can see the answer to my problem.

You’ve probably already arrived at the solution, especially since it’s been explained at length up above. 

I’m good at the low notes because those are what I concentrate on every time—every single time—I pick up my horn to play.  My warm-up is a regimen I perform—without fail—before I look at a piece of music, before the conductor raises the baton for the first time, before even the first tuning note is sounded to be sure all the instruments are capable of playing the same pitch together.

I play low notes.  Every time, I play low notes.

I’m good at low notes.  Really.

But, I want to play high notes.

And, the Apostle said, the thing I want to do, I don’t do.  But, the thing I don’t want to do, that’s the very thing I do. (Romans 7:19

Of course, he’s talking about more important things than playing a horn, but then again, so am I. 

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The thing I practice is the thing I will perform.  It is true in all walks of life.

If I practice complaining, one would never anticipate that I would rest patiently and with confidence.

If I practice arrogance and pride, I will never perform with humility.

If I live continually in defeat and expectation of loss, I can have no expectation of joy or fulfillment.

When the time comes to play the brilliant high notes in a concert performance, if I have resigned myself to practicing only the low and middle registers during every rehearsal, I will never—ever—shape my lips to sound the right notes.

I read today the words of a friend who is, by all earthly wisdom, fighting a losing battle.  His battle is for his life.  I was shocked to read of his laughter and joy as he fights the battle.

But tonight, I understand.  He is practicing for the performance still to come.   In anticipation of what he calls a joyful death, he’s decided to practice joy now—today, and for the rest of his days, however many he has.  

I’ve been working on the low stuff for too long now.  I’ve gotten much too accomplished at it.

I want to play the high notes.  I want the folks who are doomed to sit and listen to me to hear the good stuff.

It’s time for a new warm-up routine.

Today’s as good a time to start as any.

 

For the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them.
(Aristotle ~ Ancient Greek philosopher ~ 384 BC-322 BC)

 

Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me—everything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you.
(Philippians 4:9 ~ NLTHoly Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007, 2013, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.)

 

 

 

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

What He Said

Well?  What is it?  Desert, or Babylon?

The preacher sat across from me, nursing the same cup of coffee he had purchased over an hour before.  I suppose one might forget the cup in front of him if the conversation was interesting enough.

Still, he wanted an answer to his question.  I didn’t have one.  Not then.

I think I do now.  Maybe I should let him know.  Oh, let him wait.  Our next coffee morning is sure to find us sparring a bit—verbally, I mean—and we’ll discuss it again.

I had mentioned that it was a little hard to pick up my old writing habits in a new place, somewhat unfamiliar to me, and then I referenced the Psalm which wonders how it would be possible to sing the Lord’s song in a strange place.  The people of Judah had been taken into captivity in Babylon and, being asked to sing their familiar praise songs there by the river in that foreign place, declined, breaking down and weeping instead.  (Psalm 137:1-4)

I have been feeling sorry for myself for a few months.  I think perhaps my nobody-loves-me-everybody-hates-me-I’m-going-to-go-to-the-garden-and-eat-worms lament was getting tiresome, so the preacher decided to shut me up about it.

Well?  What if you’re really in the wilderness on your way to the Promised Land instead of in captivity in Babylon?

We bantered about it for a few minutes more and I left—headed back to Babylon—or the desert—whichever.

And yet, like a Labrador puppy with a new toy (or, more likely, an old stick), my mind kept worrying at the question.

Babylon?

Desert?

Oh, what was the difference?  Neither was desirable.  I didn’t want to be in either place.

No. Wait.

Babylon was a place of punishment—a place to go and either die or repent.

The desert, on the other hand, was simply a part of the journey to a country dreamed of for centuries.  A reward, if you will.

Funny.  They complained in both circumstances.

Me, too.

Why is that?  Why do we complain about the process when we know—absolutely know—what’s coming is glorious?

I understand the unhappy folks in Babylon.  They have nothing to look forward to, only dimming memories to hold in their hearts.  It would be nearly impossible to sing their joyous tunes there.

I’m not being punished.

I’ve known, for many years now, I will never arrive at my goal here in this world.  Well, I say “I’ve known”, but I guess I never really believed it.  At least, I don’t live like I believe it.

