No Lesser Things


Sitting at my desk this afternoon, I started at the exclamation.  My first thought was to wonder who uttered the crude epithet.  Immediately, I realized that the word had come from my mouth.  Mine!

I don’t call my customers names.  Well, not out loud anyway.  But the man who had just walked out the door of my music store had pushed all the wrong buttons before his exit, and I was fed up.  I hadn’t even been the one to wait on him.  Come to think of it, he hadn’t actually been rude to the Lovely Lady, who was.  So, why was I so upset?

I was angry because of the way he treated his daughter, making snide comments about her recently acquired interest in music.  As he sarcastically replied to her obvious exuberance, it was clear that he thought he was being witty.   But this went deeper than a little smart mouthing.  He was belittling his own little girl in front of other people.  How does a father do that to his baby?

“Jerk!”  I said it again, almost enjoying the way it popped from my lips as my clenched teeth parted and my jaw moved downward.  But before I had a chance to say it again, memories of my own crowded my head.

I fell silent.  I’m not even sure that I’m ready to talk again now.

No, I’m not going to share a little morality tale from my past.  Some memories are best left as memories, and not changed to narratives.  That doesn’t mean that they don’t rear their ugly heads to teach an unwelcome personal lesson now and again.  These particular ones will stay personal, thanks.

I have quite a few of those unsightly reminders of my past stored away in my old hard noggin.  It really doesn’t take all that much to get the replay tape rolling, and this insensitive customer wasn’t the first person to bring them to the forefront of my thoughts today.

I awoke this morning to a message from a friend.  I don’t think I could exaggerate my respect for this lady, a creative and thoughtful soul.  Her words were meant to encourage–and they did that–but they also dredged up a me I would rather leave buried deep in my yesterdays.

As I looked reluctantly at the me her note brought to mind, I may or may not have shed a tear or two.  Nobody likes to see themselves through the unkind lens of reality and time.  But the present was calling, so I girded up my loins–I mean, I got dressed, washed my face and my hair, and I went to work, thinking all the while about this process of being made into the people that our Creator intended for us to be.

The process is painful, and not easy.  In the easy times, the fat times, we grow complacent and smug.  By fat times, I mean the times when things come without effort and it seems that we are in control.  It is easy then to believe that we are the captain of our vessel, the king of the mountain.  We learn almost nothing in these times, because we see no need of anything beyond ourselves.

But, then come the hungry times, the hard times, and we realize that we are weak and needy.  Why is it that God works with such power in these times?  And why do they have to come so very often?

The day seemed determined to make sure that I learned this lesson.  Late this evening, I headed out for my walk with a smile on my face, telling the Lovely Lady that I would return soon.

The Internet radio playing in my headphones wiped the smile off my face with the first song.

The voice I heard was Laura Story’s, her clear youthful tones seemingly belying the words, singing “Blessings.”  You will find a very short excerpt of the lyrics quoted below.

The reminder that we want good things, but that we grow the most in the absence of those very things, was almost too much for me today.  I was glad that it was nighttime, because the darkness compassionately hid my face from public view as once again a tear or two may have come.  It certainly wouldn’t do to be seen crying on the street, would it?

I still don’t like it.  But, I am starting to get it.

And what about my buddy, the jerk?  I trust that the day will come, sooner rather than later, when his actions are those unwelcome memories reminding him of what he once was.  Perhaps, these are the hard and hungry times for him.  Time will tell.

And, what of the other jerk in this little tale?  Am I on easy street from here on out?  Lessons learned, smooth sailing all the way to the horizon?

Hardly.  I stand here, on a downhill slide to old age, but just now beginning–that’s right–beginning to grasp the most remedial of lessons the Teacher has for me.  I see a bumpy few years ahead.

I wonder if there are any other jerks out there who might be willing to tag along with me.

It seems that I might need a shoulder to cry on once in awhile.

