Changing Keys

She’s my favorite pianist, by far. For forty years, I’ve been listening to her play.

I sat in my easy chair watching television yesterday as she practiced the songs she would play for the Sunday morning worship service. The longer I sat there, the more annoying the racket became.

I muted the television.

What? You thought I meant the piano was the unwanted racket? I did say she was my favorite pianist. Without the intrusive noise of the TV, I just sat and enjoyed the music.

Many times, as I have listened with my eyes closed, the music stops and she begins to play other notes—notes not in the melody of the current song. It is almost always between verses of a song and sometimes, it can become a little tedious. Again and again, she goes through the progression, trying different notes here—substituting a new chord there.

Why doesn’t she just go on to the next verse? What does she suppose she’s accomplishing?

But, I hold my tongue and bide my time. I’m sure it will happen in a moment or two. Just give her time to work it out. . .

There it is. She goes back and repeats the last phrase she had completed, along with a few notes—and a chord or two—between it and the first line of the next verse. The result is always a little surprising.

She has modulated to a different key. She’s simply changing keys, nothing more.

If all you did was listen to that part of the practice session, you might not be impressed at all. She stumbles sometimes while finding the right chord to go between the former key and the new one. Don’t tell anyone, but she might have to practice it a few times before she gets it in her head and plays it right consistently.

But, if you’re in the congregation the next morning? All you’ll know is the music is lighter— loftier—with more impact and piqued interest.

The change is worth the effort. It’s worth the trouble.

I’m changing keys, too. But, I should tell you—they’re a different kind of key.

The keys I’m referring to now are the ones in my pocket, on my key ring. Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve replaced half of them with shiny new ones.

Thing is, I like the worn, slightly bent ones a little better. Maybe, a lot better.

The worn keys don’t have sharp edges. They slide into the locks they’re paired with smoothly and comfortably. No fumbling. No jiggling. No complaining under my breath.

But, the doors I used to open aren’t in use anymore—at least, not for me. Someone else will soon unlock those doors early in the morning, and later, turn the keys in the locks as they leave that evening.

I’m practicing with the new keys now. Fumbling in the dark for the right one, I feel for the lock, wishing for old comfortable doors to open in front of me. 

Then again, as I consider my condition, the realization begins to dawn. 

I don’t want to go back.

As I’ve walked through this world, with the companions God has generously provided for the road, there has never been a reward in going backward. Further up and Further in is where He leads.

He gives new keys to open new doors, because He wants me to trust Him and walk through them.

Whatever lies on the other side, if He gave the key, the lock will be worth opening.

Whatever lies on the other side, if He gave the key, the lock will be worth opening. Click To Tweet

New doors. Leading to new adventures. The old doors no longer open for me, their keys passing to others who need to trust as I once did.

I still trust Him.

Time to change keys.

Better and brighter things lie ahead. (Jeremiah 29:11)

He promised.

 

                             

 

A very little key will open a very heavy door.
(Hunted Down ~ Charles Dickens ~ English writer ~ 1812-1870)

 

I’m pressing on the upward way.
New heights I’m gaining every day.
Still praying as I onward bound;
Lord, plant my feet on higher ground.
(Higher Ground ~ Johnson Oatman Jr.  ~ American hymn writer ~ 1856-1922)

 

 

 

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

 

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.

I Can’t Do This

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Done!  It’s done.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Over.

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

Great joy.

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

Is the mountain in front of you bigger than you can conquer? Good! Click To Tweet

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

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

Stronger.

Wiser.

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

Yet.

We’re still traveling.

Headed home.

 

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

 

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

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

I Recognize You

“I must be Dorothy.”

I’ll admit it.  We had been ignoring the beautiful little girl.  In the room full of people, every one of us was looking at the window and offering an opinion about the shades being installed.  No one was focused on her in any way.

The sweet little girl sat on the cedar chest and swung her feet—thunk, thunk, thunk—against the sides, waiting for at least one of us to tear our eyes away from the window and speak to her.

