Calloused

My hands hurt. Most of the time, these days, they hurt.

I’m not complaining, really I’m not. Well, maybe just a little. And, I certainly don’t think it’s my fault. But then, if I stop to think a moment, it could be.

A quick search of Google shows that I need to have soft hands for them to be considered beautiful. Or, is that just women? I really can’t tell, but I’m pretty sure gnarled and scarred hands aren’t all that attractive, regardless of which gender they belong to.

I’ve never worried much about the appearance of my hands, but recently I’m a little more aware of it. Having worked with my hands all my life (and talked with them, too), the osteoarthritis now settling in my joints is beginning to mar the symmetry of my once-straight fingers.

Other things are conspiring to make them less physically attractive, as well.

In just the last week, I’ve pinched them with pliers (twice), cut them with a saw blade, with the sharp edge of an air conditioner duct, and the corner of a file. While I was at it, I smashed a knuckle using a power sander, and sliced the tip of my thumb with a utility knife (just tonight). I even have a jammed thumb on one hand, although I have no recollection of how that one happened.

The mind wanders—as it does—and I recall my last day of working for an electrician in another life, decades ago. I was leaving that job to return to the music business full-time, and the electrician I worked with mentioned he’d be calling Johnson & Johnson to warn them they might need to make some adjustments to their business plan. The puzzled look on my face led to his tongue-in-cheek explanation.

Since you won’t be working for us anymore, we won’t be purchasing all those bandages. They’re likely to face bankruptcy soon, I’d think.

When I work with my hands, I bleed. It’s a given. And yet, I keep working with my hands. Blood washes off. Cuts and scrapes heal.

Even now, as I sit and write, my hands hurt again. I rub them gently, feeling a few new callouses ,and again my mind wanders—further back, this time.

I was in my twenties. With young children, money was scarce, but we took the trip to South Texas anyway. Babies need to see their grandparents, and vice versa.

The car didn’t make it all the way to my childhood home in the Rio Grande Valley. Well, it did, but we could only drive 30 miles per hour the last sixty miles of the trip.

I spent my vacation under the hood of that old car. By the time it was running right again, my callouses had callouses, as the red-headed lady who raised me would have described it.

One afternoon after the problem was sorted out, my dad introduced me to a friend of his. As I shook his hand, he looked down at mine, then back up at me and smiled.

It’s nice to meet a young man these days who knows how to work with his hands.

Callouses. On callouses. I was embarrassed. And proud—if you understand how that could be true as well.

Lend me a hand.
Get your grubby hands off!
I’ve got to hand it to you.
He knows this town like the back of his hand.
We’re just living hand to mouth these days.
Don’t bite the hand that feeds you.
Give your hand in marriage.
My right-hand man.

These are only a small sampling of the phrases in our language in which the word hand plays a major part.  Hands are important to us.

They are important to our God, as well.

His Word is full of hands.

Hands that took the fruit and put it to the mouth—original sin. (Genesis 3:6)

Hands that blessed a young man who was wearing animal skin on his own hands, to deceive—the father of the Children of Israel. (Genesis 27)

Hands that stretched over the sea, parting the waters—a journey begun to freedom. (Exodus 14:21,22)

Hands that built a tabernacle—a place for God to dwell among men. (Exodus 25:8)

Hands that played a harp to calm the soul—and later, to compose psalms of worship which endure until this day—a sacrifice of praise. (1 Samuel 16:23)

A hand that wrote on a wall—a warning to God’s enemies. (Daniel 5:5)

Hands that were stretched wide in love. Hands through which spikes were driven—the blessing of God’s saving grace to all mankind. (Isaiah 53:5)

There are more.

Thousands of them. Hands. Doing good.

And yes, thousands doing evil.

I’ve heard the words of God to Moses innumerable times.  (Exodus 4:2)

What do you have in your hands?

I’ve always thought the important thing was the answer to that question. Moses had a staff. I have other things. But, here’s the deal.

God doesn’t need my things.

He needs my hands.

My hands. 

To be willing to be open. For Him.

Or, holding on. For Him.

My beaten up, scarred, stiff, sore hands.

With our hands, yours and mine, He will touch the world—perhaps one person at a time—perhaps thousands.

On second thought, I’m certain that hands don’t have to be soft to be beautiful.

Hands don't have to be soft to be beautiful. Click To Tweet

Hearts. Hearts have to be soft.

