Need to Know

I saw a UFO tonight.

Well, perhaps I should qualify that statement before going any further.  I wouldn’t want you to think I was some wild-eyed conspiracy nut, believing the government is hiding the truth about those strange lights in the night sky, or possibly, even in cahoots with some alien society from the far reaches of outer space.

Still, there were strange lights in the night sky.  The dogs had warned me about them.  I should have paid attention.  I didn’t, simply suggesting to them I might consider that they were bad dogs if they continued their barking.

They went to bed.

I’m still awake.  I wonder.

I said it was a UFO, didn’t I?  It was, indeed, an unidentified flying object.  To me, it was.  That said, someone somewhere knows what it is.

I suppose, given the proximity of our home to the local university, it could have been a drone from their photography department taking night shots of the local community.  If so, they’ve got a shot of me standing in an empty field in the sub-freezing temperatures, staring up at the lights in the sky.

Oh, look!  There’s that Phillips nut.  You can really tell he’s outstanding in his field, can’t you?

Honestly, I don’t know what the lights were.  I stood and watched them until the cold drove me back inside.

I would like to know what that thing was, though.  I suppose I’ll probably never discover that.

I bet tonight’s the only night I’ll lose any sleep over it.

                              

I went to the public library with the Lovely Lady the other day.  We split up as soon as we entered the front door, each having a pretty good idea of where we’d find the books which would entertain or educate us.

As I stood contemplating a novel or two (entertainment, not education), she came walking past, showing me the important find she had made.

I laughed.  It was a bird identification book.

You see, the Lovely Lady has her own version of the UFO.  I suppose it was over a year ago when she had her first sighting.

No.  That’s not right.

It wasn’t a sighting; it was her first hearing of that bird’s song.  She has described it to me several times in great detail, the onomatopoeic repetition being almost as enjoyable as actually hearing the bird myself.

She wants the unidentified winged creature to stand up and be recognized.  Absent the willing participation of said feathered creature, she is hoping for aid from other humans in giving a name and image to the sound she has heard numerous times.  In recent days, she has enlisted the assistance of my sister in the bird-hunt.

I am not participating.

Some things I just don’t need to know.

Some things I just don't need to know. Click To Tweet

I am happy that the bird sings.  I wish it good health and long life, with many descendants.

I don’t need to know what it looks like, nor where it makes its nest.  Just as I won’t be searching diligently to find the source of the lights in the sky earlier tonight, I am content to leave our fine feathered friend alone to sing his song.

                              

Why is it we need to delve into the details of so many things?

Why?  How?  When?

Why are we not content simply to know that they are?

We’re not just talking about UFOs and unfamiliar birds here, are we?

There are days, and sometimes weeks, and yes, even years when we walk without answers—in the dark, if you will—not knowing how or when we will ever see the light of day again, but somehow believing that we will see it.

I claim to walk by faith, but I put the lie to my claim if I demand the evidence before I’ll take another step.

Faith is all the evidence we need of things we cannot see with our own eyes. (Hebrews 11:1)

How about it?  Have you crossed the shaky bridge to the unfamiliar terrain on the other side and recoiled at what you found there?  Do you need more information before you determine it’s safe to move on ahead?

Why do we hazard the bridge in the first place?  Do we suppose the One who told us to take that first step is surprised at what we found when we took the tenth step?  Or the fiftieth step?

Here is what I know.

When I hear a bird singing in the tree, I don’t need to see it to know it’s real.  I don’t need to know what family it is descended from to believe it is near or that its Creator will care for it.

I don't need to know. I need to trust. And walk. Click To Tweet

I don’t need to know.  I just need to trust.

And walk. 

And walking, I remember that my Father cares for me more than He does for that elusive bird in the bush. 

He told me that—the One I’m following.  (Luke 12:7)

And, that’s all I need to know.

For now.
                              

 

I am the wisest man alive, for I know one thing, and that is that I know nothing.
(from The Republic ~ Plato)

 

Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!
    How unsearchable his judgments,
    and his paths beyond tracing out!
(Romans 11:33 ~ 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.

Basking

A year ago, life took a turn.  Let’s just say it was a turn I didn’t want to make and leave it at that.

A year.  

A wise man I know sent me a poem early on in that year.  Something about being called aside.  I didn’t want to be called aside.

We closed our business—and waited.  We worked in a yard—and waited.  We emptied a house—and waited.  We watched our bank account empty—and waited.

Many would say it’s been a hard year.  If you pressed me, I might agree—for a few seconds.

Earlier this week, when a hint of good news arrived, a friend called it a blessing from God.

He’s not wrong.