It must have been a sore trial for the little tyke.  When one is used to being the center of attention, to be among a crowd of folks and not even be a part of the conversation would be most difficult.  Especially if you’re an almost four-year-old kid.

Then again, I don’t know.

This sixty-year-old man understands how she feels.  Anyone who’s spent time waiting while life goes on apace for others all around knows how the little girl feels.

Lonely isn’t only being by one’s self.  It’s not.

Lonely isn't only being by one's self. It's not. Click To Tweet

Isolation isn’t primarily about walls and distance.

We might even need to remind ourselves once in a while of who we are.  And, who we were.

I must be Dorothy.

Into the dark room of loneliness,  sometimes a shaft of light—a blazing ray of sunshine— sneaks its way through the blinds we have lowered ourselves and illuminates the entire room.

How’s this for light?

He already knows my name! (Isaiah 43:1)

I’ll never have to stand and remind Him, I must be Paul.  He knows.

He knows.

We don’t need to jump up and down, waving to make sure He is aware of our presence.  We have His undivided attention.

But, perhaps it’s time I—we— who have been shown such love and lavish attention should begin to show love and lavish attention to those around us.

Many are lonely in the crowd.  Many sit, kicking their feet, waiting for someone—anyone—to notice them sitting there.

I’ve been in that crowd.  Alone.  Lost.  I will attest to the loneliness and pain.  But, I also remember the approach of a member of the crowd who says, You must be Paul, and then that feeling of relief and belonging spreading to every part of my being.

It is a wondrous gift to be recognized.

It is a wondrous gift to be recognized. Click To Tweet

Who better to notice those who are alone than we who have been noticed when we were alone?  We have been recognized in a crowd.  Why would we not offer that same gift to others who desperately need it?

We are blessed so that we will bless.  It is a reasonable expectation.

I won’t deny it.  We laughed as we heard the words from the little girl’s mouth today.  And then, we paid attention to her.

But the truth is, most folks won’t ever say a word.  They’ll come into our lives and they’ll disappear just as quickly.  And, quietly.  If we let them.

Let’s not let them.

You must be         .  I was hoping you’d be here.

 

 

 

Only the lonely know the way I feel tonight.
(Roy Orbison ~ American singer/songwriter ~ 1936-1988)

 

All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us.
(2 Corinthians 1:3-4 ~ NLT ~ Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007, 2013, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.)

 

 

 

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

Rough Draft

The words are stubborn tonight—uncooperative.  Somehow, I think it may be my own fault.

They—the all-knowing experts who are certain about such things—tell me I must write a first—rough—draft quickly, not stopping to correct misspellings and syntax errors.  They don’t know me very well.

My drafts are never rough for long.  I cannot abide uncorrected errors.  I am barely into my third paragraph and already I have re-read the first two more than once.

As the red-headed lady who raised me would have said, this is like pulling teeth for me.  No, not the painful part of having teeth removed from my mouth.  

Writing a first draft is like the physical ordeal of pulling, of struggling, of wrestling a tooth out of the socket from which it never wanted to be unseated in the first place.

I look again over what I have written and a light bulb snaps on somewhere.  That’s it!  They call it a draft because it’s drawn from the paper (or is it drawn from my mind and heart?), stubborn words and reticent paragraphs, one after the other.

Draft.  The word applies to many things and activities, but all go back to one thought.  A draft is an article drawn out from something else.

A first draft is words on paper drawn from the mind of the author.  A bank draft is something authorizing funds to be drawn from a bank account.  Draft beer is beer drawn from a tap.  The military draft is the act of filling out the ranks by drawing from a pool of civilians.  A cold draft that makes us uncomfortable is frigid air drawn unexpectedly past our location.

The most famous of sales ads played during football games on American television is one for a beer company.  I laugh at the pun, intended or not, every time I see it.  The huge Clydesdale horses are harnessed to the loaded wagon as it spins down pleasant lanes.  They are beautiful beasts, also known as draft horses because they draw a wagon behind them.