The hands—cracked, calloused, gnarled, and stiff—are beautiful simply because they serve. Wiping away a child’s tears, touching the cheek of a newborn baby or a nervous bride, stroking the hair of a frightened mate, reaching out in love to serve.

And sometimes, they hurt. His did, too.

His did, too.

 

Oh, be careful little hands what you do,
For the Father up above is looking down in love.
Oh, be careful little hands what you do. 
(from Oh Be Careful ~ American children’s song ~ Anonymous)

 

Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us;
And confirm for us the work of our hands;
Yes, confirm the work of our hands.
(Psalm 90:17 ~ NASB ~ Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation)

 

 

 

© 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.

Beautiful. Really?

I didn’t expect my feet to hurt quite so much.

When we awoke in the morning, the day stretched ahead with only the promise of leisure and enjoyment.  A relaxing weekend of driving through the countryside seeking old bridges had prepared us for nothing like the actual ordeal.

One of the bridges we sought, the Lovely Lady and I, had eluded us up till then.  It occurred to us that we might need to leave the comfort of the pickup truck to find this one.  We were up to the challenge.

I thought we were up to the challenge.

I never figured on wading across the river.  I never intended to take off my good shoes, much less my socks.

Still, once the decision was made, there was no question in my mind it could be done easily.  In hindsight, the arrogance of ignorance is laughable. 

Only, I wasn’t laughing.

It was done, but it was touch and go for a moment or two.

You never heard such moaning and complaining in your life.  The pain could still be felt more than twelve hours later.  Fifteen feet across the waterway on the jagged flint rocks was more than enough to leave bruises on the bottoms of my tender soles, the like of which I’ve never experienced.

I used to go barefoot everywhere I went.  Hot pavement, rock driveways, wild overgrown fields?  All could be run across with no effects to be felt at all.  I’ll grant you it was fifty years ago.  Still, in retrospect, I’m ashamed of my performance.

My feet let me down.  For those few moments, they were the most important thing in my life.  Nothing mattered more than getting to the dry strand on the opposite shore, where I could sit down and replace my socks and shoes.  Nothing.

Feet!  How is it that something so unattractive and so mundane could demand the attention of every other part of my being?  

For those seconds, I didn’t think about how hungry I was.  I stopped worrying about the horseflies that buzzed about, ready to sting.  The little seed ticks which would torment later were not even a blip on the radar screen.

My feet were in extreme pain!  They needed relief. Immediately.

The promotion from lowest on the priority list to extremely urgent came as quite a surprise.

I was still mulling that over later as, fully shod and with walking sticks in hand, we made our way down into the little hollow in which the lost bridge was to be found.2016-05-30 11.38.17

There was a day when the structure was the most important part of someone’s life.  The craftsmanship and unimaginable hours of toil necessary to build the little stone arch took all the attention of the men who built it, nearly one hundred and seventy years ago.

Every stone had to be cut by hand, chipped and formed by hammer and chisel, before being laid in place.  Each one rested, without mortar, between neighboring stones which eventually would reach up to form the arch that wagons would drive across, horses and mules would gallop over, and even in later years, automobiles would ease up and over to avoid the rushing water below.

At one time, the bridge was a necessity, as well as a thing of beauty.  Almost certainly, the folk who used it praised the forethought of those who had planned and carried out its construction.  That day is long past.

The celebrated structure is nothing more than a dim memory to most.  Not even that to many others.  The folks living on the farms around about are as likely as not to be unaware of its very existence.  I know, because I asked them.

There is no road that leads to it today.  No one maintains the integrity of the bridge at all and it is likely to collapse completely very soon.

Yet, it once stood as a proud testimony to craftsmanship and hard work.  No one who passed that way failed to recognize the importance of the little bridge to their freedom to travel east and west across the waterway with ease.

What once was essential is now irrelevant.

My aching feet, however, are a different story.

You know, I normally pay little attention to my feet.  But oh, how important those two ugly things at the ends of my legs seemed to me in the middle of that river.
                             

The Savior thought feet were important.  He spent some of His last moments on earth with his followers making sure their feet were clean. (John 13:1-17)

Taking on the role of a servant, He reminded them that even those seemingly unimportant things were of great import to Him.

He washed their dirty feet.  Their stinking, road-worn feet.

It should be so for us today, also.  Our Savior turned the world upside down.  He did it so we would turn the world upside down.