Love is way too much to give us lesser things.
What if Your blessings come through raindrops?
What if Your healing comes through tears?
What if a thousand sleepless nights
Are what it takes to know You’re near?
(from “Blessings” ~ Laura Story ~ American singer/songwriter)

When life takes the wind out of your sails, it is to test you at the oars.
(Robert Brault ~ American free-lance writer)

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

Did you enjoy this post?  Let your friends know about it by “liking” our page on Facebook

Holding Back

The sign sits at the entrance to the old dilapidated dressing room behind the stadium.  You can’t help but see it as you leave the playing field and head in to the showers.

“Did you leave it all on the field today?”

I’m not sure I’ve ever heard the words leave it all on the field used in any context other than a sporting event.  The coach stands surrounded by sweaty, discouraged athletes who have just played a disastrous first half in the championship game.  They are so far behind that no sane person could ever foresee a possibility of them leaving the arena with a W added to their record.  The last thing the desperate coach begs of them, before they go back through that tunnel leading to the playing surface, is to leave it all on the field.  The only chance they have–if there is a chance at all–is to give everything they have for every second that remains in the game.

Nothing can be held back.

I’ve never played in a championship game.  I’m not an athlete.  Oh, I do work at keeping fit.  I set artificial goals, personal targets, at which any real athlete would scoff.  There are times when I finish a five mile run and think that I left it all on the trail behind me.  But the next time I go out, I find that I could have done just a little bit more, could have run a few steps faster or further if I had only tried.

I have never left it all on the field.

It is true of my physical endeavors and, to my continuing shame, equally true in the intellectual and spiritual realm.

I am embarrassed to say that I have held back nearly every time I have begun any project.  I am especially loath to reveal that, in my writing, I have guarded my dragon’s hoard of ideas, my treasure trove of feelings.  I have finally come to understand why that is.  I finally realize why I am hesitant to lay everything out in clear view for my readers.

I’m terrified of you.  Yes, you.

I want desperately to please you.  I want you to read the words I toss down on the blank page and respond with wonder and awe at my erudition, my intellectual capability.  And, nothing else.  I want you never to disagree with me; never to argue with me; certainly never to become angry with me.

Some time ago, I joined a Christian blog site, but I eventually realized that the folks there judged my posts by their own standard of doctrinal orthodoxy.  They actually wanted to argue about ideology and theology!  The nerve!

Of course, you know what I did.  That’s right.  I changed my style of writing to fit their standards.  Like the chameleon that blends into whatever environment it is placed into, I faded into the background.  Posting only those items which I knew would inspire absolutely no controversy, I fit in.

I never left it all on the field there.

Tiring of the constant strain to please, I thought that I might try a different site, one where the participants would let me write honestly (so I thought).  The current marketplace in which I participate is the polar opposite to the Christian site I first tried.  Religion there is often met with skepticism and outright derision.  A number of writers apologize before they quote a scripture verse, sometimes even inserting warnings in the description of the posts to give people the chance to move past ideas at which they might be offended.

Once again, like the chameleon blending into the background, I am qualifying my essays before posting them there.

I won’t leave it all on the field there, either.  I want to be loved, not argued with.

Please love me!

I have ideas inside of my head which would shock you.  I believe some things which would make you angry.  Yes, I’m talking to you.  You think you know me, think you understand what makes me tick.  But, I’ve never left it all on the field.  How do you know what I really have to say?

The Lovely Lady frequently (albeit gently) reminds me that my use of the word honestly in conversation might make people think that I actually wasn’t that–honest–all the time.  She (and the people) would be correct.  There is more to say, more to get into the open.

I’m trying to decide if it is time to do that; wondering when I will actually leave it all on this field.

Will you still love me tomorrow?

“Those who follow the crowd usually get lost in it.”
(Rick Warren ~ American pastor/author)

“Give of your best to the Master;
Give of the strength of your youth.
Throw your soul’s fresh, glowing ardor
Into the battle for truth.”
(Howard Benjamin Grose ~ Baptist minister ~ 1851-1939)

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

Did you enjoy this post?  Let your friends know about it by “liking” our page on Facebook!

The Lump

Robert Frost, one of our most beloved poets, once said, “A poem begins as a lump in the throat…”

I don’t have any poems tonight.  I do have a lump in my throat.  There may or may not also be a tear in the corner of my eye.

The world is atwitter with the latest scandal; shameful actions by a young star.  I refuse to look at either photos or video of the event, but I remember with a lump in my throat that she has parents who are looking on.