Draft horses drawing draft beer.  What could be more clever?

So, I draft the words to the page.  Many seem to have become conscientious objectors, unwilling to be drawn.  The going is slow.  Sometimes—many times—the wrong word shows up to report for duty and has to be thrown back—4F.

But tonight, as I sat staring at that word showing on the side of the page of my computer’s editor—Draft—and considered the difficulty of drawing something from one place to another, the light that flickered on earlier blazed into bright midday glare.

I remember words David wrote in a Psalm.  Words about a God who drew him from a horrible pit—up out of the miry clay—setting his feet on the rock. (Psalm 40:2)

And again, I can’t help it.  The pun, certainly unintended this time, is stuck in my head.

The original Artist, who once drew His greatest masterpiece from the dirt, from the mud, must once more draw us from the mud into which we choose to crawl back. 

The first was an act of creation; the second, an act of love and mercy.

Both times, He drew us. 

From Him.  To Him.

We are His draft.  First. Last.

From Him. To Him. We are His draft. First. Last. Click To Tweet

Never rough, save by our own doing.

Nearly finished.

Another masterpiece.

 

“Child,” said the Lion, “I am telling you your story, not hers.  No one is told any story but their own.”
(from The Horse and His Boy ~ C.S. Lewis)

 

For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.
(Romans 11:36 ~ ESV ~ The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Text Edition: 2016. Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

 

 

 

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

Intervals

I love playing the horn.  Really, I do.

If it sounds as if I’m trying to convince myself, perhaps I am.  Of all the endeavors I have undertaken in my life, playing the horn has been the most mercurial.

By that, I mean to say it has been the most enjoyable and the most frustrating.  I’ve had astounding successes and disastrous failures.  Most days, I love playing with other musicians.  Then again on others, I detest the very thought of it.

Mercurial.

Up.  Down.

Hot.  Cold.

I suppose my attitude toward the activity may be tethered to my commitment to preparation for it.  For some odd reason, when I don’t take the horn out of its protective case and play it between rehearsals, the rehearsals themselves are less than satisfactory.  Often, much less.

The lady is kind if nothing else.  She is.  Standing there on her podium, she has no intention of hurting anyone’s feelings.  All she’s after is music—correct notes, played at the right time, and at the volume indicated in the dynamic marking.

It’s not much to ask.

Still, it requires more than just attempting it in the instant of need. Sometimes, a lot more.

She was frustrated on the last occasion.  The violins may have been a few cents off pitch.  The timpani player might have played that roll too loudly.  The bass voices could have been dragging the beat a little.

None of those was the cause of her frustration.  This time, anyway.  No, it was something else.

The horns had blown their entrance.

Three notes.  That’s all it was.  Three.  Play a G in the middle octave, then a jump to the G in the higher octave, then a little slur down to the F#.  

Except, it didn’t happen.  The first note was nowhere near to a G, nor was the next even close to the octave interval required.  Perhaps, we shouldn’t even talk about the F#.

The exasperation was obvious as she motioned with her baton.  A big circle in the air.  That meant stop.  No.  It meant stop now!  

She needn’t have bothered on my account.  I wasn’t playing any more notes after that flub anyway. 

She looked back at the horn section, the frown on her lips replaced quickly with a smile.  If not one of confidence, it was at least one of hope.

You’re going to get that.  I’m sure you will.  Next time.

She didn’t insist we play it again in front of all the other musicians.  She didn’t berate us for our second-rate performance.  She extended mercy.

Mercy and grace.  

A second chance.

An interval in which to work on our interval, you might say.

A wise man would spend the time judiciously, these minutes—and hours—and days—in that interval of grace. 

I wonder if I fall into that category.  I suppose time will tell.

But if you know me, you know I wonder about other things, as well.  It’s impossible for me to consider that little ragtag group of musicians we like to call a chamber orchestra and not get a glimpse in my mind of this great, huge symphony in which all of us are participants.