The first shall be last, and the last shall be first. (Matthew 20:16)

If we want to be great, we must learn to be servants. (Matthew 20:26-27)

Feet, for all their disadvantages and dishonor, perform an essential function.  We count on them to get us from Point A to Point B.  When they fail to answer the call to duty, we instantly understand their significance.

Did you know the prophet describes them as beautiful when they are carrying the Good News?  Somehow, I think I might have chosen a different description, but there it is—How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of them that bring good news.  (Isaiah 52:7)

Beautiful.  Feet.  Beautiful.

Bridges are nice.  They make life easier.

But, bridges crumble and decay.  People forget they ever existed.

Our service is a legacy that will last far beyond our years on this earth.

Perhaps, it’s time to take care of the things that really matter.

When we bend to serve, we lend aid to the King of all Creation.

Feet might be a good place to start.

He bent to serve us.

How can we do less?

 

 

 

What does love look like? It has the hands to help others. It has the feet to hasten to the poor and needy. It has eyes to see misery and want. It has the ears to hear the sighs and sorrows of men. That is what love looks like.
(Augustine of Hippo ~ Roman theologian ~ 354-430)

 

But how can they call on him to save them unless they believe in him? And how can they believe in him if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear about him unless someone tells them?  And how will anyone go and tell them without being sent? That is why the Scriptures say, “How beautiful are the feet of messengers who bring good news!”
(Romans 10:14-15 ~ NLT)

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

Saying When

Thirty miles.  I can do this.

Cycling is not second nature to me.  I still have to force myself into the clothes and out the door on each solo ride I make.  After several years of self-discipline and more than a few dollars spent for equipment, I still argue like a three-year-old being made to eat his squash.  Every time.

That said, I am learning a lot about myself—a lot more than I learn while sitting on the couch.  The lessons help me to understand much about who I am and who I want to become.

Some would say I’ve left it a little late.  I say, it is what it is.

Thirty miles was my goal as I left the house one afternoon last week.  Almost two hours on the tiny, hard bicycle seat.  

My friends do twice that every Saturday.  And they’re older than I.  I was going to do this!

That afternoon, the first twelve miles went by fairly quickly with a couple of minor, mostly inconvenient, events which rattled me a little. I was tired and thirsty already.  Add to that the fact I hate riding along the state highway with traffic zipping past at sixty and seventy miles per hour, and you’ll understand why I was grateful for a quiet parking lot in which to grab a drink and put my foot down on the pavement for a moment.  

I had flown down the last downhill section of the highway right before my rest stop. Freeing one of my two water bottles from its cage, I gulped enough of the ice-cold, clear liquid to irrigate the  gritty desert in my throat.  

I didn’t want to cool down too much, but I did want to quiet my spirit and forget the honking, motor-revving pickup on that narrow country lane earlier.  The old guy pulling a stock trailer who sped up to get in front of me before making a right turn right across my way hadn’t helped things any, either.

And yet, it didn’t take long before I was ready to ride again.

Now, the busy highway was between me and my chosen route.  I had to cross five lanes.  That’s all I had to do to get back onto the quiet back road, along which I could speed—or lollygag—whichever.

Cross the highway.  Easy, right?  Wait for a break in traffic and, pushing both pedals, roll right across.  Twelve miles down, eighteen to go.

Easy, peasy.

Checking traffic to my left and seeing none, I eased across the lane.  To my right, a pickup truck crested the hill quite a distance away.  Well, perhaps he was closer.

A lot closer!

It didn’t help that I was in the highest gear on the bicycle.  Well I would be, after flying down that hill, wouldn’t I?  I should have checked.

I should also have estimated the oncoming traffic’s speed better.  

Pedal!  Harder!

My left foot, not yet locked into the pedal, slipped off.  The right foot was locked in.  It would have to do.

I pedaled furiously—up, down, up. down—all with one foot.  In the highest gear.

Safety!  I made it!  Moving quickly now, I coasted along the rural lane, lifting my left foot back onto the pedal to lock it into place.  Ow!

Wow!  That hurt!  My lower back, evidently not up to the stress of one-footed pedaling, let me know I had strained a major muscle.  What would I do?

The Lovely Lady was a phone call away—the pickup truck ready to haul my bicycle home.  Or, I could simply head for home.  It had been twelve miles out, but six or seven by the most direct route would soon have me home.

Thirty miles.  I had promised myself I would ride thirty today.

