A Winner Every Time

Serendipity.  It’s not a word that sees much use in normal conversation these days.  The teen-aged boy who stood before me today showed that very clearly when I inserted it into our conversation.  He looked at me with a blank stare, as if he could not plumb the depths of that unwieldy word.  Our conversation stuttered to a halt until I offered an explanation of its meaning.

He had asked me how I came to choose musical instrument repair as a vocation.  Besides the obvious fact that I did not choose it, but had it thrust upon me, I wanted him to understand that sometimes we aim for one thing and hit another, loftier target.  “I only wanted a job in the music store selling records and printed music.”  I didn’t tell him that I had grown disgustingly tired of making doughnuts at the student union of a neighboring state university.  Also, not coincidentally, the owner of the music store was the father of a particularly Lovely Young Lady that I fancied, so the job would give me a chance to be closer to her.  I didn’t tell him that part, either.

“Serendipity.  That’s what it was.”  This was in response to his next question which wondered if I actually enjoyed operating a music store.  After I got the conversation going again with the definition of the word, I tied up my thoughts on the matter with these words;  “I thought I wanted a paycheck.  God gave me a wife and a lifetime calling.”

If you are a member of that group of humans that has everything planned out in detail; that knows what the next move after the next move necessary to achieve your goals is, you may want to quit reading now.  What I have to say about this subject may fly in the face of everything you believe to be true.  But, just as much as you think that every step on the road to your future should be mapped out beforehand, I believe this:  More amazing and lasting achievements have been made, more far-reaching discoveries unveiled, more life-changing events brought about by people who were intending to accomplish something entirely different (and often of much less importance) than the ultimate result.

The definition of serendipity is when we find something good or useful while not specifically searching for it.  Please don’t make the mistake of thinking that it means luck.  Luck is when you go on a walk and happen to find a diamond ring along the path.  Serendipity is about seeking to accomplish one thing and actively working toward that goal, then finding that another, more important objective is achieved in the process.  Luck involves happy chance and nothing more–no labor, no planning, no vision.

I noticed recently, as I was out for a walk, that the local convenience store is advertising the state lottery.  The one word sign sent my word-nerd brain spinning out of control for a few moments (just a few!).  The sign was obviously aimed at the Hispanic population hereabouts.  Just one word:  “Fortuna”.

My mind went to work on the possibilities.  Quite obviously fortuna is a word which means lottery to those who speak the Spanish language.  But, like most of our words, it has a history, a family tree if you will.  All the way back to the ancient Greeks and their goddess of the same name, the word fortuna has meant luck; both good and bad.  The fickle goddess might smile upon you or she might frown.  Nothing could change that; no hard work, no vision, no education.  Good fortune, bad fortune–it was just a coin toss or a roll of the dice.  Funny how we think of fortune as always good now.  “He went off to make his fortune.”  “My, that was fortunate!”  Fortune, in the context of luck (as it can only be used), is both bad and good.

No.  Serendipity is not luck, is not fortune–at least, not to my mind.  It goes much deeper than those mere happenstances.  Those of us who see the world through the eyes of our Christian faith more often call this Divine Providence.  Providence essentially means that God sees everything; He sees the big picture, if you will.  We can visualize what we are aiming at; He knows exactly what we will hit and clears the way for it to happen.

I don’t buy lottery/fortuna tickets.  It makes just as much sense for me to wander the streets hoping for that diamond ring to appear.  Luck is a hollow imitation, a wannabe substitute, for Providence.  While there are scattered anecdotal reports of people who hit it big in the lottery, I can show you example after example of people who actually did hit it big because they aimed for a worthy goal and struck the much loftier mark they were intended to achieve all the time.  You probably either know someone in that group, or are one yourself.

Did I hit it big?  You may scoff, but I say yes.  I aimed for something to fill a temporal need, but hit a lifetime vocation, a place from which to touch the lives of others.  That’s big enough for me.

There may be bigger things to come.  I’m going to keep aiming higher.

Who knows?  Serendipity may not be finished with me yet.

Time will tell.

“Lottery: A tax on people who are bad at math.”
(from “The Cynic’s Word Book” by Ambrose Bierce~American satirist~1842-1913[?])

He lifts the poor from the dust and the needy from the garbage dump.  He sets them among princes, placing them in seats of honor.  For all the earth is the Lord’s, and He has set the world in order.”
(1 Samuel 2:8~NLT)

© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2013. All Rights Reserved.

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Un Abrazo Fuerte

 By way of explanation, the Spanish title for this post means “a strong hug”.  I just think that hug sounds more manly in that language.  

Appropriate touching is allowed here…

“I need a hug.” The Facebook post was terse and stark in its naked honesty.  Below the post, the lonesome girl’s “friends” had made various comments informing the young lady that they were “there for her” and reassuring her that she was cared for.  A couple of them even made cute little stick pictures with various symbols on their computer keyboards, intended I’m sure, to look like hugs.  It is possible that the young lady felt better after the exchange of remarks and fake hugs, but I did not–until I noticed a final reply, under all the other desultory entries. “I’ll be there in a minute.”  Help, at last, was really on the way.

There is nothing in the world that can replace a genuine, physical hug.  I don’t understand it.  The manly part of me wants it not to be true.  But, the act of putting your arms around someone else to greet, or console, or show affection, has no known substitute.  The touch of one human who cares about another is a powerful, and somehow mysterious, force.  Nothing really changes; the issues have not been faced and altered; not a single thing has been reversed, but suddenly the forces arrayed against us seem somehow less formidable. 