It’s easy to become complacent, isn’t it?  To begin to be satisfied with less.  Less than what we’ve envisioned.  Less than what has been promised us.

Less.

Because, less is easier.

And the angel of the Lord told young Mary she would have a child and He would be the Son of the Most High—a King who would rule forever.  (Luke 1:30-33)

And Mary said, I’ll take that.  What you said, I’ll take that.  (Luke 1:38)

The angel didn’t explain about the stable.  He didn’t describe the terrifying flight to a foreign country to save the young boy’s life.  Nothing at all was said about the boy wandering off to the temple.

I didn’t read anything about that horrible, horrible day when the Roman soldiers would torture and kill him right before her eyes.

Gabriel, that bright messenger, never told her that would happen.  Not a whisper.

But, she had a promise.  And, she accepted the promise.

Funny.  I also don’t remember ever reading anything about Mary wanting out of the deal.  Ever.

She simply tucked the memories and confirmation away in her heart and she kept up her part of the bargain.  Through the pain and the heart-numbing sorrow, she did her part.

Somehow, I think I may have the wrong things tucked away in my heart.  Somewhere along the way, I’ve forgotten the original deal.

This isn’t the place the story is going to finish.

This isn't the place the story is going to finish. Click To Tweet

Just as the story of Mary’s Baby never ended on that horrible hill, ours won’t be done until our Creator says it is.

Every step—every one—brings us closer to the place of joy and peace He’s promised.

And, along the way, we enjoy His provision.  In the midst of desolation and hardship, He feeds our spirits and sustains us.

The deal stands.

I’ll keep walking.

Milk and honey are still up ahead.

Through the desert.

 

 

I have always loved the desert. One sits down on a desert sand dune, sees nothing, hears nothing. Yet through the silence something throbs, and gleams…
(from The Little Prince ~ Antoine de Saint-Exupéry ~ 1900-1944)

 

The Israelites called the food manna. It was white like coriander seed, and it tasted like honey wafers.
(Exodus 16:31 ~ NLTHoly Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007, 2013, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.)

 

 

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

 

I Can’t Do This

So, this is the bathroom I’ve been hearing about!

We’ve been remodeling the old house for months now.  Soon, we’ll be living in the Lovely Lady’s childhood home.  Our hard work is beginning to pay off and I think the place is looking pretty nice.

A few folks in the neighborhood have stopped by to see how the work is progressing.  Everyone likes the bathroom.

Strange, isn’t it?  They also like the other rooms we’ve worked on, but the bathroom is the one they exclaim about.

I like the bathroom, too.  It’s turned out very nicely.  All in all, a comfortable space.

I stood in the middle of that room earlier tonight as a neighbor expressed her surprise at how beautiful it is now and I had a moment.  You know.  One of those moments.

The kind of moment when you don’t know whether to laugh or cry.  The realization hit me that we had actually finished it.  There was elation in that moment.

Done!  It’s done.

There was another emotion in play, as well.  I am reluctant to speak of it.

Really, I am reluctant.  I have sat, staring at the monitor for a long time, not sure I can write the words.  But, I think it’s important, so I’ll give it a shot.

Do you know how it feels to stand, faced with a job you know—absolutely know—you are not up to, and yet recognize that you have no choice but to try?

Have you ever simply stood and looked at a task, thinking I can’t do this, for hours?  Seriously.  Hours.

I lay under that house one day, pipe wrench in hand, having once again failed in my task, screaming—Really. Screaming!—at the pipes above, and then at myself, and yes—at God for putting me in that situation.

Again and again, in the course of the work, I was paralyzed by failure and fear—certain I was at the end of my resources.

I was sure I could only fail.  Absolutely and finally.

Two points, I want to make here.  More will come to mind, but I’ll stop at two:

1) When we look only at the problem and refuse to look past it to the solution, we ensure failure.  At least until we can change our focal point.  There is always a solution.  Always.

2) You’re never on your own in solving the problem.  Whether it was guys who wanted to offer advice—marginally better, to my mind, than sitting and staring at the offensive piece while imagining complete and utter failure—or whether it was friends and family who actually could help with the physical work, there was always someone to help bear the burden.