Good news—hope for the future—is a blessing from God.  It is.

Still, I wonder.  Why do we assume only the things we want and desire and then receive from the hand of God are the blessings?

Why not the yard work?  Why not closing down the business?  Why not the filthy, heavy labor?

Why not the waiting itself?  Couldn’t that be God’s blessing?

I’m not going to argue theology; I won’t break any new ground here.  Still, there is one thing I need to say.  Well, one thing before I say other things. 

God gives good gifts to His children. (Matthew 7:11)

Always.

Good gifts aren’t defined as wealth or power, or the good life.

The Teacher sat down on the mountain one day and began with a list of blessings.  It is a famous list. Most who are seeking blessings don’t seem to want to consider it in their search.  Matthew 5 has the complete list.

At the top of the list?  Those who are broken, helpless, and destitute in spiritual resources.  Knowing we bring nothing of our own, we are blessed.

The blessing of God is Himself.  Himself.

The blessing of God is Himself. Himself. Click To Tweet

Everything else is peripheral.  Anything more is simply icing on the cake.

He blesses in the waiting.  He blesses as we labor and as we pray.  He blesses as we walk in faith—painfully placing one foot in front of the other.

And, when He answers our prayers, the blessing is no more spectacular than when we walked with Him in the dark.

When He answers, the blessing is no more spectacular than when we walked with Him in the dark. Click To Tweet

I would be lying if I told you it’s not good to see the hint of dawn on the horizon.  But, in the dark I knew He was there.  

I basked in His presence in the dark.

The morning will be no different.

You see, God is good.

Always, He is good.

Bask.

 

Here sat Marilla Cuthbert, when she sat at all, slightly distrustful of sunshine, which seemed to her too dancing and irresponsible a thing for a world which was meant to be taken seriously…
(from Anne of Green Gables ~ L.M. Montgomery ~ Canadian author ~ 1874-1942)

 

 

Thou art giving and forgiving, 
     ever blessing, ever blest, 
Well-spring of the joy of living, 
     ocean depth of happy rest! 
Thou our Father, Christ our brother, 
     all who live in love are thine; 
Teach us how to love each other, 
     lift us to the joy divine.
(from Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee ~ Henry Van Dyke ~ American author/poet ~ 1852-1933)

 

 

 

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

He Still Hangs the Moon

The cares of this life are thieves.  They rob from us while we watch, eyes trained on their every move.

I wish I could tell you I am too much a veteran of their schemes to be taken in anymore.  At this time of life one would imagine experience has taught me its lessons, and all danger of being victimized is past.

One would be wrong.

For some time now, I have allowed those rascally cares to run amok in my soul, robbing me blind.

Really.  Blind.

It is what they crave.  The little creations of our tiny imaginations and self-centered natures are themselves blind to the reality of joy that fills our lives as humans made in the image of a loving God.

And, you know what they say.

Well, the red-headed lady who raised me said it all the time anyway, so I assume it must be true:

Misery loves company.

If the little monsters can’t see joy and truth, they are determined to steal the ability from anyone foolish enough to afford them shelter and sustenance.

And so, with my permission, they have been at work again in my own soul.

At times when they work their craft, the darkness is profound.  The black of this night is, I think, made all the more encompassing by my willing participation in the malfeasance.

An evening or two ago, as light shone brightly—too brightly for me—in my house, I crept to my office to let the thieves practice.  While the Lovely Lady and our guests worked and laughed and played happy music, I sat alone in the dark and pulled the misery over me like a blanket.

After the lights were finally extinguished at the house and all were asleep in their beds I left my office and, blindly walking hand in hand with the little unseeing pickpockets, headed toward home.

Three words.  Really.  Just three.

I know folks who hear a voice that speaks whole volumes.  Entire poems.  Sometimes, they carry on conversations with the voice.

Me?  I get three words.

Lift your head.

I know.  It seems a bit inadequate, doesn’t it?  It’s kind of like saying chin up to a guy heading to the gas chamber.

Lift your head.

Then I noticed it.  All around me, in what is normally a pitch black yard, the air fairly glowed with light.  Long shadows were cast by the tree branches above me.

I lifted my head.

The brilliant and huge full moon hung almost directly above, washing the night time world in its reflected light.  It was astoundingly beautiful.

He still hangmoon-1055395_640s the moon.  Every night.

He still wakes the sun every morning and sends it on its daily rounds.

I’ll admit it.  The notion isn’t all that scientific, nor is it an accurate description of what actually takes place.

Still, it is His power that keeps all of creation doing what it was designed for.  (Colossians 1: 6-17)

The realization struck me as powerfully as those beams of light had just seconds before.