Human touch.  What is it about one person making physical contact with another that communicates so many things?  We touch the face of one who mourns, in sympathy.  Babies’ cheeks are squeezed by countless admirers.  Winners are slapped on the back. High fives and knuckle bumps suffice to celebrate a myriad of small successes.  And, of course, there is the ubiquitous handshake.  Friends greet each other with it; businessmen seal transactions; why, even opponents “shake hands and come out fighting”.  A universal sign of respect and honesty, the execution of the handshake varies from culture to culture; high art in the gang cultures, a mere slap on the hand in sporting events.  Some cultures tend to simply slide the hands together without squeezing, while such a handshake would be regarded in the rural areas of the United States as “fishlike” and as such, suspect from the get-go.  Regardless of the differences, the one thing that ties them all together, that makes the act significant, is the fact that one human physically touches another.   Respect, concern, joy, honesty…all are represented in the touch of one person to the other. 

Still, I’m realizing more and more, as I move past the years when I thought it embarrassing to be involved in one, that a hug is hard to beat.  I think it might be because there are so many people from whom I want and need hugs that are no longer around to give them.  Some are just separated from me by miles, others by a more permanent barrier.  Loved ones and friends who have passed on are no longer able to encourage, to commiserate, or to demonstrate love with an embrace.  There is an empty feeling inside me as I realize that my arms will never go around these people again on this side of heaven.  There is also some regret that I didn’t let down my guard more often to hug and be hugged when they were here. 

The older I get, the more my foolish masculine pride is left behind as I embrace old friends and family members.  Sure, sometimes to mask the beginnings of a hug, we reach out with the hand to be shaken first, before drawing the other one close to embrace while maintaining the grip on the hand.  I guess somehow, it give us a kind of plausible deniability. “Yeah.  We were just shaking hands.  No, it wasn’t a hug.  I just kinda put my arm on his shoulder too.”   No one believes it, but if it helps to get past the macho mindset that we’ve developed in this country, it’ll have to do.  I hope you won’t fall for the silly deniability argument, either.  It really is a hug.  And, that’s okay.

We need each other.  Our Creator made us to thrive in concord with other humans.  For some reason, He also designed us to function more efficiently when we have physical signals of affection, and respect, and support.

I kind of like that.  At least, I’m learning to.

“Greet one another with a holy kiss.”
(2 Corinthians 13:12)

“I will not play tug o’ war. I’d rather play hug o’ war. Where everyone hugs instead of tugs, Where everyone giggles and rolls on the rug, Where everyone kisses, and everyone grins, and everyone cuddles, and everyone wins.”
(Shel Silverstein~American poet~1930-1999)

© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2013. All Rights Reserved. 

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I’ll Take Love

She’s gone tonight.  I miss her.  Funny.  She’s never with me when I write anyway–not even in the next room.  I write most nights from my office next door.  Even so, tonight I know that she’s not there.  And, I wish she were.

This evening, a friend of ours went to the local emergency room, having noticed that her blood pressure was steadily rising all day.  The Lovely Lady,  finding that her friend was alone there, quite naturally dropped what she was doing to be with her.  It’s what we do.  And, by we, I mean we human beings.  Our lives are tied up in our relationships with others, just as they should be.  When family and friends are in pain, we suffer with them.  When they know rejoicing, we celebrate right alongside.  That part, I understand.

What I don’t get is–Why?  Why do we open ourselves up to hurt when we don’t have to?  Our potential for pain is multiplied every time we form a new relationship.  In fact, we are guaranteed that in every relationship we develop, pain and sorrow is a given.  We do it anyway.

I remember hearing a few years ago about Jeremy Camp, a Christian singer, who married a young woman with ovarian cancer.  She was going through chemotherapy during their engagement.  They both knew that there was a strong potential for the cancer to take her life.  It did.  Four months after they were married.

I still don’t get it.

Eyes wide open, they–as we all do–walked right into a union which was virtually guaranteed to lead to pain.  Why do I say we all do?  Surely we’ve figured it out by now.  Their union would end in sorrow much more quickly than most, but the simple truth is that all earthly unions are going to end that way.  “Until death do us part.”  There are no fairy tale endings.  No one lives–here–happily ever after.  No one.

So, I pose the question again.  Why?  I would like to tell you that I have a really deep answer, a solution to this dilemma which will knock your socks off with its brilliance.  I don’t.  I only have one word to explain this puzzle.  And still, I don’t really understand it.  But, there is this one word.


Not that stomach-churning sickly-sweet stuff that romantic novels regurgitate, based on looks and animal attraction–not even the weird portrayal that Hollywood pumps out, here this morning and gone this afternoon, centered primarily around sex and self-serving narcissism.  Those don’t describe love at all; they’re a pale imitation, a shadow of the genuine article.  To hear them tell it, love lasts as long as there’s a handsome pay-off.  If there is ever a personal cost, it is clearly time to ditch the relationship and find another.


Chicken soup and fluffed pillows kind of love.  Sleep lost in the emergency room kind of love.  Casserole dinners and babysitting the neighbor’s kids kind of love.  Weeping quietly with a bereaved widow, or father, or son kind of love.  There are so many ways in which true love is manifested that it would be impossible to begin to list them all.  But, every one of them has to do with giving of ourselves, and not one of them has to do with demanding what we want.