I kept riding.

cycling-655565_640Thirty-three miles showed on my fitness program when I pulled back up to the storage barn in which I house my faithful steed.

I surpassed my goal.  I climbed hills.  I rolled through beautiful farmland.  I passed the safari grounds with exotic breeds of animals everywhere.  Camels, ostriches, and buffalo, along with a gazelle or two, gazed out at me as I stared in at them.  It was a wonderful ride through the springtime countryside.  

I want to be proud.

What I am, is embarrassed.

My friends who ride will read the description above and mutter the words under their breath.  I know they will.  

Rookie!  Amateur!

They’re not wrong.  I should have checked my gears.  I should have been able to easily lock my left shoe into the pedal mount. Still. That’s not why I’m embarrassed.  Not all of it anyway.

Goals are important, aren’t they?  Sometimes, one must just work through the pain and finish what they started.

It’s true. Goals matter.  But, there’s more to the story, isn’t there?

May I tell you the sentence I have uttered more times this week than I can count?  (Well, besides Oh, my back hurts!)

“I’m sorry it’s not finished yet.  I hurt my back and haven’t been able to work at my bench most of the week.”

I met my goal on Saturday.  And because of that, I haven’t been able to meet one since.

I would have been disappointed to miss the mark that day.  

Any number of people have been disappointed that I’ve missed the mark every day in this week.

My stubbornness has affected many more people than a little discretion would have.  

Only one person would have been unhappy about that missed goal—Me.

I wonder.  Folks all around me are telling me not to worry about tomorrow.  

Live in the moment.  You only live once.  Don’t put off until tomorrow what you can do today.

The same people are telling me not to live in the past, as well.  But, it’s back in the past that I have experienced this before.  My memories of the past should have aided me in preparing for the future.

We don’t live in the past, but we do learn from it.

We don’t worry about the future, but we do plan for it.

We live today, but not as if it were the only day.

There are times when we will need help, too. There is no shame in missing the goal when wisdom dictates a different course.  There is no shame in saying, I need help.

I need help.

Do you know someone who is so focused on an individual goal they’ve set that everything and everybody else is invisible to them?  Perhaps, it might even be you.

The job at hand takes so much attention that we forget it’s only a part of what we’ve been called to do.

We need to know when to say when.

Somehow, I can’t help but think about the prophet Elisha as he sat under the tree, his goals unmet, wanting to die.  He had faced the prophets of the foreign god and conquered spectacularly.  Achieving that goal, he forgot their defeat was only one step in another, greater purpose  Then, when faced with reality, he shut down completely. (1 Kings 19:1-8)

God sent an angel to take care of him.  The messenger from God fed him, suggesting that the journey was too hard without food and drink. Eating, he was refreshed and continued on his journey.

I’m always amazed at the messengers God sends my way.  Some are lovely, some incredibly unkind.  Some are gentle, while a number are rough and crude.  

Still, accepting their aid, and as I am willing to refocus, I remember that each goal is not independent of the one before or after, but merely different.

And sometimes, when I am hurt and alone, He covers me with His own wings and protects from danger.

Unless, I keep pedaling.

I’m shooting for the mark, but I don’t want to miss a thing He has for me along the way.

There is still joy to be found in the journey.

Maybe, it’s time to say when.

 

 

I will be fully satisfied as with the richest of foods;
    with singing lips my mouth will praise you.
On my bed I remember you;

    I think of you through the watches of the night.
Because you are my help,

    I sing in the shadow of your wings.
(Psalms 63:5-7 ~ NIV)

Be strong enough to stand alone, smart enough to know when you need help, and brave enough to ask for it.
(Ziad Abdelnour ~ American investment banker)

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

At the Edge

Do you know what fear looks like?

Of course, you do.

You’ve seen frightened children, so scared they don’t believe that even Mommy can save them from the monsters in the closet.  You’ve even seen fear exhibited again and again on the movie screen and on television, as actors open their eyes wide and let their mouths stand agape in terror at the appearance of some malevolent creature, extracted from the dark corners of a writer’s imagination.

I know all about that kind of fear, either the honest reaction from an innocent, untaught yet in the arts of deception, or the feigned emotion of a hardened pretender.

The fear I wonder about tonight is the fear all around us.  I’m wondering what the terror of disasters imagined, or the memory of catastrophes which really occurred in the past looks like.

Do you know?  Can you describe the face of fear—real fear?