I received news of the death of an old friend, a dear lady who served her God all of her long life.  Her passing removed her from days filled with pain and distress to a better place.  But, again I remember with a lump in my throat that she has children and siblings who are left to mourn and miss her.

A number of other friends have shared news of events which are crushing them under an unbearable load–sickness, family issues, loss of homes.  They cope, but still they are devastated, and this lump in my throat won’t go away.

I have no rhyming words, no iambic pentameter, not even a haiku, with which to ease the lump.

Mr. Frost went on to suggest where the lump was likely to originate.  He suggested homesickness or lovesickness.  I was thinking that there might be other causes, but now that I consider it, he is probably right.

We hurt because we love.  Oh, I’m not speaking about the sappy, mushy stuff of novels and chick-flick movies.  There are times when the lump may come because of that, but we usually get over those events quickly enough.  The love that really hurts is the love that cares so deeply that it won’t give up when all else seems hopeless; the love that stays even though the heart is ripped out of those who care so deeply.

I have also felt the lump in the throat which was caused by homesickness.  But, almost certainly, that lump came from the same source as the other one already described.  We are homesick because we love.  We love the people; we love the familiar scenes and smells and noises; we love the place we came from more than the place in which we find ourselves stranded.

Often these days, when I feel the lump, I am homesick.

Oh, I’m not homesick for any street address, and not for any place or event in my past.  When this homesickness hits, I remember that I’m not home yet.

Mr. Frost may have been remembering this also as he stopped by the woods on that snowy evening. I often think of his words as I go through my days; “But I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep.”

No, we’re not home yet, but we are on the road home.

Lumps in the throats and all.

“Hope springs eternal in the human breast;
Man never is, but always to be blest:
The soul, uneasy and confin’d from home,
Rests and expatiates in a life to come.”
(From “An Essay on Man” by Alexander Pope ~ English poet ~ 1688-1744)

Be still, my soul; the Lord is on thy side;
Bear patiently the cross of grief or pain.
Leave to thy God to order and provide;
In every change He faithful will remain.
Be still, my soul: thy best, thy heavenly friend
Through thorny ways leads to a joyful end.

Be still, my soul; thy God doth undertake
To guide the future, as He has the past.
Thy hope, thy confidence let nothing shake;
All now mysterious shall be bright at last.
Be still, my soul; the waves and winds still know
His voice, who ruled them while He dwelt below.
(Katherina von Schlegel ~ German Pietist songwriter ~ 1697-1768)

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

Did you enjoy this post?  Let your friends know about it by “liking” our page on Facebook

People in My Way

I’m tired of walking circumspectly.

There.  I said it.  It may be grounds for being called before the church board.  The red-headed lady who raised me might not be as proud of me right now as she usually is.  But, I’ve just had it with being careful.  I want to stretch my legs and run full-out.  No more of this worrying about who’s in front of or behind me.

I’d like to be a road hog, taking my half out of the middle and going whatever speed I choose.

I imagine more than a couple of you are scratching your heads right now.  Somebody will probably even turn to the person next to them and say, “I told you he was going nuts.  He’s finally cracked.”  You might not be far wrong in the assessment.

Let me see if I can explain.

The beautiful little town I live in erected an outside gym recently.  It’s a wonderful affair with exercise equipment which is located out in the open air, right near the walking/biking trail I haunt.  Did I say near the trail?  I meant to say right smack-dab in the middle of the trail.  Well, more accurately, the parks department had the gym built in the middle of the old trail and then built a bypass trail next to it for those of us who eschew the weight-lifting side of physical fitness.  (That’s just for show-offs anyway.)

The problem is the outdoor gym attracts people.  People who like to stand and watch other people exercising.  Maybe, they’re just waiting for them to get done.  Perhaps, they want to see a demonstration of the technique necessary to get ripped abs.  Regardless, they stand right in the middle of the bypass trail on which those of us who really want to work out need to be riding or running.  Right in the middle.  When it happens, there is almost the feeling of an obstacle course.