I want there to be fairy tale endings.  I want a happily ever after.  It ain’t gonna happen.  So, I’ll take love.  I’m guessing that, as we consider it, we’ll realize that this is exactly how it’s supposed to work.  Jesus himself came, knowing that He would experience sadness, and adversity, and pain.  He also knew that He would experience love while He walked this soil.  And all the while, He was demonstrating what love was really capable of.

Can I say this?  Sharing pain and sorrow with others is a gift.  Sharing joy with them is also a gift.  But, in teaching us to bear each other’s burdens, love is able to accomplish what it was always intended to do–help us to know true joy.

It’s not happily ever after.  It’s better.  You see, our steps may falter, our eyes grow dim, but love endures.  We may have shaky hands and ears that no longer hear so well, but love is stronger still.  There will be sadness and pain. We can face all of them because of a love that calls us to serve and to be faithful.

I’ll take love.

“There will be a day with no more tears,
No more pain and no more fears…
There will be a day.”
(Jeremy Camp~American Christian singer/songwriter)

“And wuv, twue wuv, will fowow you foweva.”
(“The Princess Bride”~American movie~1987)

© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2013. All Rights Reserved.

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Shhh! I’m Listening.

Everything is so loud now.  The cars that go by on the street vibrate with the “Boom-Boom-Boom” of the huge sub-woofers in the trunks.  At home, the television is adjusted to a volume that enables my ears to discern the conversation between the characters in a program, when abruptly, we’re at a commercial break and the volume is suddenly blaring so loudly that I jump with alarm.  In my store, the customers come in to try out instruments, asking, “May I plug it in?”  I answer in the affirmative and help with the amplifier connections, knowing that I will regret it very soon.  And, I’m not disappointed, as the volume begins at an agreeable level and gradually rises through the middle decibel ranges where conversation is still possible, and finally on up to a painfully loud degree on par with sitting in the wall seats at a NASCAR event. This is especially true if there is more than one person playing an instrument; each one vying to be the dominant voice in the musical conversation.

Even the trend in restaurant design is to make the dining rooms alive with sound.  It is no longer in vogue to have cozy, private corners to dine in peacefully, but we must be in the middle of the action, with cooks yelling out at each other as they mix, and fry, and bake.  The room is so live that you can hear the conversation of the couple on the other side of the establishment as they discuss what her boss did to make her angry today.  And the hustle and bustle of the wait staff!  Back and forth, to and from the open kitchen again and again, with trays and dishes and plastic desserts.

On the weekend, we go to church, which was once a fortress against the cacophony of the outside world.  Now the seven foot grand piano, designed with a powerful voice to fill a concert hall with beautiful music, has a microphone installed so that we can amplify it.  Where we who are singers used to stand close and listen to each other to achieve an ensemble sound, now we huddle around monitor speakers and hope that the technician in the sound booth has our microphone turned up enough so the crowd can hear us.

In every sector of our lives, each voice vies to be heard, the tumult growing ever louder, and the individual clamoring voices are soon lost in the din.  It seems that none of us will be content to stand silent and wait to be recognized, but must force our way into the conversation.  Every syllable, even every musical note is intended, not to contribute, but to dazzle; not to comfort, but to impress.  Even when there is no sound and we sit at our computers to communicate, the way to be noticed IS TO YELL with our upper case letters.  None of us wants to be a wallflower, but unfortunately none of us will be heard in the resulting confusion.

Years ago, I sat on the stage at a Christmas concert, having completed my part of the brass ensemble prelude.  The organist moved to the huge pipe organ and began his part of the musical meditation–and the crowd noise grew.  He played a few more notes and the crowd talked louder.  We assumed that the man would simply finish his piece through the accompanying hubbub.  Suddenly, the music ceased in mid-phrase.  The organist turned off his light and moved to a chair in the choir loft and sat down facing the audience.  For a few seconds, the crowd noise continued unabated, but gradually it quieted down until finally, you could have heard a pin drop in that huge crowd of over a thousand people.  After a moment of this quiet, the musician stood and returned to the organ bench, turning on his music light and completing the piece he had prepared for the occasion.  The crowd sat, speechless and attentively still, until he was finished.

Why didn’t I think of that?  I would have continued playing, increasing the air flow to the reeds and adding pipes until they couldn’t help but listen.  The problem with that approach is that what the audience heard wouldn’t be at all like the music the composer intended to be experienced.  The distorted, roaring product presented would have been a far cry from the beauty of the piece as it was written.  And everyone would have walked away poorer–the organist in anger, the audience in distaste.  No, his method achieved exactly what should have occurred in the first place; the authoritative voice of the beautiful instrument speaking to the quiet anticipating ears and hearts of the hearers.

Why don’t we take a little time to listen for the Voice today?  Be still, and know…  Come away from the babble, the confused pandemonium of the noisy streets and workplaces, and sit quietly for just a few moments.


“The sound of ‘gentle stillness’ after all the thunder and wind have passed will be the ultimate Word from God.”
(Jim Elliott~American missionary & martyr~1927-1956)

© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2013. All Rights Reserved.

A repeat appearance of a post first published 5/19/2011.

Twenty-Four Hours

Summer Solstice.  The longest day of the year.  A full day’s work, an enjoyable meal with the Lovely Lady and our son, and a longish bicycle trek to close out the elongated daylight hours–all of these seemed to be an eminently satisfactory way to spend the first day of Summer.

But, a chance comment by my son as we ate together threw cold water on the enthusiasm I was feeling for the day.  It was not his intent to discourage me; it was just a chance observation.  As I spoke about the longest day of the year, he said quietly, “It’s still twenty-four hours long, you know.”   I threw back a retort about my words meaning that the daylight hours were stretched out, to which he chuckled and responded, “I knew exactly what you meant, Dad.”