His plan is still in place.  I’m part of that plan.

His plan is still in place. I'm part of that plan. Click To Tweet

I’m part of that plan!

Every one of us is.

I looked back down to check on my cares, but all the little felons had disappeared.  They can’t stand to be in the company of light.  Just as in nature, the darkness of doubt and despair flees at the coming of light.

I’m not naive.  Darkness will come again.  It always does.

Cares will crowd around to steal again.  They always do.

But the truth is, light will come again as well.

It always does.

He still hangs the moon.

And, not just for me.

Lift your head.

 

 

 

But you, Lord, are a shield around me,
    my glory, the One who lifts my head high.
(Psalm 3:3 ~ NIV)

 

 

‘Now, lord,’ said Gandalf, ‘look out upon your land! Breathe the free air again!’

. . .Suddenly through a rent in the clouds behind them a shaft of sun stabbed down. The falling showers gleamed like silver, and far away the river glittered like a shimmering glass.

‘It is not so dark here,’ said Théoden.
(from The Two Towers ~ J.R.R. Tolkien ~ English novelist/poet ~ 1892-1973)

 

 

 

 

 

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

Fight or Flight

It’s not a sight you’d expect to see, here in the foothills of the Ozarks.  The lush wooded landscape, along with the numerous rivers and creeks that crisscross the valleys and hollows hereabouts, doesn’t bear much resemblance to the cactus and sand-smothered expanses of the desert.

Nonetheless, I know what I saw with my own eyes.  While on a longish bicycle ride last week, I actually had to shake my head for a moment in unbelief.  

Surely it was my favorite childhood cartoon come to life!  Up ahead on the road as I crested a hill, a roadrunner stood, poised for flight.

Greater_Roadrunner_(Geococcyx_californianus)_(3399096675)
photo by Dominic Sherony

Well, not for flight.  

The earthbound birds prefer to outrun their predators with their strong and speedy legs instead of using their wings.  They can run as fast as 20 miles an hour when pursued.

The thing is, I can ride my bicycle faster than 20 miles per hour.  Downhill, anyway.  And, I was headed straight for the unfortunate creature as he stood downhill from me.

All Wile E. Coyote-ish, I sped right toward the sprinter.  

He, knowing that danger was approaching, ran for all he was worth.  I gained quickly.  I don’t know if he reached his top speed, but I do know I nearly ran him down.

Zig-zagging all over the road, he gave me no clear path to pass.  It was evident that every instinct told the poor bird I was a predator, intent on his destruction.  Regardless of the fact I was more intent on avoiding him than running him down, he only knew the terror that being close to death can bring.

At the last second, just before my wheels caught him up, the tricky fellow did the only thing he could do—the one thing he may not have known he had the ability to do—he flew up and off the pavement into the low-hanging branches of a maple tree that hung over the fence about twenty or thirty feet away..

He flew!  

The bird that I have always believed could simply avoid any pursuer by out-running it, flew.

Any lingering thought of the Warner Brothers cartoon bird from my youth disappeared from my consciousness with the suddenness of a pricked balloon exploding.

The bird didn’t push the Acme weights off the cliff onto me, didn’t draw a railroad tunnel on the side of a cliff for a train to blast out of and flatten me, didn’t light the wick on a rocket to launch me into the stratosphere.

He flew away.

Gone.  Just like that.  Disappeared from my sight.

One moment, certain destruction—the next, salvation from on high.

Dare I say anymore?  Need I?

Perhaps a word or two.

I’m not the only one who has felt the terror of late; I’ve seen it in the eyes of others.  Many see all chance of escape disappearing from their sight.

Some fear for their future, others for their children’s.   Aged and hardened old men weep in the darkness for the loss of their loved ones.  Young men and women despair of hope.

All run as fast as they can, hoping for escape, but pursued relentlessly by their terror.  There is no escape to be found.

I’ve written recently of the wings of eagles and the ability to run without tiring.  They are a gift from God and there is hope in His strength. (Isaiah 40:31)

But, what if there is another way?  What if the wings and the strong, untiring muscles are not meant to be tools for retreat, but a means of facing the powers that threaten us?

Perhaps, it is time, not for flight, but to fight.  (Ephesians 6:10-18)

And yet, I can’t help thinking there is one more thing to be said.  

What was it, now?  Let me see…

Oh yes.  I’m wondering if we’re all that good at identifying our enemies.

The birdbrain that ran away from me on the road that day thought I was his.  I wouldn’t have harmed a feather on his body.  

I wasn’t his enemy.  At all.

Sometimes, fear makes our enemies seem stronger than they are.  It even manufactures enemies where there are none.

