Standing at the Gate

He did it with a smile on his face.  I saw it happen.

We were waiting for the nice lady at the bank to make a copy for us.  I can’t help it; I watch people.  So, while we waited, I watched.

I watched him lock himself and his dad in the vault.

Just to be clear, it wasn’t the big door—you know, the thick slab made of concrete-filled steel and secured with a time-lock.  This was what they call the day gate—a lighter affair, made with open metal rails that can be seen through.

Even so, I watched the little guy, all of three or four years old, swing the barrier back and forth a time or two.  It moved smoothly and noiselessly, so his dad, engrossed in his own activity inside, had no idea of what was happening.

The lad swung it and let go, reaching quickly to hold it and flip it back.  Looking up at me, he smiled.  There was no forethought or malicious intent in his face, simply the joy of being a child and a moment to entertain himself.

He swung it again, reaching for the edge, but missing.  I held my breath, hoping he’d catch it before it reached the end of its arc.  He didn’t.

Click!

The little fellow gave a tug at the door, but it stayed put.  He didn’t.  With one last sheepish grin, and an almost pleading look at me, he turned and dashed back into the room where his dad was still taking care of the task he had come to do.

The nice lady came back to our table and my attention was diverted from the scenario in the vault.  Even so, as she talked, it nagged at my consciousness.

I never heard a sound.  Still, moments later, I knew something was amiss.  I turned around and, there at the metal gate, saw the boy and his father standing.  This time, the pleading eyes were in the father’s face.  He didn’t say a word, but shrugged his shoulders and grinned—that same sheepish grin I had seen on the boy’s face earlier.

I suggested to the nice lady that she might want to let them out of the vault and she gasped, rushing to get the key and open the gate.

Not a single word passed between the man and me.  He needed help. I did what was in my power.  It wasn’t much.

Still, I haven’t been able to get the picture out of my mind.  The man, standing behind the gate, waiting for freedom.  In my memory, I see nothing but bars—that, and his face behind those bars.

Almost. . .Well—almost as if he were in prison.

I know it’s a stretch, but I can’t help but wonder if there are bars that lock me in, again and again.  Then again, what if the bars actually lock me out, too?

Prison isn’t only being locked in and held against my will.  Sometimes, prison is a place of my own making—the freedom of going where I want and doing what I have chosen.

Bondage can look a lot like freedom to us, if we’re not careful.  The little boy swinging the gate in fun found that out.

I’ve locked myself in more times than I care to count.

Just tonight, I read an email and slid home the bolt on the prison of fear.  Tomorrow may bring an unhappy encounter, so I  entered the cell tonight willingly, muttering to myself as I pulled the gate shut behind me.

The fear of what tomorrow may bring is a barren cell, fraught with pain and distress.  And yet, I may lie sleepless in this dreadful place the entire night.

A conversation with someone earlier today brought about the opportunity of making personal comparisons.  Without a thought, I acknowledged my superiority and in doing so, firmly latched myself into the prison of pride and arrogance.

The incarceration of the prideful may seem to be, at worst, a low-security lock-up.  But, like most hardened criminals, we return again and again, never reformed, to hear the gate click behind us as we fall into the habit of a lifetime.

There are so many prison doors.  Greed.  Gluttony.  Bigotry.  Selfishness.  Lust.  The list stretches as far as the cells in the cell block above.

Sometimes, it seems that others close the doors for us, just like the little boy in the bank.  It matters not.  The lock snaps closed and we are trapped once more.

I’ve spent enough time locked in those cells.  Maybe that’s true for more than just me.

I remember that there is One who holds the key to every door.  Every single one.

Isaiah, the one who seemed to see Him clearly through all the centuries that lay between, said the words first.  He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the prisoner—to open the locked gates behind which they await freedom.  (Isaiah 61:1)

Jesus used the same words to describe Himself.

He is the Key Holder—the Opener of Doors.

He is the Key Holder—the Opener of Doors. Click To Tweet 

Locks, prison doors, barred gates—they mean nothing to Him.

I’m ready for better things.  Easier than the lady at the bank opening that gate, the prison doors will swing wide.

Time to walk free.

Free.