It strikes me that the young man is a lot like me.  A lifelong stickler for saying what I mean, it seems that I taught him well the intricacies of using the language effectively, perhaps too well.  I am not unhappy about it.  While he is definitely his own man, I enjoy seeing the ways in which he mirrors his upbringing.  That said, he has burst my balloon about this day, which has the longest period of daylight in the year.

I need to think about this.

Twenty-four hours.  The number of hours in every day.  The time it takes for this huge sphere on which we reside to rotate one time on its axis.  Day.  Night.  It has always been the same.  Twenty-four hours, over and over, one day following another.  Never more; never less.  I’m sure that some of the more scientifically minded among us will argue that there are minute variations, but essentially, twenty-four hours is the period of time we accept as the limit for a full day.

I sit here, and my mind boggles as I attempt to do the mental arithmetic.  No, I’m not trying to work out the number of days I’ve lived on this ball of earth and water.  I could quickly calculate that number with an easily available computer program.  I’m thinking about the time I have wasted in all of those days, the hours lost to me forever.  To come up with a number would be more than I could manage.  Most of the days are altogether lost to my memory; how could I even begin to enumerate the worthwhile minutes and hours, or the squandered ones?  It is a lost cause.

Ah well.  It is for the best, perhaps.  Seldom is it a profitable exercise to keep score of the past.  If the results are such that we revel in them, we become proud and boast in our accomplishments, losing sight of the present in which we walk today or the future into which we must assay to step tomorrow.  At the same time, if the sum of our past endeavors reveals a disastrous result, we may tumble to the depths of guilt and be eaten up with self-reproach.  The practical effect is nearly the same; paralyzed by the weight of the guilt, we will be unable to move productively into the future which lies directly ahead.

No.  Such mental gymnastics will lead me to no good end.  I stop my attempts to cipher out the past and consider what comes next.

Yes.  There it is.  Again.  Twenty-four hours.  A new day stretches out, untouched, before me.  True, it won’t be the longest day of the year.  That too is gone now, beyond recall.  I refuse to waste another minute of the present or of the future weeping about the past.  That, at the least, is a poor use of the time still remaining.  One step after another, I resolve to use the minutes, the hours, indeed the days, to good purpose.

Perhaps we all need to leave the past behind and step in the unsullied future, determining to utilize every smidgen of the time we are granted by a good and loving Creator.  He hasn’t left us alone to figure out how to walk, either.  His words leave no doubt that there is always a guide and a light for the path ahead.

I’m just now realizing the full import of our conversation at supper, now many hours past.  Having longer daylight hours also means that the hours of this night will be fewer, doesn’t it?  Sleep is calling.  I’ll answer soon.

Twenty-four hours are still ahead.  I’ll be ready.

He lifted me out of the pit of despair, out of the mud and the mire.  He set my feet on solid ground and steadied me as I walked along.”
(Psalm 40:2~NLT)

“Swift as a shadow, short as any dream; Brief as the lightning in the collied night…”
(From “A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream” by William Shakespeare~English poet~1564-1616)

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© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2013. All Rights Reserved.

None of Your Beeswax

I am wasting time right now trying to calculate how much time I have wasted over the last few years in learning about issues and arguments which were none of my business.  I have been at my computer for over an hour already tonight and have done nothing but read posts that online friends commented on, or peruse articles and blogs which they found of interest.  It is an hour which I will never have again.  It is also an hour which was utterly wasted.  Nothing I learned will ever be of any use to me in becoming the person I want to be.  I will not be able to take the facts and figures I have read and parlay that data into beneficial form, to be utilized at some future opportune moment.  In short, I have squandered sixty minutes of my life.

The mind boggles when I consider that I have done this for a corresponding amount of time on most days over the last several years.  I have a serious problem.  I am an information junkie.  There may even be a 12-step program for people like me.  There should be.  I’m pretty sure that there are an incredible number of souls out there who like me, masticate (that’s a big word for chew; I learned that on the Internet) continuously on mountains of facts and opinions, but never get to the point where they absorb and use the profusion of material they have perused.

“Hello.  My name is Paul and I have a problem.  I know lots of things that will never be useful to a single soul on this planet.  I’m here today to start on the road back to sanity.”

I jest, but there is a thread of somber truth running through my jocularity.  I say that I think there are others out there with the same problem, but no one ever admits it to me.  Perhaps, I would be the only one at the meetings, but I really don’t think so.

What?  You too?  Oh, good.  I’m not alone in the world.  Maybe we can figure out this thing together.  What we need to do is to gather some information about the problem and then come back–Oh!  That won’t help, will it?   Let’s think about this for a few moments.

The problem with being an inquisitive person is that you find out things. Some may snicker at that, but the truth is more painful than one might anticipate.  We have at our fingertips a plethora of resources about any subject, and about most people.  I find out, almost daily, about something a friend or acquaintance has done which makes me unhappy.  Perhaps they have been unfaithful to their spouse; perhaps other unwise choices have been made.  Regardless, I now have facts in my head which I wish I had never discovered, and which will never be erased.

The information that once came to us in a gentle trickle  like one of those soaker hoses is now deluging us with the torrential flow of a fire hose.  Everywhere we look, we find more information which we don’t need to know.  Teachers are assaulted in their classrooms; other teachers are involved sexually with their students.  Certain foods are killing us; it is certain that they are the same foods which ward off cancer.  Politicians lie to us; special interest groups lie about the politicians.  The list is an endless and motley collection of the irrelevant and urgent, most of it absolutely none of my business.  And, I can’t get enough of it.