Every single one of us plays a part.  The phrase fits the subject perfectly—not by my design—but because it is true that all of us understand we play, at least in some capacity, a part of the music of life.

Everyone plays a part in the great symphony of mankind. Our Conductor has high expectations. Click To Tweet

Even with the high expectations, we’ll all play a clinker at some point.  Our Conductor understands.

He does.

He once played in the symphony, too.  Is it too much to believe He’d be sympathetic with our weaknesses?  (Hebrews 4:15)

He hasn’t forgotten the music; hasn’t lost the rhythm of creation.  And, He knows how difficult it is to play those intervals sometimes.

Grace.  Mercy.

Intervals.

I wonder.  This might be one of those other intervals.

Maybe, we should use the time wisely. (Ephesians 5:15-16)

The Day is approaching—the day when the baton in our Conductor’s hand sweeps toward that down beat.

I’m not going to miss this interval.

 

 

In theory, there is no difference between practice and theory.  In practice, there is.
(Yogi Berra ~American baseball player/manager ~ 1925-2015)

 

This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin. So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most.
(Hebrews 4:15, 16 ~ NLTHoly Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007, 2013, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.)

 

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

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.

Is Grandpa Crying?

I stood silently for a moment, looking at the young man kneeling on the floor.  I needed time to let my bruised ego heal.

I know.  It’s a pretty fragile ego that can’t stand up to a boy’s question, but there it was.

He had asked the question several times.  That could have been it.

No.  It was just the idea that I wasn’t enough.  I wanted to be enough.

But, I’m getting ahead of myself, aren’t I?  Let’s see if we can sort this out.

The lad’s father had dropped him off earlier, telling me he’d be happy to pick him up if there was any trouble.  I didn’t expect any and told the young man’s father so.

He is my grandson, after all.  Grandpas and their grandsons can do a job together without falling out, can’t they?

I wonder if the last time had anything to do with his offer.  It was a month or more ago.

I have this vision of a man on his knees in the kitchen struggling with the tile he is laying down.  The old guy is clearly an amateur, unsure of his next move, but determined to make one anyway.

Oblivious to his grandfather’s quandary, the fair-haired boy at his side has a tape measure in his hand and is talking a mile a minute.

“Look, Grandpa!  Six inches!  Is that long enough?  Hey, what does that rubber roller do? What are you going to do now?  Can I help you cut the next piece?  Do you think I could pound on it with that hammer thingy like you did? Are you ever going to finish this job?”

I don’t remember what happened next.  Well, in truth, I don’t want to remember it, so we’ll just say I’m ashamed and move on, okay?

That memory, or lack thereof, is the reason I invited the boy back for another shot at laying vinyl tile—in the bathroom this time.  I reasoned that I was now a pro at the task, having successfully (mostly) completed the original job in the kitchen.

I wanted another chance at being a better Grandpa as much as I wanted him to have another chance at laying the flooring with me.

What could go wrong?

We were using the left-over material from the kitchen job.  We had enough to cover the bathroom floor with nothing to spare. 

We couldn’t make a mistake.  Not one.

The first cut I made was on the wrong end of the directional vinyl.  The very first cut.

I did the only thing I could do.

I yelled for the Lovely Lady.

The boy’s grandma quickly came in from the front bedroom where she had been painting the walls.  I showed her my error and enlisted her puzzle-solving skills to help us determine where we could work in the pieces I had cut wrong.

I think it may have gotten us off on the wrong foot.  Every time after that, when we came to a moment of indecision or panic (on my part—not his), the young man looked up and asked if I wanted him to go get Grandma.

Well?  Every kid knows if Grandma can’t fix it, it can’t be fixed.

It’s only logical.  Grandma fixes boo-boos with Wonder Woman bandages.  She can thread a needle in three seconds.  She can make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich like nobody else.  She knows just when to get out the chocolate chip cookies.  She mends the ripped dollies. 

Grandma can fix it.