I suppose the reader will understand if I make it clear I am not simply talking about a remodel on a house here.  Sure, that has been my mountain to climb for the last few months, but it’s certainly not the only mountain there is.

Unclimbable, some of those mountains.  A person might be tempted to sit and wonder how in the world God expects us to get over that gargantuan pile of rock and rubble—perhaps, never even attempting the ascent.

Some have suggested the mountain need not be attempted at all.  Well?  Didn’t Jesus teach His disciples they could tell the mountain to be moved from one place to another if they had faith the size of a mustard seed? (Matthew 17:20)

Leaving aside the fact I’m not sure I have that huge a faith (have you seen the size of a mustard seed???), I want to assure you we don’t get to remove the mountains God has put in front of us in that manner.

It’s a funny thing, but when God puts mountains in our way, it is to help us grow in faith.  James says it’s a joy to have our faith tested, because it develops endurance. (James 1:2-4)

I’m not sure I would call it a joy.  These last few months haven’t been a walk in the park.

That said, the mountain cannot—will not—be prayed away.  God put it there for a reason.  There is only one way to the other side.  Over.

Over.

Now, when I look at the result (and, I’m still not only talking about that bathroom), there is joy in knowing what has been accomplished. 

Great joy.

And shame.  For my doubt.  Fading, but still there.

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Is the mountain in front of you bigger than you can conquer?

Good!  You’ll be stronger when you get to the other side.

Stronger.

Wiser.

Ready for the next mountain still ahead.  A mountain you don’t have the strength to conquer.  

Yet.

We’re still traveling.

Headed home.

 

Every mountain top is within reach if you just keep climbing.
(from Kilimanjaro and Beyond ~ Barry Finlay ~ Canadian author)

 

I look up to the mountains—
    does my help come from there?
 My help comes from the Lord,
    who made heaven and earth!

The Lord keeps you from all harm
    and watches over your life.
 The Lord keeps watch over you as you come and go,
    both now and forever.
(Psalm 121: 1-2, 7-8 ~ NLT ~ Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007, 2013, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.)

 

 

 

 

 

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

Changing the Future

Our past meets our future in this place we call the present.

The words, I wrote a few years ago.  They still rattle me every time I re-read them.

Well?  Why wouldn’t they?  The concept is enough to mess with anyone’s brain.  Momentarily, at least.

We like to keep things in boxes.  Neat.  Logical.  With labels to identify the contents.

Some of us are more interested in keeping things in boxes than others.  I freely admit it.

“Go to the store with me, will you?”

The Lovely Lady stood at the door, notebook in hand and ready to buy groceries for the week.  I, wise husband that I’ve become in nearly forty years of practice, quickly agreed.  Cheerfully.

There is a hierarchy at the grocery store.  It’s not complicated.  She puts things in the cart and marks them off her list. 

I push the cart.  That’s it—just push the cart.

Oh, wait.  There is one other thing I do.

I sort the items in the cart.

Don’t make that face!  You’re rolling your eyes too, aren’t you?

That’s just what she does when I start sorting.  Well—it’s what she used to do when I started.  She’s come to expect it now.

If there were boxes in the cart, I’d use them.  There aren’t, so imaginary quadrants must suffice.

Fresh veggies go at the back of the cart, heaviest on the bottom (potatoes will smash bananas).  The Lovely Lady wants to keep me around (for sorting things, I suppose) as long as possible, so there are more fresh veggies than anything else.

From there, logic rules.  Canned goods go in one section, boxed in another.  All the refrigerated items stay together.  It keeps them colder; I’m sure it does.

Fragile items, such as chips (not nearly as many of these as there should be) and eggs, go in the flip down compartment that once served to corral our children.

It’s a good system.  I like it.

The problem comes when we get to the checkout counter.  I am careful—fanatical, some might say—about keeping the items in the same quadrants as they progress to the checker.  What would they think of me if I sent the milk down the conveyor belt beside the flour?

And, now we come to it.  The fly in the ointment, so to speak.  The bee in my bonnet, if you will.

The checker, somehow oblivious—utterly—to my care and prudence, callously snatches each item from the belt, swiping it past the scanner and tosses it, willy-nilly, into the empty, waiting cart beside her station.