Will you allow me to change the subject for a moment?  I promise that I’ll work my way back eventually.  You know, I got a personal compliment today.  A friend who was in the music store told me that I was really looking good.  She had noticed that I’ve lost a good bit of weight recently.  We talked some about how it happened.  I told her that I quit eating solid food and am just drinking water and exercising three or four hours a day.  I feel great!

Do you believe that for a moment?  The part about not eating food, I mean.  Of course you don’t!  Don’t believe the part about exercising all those hours a day, either.  I am losing weight.  I do feel great.  But, the way I got here has not been nearly as drastic as a starvation diet and a boot camp-like exercise regimen.  A couple of months ago, I determined that what I needed to do was to make changes in both my diet and physical lifestyles.  I still eat.  Just not as much, and not the same unhealthy foods I once did.  I’m not going to describe what I do and don’t eat, but I’ll tell you that there is self-discipline required to make the changes, both in diet and physical activity.  When I eat more calories than I should, I have to work to burn more calories than I have taken in.  It’s a pretty simple equation.

Here’s the point.  We have to eat.  We have to exercise.  Both are an essential part of life.  I’m working at making better choices about the ratio of one to the other.

In exactly the same way, we have to make sure that we are not filling our minds with drivel, with voyeuristic garbage, which cannot aid one iota in attaining our goal to become the persons we were intended to be.  At the same time, we must continue to take in beneficial data, the kind that can be digested and directed to improve our spiritual and emotional physique.  Choices are made; discipline is exercised, and we become better people, not just slovenly know-it-alls who have no possible use for the trivial slop that fills our heads.  We can’t continue to feed at the pig trough without expecting to become something akin to the intellectual diet we are taking in.

I am going to start on my information diet and exercise regimen immediately.  Fewer clicks on random posts that look interesting should be a good place to begin.  We’ll see where it goes from there.

I bet there may be a few of you who have some good ideas about next steps.  Why don’t you send them to me?  I’ll try to share them with other readers as time allows.

Time to push away from the feeding trough. The lifestyle change starts today.

Maybe you could join me.

And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing.  Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable.  Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.
(Philippians 4:8~NLT)

Statistics show that, of those who contract the habit of eating, very few survive.
(George Bernard Shaw~Irish playwright~1856-1950)

© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2013. All Rights Reserved.

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Greasing the Skids

Greasing the skids.  That’s what we used to call it.  When you had a hard job to do, you made sure to ease the hardship beforehand.  The saying comes from the days of using levers and rails to move heavy objects from one place to another, much like the launching of a ship for the first time.  If the skids down which the ship had to slide had some friction reducing material on them, it was much less likely that it would need any assistance once it started down the incline to the water.  They greased the skids.  I’m realizing that we still do that in many unseen and, perhaps, mysterious ways.

The message she sent me yesterday told me that Newton’s First Law of Motion was being manifested in our air conditioner’s compressor unit.  Well, those weren’t the exact words of the message, but she meant to say that.  “I’m afraid we’re having AC problems over here.”  That was the precise wording.

I was recovering from one of my guilt-induced exercise sessions (two pieces of pie on my birthday!) and so, took a little extra time to wander over to the music store where she was working.  When I finally went over, I took in the situation fairly quickly.  The breaker had popped and flipping it back on didn’t produce any discernible result.  I checked the compressor unit outside and finding that the fan wasn’t spinning, stuck a stick through the grill and gave it a shove.  It began to whirl and kept going.

Yep.  First Law of Motion:  Objects at rest tend to stay at rest.  Objects in motion tend to stay in motion.  That’s a slight oversimplification, but it will serve.  What had happened was that the start/run capacitor had burned up.  That was probably immediately obvious to all of you readers, was it not?  Okay, perhaps not.  Let me explain.  The capacitor is an electronic component which stores up energy and releases it at prescribed times to assist with overcoming inertia.  Like the stick I used, it gives a push to the motor to get it spinning at the same speed as the current which then keeps it spinning.  The advantage over the stick is that I don’t have to stand out there and push it every time the air conditioner kicks on again.  The other thing the capacitor does is to assist during the run cycle by releasing current at appropriate times.  This allows the fan motor to run more efficiently and quietly.

I called the heat & air repairman today.  After I corralled the black monsters in the back yard (to keep them from licking him to death), the young man removed the old capacitor and brought it inside to show me what had gone wrong.  A small snake had slithered up into the control cavity on the unit and, obviously thinking that the top of the capacitor would be a fine place to take a nap, coiled itself around the terminals on top of the little unit.  It wasn’t a beneficial decision for the snake or for me.  By interjecting itself between the capacitor and the leads to the motor, the creature took the full voltage through its body, shorting out the component and killing itself in the process. It wasn’t a pretty sight.  We replaced the part.

As I sit here in the cool of my office, I am grateful for the start/run capacitor, which I normally don’t think about at all, but which is assisting me all of the time that the air conditioner is running. I have to wonder–what else do I not know about that makes my life easier every day?  I suppose my computer is full of things like this.  My car also must have a few such components.  I imagine that if I look hard enough, I’ll find similar helpful items on almost everything I use.