 

What a fool am I, thus to lie in a stinking dungeon, when I may as well walk at liberty? I have a key in my bosom called Promise that will (I am persuaded) open any lock in Doubting Castle.
(from Pilgrim’s Progress ~ John Bunyan ~ 1628-1688)

 

The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me,
Because He has anointed Me
To preach the gospel to the poor;
He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted,
To proclaim liberty to the captives
And recovery of sight to the blind,
To set at liberty those who are oppressed.
(Luke 4:18 ~ NKJV ~ Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.)

 

 

 

 

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

Already Safe

There are two black labs in my backyard. 

They’re not all that smart.

I would like to believe I’m much more intelligent than they.  Some days (or nights), I think I could even prove the point.

Somehow though, that assumption is not always accurate.  Oh, it’s not as if they are as intelligent as I; just that I am as ignorant as they are.  Yes, I realize it might be a fine line, but there is a difference.  I think.  Or is it, I hope?

It was a dark and stormy night—no, really—a dark and stormy night.  I was heading to bed after a frustrating non-writing session at the computer when I noticed a noise from the backyard.  

The two large dogs, brother and sister, were out in the gale, staring up into the huge mulberry tree.  I’ve seen that stance before.  They have chased a critter up the tree.  

This could take awhile.

There are a few things you should know about this situation.  The first is these dogs are stubborn—tenacious—adamant, even.  

Bull-headed, the red haired lady who raised me would call it.

I shone my light into the branches of the tree and found the object of their attentiveness.  The critter was hiding his face, but as I moved around the storage building in my way, I was rewarded with a glance at his black robber’s mask.

The black monsters had treed a raccoon.  The little fellow was lodged in the fork of the branch.  He wasn’t budging.

Down on the ground, the black beasts weren’t going anywhere, either.

Stalemate.

This didn’t look encouraging.  

I asked myself a couple of questions:

The dogs have a really nice, heated dog house in which to pass cold windy nights.  Do you suppose they might just get cold and retire to their comfy home?

The trunk of the tree up which the raccoon had clambered is actually outside the fenced yard in which the big black dogs run.  Is it possible he would just shinny down the rough bole and scamper across the ground to his lair?

Neither was likely.  I did the only thing that made any sense.

I locked the dogs in the storage building.  There is a carpet on the floor, laid there for just such eventualities, and I had the foresight to put their water bowl in with them—in case they had worked up a thirst in the commotion.

I locked them in and went to bed.  Slept like a baby.

Very early in the morning, I did go outside again. Just for a few seconds.  I shone the flashlight up into the tree to be sure, but I knew what I would find.  There was no raccoon to be seen.

I opened the door to the storage building.  My two best friends lay side by side on the carpet, asleep.  It took them a moment to realize I was at the door, but they slowly got to their feet and stretching, ambled outside.  It was as if none of the frenetic activity in the wee hours of the morning had happened at all.

As if nothing had happened.

They slept as well as I did.  Five feet above the roof of the building in which alsatian-344065_1280they slept, the raccoon was lodged in the crook of the tree branch. Yet, they slept as if the critter were ten miles away.

As for the raccoon, his situation was not much different either.  Ten feet below him, the great hunters were as close as they had ever been.  Maybe closer.  

When he could see them, he wasn’t budging.  Not an inch.  I didn’t stay out to watch, but I don’t imagine it was long after the door closed on the shed that he began his trek down to safety.

May I point out something?  It may come as a surprise to you, but the raccoon was never in any danger.  

Never.

Dogs don’t climb trees.  Can’t.  Won’t.  They weren’t coming up to get him.  So, the little fella just waited.  Once they were gone, he would move, but not one second before.

But, he could have left the tree at any time he wanted!  The tree in which he cowered was planted in a safe place.  He never had to cower.  Not one moment.

He was always safe.  

I wonder.  How many days—weeks—years have we cowered here when all we needed to do was walk to freedom?

While we eye the terrifying circumstances circling around us, safety lies as close as a few steps in the right direction.

But first, we have to tear our eyes away from the dreadful creatures below.

Perhaps, we have the need for a loving Creator to make the creatures get out of our sight.  But, I’m not sure He needs to make them go away—not even sure if He will make them go away while we live in this world.

What if all that is necessary is for us to see that safety is already ours?

The prophet Elisha’s servant certainly needed that.  It was one of my favorite stories in Sunday School many years ago.  It still is.  The servant rose up early in the morning and saw a terrifying enemy surrounding them.  It was all he could see.  Chariots and soldiers.  Spears and clubs.  Arrows and swords.  Just imagine the terror.  Imagine.