I get it.  Still, it hurt.  After the third time he asked the question, I stood for a moment considering.  I didn’t want a repeat of the event we’re not talking about, so I took my time.

Finally, in a calm, unhurried manner, I told him the only time he’d need to call Grandma for help on this job was if Grandpa was crying.

I had no intention of crying.

The handsome young lad gazed at my face, a smile playing around his mouth.  He wasn’t sure whether to laugh or simply to nod seriously and wait for my next move.

He didn’t suggest we call Grandma again.  Grandpa never cried.  Well, there was that time the trim board fell on my head, but I suppose rubbing your skull and yelling Ow! isn’t crying, is it?

Nobody cried.  This time.  But, I’ve been doing some thinking.  

Why are we experienced humans (old people) so slow to ask for help? 

Our kids have no such reticence.  Yet we, in our great wisdom (or ignorance) keep muddling through, making mistake after mistake, swinging the hammer thingy when we ought to be operating the roller, smashing thumbs and sucking the blood.

All we need to do is call. Aid is ours, simply for the asking. Click To Tweet

The writer of the Psalms knew it.  The reason I call on you is that I know You will answer me.  Listen now, and hear my request. (Psalm 17:6)  

And, it is a fact that even David wept before God as he prayed.  But, most of the time he asked long before that.  Long before.

Why does somebody have to cry before we will accept help?

I said earlier I wanted to be enough in my grandson’s eyes.  It is the desire all of us have.  I read over and over these days, in the self-help, self-image propaganda that we need to know we are enough.

I don’t want to offend, but it’s a lie.

I am not enough.  I never have been.  On my own, I stumble along in the dark, feeling my way and frequently, falling apart.

I am not enough, but He is.  Again and again, He is enough.

I am not enough, but He is. Again and again, He is enough. Click To Tweet

More than enough.

I can’t tell you if we need to call Grandma.

I do know that before the trouble starts, prayer works.

In the hardest days of our lives, God is there.

When the tears fall, He is enough.

And, He doesn’t need second chances to be a good Father.

But, I’m kind of glad He gives second chances for this old man to be a good Grandpa.

I need lots of practice.

                              

If nothing is going well, call your grandmother.
(Old Italian proverb)

 

So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask him.
(Matthew 7:11 ~ NLT ~ Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

 

 

 

 

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

Sugar Is Good For You

It was just an overheard conversation.  

Funny, how a few words directed at someone else can change the tenor of the day.  A thought, tucked away in a vacant corner of the brain and carried through the afternoon unnoticed, gives a different perspective which can’t really be explained. 

The earlier parts of the day hadn’t worked out at all as I had planned.  

A trip into the attic to correct a simple problem had turned into three trips into the attic.  I had planned to be up there only during the coolest hours of the morning.  

When I finally tumbled out at noon, drenched in sweat and nearly choking on the dust from the rock wool insulation, the mood was set for the rest of the day.

That’s the way it seems to go, isn’t it?  I’m not saying it has to; it’s just what we expect after a morning filled with disappointment.

I was gloomily mowing in the hot afternoon sun when my labor was interrupted by a message from the Lovely Lady.

He says we should come over now if we want it.

She had found a cabinet she wanted that someone in a town thirty miles away was selling.  Did I mention it’s the weekend for one of the biggest motorcycle gatherings in the country?  

The busiest weekend of the year as far as traffic goes, and we were going to be on the highway.

Great!  Just great!

I told you it would only get worse.  You just watch!  We’ll get behind a bunch of those bikers out cruising and will be stuck for miles.  Miles!

We stopped at the ATM to get some cash for the purchase.  The machine only gives cash in twenty dollar increments.  We would have to stop and break the bill to have the amount of the asking price.

Frustrated and ready to do something desperate, I suggested we just buy a couple of Cokes.  It was, I suppose, my way of making a statement of protest while demonstrating my problem-solving abilities.

I do like to solve problems.

Well?  It’s in my nature.  I am a man, you know.  This fit perfectly.  I could break my self-imposed no-sugar rule while getting the correct change into my pocket.  