Perhaps, after all, it is time for us just to stand.

Stand and see the salvation of the Lord.

Neither fight nor flight.

Just plain faith.

Salvation is certain.

Stand still.

Still.

 

 

He that flies counts every foeman twice.
(from The Two Towers ~ J.R.R.Tolkien ~ English author ~ 1892-1973)

 

But you will not even need to fight. Take your positions; then stand still and watch the Lord’s victory. He is with you, O people of Judah and Jerusalem. Do not be afraid or discouraged. Go out against them tomorrow, for the Lord is with you!
(2 Chronicles 20:17 ~ NLT)

 

 

 

 

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

I Know a Man

Boredom comes quickly to a twelve-year-old boy.  A week’s stay with relatives in the rural Illinois countryside seemed to have all the prerequisites.

At that age, summer is supposed to be about fishing, summer camp, and bicycle rides.  Up till then, the trip north to visit unfamiliar kin had offered none of them.  There had been that episode with the tractor on the farm in Kansas, but otherwise, there didn’t seem to be much promise of anything more stimulating than conversations around the dinner table for the next several days.

But, in a moment, all of that appeared as if it were going to change.  The boy’s older brother burst through the door exclaiming about the mini-bike in the barn.

“They said we could ride it as long as the gasoline lasts!”

Up and down the long gravel driveway to the county road they roared, one after another.  Taking turns wouldn’t be all that bad, the boy reasoned, as long as he knew another turn would come.

It didn’t.  Come, that is.

Before the lad had even gotten a second ride, the little Briggs and Stratton motor sputtered and the vehicle lurched forward another yard or two as it died under his brother.  Muttering and kicking the rocks beneath his feet, the frustrated kid wandered out to help push it back along the lengthy lane.  Profound disappointment was virtually painted on his face, and his slumped shoulders didn’t brighten the picture one bit.

They walked the little two-wheeler back to the barn, leaving it where they had found it.  A couple of gas cans were lying nearby, but shaking them yielded nothing at all.  They were out of gas.

Boredom seemed inevitable once more.  Oh well, perhaps there was a book or two to read somewhere.

Suddenly, a thought came to the youngster.  Quietly, without telling anyone else, he found the old uncle (probably all of forty-five years of age) sitting by himself in the living room.

Explaining his problem, the boy wondered aloud if more gasoline could be found anywhere on the property.  The old man smiled and got up from his seat, motioning the boy to follow him.  They stopped at the barn and his uncle told him to roll the inoperable machine outside.

Not far away, there was a rust-covered steel tank lying on its side atop a platform five or six feet in the air.  Funny—he hadn’t noticed that tank there before.

“There’s gas in here.  You’ll have plenty for anything you want to do with that tiny thing.”  His uncle jerked his chin toward the little two-wheeler as he said the words.

Taking down a black rubber hose with a metal nozzle on the end of it—much like what you would see at the pump at a gas station—the old fellow inserted the end into the tank of the mini-bike.

Nothing happened.  No gas came out.

The boy was about to turn the handlebars and push the useless thing back to the barn when his uncle stopped him.  Climbing up to the platform nimbly, especially so, given his advanced age, he lifted up the back end of the tank and indicated that the boy should squeeze the lever on the nozzle again.

Within moments, the tank was filled with gas.  The mini-bike roared to life with just one pull of the starting rope and he was off!

Goodbye boredom!

The little machine hardly stood still during daylight hours for the rest of the week.  Every time it needed to be refueled, the boy (or one of his brothers) clambered up to the platform and tipped the tank up.

They never ran out of gas.  Never.

For the rest of the week, the boy didn’t worry about whether there would be enough fuel.  He didn’t even look once inside the big tank to reassure himself of the supply.

His uncle knew how much there was and had promised it would be enough.

All the boy had to do was park the little motorbike down below and tip the back edge of the tank up.  It wasn’t a question of understanding how many gallons the tank held originally and how many had been used.  He certainly didn’t care about how much the gas cost when it was delivered.

Those might have been real and valid questions, but they were none of his affair.

He knew a man—a man who took care of all those things—a man who showed him how to get what he needed and promised it would be enough.

He knew a man.
                              

Do you ever wonder if you have enough faith for the difficulties of life?

I’m not talking about having faith when you’re with friends.  

I don’t want to know if you have enough faith when you sit in church beside your family.  

I’m not even wondering about when you give thanks sitting around the dinner table, hands held tightly with the folks next to you.

In the loneliest, darkest night, when it seems as if dawn is never going to break on the eastern horizon ever again, do you wonder if your faith is strong enough to see you through to daylight?