I also wonder if I’ve been obvious enough to clarify any confusion about the direction I’m headed with this.  You see, it turns out that we don’t just have the assistance of inanimate objects in most human endeavors.  We depend on each other–more than we know or suspect.  There are many people who grease the skids for us.  We couldn’t function without them.  Perhaps, it would be more accurate to say that we would operate much less efficiently (and slowly) without them.  And, most of the time, we don’t even know that they exist.  We count on them and don’t even have an inkling.

Which brings us to the snake.  Ah yes, the snake.  I wonder–am I the only one who thinks it apropos that the culprit was a snake?  The imagery could not have been more apt if I had tried to fabricate the example.  The conception of the snake as the enemy of man and God is ingrained deep within most of us.  That a little serpent should come between the two necessary components in the process makes perfect sense, to me at least.  It seems that it takes the tiniest of problems to cause the immense gulf which can separate us from each other, doesn’t it?

I’m not sure how much further I need to expound on this thought tonight.  If the only thing that can be absorbed is the clear lesson about human relationships, it will be enough.  True, there is more that could be said, especially regarding spiritual matters, but we’ll leave that for the reader to work through.  Perhaps a reminder about the role of the serpent in the original rift between the Creator and his creation will be enough of a nudge to head you off in the right direction.

Got a ship to launch anytime soon?  I’m confident that a little attention ahead of time to the niggling details will make the launch more successful.

A little grease couldn’t hurt, anyway.

“Great opportunities to help others seldom come, but small ones surround us every day.”
(Sally Koch)

“But I am afraid that, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds will be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ.”
(2 Corinthians 11:3~NASB)

© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2013. All Rights Reserved.

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Olly, Olly, Oxen Free!

Let’s play Kick-the-Can! 

It was a familiar suggestion on a summer’s evening, just as the blazing-hot sun lowered toward the western horizon.  We played the game even when it was just me and my brothers and sister, but it was best when the neighbor kids joined in.  Maybe the Wileys would be visiting from their mission down in Mexico and we’d get some of them to play with us too.

After the initial yell by the kid with the bright idea, the calls of Not it! from the rest would begin.  The point was to not be the last one to call it out.  Of course, the problem with that was that either you could claim you had already said it and no one heard you, or the others, being bigger and more authoritative could claim that you hadn’t said it when you had.  Usually the youngest or most timid was it for the first go-round.

Yep, I was the youngest.


Surely you remember, don’t you?  It was either the best or the worst version of hide-and-seek ever.  The rules were basically the same, but with the additional thrill of having the base being a large tin can.

I’m sure there are many variations on the rules, but what made it so much fun is that, if a player had been found and was about to have “1, 2, 3 on _____” called on him/her (thus making them it), they could run to the base faster than whoever was it and kick that can as hard as they could.  The unfortunate kid who was it then had to find the can and return it to its proper position, hoping to still be able to see where the kicker was and get them out.

The reason I mentioned that it could be the worst version of hide-and-seek is that frequently I spent many hours chasing the can and looking for the big kids without ever beating one to the base.  Sometimes, they would tire of the game before I ever caught my first hider.

But, when I wasn’t it?  Best game ever!  We spent many hours playing every summer.

My Mom told a different story.  Her version was that we played a game called Not It!

You see, in the confusion of yelling to keep from filling that unwanted position, we would sometimes spend a good part of the dusky minutes as the sun set arguing about who had said it last.

Finally, in frustration, one of the bigger kids would start calling out, Eenie, meenie, minie, moe. . .  No, the next phrase wasn’t that politically incorrect one you’re remembering, because our parents absolutely would not allow us to use it.  My dad wasn’t a civil rights activist, wasn’t liberal in any sense, but he just knew it was wrong to call any race by a denigrating name.

So it was, that in those days of the Cold War, the next phrase in our version of the child’s verse came, . . .Catch old Khrushchev by the toe.  It was popular back then to disparage the Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev (he of the shoe-banging incident), since the Soviet Union was undoubtedly the worst regime in existence at that time, in our eyes.

Anyway, by the time we got to . . .my mother told me to pick the very best one and you are not it part, all the older kids (understanding the pattern of the little ditty) had reshuffled and left me or one of the other clueless younger kids in the right place to be selected, so the result was the same as the Not It! game.

The Lovely Lady recalls that one of the older residents in her neighborhood would frequently come out and pick up the can himself, carrying it into his house, to quiet the racket when their kick-the-can games went too late into the night.  Theirs were played under the street light on their cul-de-sac street while, over eight hundred miles to the south, we played ours in the light of the front porch in our circle drive after the natural light faded.  When the can was kicked far enough that it exceeded the limits of the illumination, you were in trouble.  Sometimes, even the hiders had to come and help look for the base, temporarily safe until it was located and returned to its  proper place.

Ah, but then came my favorite call, especially if I was still hiding.  The call would go up, olly olly oxen free!  We could move from our cramped hiding positions under the wheelbarrow or up in the trees, where we had concealed ourselves, fearing discovery at any second.  No more sitting with the Lantana blossoms brushing against your nose, about to make you sneeze any moment!

We all came in safe!

A truce between battling parties was called and there was no penalty, no one left to call 1-2-3 on Paul!.  No more being it interminably.  We usually came in happy and calling out to each other as the game ended. Our heartbeats slowed to a regular pace after the excitement and anxiety of the game were behind us.

Joy and relief!  We came in safe!

I always thought the phrase, olly olly oxen free, came from the English equivalent, all-y, all-y, all’s in free, which would be just fine, but it seems that it may actually come from the German phrase, alle, alle auch sind frei, which means, literally, everyone, everyone is also free.

Either way, still a great descriptive phrase of the relief and satisfaction in the reprieve that ended the exciting game.