I am coming to realize that I cannot, because I don’t know what it really looks like.  All the stereotypes of the looks of fear I know are false—or at least lacking in understanding.

On a recent day, a couple hiked along the ridge on a mountaintop.  The beauty of the morning was so real, you could almost have grasped it between your fingers.  Swallowtail butterflies flitted from blossom to blossom of the wildflowers beside the trail, along with a buzzing honey bee or two.  Every so often, a clumsy bumblebee would come humming by, intent on claiming his portion of the sweet nectar in the blossoms.

The air was cool and a gentle breeze carried the chant of songbirds, oft repeated and frequently elaborated upon, to their ears.  The deep greens of the leaves and the azure blue of the skies, which could be seen almost below their feet, were brilliant.

What would one need fear up on that mountaintop?

The trail led to a lookout point, an outcropping of boulders solidly set upon the side of the ridge.  They stood beside each other and marveled at creation and also at a Creator who could imagine such a place and then speak it into existence.  Just then though, something caught the eye of the man.

Fifty or sixty feet to the north of the lookout upon which they stood, a promontory jutted out, the sheer fall below it dropping down many feet to the valley floor.

It was an invitation not to be ignored.

faceoffear“Stay here,” he suggested to the woman.  “I’ll go out there and you can take my picture.”

She wasn’t happy about it, but agreed to be his photographer, waiting patiently as he made his way over to the point.  There was no trail to it but, slipping and sliding a little here, creeping down a boulder there, and in between steps, keeping an eye out for snakes, he eventually arrived at the destination.

Feet spread far apart, he stood atop the pile of rocks with hands on hips and arms akimbo, looking for all the world as if he had just discovered a new land.  In that stance, he waited to ensure that photographic proof existed of his courage and daring.  She snapped the picture.

It’s not possible to see his face in the photograph.  It doesn’t matter.  He is smiling.

Smiling.

With a quick glance down to the bottom of the chasm before him, he turned and climbed back to the marked trail, laughing as he rejoined his lovely wife.  He shrugged off her repeated objection to his foolish insistence of making the risky tramp out onto the rocks.  He was proud of himself.

Proud.

Until that night.  In the dark, he closed his eyes to sleep, falling instead to his death again and again in the visions that filled his mind.  Behind closed eyelids he could see nothing but the edge of the abyss, and the ground coming up to meet him as he tumbled through the air.

Terrified.

He was terrified.  No, not just as he lay sleepless in his bed.  He had been terrified as he slid and stepped clumsily to the edge of the precipice in the light of day.

Standing arrogantly and smiling, his spirit was, in truth, melting into jelly inside of him.

The face of fear smiles.  It smiles.

I wonder then—what about the other emotions we feel so deeply?  What does sadness look like?  Or depression?

I stood and talked with a woman today about her two-year long bout with depression, still ongoing.  I have seen her often in the last two years, but never had an inkling—not an inkling.

Sickness, abuse, stress at work, cruelty of friends—all have surrounded her spirit and informed her very soul that she is of little worth and that nothing will ever change.

Still she smiles and jests, the facial expression and jokes a thin covering over a festering wound that will one day destroy her and those around her.

The face of depression doesn’t just mope, doesn’t only frown—it also smiles broadly.

Is it any wonder we think we are alone?  If fear smiles and depression tells jokes, surely pain shows a false face to the world as well.  The hurts of a lifetime are penned up behind the facade of impenetrability.  And, we believe we are alone in this world.

Surely no one feels as badly as I.  Certainly no normal person deals with my pain, my sadness, my fears.  How easy it is to believe the lie which deception tells.

I sat with friends tonight and admitted for the first time my fear of the edge, of the heights above which I stood on that recent excursion onto the mountain.  As we talked I found, to my surprise, that I was not alone in that fear, even in that small group of people.

The magnitude of the truth hits me where I live tonight.

How many smiling faces I see every day are hiding terror?  How many happy-go-lucky folks are concealing their deep sadness behind the jocularity?  How much pain have I missed in folks with whom I shake hands and exchange light-hearted greetings daily?

Do you suppose ten percent of the people I see are hiding feelings such as these?  Thirty percent?  Fifty?

It’s time for us to stop lying to each other.  Time for us to stop hiding behind faces frozen into smiles and laughs which tell a different story than the truth of what lies within.  Time for fear and sadness and pain to be brought to the light of day.