What about when wrapped in the strangling grip of pain?  Or, gripped by the overwhelming tsunami of terror?  Or, drowning in the depths of an ocean of sorrow and loss?

Is our faith strong enough?  

I wonder.  Perhaps, that’s not the right question.

Is our faith strong enough? Perhaps, that's not the right question. Click To Tweet

fountain-788430_640I think faith might just be going to the well and throwing in the bucket.

Is there water down there?  Will the rope break?  Will my bucket leak?  Will the water really quench my thirst?

If you know the One who maintains the well, you don’t even ask the questions.

Faith doesn’t require any more than one thing.

You just drop the bucket down again and again.  Water comes up every time.  (John 4:13-14)

Every time.

I know a Man.

The boy kept riding his whole vacation.  On faith.  You might argue that it was gasoline that powered the little mini-bike.

I’m pretty sure it was faith.

I was there, after all.

Drop the bucket in again.

You know the Man, too.

 

 

 

Faith is what makes life bearable, with all its tragedies and ambiguities and sudden, startling joys.
(Madeleine L’Engle ~ American author ~ 1918-2007)

 

Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord will personally go ahead of you. He will be with you; he will neither fail you nor abandon you.
(Deuteronomy 31:8 ~ NLT)

 

 

 

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

Storm Warnings

If the thunder comes, I’ll have to sleep in Mama’s bed.

The girl says the words matter-of-factly, without an inkling that they might possibly cause laughter.  Her grandpa, with an effort, does not disappoint, realizing the little sweetie is merely stating the truth as she knows it.

Any child knows that Mama’s bed is a safer place to be than his or her own unprotected expanse of mattress.  And yet…  And yet…

And yet the boy, just a couple of years older, made certain to assure me he would not be seeking shelter in the safe haven of Mom’s bed.  The bravado is comical in its own way, but I hold my laughter in, not wanting to hurt feelings.

lightning-378069_640The storm warnings are out tonight.  Tornadoes, say the weathermen.  Strong winds.  Hail.

Take cover, they tell us.

Accordingly, some friends are spending the night in storm shelters, some in their bathrooms.

I will not fault them.  It’s hard not to be afraid when the experts we trust say we should be.

A friend shared a little saying the other day.  I don’t remember all of it, but I recall the core thought:

Fear is a lie.

I don’t disagree.  But sometimes—even often—it feels more like the truth.

When the wind is ripping limbs off trees overhead, when the rain is blowing sideways and debris is careering crazily across highways, when hail is pounding rooftops, terror seems a reasonable response.

Mom’s bed may not be safe enough.

The bathroom may not be secure.

The storm cellar doesn’t seem quite as impervious as it once did.

In spite of it all, I like thunderstorms.  The power, the beauty, the replenishment of the earth, all these and more inspire admiration.

Don’t get me wrong.  I understand there is danger.  I pray for those who don’t have adequate shelter.  I feel empathy for folks (and a certain little girl) who are terrified by the potential for loss of life and property.

In truth, I realize that none of God’s creation is safe.  All of it has the potential to wreak havoc on our lifestyle.  

I also realize that all of His creation is fantastic!  The mountains, the forests, the rivers, the sea—all are beautiful, dangerous evidences of His sustaining and yes, frightening, power.

I wonder though, on what or whom do we depend for safety?  

The easy answer is that we put our trust in God.  Even the psalmist said the words; When I am afraid, I put my trust in You. (Psalm 56:3

You’re scratching your head, aren’t you?

Did he just say, “the easy answer”?

I did.  It’s on the tip of our tongues.  We may even claim that God is our very first recourse, every time we are afraid.

It’s an admirable thing.  

He wants us to call on Him.  One of the saddest moments I think of in our Savior’s ministry (beside His trial and death) is the moment when He looked over the beloved city, Jerusalem, and lamented their steadfast refusal to accept His protection. (Matthew 23:27)

But, what if we were willing to give our fears to Him, instead of insisting He save us from the object of our fears?  

What if we simply trusted Him in the storm? 

In it.

The Teacher’s followers, in that storied storm on the lake, believed they were showing faith in Him when they woke Him up to voice their fears.  

Do you remember what He did?

He rebuked the wind and the waves.  He scolded them.  And then, turning to His followers, He did the same to them.  (Mark 4: 35-41)

Have you no faith?

For so long, I have not understood.  Certainly, they had faith!  Why would they have awakened Him if they didn’t believe He could do something about the storm?  Wasn’t that faith?

It’s the kind of faith I have.

The storms of life require a command from Him.  Peace!  Be still!

That is what I believe—or, at least what I have believed.