I find myself periodically wishing to hear that phrase these days.

Oh sure, I still like hearing it when the kids yell it out as they’re playing, but that’s not what I’m referring to now.

Life has gotten extremely complicated.  There’s more than enough sadness and distress to go around; economic problems weigh us down; the stress and aggravation in the workplace are overwhelming sometimes; even the joyous events of life are frequently accompanied by confusion and complexity.

Where’s the light at the end of the tunnel?  When do I get to hear the call, olly, olly oxen free, and relax?

I refuse to end an essay on children’s games with a sermon, so I’ll leave you to work through it.

Suffice it to say that the answer is in plain sight and the call has already gone out.  Just because we haven’t yet responded doesn’t negate the facts.

I remember a night when I found the best hiding place.  The large bougainvillea plants along the edge of the yard had thorns, but if you were careful, you could slip under them and be completely concealed by the viney plant and its large leaves and copious blossoms.  I guess I must have been too close to the road noise, or maybe I dozed off, but when I looked out after a long while, there was no one near the base, so I headed in to kick that can as far as I could.

Imagine my chagrin when the can was gone and no one came running to count me out either.  I looked around, finally poking my head inside the house.  There they all were, Kool-Aid glasses in hand, enjoying a cool drink, while I was still playing the game with vigor.  The call had gone out and I hadn’t heard.  I was annoyed, but a glass of grape Kool-Aid soon set that right.

I love summer!

I think I may save one of those old tin coffee cans and spend a little time with the grandchildren.  It may be awhile before they understand all the rules, but they’ll sure have a great time kicking the can.

I just might give it a tap or two, as well…

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”
(Jesus~Matthew 11:28)

“Hide-and-seek grown-up style.  Wanting to hide.  Needing to be sought.  Confused about being found.”
(Robert Fulghum~”All I Need To Know I Learned In Kindergarten”)

© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2013. All Rights Reserved.

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Edited and reprinted from an earlier post on May 26, 2011


Photo by Stephen McCay

She walked with me tonight.  I find myself engaged these days in an activity which I once treated with scorn; something we call exercise.  As a slender young man, confident of good health which would last forever, I promised that I would never walk, or run, or ride a bicycle, simply for the physical activity.  I did participate in all of those, but only for enjoyment.  Riding with friends, playing a pick-up game of football or basketball, even a session of trick catches with the Frisbee in the front yard with her little sister–all those and more would be enough exercise for me.  I laughed scornfully whenever the old people wandered past on their evening walks, anxious to assuage their doctors’ concerns.  “Never!”

But, somehow I’ve gotten off course a bit.  We were talking about her, weren’t we?   Well, actually about her being with me.  She had apologized in advance for slowing me down from my usual breakneck pace, but she needn’t have worried.  I act as if it doesn’t matter that I have to walk or run by myself most nights, but I’d rather have company any day.  Hers anyway.  We do walk rapidly, but we talk, we observe, we enjoy the trip–together.

Oh, it was no romantic walk in the moonlight, mind you.  At one point, we did come upon a young couple having one of those.  They were holding hands and ambling along, looking at each other dreamily.  We zipped past them and chuckled after we were out of earshot.  I told her that we should hold hands, too.  She retorted that my hands were too sweaty and she wasn’t touching them.  Laughing out loud, we sped up to keep our heart rates thumping along at a healthy speed.   But, my mind, as it is wont to do with some frequency, was already in the past, remembering another walk with this Lovely Lady.

It happened thirty-six years ago, if I remember correctly.  A spring evening, nearing twilight, and I was sitting alone on the stone table near the banks of the little creek that winds through our beautiful town.  I wasn’t thinking about how beautiful it was just then.  I was lonely.  Eight hundred miles away from my hometown, I spent my days in working and sitting around waiting to go back to work. There was no one to fill the lonely hours in between.

Suddenly, I looked along the sidewalk back toward the downtown area, and I saw her.  The pretty sixteen year old redhead was tripping along the concrete pathway.  Maybe she would stop and talk to me!  I had met her at church a few months before, so she knew me and–sure enough–she headed toward the table upon which I sat when I waved.  Before I knew it, I was offering to walk with her and she was accepting!  Two blessed miles to her parent’s house!  We didn’t hold hands that time either, but we talked, and we observed, and we enjoyed the trip–together.  Come to think of it, that walk turned out to be almost exactly as long as our walk tonight, because I still had to walk all the way back to my apartment after leaving her at her door.  Four miles I walked that night, too.  It didn’t feel like exercise either, because I was walking on air–both ways.

The memory fades and I am in the present again.  If you read these posts frequently, you will be all too aware that I have been a little down in recent days.  I promised that I would leave my disappointments in a place of  expedience last night.  Sometimes, the realization of the amazing blessings we possess is enough to put those obstacles to joy in the proper perspective.  I don’t wish to mislead you; this particular disappointment is not one which will ever fade into nothingness, but it is one which will fade into an appropriate place in the big picture of life, instead of filling up the lens through which I view the whole of my journey here.

Another four mile walk with the love of my life brings the realization that she has been walking with me for the great majority of my years on this planet.  Our love has changed and grown, as we have matured together.  I am content to have her there beside me still.

Such are the great gifts of a beneficent Creator.  It’s nice to know that He walks beside us too, through the stormy days, the lonely times, and the seasons of weeping, as well as the years of blessing and plenty.

Companionship along the way is nothing to be scoffed at.

Even if she does slow me down a bit, now and then.

