Hearts Racing

Another Christmas program night—somehow I always feel I’m at a recital.  

Will Jackie perform his duet with his sister?  Can the brass ensemble get through their piece without falling apart?

On this recent Sunday evening, the tension was not as palpable as some of those recitals I’ve attended, but the undercurrent still made itself known.

Parents sat with arms lovingly around their children—children normally aloof and independent, but now somehow in need of reassurance.  Even adults who would take part sat, breathing a little rapidly, looking fixedly ahead at the activity before them.  Periodically, their eyes would dart down to the programs on their laps, as if to assure themselves that their opportunity to participate hadn’t yet passed.  I found myself wondering if their hearts weren’t beating a bit harder and faster than was usual.

I stood near the back, taking in the scene. I would share the stage with fifteen other men to sing an Advent anthem later.  There being almost no danger of individual disaster with so many others to cover up my errors, I had no personal sense of impending doom.  

Somehow, as usually happens, Jackie and his sister did wonderfully.  The brass ensemble did an extraordinary job, their efforts being rewarded resoundingly by the applause of those listening.  Parents were pleased and perhaps, a little proud.  Even the singing men did their job admirably, sounding better than they ever had.

Perhaps the reason for elevated heart rates was past.  It was all downhill from here.

Perhaps not.

Nearing the end of the program, a large group of folks, some old, some young, approached the stage.  They were dressed alike, almost as if in uniform.  The moderator of the program explained what was to come.

An elderly lady, who usually attends our services, has been too ill to be there recently.  This group had prepared something—a song—to be recorded and played for her later in her room at the rehab center.

There were smiles all around the auditorium as her name was mentioned; this lady is a favorite of many.  She always sits near the front of the building, and is visible to most who attend.  Another young lady of our group always sits nearby, facing her.

You see, the elderly lady is deaf—her companion in the services, her interpreter.  The sign language is a constant through the service, from the announcements, through the music and on, until the conclusion of the sermon.  I’m often on stage for the musical part of our worship, so I can see her face beaming as she also participates in signing the words of the songs we sing.

The group on stage this night had learned sign language for the song we would hear.  It is not a new song, but is contemporary in rhythm.  (A link to the song may be found below.)  There is a solo part and also several choral parts, coming in a different times throughout the piece.  I assumed the performers would sign for the solo part only, understanding that our friend is used to having only that single line interpreted to her.

My assumption was wrong.  Indeed, the entire group signed in unison for the opening solo part, but as the choral parts entered and then split, coming in at different times and layering in, one on top of the other, the “singers”  on stage did the same.  One group carried the solo part, others, on either side of the group signed for the different choral part.

It was a thing of beauty, almost choreographic in character.  The evocative nature of hand motions is a natural thing for humans anyway.  These just communicated exact language—no, not just language—even the rhythm and layering of the vocal parts were represented.

I admit it.  It was a little hard to see through the tears.  

I’ve told you that music does that to me.  There is an emotion that music awakes and the tears flow, whether or not I wish them to.  This was even more powerful.

But, something bothered me.  I cast about for a few seconds and the elusive thought was caught.  Our friend can’t hear the sound.  She only sees the motions.  

I wondered what that would be like.  For a moment, I closed my ears with the palms of my hands.

Only for a moment.

Did I tell you the heart-racing moments were over for the night?  Not true!

A split instant after my hands covered my ears,  I realized I couldn’t hear the music.

I couldn’t hear the music.  I couldn’t hear the words.

The beautiful movement on the stage continued, but I didn’t understand the language.  Not only could I not hear, I was illiterate.  

Quickly, I removed my hands from my ears, but it was too late.  My heart was racing and the tears, which had only clung to the corners of my eyes before, ran freely down my face.

It was a good thing I had stayed near the back of the darkened auditorium.  I dug my handkerchief out to wipe away the evidence of the tears, but still my heart thumped away in my chest.

I had felt that same panic just the day before.  On Saturday morning, I laid under the sink in the bathroom, working on the plumbing.  Completing the job, I leaned forward to rise to my feet.  

The world spun.  

It wasn’t the normal passing darkness brought on by the blood rushing to my head.  The room around me spun in huge looping circles, causing me to lose my balance and tip toward the wall.  I quickly grabbed onto the lavatory and held on for all I was worth.

With heart pounding and panic-filled, I made my way to my easy chair.  I stayed there most of the day.

Not in control.  It’s a terrifying feeling.  

What if the vertigo never goes away?  How will I work?  How will I play my horn?  How will I play with my grandchildren?

Not in control.

And suddenly, it occurs to me that Jesus, God with us, put aside the authority of His position and relinquished control.

For us.  Of His own volition.

He put His hands over His ears and left them there.  Well, not in reality, but in essence, that is what He did.  

CorreggionativityThe powerful King of Heaven came to us as a tiny, weak baby.  He was completely dependent on a mother and father for everything.

He learned the language as children do.  He, who was the Word—from the beginning was the Word—had to learn words in the same way we do.

By rights, every cow on the hoof and every ear of wheat in every field is His to eat, but He was hungry in the desert.  (Matthew 4:2-4)

The water of every mountain stream belongs to Him; still, He hung on a cross and cried out, “I thirst.” (John 19:28)

His sight is so keen that He sees to the end of time, yet He was blindfolded and beaten as they taunted Him to tell who had hit Him. (Luke 26:64)

I don’t know if His heart pounded, nor if the tears flowed.  But, I do know He chose—He chose—to relinquish control.

For all of humanity.

Funny.  My heart races a little again, as I consider it.

There are still tears in my eyes.

Perhaps, it’s time for me to give up control, too.





What can I give Him,
Poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd
I would bring a lamb,
If I were a wise man
I would do my part.
Yet what can I give Him?
Give my heart.
(Christina Rosetti ~ English poet ~ 1830-1894)




…who though He existed in the form of God
did not regard equality with God
as something to be grasped,
but emptied Himself
by taking on the form of a slave,
by looking like other men,
and by sharing in human nature.
He humbled Himself,
by becoming obedient to the point of death
—even death on a cross!
(Philippians 2:6-8 ~ NET)





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

If Tomorrow Never Comes

Faint not—fight on!  Tomorrow comes the song.

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

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

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

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

Poetry is just poetry.  Sometimes.

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

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

Faint not—fight on!  Tomorrow comes the song.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No.  Not the ring; He feels the fear

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Neither did I.  Never.  Until now.

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

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

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

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

Me too.

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

Hang in there.  Today we fight.

Ah, but tomorrow?

Tomorrow, we sing.





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


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




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