And, as I write, in my mind’s eye I see the little girl running to her Mama’s bed in the midst of the storm.

Ha!  Do you know what she is going to do there?

Will she insist that Mama quiet the storm?  Will she quiver and quake until the last lightning flash and the last rumble of thunder is past?  No.  She will sleep.

She will sleep.

Safe.

Why didn’t the Disciples think of that?  Why didn’t they lie down on the deck beside Him and sleep?

More to the point—why don’t I?

What safer place could one want?

How much more protection could you ever have?

Safe.  In the arms of Jesus.

The storm is passed.  

For tonight.

The little girl sleeps in her Mama’s bed.

Childlike faith.

Safety.

 

 

 I’ve anchored my soul in the Haven of Rest;
I’ll sail the wide seas no more.
The tempest may sweep o’er the wild stormy deep;
In Jesus I’m safe ever more.
(Haven of Rest ~ H L Gilmour ~ American choirmaster/poet ~ 1836-1920)

 

The waters are rising, but so am I. I am not going under, but over.
(Catherine Booth ~ Co-founder of the Salvation Army ~ 1829-1890)

 

 

 

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

 

Another Bridge

From my workbench in the back room of the music store, I heard her exclamation of dismay.

Just moments earlier, the Lovely Lady, knowing I had over-promised and was likely to under-perform if I didn’t have some relief, had suggested that she would take care of any new business until I could complete the jobs due this afternoon.  It was a good plan.  My work was going well and it appeared that deadlines might actually be met.

Then I heard her unhappy outburst.  

She would be calling me anyway, so I headed for the front.  The sight that met my eyes was, to a lover of fine musical instruments, a sad and disastrous horror.

The young man wasn’t smiling either, as he stood beside the broken and splintered guitar.  But, I remembered a few months ago, when I had installed an electrical pickup system in the aging acoustic Martin, giving him a new facet to its usefulness.

He had had a smile on his face as he carried the instrument out on that day.   He had been sure the beautiful guitar, one he had acquired while still in high school, would be the only one he would ever need.

It took a single moment—just a few seconds of forgetfulness—to dash that belief forever.  

An afternoon at work, good intentions, a momentary distraction, and the guitar was under the wheels of the huge truck.  Completely destroyed.

Lifetime plans dashed.  Instantly.

As the young man spoke to me, he gently touched the fragments of wood.  I could see the pain in his face—could feel it in his voice.  But, there was something else in his voice—indeed, something different written on his face.  He had come in for a purpose, and it was not to commiserate over the fate of the beloved instrument.  

Purpose!  That was what I heard in his voice.  Purpose and resolve.

He would not dwell on the past.  He was ready to move on.

“Let me show you my new guitar!”

The instrument he drew out of the new case was a beauty to behold.  A custom guitar, handmade by an artisan from a nearby town, it simply begged to be played.  The young guitarist gave in and sat for a few moments to demonstrate the capabilities of his new love.  The crisp, clean lines of the instrument were matched by the music that poured out of it.

The clarity and warmth of tone that emanated from the polished spruce and rosewood box were surprising and expected, all at once.  

When he finished playing, we spoke for a few moments about how happy he was with the new tool he held in his hands.  He means to play this guitar for a lifetime, as well.

But, there was more.  He is ready to leave the old broken guitar in the past, but he wanted a favor from me.

“Is it possible that the pickup system from the Martin will fit in this one?”

It made sense.  He had spent hard-earned dollars on that system—quite a few of them.  We might just as well salvage it and keep it in use.  It will do the job just fine.

He is simply being practical.  But, then again, perhaps there is a little sentiment in the request.

The need to move forward is clear.  The old guitar will never, never play another note.  But, part of it might be incorporated into the new one.  The old will aid the new to achieve the vision the young man has always had for his future.

It will be a bridge, of sorts, between the past and the future.

I will help him cross the bridge.

I’m anticipating seeing the smile on his face again, just as I did the last time he carried a guitar out of my shop.

The future awaits.

2016-03-28 23.45.59-1As I sat thinking about what I would write tonight, my thoughts were inexorably drawn to bridges.  It really is almost unavoidable.  You see, I am surrounded by paintings of bridges in the room in which I sit.  I have given in to the urge to write about them before.

I have written of the past and the future, using a bridge as a metaphor for the place where we stand, gazing first behind, and then ahead.  Looking back, we see the events of the past clearly.  Looking forward, we see an uncertain future.

I have insisted that I must cross boldly to the future, encouraging my readers to do the same.  But, tonight I’m wondering.

What do we do when the things we must leave behind were what we loved most in life?