“A good companion shortens the longest road.”
(Turkish proverb)

“For if they fall, one will help his companion up, but pity the person who falls down and has no one to help him up.”
(Ecclesiastes 4:10~NET)

© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2013. All Rights Reserved.

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Disappointment. He had failed in his task.  All he felt was disappointment.  Well, that and embarrassment.  All eyes in the bank’s office space were on the young apprentice electrician.  There weren’t many sympathetic faces attached to those eyes. They didn’t care that he had nearly been electrocuted a moment before; didn’t even care that his new pliers were damaged.  Seconds before, their anguished outbursts had drowned out his surprised yelp as the sparks flew from the outlet near which he stood.  They might be angry.  He was disappointed.

The instructions had been clear.  “We can’t shut off the breakers, because they have to have the computers up and running.  It is essential for us to change out the outlet without interrupting the power.”  The journeyman electrician peered doubtfully at his helper.  “Think you can handle that?”

“You know it!  I can do this–no problem!”  The cocky young man had no doubt that he was up to the task.  What idiot couldn’t undo a couple of screws and move a wire from one device to another without messing something up?  He whipped out his screwdriver and had the cover off in a few seconds, pulling the outlet out from the wall carefully.  Using his screwdriver again, and being careful to avoid touching the metal part of the tool, he loosened the screw on the side of the outlet.  Knowing that he also didn’t want to touch the bare wire with his hand, he reached for his tool pouch at his waist and slipped his new rubber-handled needle nose pliers out.  With the tip of them, he gripped the bare wire and started to work it off of the loosened screw.  It was right about then that the sparks flew.

The apprentice had forgotten how thick the pliers were and had touched them momentarily against the metal box which held the outlet.  Since it was grounded, there was instantly a dead short between the live wire he was removing and the box.  The resulting fireworks may have been brilliant, but they certainly weren’t pretty.  Neither was the language which he heard coming from the surrounding cubicles, as they realized that all their data was lost.  With the breaker popped in the main panel, the very thing they absolutely could not do had happened–the power was off to the computers. He stood dumbly and stared at the melted spot near the tip of his new pliers.  He doesn’t remember much about what happened after that.  Somehow, they got the power back on and the job finished.  He does remember his supervisor being quiet and tight-lipped for all twenty-five miles of the ride home.

The pliers remain in his toolbox, nearly thirty years later.  He still thinks about that day almost every time he picks up the pliers.  Perhaps, that’s the reason he has a different pair of them on top of his workbench for daily use.  Disappointment is a powerful emotion, bringing back an avalanche of feelings time and again.  Even now, decades after the event has become an amusing story to laugh about with his former co-worker, the embarrassment and regret come flooding back anyway.  It might actually be time to dispose of the old pliers altogether.

This aging man is beginning to realize that there are different types of disappointment.  There is the kind of disappointment, or regret, that the electrician felt because of his personal failure.  That young man had a number of subsequent chances to redeem himself in that job.  It seemed to him that his boss was genuinely sorry to see him leave the job a year or so later, so he must have been successful in recovering from that misstep at least.

There is another sort of disappointment, one from which it is more difficult to recover.  Throughout our lives, we place our trust in other people.  And, throughout our lives, they fail us.  Heroes falter; friends waver; family members founder–the list goes on, almost without end.  Funny.  We are surrounded by humans who, like ourselves, are flawed.  Still, we expect the best from them, and are unhappy when they fall flat on their faces.  The reason it is difficult to recover from these disappointments?  We can’t make them right ourselves.  We didn’t falter, or waver, or founder (this time).  The error, the sin, is someone else’s and can only be set right by them.

I am a fixer.  I think we all are.  We want to make things in our world function exactly as they should.  Does the door squeak? I have an oil can for that.  Flat tire?  I have a spare.  I even have advice for anyone who has a problem and asks me.  I want to help. Let me help!

The day comes though, when we arrive at the inevitable conclusion that some repairs are beyond our capabilities.  We all, on any number of occasions, take items to experts to be cared for.  When my car breaks down, I have a mechanic.  My bicycle is in the shop right now because I know that I am out of my depth.  When a family member is ill, the doctor is called.

Why do we find this concept so hard to grasp in other areas of life?  In the course of my own life, I have had numerous instances when disappointment with people I love has been so great that I lie awake at night and try to come up with a solution for their situation.  I weep, and worry, and fret, knowing all the while that I cannot bring about change in any way.  And, therein lies my real problem.

I actually do know the Expert personally, the only One who has the wisdom to help.  His shop is always open; there is never a backlog of jobs waiting before mine.  I have only to carry my friend, or family member, or hero there, to be left in His strong and capable hands.  Oh, I don’t mean that we must drag them there physically.  But, it is certain that our petitions for help from this Great Physician will not fall on deaf ears.

I realize that it’s time for me to make another visit to the repair shop.  I’ve been carrying around a huge disappointment for awhile now.  This particular disappointment is not mine to carry.  I think I’ll give it to Someone who can actually do something about it.  The OPEN sign is alight, even now, in the wee hours of the morning.  You know, there’s a repair shop in your neighborhood, too.

I will also keep working on the personal skills, just to avoid any disappointments with me on your part.  You probably don’t want to ask me to fix any of your electrical problems.

I can loan you a slightly used pair of needle nose pliers, if it will help any.

“Evil lurks where disappointment lodges.”
(George Foreman~American boxer and Baptist minister)

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”
(Philippians 4:6~NIV)

© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2013. All Rights Reserved.

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