The outdoor gym has had another effect on my exercise as well.  For some reason, it has attracted many more walkers to the trail nearby, with the result being a glut of people sauntering along the trail I’d like to fly through, either biking or running.  To avoid running over the little children–yes, they even bring their families out to the trail to exercise–I actually have to slow down and sometimes even move over onto the grass on the side of the trail.

Imagine my frustration as I speed up to try and meet my target time for a section of trail, only to have to slow down and work my way around all the people in my way.

Fast. Slow.

Fast. Slow.

I am tired of it.

I am reminded of a phrase I read a lifetime ago in one of the James Herriot books.  That’s the pen name of the British Veterinarian who wrote of his life in the Yorkshire Dales of northern England.  Mr. Herriot tells of an old farmer who was complaining of his experience in a large city, a place the farmer said he’d never go again.  The tall man was used to striding across the countryside with a wide gait, stretching his legs to their limit to get to his destination as rapidly as he could.  When he was in the city, he was on much more level ground with sidewalks and streets everywhere, but he was greatly hampered by all the people who got in his way.  He never could find his stride.

“Big steps and little ‘uns,” was how the long-legged farmer described the experience.

Big steps and little ‘uns.  I know just how he felt.  Oh, how I long to stretch out and go full-speed!

Ah, but there’s more to be said, isn’t there?  We don’t live life by ourselves, out on the hillside.  We live life in community.  There are people all around.

Pesky people.  People who get in the way.  People who slow us down.

People who need us to slow down and pay attention.  To them. And there we come to the crux of the matter, don’t we?

When we get right down to it, life is not about us.

I have yet to see a tombstone that declares proudly, “He took care of himself.”  There is nothing to praise in the self-centered life; nothing to applaud about the egoist who demands his own way.

I have been such a person.  I don’t want to come to the end of my life in the same condition.

The legacy I want to leave is one of having been aware of who the folks around me were.  I want to understand what they need and help to fulfill it.  I would like for my eyes to be on a different goal than the bank balance, or the clock on the wall.

I want that to be true even if it means I have to take a few little steps (or a lot of them).  Even if it means I have to slow down or take a detour.

So–I don’t get to live life in the fast lane.  I will walk circumspectly.  All the word means, literally, is to look around as we go.  That’s it.  Look around–take care.

I can do that.  And, I’ll even take a few little steps along with the big ones.

How about it?  You up for looking around with me?

“Let us not look back in anger, nor forward in fear, but around in awareness.”
(James Thurber ~ American author ~ 1894-1961)

“See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil.”
(Ephesians 5:15,16 ~ KJV)

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

Did you enjoy this post?  Let your friends know about it by “liking” our page on Facebook!

Filling the Blank Page

I sit and stare at the blank screen. Maybe this is the way it ends…just as it began. Three years ago, I sat  down one night in front of a blank screen and began to write. The next thing I knew, five hundred posts had made their way to my computer screen and thence, to the Internet. Perhaps a few have landed on your screen in the process. But, no more. I sit and blink at the stark white surface, willing ideas and words to come. The elusive characters are not cooperative.
Panic hits. Perhaps the well has gone dry. There will be no more stories, no more applications. 
I have been here before. There is more somewhere; I just have to dig a little deeper this time. 