I know folks who have stood at the approach to the bridge for weeks, months, even years, never moving.  Gazing back at what is, even now, lost in their past, they still see nothing across the bridge to coax them to set the first foot on the platform.

Like the Children of Israel in the desert, they receive the sustenance of their God who promises them a place far better than any they left behind, and yet they pine for the food they ate when they were slaves. (Numbers 11:4-6)

Too harsh?  

I also have stood in cemeteries and looked at the pile of freshly-turned dirt, reluctant to turn my back.  I’ve watched dreams disappear into the air, like the morning mist in sunlight.  

The disappointments and tragedies pile up behind me, as they do for every human who has ever walked this earth.  

We can cling to them, like so many splintered guitars, for everything we’re worth.

There will never—ever—be another note of music from that source.  The voices of the past are forever mute—in this world, anyway.

The human spirit is, however, designed by its Creator to be resilient and nearly impossible to crush.  Like my young guitar-playing friend, it hears the call from the future, and must answer.

We’ve stood at the bridge for long enough, looking back.  The past cannot be retrieved, but what we’ve learned in it may be incorporated into the future.  

Our memories are woven—hopelessly intertwined—into the fabric of our lives; we will never lose them.

I like the young guitarist’s way of thinking.

True, there is great sadness in the past.  There was great joy as well.

Both will be found again.  

In front of us.

And one day—one glorious day—the last bridge will be before us.  Nothing awaits on the other side, but great, great joy.  No sadness.  No pain.

Joy.  Across the last bridge.

I’m still walking.  Still feeling.  Still trusting.

There will be sweet music again.  Of that, I’m sure.

Sweet music.

 

 

 I’m not saying that I have this all together, that I have it made. But I am well on my way, reaching out for Christ, who has so wondrously reached out for me. Friends, don’t get me wrong: By no means do I count myself an expert in all of this, but I’ve got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward—to Jesus. I’m off and running, and I’m not turning back.
(Philippians 3:13-14 ~ MSG)

Oh, my dear little librarian. You pile up enough tomorrows, and you’ll find you are left with nothing but a lot of empty yesterdays. I don’t know about you, but I’d like to make today worth remembering.
(from The Music Man ~ Meredith Willson ~ American playwright ~ 1902-1984)

 

 

 

 

© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2016. 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.

Better Things

I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired!

The red-headed woman who raised me was at it again.  I have told you before that my mother had an almost endless supply of catchy sayings, many of them almost silly in their logic.  This one was different.  It actually made sense to me.

It makes more sense to me now.  And, that’s a problem.

You see, I know what having a negative outlook on life does to you.  Read the original words again.

Do you see the circle they create?  When you’re sick and tired of being just that, the cycle repeats itself.  Again.  And again.  And again.  It may be exactly what the person who coined the phrase vicious cycle had in mind.

I have come to realize in recent days how easy it is to become a part of that cycle.  Oh, I’m not sick–not physically.  Perhaps I’m a little tired, but not sick.  But it is easy to think about the sad things in life and let myself sink down into sadness myself.  The sad things don’t even have to be happening to me.

Still–all of the sudden I realize I’m repeating the phrase in my own head.  It’s not just a memory of my Mom’s voice saying the words anymore.

I hear it, not in her voice, but in my own as my spirit takes on the burdens of life.

Any day, I expect the words to actually come from my mouth as I speak to the Lovely Lady, or to my friends, or to a customer.

There is hardship all around me.  With our instant communication, I know about more of it than ever before.  To be fair, it may also be my time of life.  I’m not sure.  That said, I don’t ever want to expect bad from this amazing world which the Creator has made for us and placed us into.

Friends tell me things will only get worse–that this is just prophecy coming to pass–almost as if that justifies negativity and depression.

It doesn’t.

Right before the start of this new year–it only began three weeks ago, you know–I made a list of things I intend to revisit over the course of the  year.  They are thoughts which have occurred to me as I consider the future, a future which I contend is bright, not dark.

The first words in my list are these:

I refuse to believe our future is not at least as bright as our past.  No!  Brighter!

I know some of you who read these words are in the throes of disaster at this very moment.  My heart tells me that in the next months I will experience some of those same woes.

The statement stands.

Circumstances, no matter how dark, do not determine the condition of our spirits, unless we allow them to.  If we take the sadness, the sorrow, the worry to our hearts, we may find ourselves, like the red-headed lady, in the cycle of being sick and tired of life as we know it.

But, I want to affirm that the sadness, the sorrow, and the worry do not belong to us at all, and it is theft for us to keep them for ourselves.