It was a rotten day already.  Why not just wallow in it?

Someone had different plans.  I would like to say it was to show me that sugar is good for me.  That’s probably not it.

Inside the convenience store, I walked back to the cooler and picked out a couple of twenty-ounce bottles, carrying them back to the counter.  The two ladies behind it were just talking. With each other.

I wasn’t included in the conversation.  Except, I was.  

I was intended to hear every word.  I’m certain of it.

“We were listening to the news last weekend and they reported that the boy with autism was missing.”  

I set my items on the counter and she scanned them without missing a beat.

“My little boy wanted to pray for him to be found, so we did—right then.  That’ll be three dollars and sixty-three cents, please.  The next morning we heard he had been found.  My son was so excited!  So excited!”

I pocketed my change and walked out the door, a different person than I had been when I walked in.

It took us almost two hours to go over, pick up the cabinet, and come back.  And, just as I had predicted, we did get behind a group of touring bikers on the way back.  They rode about forty-five miles per hour on the winding two-lane road all the way home.

What a great afternoon!   No.  What a perfect afternoon!

There might still be some who would credit the sugar-high from the Cokes.  They’d be wrong.

The apostle who loved to write letters said it this way as he closed his missive to the good folk at Philippi: Whatever is great news and worth talking about, that’s what you need to keep in your mind. (Philippians 4:8)

He wasn’t talking about the power of positive thinking.  He never said you could name it and claim it.

The reality is this world is an unhappy place.  We wrestle with things we don’t understand.

When we dwell on those things, we are overwhelmed.  

Overwhelmed with fear.  

Beaten by pessimism.  

Conquered by worry.

But, I’m sure of this one thing:  The truth we know is bigger than the doubt we feel.  

The truth we know is bigger than the doubt we feel. Click To Tweet

When we fill up the corners of our mind with the reminders of His love and power, His peace reigns.

Sometimes, it’s no more than the knowledge that He cares about little boys who pray, as well as the little boys who wander away. 

Just in time, I stood at that counter to overhear, eavesdropping on a conversation I wasn’t part of.

I’m saving up those worthwhile stories, squirreling them away in the vacant corners of my memory.

It may be time to sweep out some other cluttered nooks and crevices to make room for more.  

It has become so easy to collect darkness and gloom from almost every source we see.  Our lives will be swept away in those currents if we allow them to take root.

Courage to walk on is born in the corners where excellence is stored.

Courage to walk on is born in the corners where excellence is stored. Click To Tweet

Peace along the road is the product of true and honorable thoughts. 

I do wish it had more to do with the sugar.

I’m fixing my mind.

                             

 

Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.
(Romans 12:2 ~ NLTHoly Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. All rights reserved.)

 

Suppose we have only dreamed, or made up all those things – trees and grass and sun and moon and stars and Aslan himself. Suppose we have. Then all I can say is that, in that case, the made-up things seem a good deal more important than the real ones.
(from The Silver Chair ~ C.S. Lewis ~ English novelist/theologian ~ 1898-1963)

 

 

 

 

 

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

What if my Best Isn’t?

Don’t you know that’s a youth song?  You sang it like an old hymn!

The silver-haired lady didn’t actually shake her finger in my face, but I had a vision of it being waggled there.

I almost laughed.  It was an old hymn.  To me, it was.  Why—right there on the page, beside the author’s name, it told when he wrote it.  1902.  

Really. 1902

It was an old song.  For old people.

Then I read the words again.  And again.

Give of your best to the master.
Give of the strength of your youth.

I apologized to the dear saint.  The next time I led it, with the Lovely Lady accompanying me, we sang the song with a tad more pep, and just a little more vigor.

I learned a lesson that day.  It’s profound.  You’ll want to save this.

Old people were young once.

Most of them still remember it.  Some, vividly.

I know young Timothy’s instructor didn’t mean for me to take it this way, but I can’t help but think it.