Surely, the prophet could have prayed for escape.  A chariot from heaven perhaps?  He had seen that chariot before.  But no—he prayed that his servant would be able to see.  That’s it.  Open his eyes, Lord.  He needs to see.  (2 Kings 6:15-17)

Personally, I still find it hard to say the words.  I want the easy escape.  I want the miracle rescue.

Open my eyes.

Do the miracles come?  They do.  But, why pray for a miracle when He’s already made the way?

Sometimes the snarling savage beasts below just close their eyes and go to sleep.

Sometimes, we just need to get up and walk right out of the prison we’ve made for ourselves.

Open our eyes, Lord.  We need to see.

You.  We need to see You.

 

 

Crying is all right in its way while it lasts. But you have to stop sooner or later, and then you still have to decide what to do.
(from The Silver Chair ~ C.S. Lewis ~ English author/educator ~ 1898-1963)

 

 

For I am the Lord your God
    who takes hold of your right hand
and says to you, Do not fear;
    I will help you.
(Isaiah 41:13 ~ NIV)

 

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

No Goodbyes

“I’m about done here.  Gave my notice this week.”

My jazz-playing friend slipped the momentous news in between the discussion of his guitar amplifier’s deficiencies and a question about some sheet music.

I almost missed it.

“Let me check on that title and we’ll get it printed for…  Wait!  What?”

Ten years I’ve known the man.  Ten years ago, he was temporarily relocated here with dozens of folks when Hurricane Katrina hit his little city in southern Louisiana.  After a few months, most of the others went back home to New Orleans.  He decided to stay.

Now, Atlanta calls.  People like jazz there.  Enough to pay a living wage to the musicians who love playing it. 

He is leaving.  By the end of the month.  For good.

I didn’t take the news well.  He wants me to be happy for him.  I am. 

It’s me I’m sad for.

I hate goodbye.

Funny.  I knew his stay here was temporary from the start.  We were always going to say goodbye. 

Someday.

Just not today. Or this week.  Or even this month.

It’s easy to get carried away by the weight of a word.  This one just has so much packed into it. 

Goodbye.

Goodbye is what we say when fathers and brothers (and not a few mothers and soldiersgoodbyesisters) go off to war, many never to return.  Goodbye is what we breathe as we watch the over-packed car pull out of the driveway with our child on his or her way to college.  Goodbye is what we sob when the casket is closed on the face of someone we loved more than anyone else in this world.

Goodbye.

As a child, I once thought if I didn’t actually say the word goodbye, the separation wouldn’t happen.  Voila!  Problem solved!

Except, it didn’t work. 

I missed the departure of my grandparents one Fall day when I tested my theory.  Knowing it was the morning they would pull out dragging their gleaming, space-age Airstream trailer behind the old 1965 Pontiac Catalina, I simply went out to the field and hid.

Funny.  Goodbye happens whether we say the word, or not.  They were gone, and I missed it.  I missed them.

Goodbye happens.  We’re only here temporarily.  Every one of us.  One day, I’ll say my final goodbye, too. 

That’s odd

Final goodbye.  The last one.  For all of eternity.

If, like me, you believe there is more–and I’m sure there is–you’ll understand the impact of that statement.

Not one more goodbye.  Not one.

All tears wiped away.  No more death.  No mourning, no crying, no pain.

But, not every person we know will be there.  Unlike the pap being fed to this world by the deceiver, there is no hope that anyone could ever experience it without the grace our Savior purchased as He died for us.  The free gift is offered, but it must be accepted.

I sometimes wonder if we’ll miss those who have chosen to follow a different path, rejecting the grace of a God who hates goodbyes just as much as we do.  Perhaps those will be the tears–the last ones shed–He will wipe away from our eyes.

What a day!  What a reunion.  And what a multitude of hellos.

My friend is still leaving this month.  I am still sad.

I hate goodbye.

 

 

 

…but if you have been – if you’ve been up all night and cried till you have no more tears left in you – you will know that there comes in the end a sort of quietness. You feel as if nothing is ever going to happen again.
(from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe ~ C.S. Lewis ~ English author ~ 1898-1963)

 

He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.
(Revelation 21:4 ~ ESV)

 

 

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

 

Got an extra 3 minutes?  You could do worse than to spend them listening to Selah’s version of God Be With You.  Beautiful song with powerful imagery!