Boxes are jumbled at angles with cans. Potatoes smother celery and toilet paper.  The milk, heavy enough to be placed on the bottom of the cart instead of tossed, is at the front of the conveyance while the meat is at the back, both warming much too fast for my overloaded sense of order.

Maybe we should move on.  Shall we?

Our past meets our future in this place we call the present.

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I’m not obsessive-compulsive about everything in life.  Still, I have, for many years, considered what I would like to see when I look back over my life on that last day.  To that end, I have attempted to keep a semblance of order in how I have lived.

What was it Mr. Shakespeare said?  What’s past is prologue was the phrase, I believe.  The meaning is clear.

What we have done in the past leads us, without fail, into the future.  The nano-second of the present, a mere blink of the eye, will forever affect what is to come.

My trip through the grocery is the past.  Plans, all laid carefully, were executed flawlessly.

All it took was just seconds—an instant in which I lost control—and the present had altered the future catastrophically.

Hmmm.  I think perhaps—for this example anyway—one could call that hyperbole.  

Regardless, the point is clear enough, is it not?

There’s an old maxim, not quite in line with Scripture, but still it comes to mind.  It says the road to hell is paved with good intentions.  

I think, if the road to hell is paved with them, the road to heaven is, at least, littered with them.  

We know what the road to heaven is paved with; it’s paved with the grace of our loving Savior.

It is specifically because of His great love for us that I want to be able to look back and know I have journeyed in a faithful way, leaving a clear record for those who walk the way after me.

But, in the most crucial moments, it all gets jumbled and messed up in a colossal manner.

My past is introduced to my future with moments I am ashamed of.  Again and again.

Surrounded by that great cloud of witnesses (Hebrews 12:1), I’m chagrined.  Mortified.

I’m a failure.

But then, I look into those faces, the witnesses I mean.  For one or two who are named, there is no record of failure.  The rest of them? Failures, every one!

Every one.

Failures who fell flat on their faces.  Liars, con men, drunks, womanizers, bad parents, murderers even.

But, they got up (or were picked up).  They took the next step.  And the next one.

I can do that.  I’m still breathing.  

I think it’s time to be walking again.

That way.  Following His lead.

The future is still waiting.  

I can’t change the past.

The next moment will be the present.

Here it comes.

Ready?

 

Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.
(Sir Winston Churchill ~ British Prime Minister ~ 1974-1965)

 

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us.
(Hebrews 12:1 ~ 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.

Turning the Screws

It’s not like I’m a light weight.

In pounds, I mean.  And yet, all it takes is the turn of a screw and I’m carried away.

All the way to forty years ago, I’m dragged back.  Nineteen seventy-seven.  And all I did was insert the blade of the Craftsman screwdriver into the slot and turned.  Just a trivial flat-head screw.

The facelift on this old house has been a challenge.  Nearly every new task has loomed before my spirit in brazen defiance.  Several have very nearly defeated me.

In my deepest bouts of self-doubt during each of these tasks, I find myself turning aside for a few moments, or an hour, or even a day.  I abandon the difficult and unfamiliar to spend some time doing the easy things—the repetitive little chores which must eventually be done, but require no great amount of knowledge or resolve.

I remove knobs or door stops.  Here, a hinge needs to be replaced.  There, a brace.  Old screws are removed, the item repaired or replaced, and reattached, either with the same screws or new ones.

Almost without exception, the items I remove are held in place with slotted screws—the kind which require a flat-head driver to manipulate them.

I had one of those moments today.  Overwhelmed by the mental gymnastics required to make a repair to an old section of the ceiling, I decided instead to install that cabinet door latch we had purchased a couple of weeks ago.  Grabbing the Phillips-head screwdriver, I knelt in front of the cabinet and bent my head to peer inside the opening.

The tool I held was useless for the task at hand. You might think I’d be frustrated, but that wasn’t the case.

Smiling, I made my way back to the tool shelf in the utility room, selecting my favorite flathead screwdriver from the jumble of hammers, wrenches, drill bits, and pliers.  Returning to the cabinet, I removed the old, broken part without a hitch.