Let no man despise your youth.  (1 Timothy 4:12)

It is disrespectful to the aging and elderly for us to disregard the experiences they had as young folks.  The things that shaped the adults they would become haven’t diminished in importance in all the ensuing years.

It is a youth song.  Written in 1902.

I dare not speed on past without revisiting the words our old friend, my namesake, had to say to his youthful protegé, though.

Don’t let anyone think less of you because you are young. (1 Timothy 4:12

I wonder how many times a day I hear—or read—disparaging words directed at the younger generation.  The generalizations are rampant, the vitriol nearly universal.

All coming from old folks.  Okay, aging folks.  People who once were young themselves.  People who can’t stand to have the days of their own youth ridiculed.

I’ve done it myself.  

These kids today. . .

I repent.
                              

A young friend sent me an invitation a few weeks ago.  The local university, as it has for a number of years, was sponsoring an evening dedicated to promoting writing and the arts in a faith-based environment.

I glanced at the two guests who were on the schedule.  A comic-book illustrator and a spoken-word artist.

Lightweights!  This is what passes for writing and art?  Pass.

I repent.  Did I say that already?  It doesn’t matter.  I may do so again.

The Lovely Lady encouraged me to go.  Friends were going to be there.  There was ice cream.

I went.  Don’t tell the friends, but the ice cream is what tipped the scales (no pun intended).

May I tell you what happened?  

Surrounded by young folks who could be my grandchildren, I saw respect.  They were attentive.  They were appreciative.

My eyes were opened.  Well, when they weren’t filled with tears, they were opened.  The tears were a surprise.

I detest spoken-word poetry.  All angst and anger and foul language, it falls somewhere on a scale with rap music, without the music.

I thought.

The young man, in his jeans and untucked shirt, skull-cap pulled over his head tightly, looked for all the world like a street punk to this old man’s eyes.

I sat back, arms folded across my chest, and dared him to move me.

I dared him.

He moved me.  

No.  That’s not right.

The Spirit moved me.

It was all I could do, when the young poet, arms windmilling above his head and waggling in front of his face and hanging down at his side, spoke the names of Jesus—it was all I could do—not to jump up and shout like a Pentecostal in a Holy Ghost revival.

And, I’ve never been to a Pentecostal Holy Ghost revival.

I looked down and I was sitting on my hands with my legs to keep them still, the tears streaming down my face.

There is a power that comes, not from experience, nor from age, nor from practice, but from the Word.  From the mouths of babes, through the writings of old men, by the witness of all who are His, He speaks.

From mouths of babes, writings of old men, & witness of all His own, He speaks. Click To Tweet

Disregarding our differences, ignoring our preferences, and brushing aside our objections, He will be heard.

Disregarding differences, ignoring preferences, brushing aside objections, He will be heard. Click To Tweet

I wonder if it’s time for us to realize that our Creator uses—He always has—the methods He thinks best to ensure an audience for His words.

I wonder if it’s time for us—young and old—to close our mouths about those methods we don’t especially like.  

I haven’t always given of my best for Him.  Sadly, I may have left it a bit late to give of the best of my youth.

I’m grateful that all the young folks aren’t waiting around until their golden years to work on it seriously. 

Still, I have begun to look at youth a little differently.  I wrote recently about that great cloud of witnesses the writer of the book of Hebrews in the New Testament describes.  I realized that these men and women are my peers.  

Really.  Moses, Abraham, Rahab, Sarah, and all the others—all of them, my peers.  Yours, too.  

We’ll join them one day, to live without any time limit there. 

If we’re to live forever, and I believe we will, we’ve only lived a minuscule percentage of all the days we have ahead of us.

I’m still young.

There’s still time.

I’ll give it my best.

                              

I invite you to watch the video linked below.  Powerful words—from the heart of the poet and directly from God’s Word.

 

When we’ve been there ten thousand years,
     Bright shining as the sun,
We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise
     Than when we’d first begun.
(from Amazing Grace ~ English clergyman ~ 1725-1807)

 

 

 

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