I see those eyebrows going up as you read the word theft.  You wonder who the victim of the crime is, don’t you?  I believe we steal from God Himself when we selfishly hold those cares closely.  Our instructions are clear.  We are told to cast all of our cares on Him in light of His care for us. (1 Peter 5:7)

daybreakThey are not ours to keep, not ours to cling to, not ours to add to our collection like so many grisly reminders of battles lost or omens of a dark future.

Not ours.  His.

There is life yet to be lived.  It will not be lived in the dark.

Brighter, I say!

I’m ready to walk in the sunlight, but I wouldn’t mind some company along the road.

You coming along?

 

 

 

“It is not so dark here,” said Theoden.
“No,” said Gandalf.  “Nor does age lie so heavily on your shoulders as some would have you think.”
(from The Two Towers ~ J.R.R. Tolkien ~ English educator/novelist ~ 1892-1973)

 

For in the day of trouble He will conceal me in His tabernacle;
In the secret place of His tent He will hide me;
He will lift me up on a rock.
(Psalm 27:5 ~ NASB)

 

 

 

“What day is it?”
“It’s today!” squeaked Piglet.
“My favorite day,” said Pooh.
(A.A. Milne ~ English children’s author ~ 1882-1956)

 

 

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

Frosted Glass

I woke up this morning and, looking out the window, wondered about the fog.

Didn’t the weather man say it would be sunny this morning?

Mere seconds later, the fog cleared.  No, not the fog I was seeing through the window.  The fog in my brain.

Looking at the window again, I remembered that the exterior storm windows, set at a distance of a few inches from the original single-pane glass, hold in the moisture of the night.  On cold mornings, the view through the windows is dim and foggy, regardless of the weather outside.

road-815297_1920Sunny.  There was no fog—no mist.  

A beautiful morning.

It would not be many more hours before the fog was back.  The fog in my head, I mean.

I read the words once.  “Saying goodbye to my father…”

I read them again, this time through tears.  His father is a friend, an encourager, a tease.  One of my favorite people.

It’s not true.  He can’t be dead.

I don’t know what happened to the sun.  Perhaps the tears that came unbidden fogged up the view, but it was dim even after I wiped them away.

The rest of my day was viewed through a dark lens.  Tears, sarcasm, anger—all of them were close to the surface and likely to be unleashed without provocation.

I argued with two young men on separate occasions this afternoon.  They needed to know how dark the world is.  

I took care of that task.

One of them, a man in his late twenties, now clearly understands that his days of carefree happiness are numbered. The reality of death, which will close in to take scores of his friends as he ages, has been explained thoroughly to him.

The second, a slightly older father of two, now grasps fully the ugliness of sin hidden inside every person he respects and loves.  I did my best to explain to him that it would be every person who would disappoint.  Every person. 

The red-headed lady who raised me would have suggested at this juncture that misery loves company.  

I wasn’t done yet.  

Late this afternoon a longtime friend about my own age related his enjoyment at watching a documentary of a famous singer who, though struggling with Alzheimer’s, still finished his farewell concert tour.  It seemed, to my friend, a triumph in the face of overwhelming odds.

Astounded that anyone should see even one ray of sunshine on such an obviously dark day, I set him straight, citing my mother’s experience with the horrible disease before her death last summer.  I wasn’t gentle, helping him to understand with graphic descriptions of the horror.

I have apologies to make.

More than that, I need to learn to trust a loving God, who sees the beginning and the end.  When events overwhelm, He sends messengers to offer words of comfort, but I, drowning in the dark waves, attempt to pull them down as well.

I will make my apologies.  

Learning to trust will take longer—perhaps a lifetime.  

Tonight, I’m in agreement with the Psalmist, who suggested that he had some complaints to make and asked that they be heard.  (Psalm 64:1)

Funny thing.  He got to the end of his complaining and found there was light at the end of the darkness.  (Psalm 64:10)

Light.  And hope.

It is not so dark here as I thought.

I’m hearing from lots of my friends who believe the entire world is dark and without hope.  Events and fears have colored the glass through which they view all of God’s creation.

This morning, as I walked out of my house, the sunshine was brilliant beyond description.  The storm windows, designed to protect, had given an illusion of a world covered in cloud.

Beyond the illusion, the sun is still shining.

The light has shined into darkness and has not been overcome by it.

It is not so dark out here.

 

 

 

Following the light of the sun, we left the Old World.
(Christopher Columbus ~ Italian explorer ~ ca. 1451-1506)

 

Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
And lean not on your own understanding;
In all your ways acknowledge Him,
And He shall make smooth your paths.
(Proverbs 3:5-6 ~ NKJV)

 

 

 

 

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