Jesus stood at the pinnacle of the temple looking down and the tempter told Him not to be afraid of falling from that great height.  He stood at the tomb of His close friend and wept tears of sadness.  He knew the pains of the heart—friends who abandoned Him and a people who refused to listen, and the pain of physical torture—yet He conquered both.

We’re not alone.  Even if no one in the world is ever honest enough to admit their fellowship in our condition, we have a Savior who walked where we walk, and who felt the things we feel.  He hasn’t forgotten who we are, nor has He lost His ability to touch us where we live.

And, He has given us the ability to help each other.  Even the empathy we feel for others comes from His great love for us.

It all starts with the truth of who we are.  Facades will have to tumble before changes are made.  Truth doesn’t imprison us, nor allow us to stay in that state.

We will know the truth, and freedom will be ours.

 

 

 

 

Love takes off masks that we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within.
(James Baldwin ~ American writer ~ 1924-1987)

 

 

Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another.
(Ephesians 4:25 ~ ESV)

 

 

 

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

Angry

angryfistI said the words today. I’ve never said them before.

Never.

I’m mad at God.

Not what you expected, is it? Me either.

The preacher and I sat today–not my preacher, just a preacher–and we talked about things we don’t understand. Yes, the preacher has things he doesn’t understand, too. It is a difficult thing to remember sometimes, but they are on the same road as we–still stumbling, often taking wrong turns, and at times, falling into the very ditches from which we are attempting to climb out.

I told him about my troubled young friend who believed that he had run out of options, save one. My young friend took that option, the final act he would perform in this world. The alcohol to numb the fear and the pistol to end the pain were the only tools he needed to do the deed.

I have mourned the loss of my friend. The tears have flowed and been wiped away again and again. As I considered how to express my thoughts tonight, they came again. But, in a strange way, his death is not the reason for my anger.

I am still learning how to be a friend. I am still learning how to reach out to people who are unlovely and unloving–folks who are outcast and lonely.

I have written of my first meeting with the tormented young man. I was afraid to touch him, worried that he was a lost cause from the start. There seemed a good chance that my first encounter with him would also be my last. I thought he was a heartbeat away from doing what he took the next two years to work himself up to.

Two years.

Two years, during which he stopped by with some frequency. Two years, I picked up the phone any number of times to hear his voice. I thought he was doing much better.

He was better!

I said that, in a strange way, his death was not my reason for being angry. It actually was about his death, but I finally came to realize today that I am angry because I was dragged into a relationship which was always going to end the way it did.

God knew it. He knew it and yet, He brought the man into my life. For two years, I would believe the situation was getting better, and then, one day a simple phone call would tell me that it had been for nothing.

And today–today, as I talked with the preacher, I finally said the words right out loud. 

No. I didn’t, did I?

I whispered them.

I’m mad at God.

The whispered words sounded like a shout in my ears. They still do, even as I sit in the quiet of my office and listen to peaceful music tonight.

The preacher knows better than to hand out pat answers to the big questions.  He listened. I talked, spilling my disappointment with God out in plain sight.

And as I talked, what I had known all along became clear. That’s the way it often is, isn’t it? The truth lies mingled in among the lies. We just have to peel the lies–our lies–away and God’s truth remains. 

Right there where it was all along.

The truth is that He faces the same disappointments with man’s failure, and has faced it from eternity past. He knows rejection of His love is right around the next bend and yet He reaches out His hand again and again.

The pain must be excruciating.

How should we expect any other result if we do His will? What He asks of us is not that we continue in obedience to Him as long as success is guaranteed.  He wants us to walk in obedience. Period.

It seems an ugly truth.

I’m still a little mad. Better men than I have been in the same boat. Job, for instance. And, Jonah. Even Elijah had his moment of sulking.

But, here is what I know. God loves me. Even when I’m angry. Even when I’m wrong. He understands my pain, because He has felt the same pain.

We’re talking about it, He and I.

I’ve got an idea that I’ll keep heading along the same road I’ve been on for more than a few years now. There is more work to be done; there are more people to be ministered to.

I wonder who will shove open my door tomorrow?

 

 

“There was a man here last night–you needn’t be afraid that I shall mention his name–who said that his will was given up to God, and who got mad because the omnibus was full, and he had to walk a mile to his lodgings.”
(Dwight L Moody ~ American evangelist ~ 1837-1899)

 

“The Lord said, ‘Do you have good reason to be angry?'”
(Jonah 4:4 ~ NASB)

 

 

 

 

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