My mind wanders, as I contemplate the blank display in front of me . . .
My concentration is broken by a frantic skritch-skritch-skritching noise nearby. I turn my eyes away from the preacher on the stage and glance over at the young man with the buzz-cut hair. All of five years old, he is sitting with his feet tucked under his legs and a composition notebook open across his lap. The ball-point pen in his right hand is nothing more than a blur. A noisy blur, but nevertheless . . . I reach over and put my hand over his, stopping the progression of rapidly appearing lines across the blank page. 
I whisper in his ear, “You know, that’s a little noisy. You can draw better if you slow down.” 
The boy, who reminds me a lot of someone I once knew (I can’t quite remember who now), smiles that big impish grin and replies, not so quietly, “But Grandpa, I don’t want to draw. I want to fill up the page fast!” 
The people nearby glance over, annoyed by the sudden laugh which the young artist’s grandfather is unable to stifle.
Tonight, I can’t stop my mind from pausing on that scene for a moment or two. The impatience of youth is an amusement to me from my vantage point, many years on, but it was nothing to laugh at once upon a time. There was not a moment to be lost! Adventure was waiting and every day was filled to the limit with excitement. I couldn’t wait for church to be over, or school to be out, or even for nap time to be completed. Why, I remember the time I . . .
Painting by Margaret Kirkpatrick
My reverie is interrupted by the intrusion of a voice that cracks as it fusses at me, 
“Can you stop that racket? I declare, you kids don’t know the meaning of quiet!” 
Grandma and Grandpa had parked their little Airstream trailer in our side yard a few days before and now she needed some time to create. Having five little imps around wasn’t helping. Well, quite possibly, it was only a couple of the imps who were causing the problem, but she took care of that with her authoritative manner. As she set up her easel, we watched with anticipation. Grandma was an award winning artist and we just knew there would be a completed painting within the next few moments. 
Alas, it was not to be. As we watched, she began to cover the artist’s board with a layer of light-colored paint. Then, painstakingly, she began to draw, first one stroke, then another. After half an hour, there was still nothing to be seen on the board but a few lines. What a let down! 
We took off to find some other pastime, something exciting like tossing rotten oranges at the passing cars. Tiring of that, we wandered back. Still nothing we could identify. It was frustrating, so eventually we gave up completely. When the tiny Airstream trailer left a week later, there was no completed painting left behind. I don’t know if she ever finished it.
A year or two after my Grandma passed away, I spent a couple of hours exploring the garage at her house in California. There were piles and piles of paintings, all in various stages of completion. Some were still in the condition which the little imp I had once been saw that week, many years previous. Others were almost complete. My mind finally began to grasp the frustration she must have felt at our lack of vision. 

Good work takes time. A stroke here, a line there, and a dash of color over there. Little by little, the painting would begin to look more and more like the image she had envisaged. Patience and vision are essential attributes of the artist’s nature. 
As I consider the incredible task of starting with the blank canvas and, after many hours of painstaking labor, completing a beautiful work of art which compels those viewing it to marvel, my mind is drawn to a particular painting I possess. It is one which my grandmother did finish and then gave to my family many years ago. The painting of my grandfather’s mandolin has almost no monetary value to anyone outside my family, but we wouldn’t part with it for any amount. For one thing, my Grandpa’s instrument is immortalized in it, even though the mandolin itself has deteriorated beyond recall, many years ago. But more importantly, the care, the patience, and the vision my grandmother invested into this one project allows me to keep her alive and close in my thoughts. After all, she as the artist is immortalized in this painting also.
Wow! Would you look at this? A page full of words. Just a few moments ago, it was blank; with not a thought in this writer’s mind. 
I have to say that I am gratified to know that this never was the case for the blank page with which each of us started. The Artist has always had a vision for the finished painting; the patience He has shown as each line and shade has been added has been unending. There have been times, well more than once or twice, when I have grabbed the brush and, like my grandson in his haste to fill the page, scribbled indiscriminately. Perhaps you also have a stray line or two you have added in your impatience. Not to worry.
In the big picture–and it is a big, big picture–those lines will be blended in, if we yield the brush back to its proper master, the genuine Artist. From blank page to finished work of art, He has never wavered in the vision and scope of the entire composition. 
Perhaps my namesake, the Apostle, said it best when he wrote, “I am confident of this one thing. He who began the good work in you will carry it through to completion.
I don’t always understand the next sketched out lines; can’t always see the scene which is being filled in with variegated colors and shades of dark and light. I will just have to trust the Artist.
And, looking at the painting which is slowly taking shape on the canvas of my life, I will pray that the Artist is clearly visible to those who bother to look. Maybe that is your hope also. 
We will have to follow Grandpa’s rule for drawing in church, though.
No scribbling allowed!
“Please be patient. God’s not finished with me yet.”
“Let nothing disturb thee;
Let nothing dismay thee;
All things pass;
God never changes.
Patience attains
All that it strives for.
He who has God
Finds that he lacks nothing;
God alone suffices.”
(“Poem IX”~St. Teresa of Avila~Spanish philosopher/mystic~1515-1582)
© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2013. All Rights Reserved.