It was his house, you know.

Always.  Always, the white-haired man installed flathead screws if he had a choice.  I met him forty years ago, and it was never any different.

Even before I went to work for him full-time in the music store, I helped out if he had need of an extra pair of hands when I happened to be loitering about. I loitered about quite often in those days.

That first time (the place I was carried back to), it was a piano bench—the kind with a storage compartment concealed under a hinged top.

The old fellow—in his late fifties by that time (anyone over forty was old to nineteen-year-old me)—knelt beside one end of the bench plying a Phillips-head screwdriver, not quietly.

“Those things are terrible!  Give me a slotted-head screw any day.   I don’t know why anybody thought a Phillips was a good idea.”

He looked over at me and grinned.

“I mean the Phillips-head screw and driver; not you and your family.”

Even when he was frustrated, the jokester in him wouldn’t be repressed.

We replaced every screw in those hinges with slotted-head screws when it was buttoned up, as he called it—just in case he ever had to work on that bench again.

In all the years I worked with that white-haired man who would become my father-in-law, I never knew him to have a Phillips screwdriver that wasn’t rounded off or stripped completely.

He did the same thing to many of the screws he attempted to remove with the damaged tools.

Did you know that most screws in use today are Phillips-head screws?  The crosshead pattern, paired with the correct size driver, gives the person driving the screw greater turning power and a more secure seat for the tool.

Slot-head screwdrivers have—well—slots, places the driver can slide out of either side if it’s not held exactly flat and perpendicular to the screw.

It took me a year or two to figure out the old man’s problem with the new-fangled screws (they were patented in 1936) he fought with constantly.

He was using the wrong tool.

Oh, he used a Phillips-head screwdriver to drive Phillips-head screws, but there are, in fact, five different sizes of the tool.  Five graduated crosshead shaped drivers, which fit twenty-four different sizes of screws.

That’s right.  Five tools.  For twenty-four sizes of screws. No wonder his drivers were always mangled.

I’m still smiling at the memory I have stored away.  But, I’m wondering if there is something more to be learned here than not being set in one’s ways?  I think there is.

I find myself these days reading a lot.  As a writer, it’s a practical way to learn new techniques and different styles in writing.  As an aging man, it can be a frustrating discouragement.

Everywhere I look, I see formulas.  You know—if you do A, B, and C, the result will be D.

I’ve tried doing A, B, and C.  The result is categorically not D.

It never has been.  It never will be D, no matter how many times I repeat the process.

I don’t fit their formula.

I notice now that many packages which once stated one size fits all have been amended to state one size fits most.  I’m pretty sure even that is an exaggeration.

No one needs me to affirm that we are all different.  One look at me (and possibly yourself) will confirm that some of us are, indeed, quite odd.

One size doesn’t fit all—or even most.

Our Creator made us to be the individuals we are, all part of the same human race, but all marching to different rhythms.  We all have different sized dreams.

God gives us all different sized dreams. One size doesn't fit all. Click To Tweet

He knows each one of us—knows exactly what drives us—knows how we’ve been uniquely gifted to achieve His purpose.

Every one of us who will come to Him does so in the same way, by way of the cross.  From there, His Spirit is the driving force, perfectly proportioned for our life’s journey.

The apostle who wrote letters had a clear, personal understanding because of his own experience.  His assurance was that God’s grace was enough.

Enough—specifically for him. (2 Corinthians 12:9)

This is important.

God’s grace fits us—each one of us.

God's grace fits us—each one of us. Click To Tweet

His grace is enough for me.  It’s enough for you.  Whatever we’ve done, wherever we’ve been, His grace fits our precise need.

Not one individual is excluded.

He doesn’t stop there.  From the pen of the same author comes the declaration of infinitely more. (Ephesians 3:20)

Without limitation.

We come, every one of us by way of the cross, to find His grace enough and His provision more than we could ever ask of Him.

Can I say it?  I think I will.

The Right Tool for the right job.

It fits.

It always has.

Every time.

 

 

You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body
    and knit me together in my mother’s womb.
 Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex!
    Your workmanship is marvelous—how well I know it.
(Psalm 139:13,14 ~ NLT ~ Holy 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.

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.