The Moon and Pizza Pie

“Hey Daddy!  I’m pretty sure that the moon is blue.”

The two urchins were holding open the front screen door and looking up hopefully at the sky.

“Please be blue–Please be blue,” the younger one whispered again and again, under his breath.

Dad crossed the concrete floor of the porch and gazed up at the brilliant full moon.  He stood for a moment in thoughtful consideration, aware that the two lads were considering his face with the same rapt attention he was feigning as he looked upward.

“I think…”  he stopped and looked down at the boys.  “I think…that it might just be blue!”

A grin crossed his face, just about the time that the same grin split the faces of both boys.  There was even a sound of joy that came from someone inside the house at the pronouncement.  A blue moon was something to celebrate at the house in which they grew up!

Photo by halfrain

Moments later, they were all stuffed into the old 1957 Ford station wagon and were headed to the local pizza parlor for a rare treat.  Unlike the age in which we live, there was not a franchised pizza place on every corner.  The people of our parent’s generation didn’t care much for pizza and it was certainly not high up on this father’s list of favorite places to dine.  Thus, the concern for the blue moon among the children.  A chance statement, taken too literally and turned into family lore, became the decisive factor on every occasion when someone asked for pizza.

“I’m only going to eat pizza once in a blue moon,” was what the dad had uttered on that fateful day in the distant past.

It was slim, but it was hope and the kids latched onto it, nurtured it, and played it for all it was worth, watching the sky for just such a moon as had appeared on that night.  The pizza was wonderful!

My thoughts went back to that era in life earlier today as I realized that we actually have a genuine blue moon to celebrate this month.  Although the term blue moon is commonly understood today to describe the second full moon in one month, that is a relatively recent definition for the term.  It originally meant the extra full moon in a season (e.g., spring or summer), which should normally have just three of them.  When there is an extra “third” full moon, it was called a blue moon.  Today (August 20th) is the day we will see that phenomenon occur.

I looked out as I was writing this and the moon is already nearly full and very bright–so bright that, were my eyes a bit younger, I believe I could read outside by its light.  As I walked into the rays of the brilliant light I cast a shadow, distinct and dark, upon the sidewalk.  What a beautiful sight as the moon revolves in the sky around this huge orb and reflects the sun’s rays back to us throughout the dim night.  It’s not a world-shaking event, but I’m enjoying having a second “third” full moon up in the night sky above.

I could even go for pizza.

The description of this extra full moon, the “blue moon”, is actually a little obscure in its origins.  It is speculated that the name comes from a time when the clergymen in the Catholic church were responsible for determining if the new moon in the Spring was the “Easter moon”, which meant that the people could conclude their Lenten fasting, or if the moon was a “belewe”, or betrayer, moon which would force them to fast for another month.  The phrase first came to light in the sixteenth century as one author bemoaned the fact that they had to depend on the clergy to tell them if the moon were “belewe”.  Only in the last century has the title come to mean the second full moon in a month.  And, of course, we use the entire phrase, once in a blue moon to mean any event which is rare in its occurrence.

I pause for a moment and consider that I have done it to you again.

I have spent way too much time following a rabbit trail up which few of you will want to venture with me.  I love word origins and want to illuminate the meaning of common phrases, but I realize that many of you do not share that curiosity.  But, if you’re still tagging along anyway, why not go just a bit further?

The young boys, just as the medieval masses, were dependent upon the judgement of someone in authority to determine the moment at which they could end their fast and enjoy the food they desired.  Five hundred years after the priests declared that the correct moon was in the sky, their father did much the same thing.

As all of them gazed up at the moon, hope rose in their hearts.

Those boys don’t depend on the moon to tell them when it’s time to eat pizza anymore.  Most folks in the church don’t depend on the moon to end their fasting, either.  That said, we all have something upon which we are pinning our hopes.  I know people who hope in their chances at winning the lottery or even the games of chance at the casino for financial security.  Some trust in their own intellect or physical prowess for success, others in presidents and legislatures for peace and well-being.

Every one of those finite entities is unreliable and will disappoint eventually.  What a disheartening thing it is to have your hopes dashed again and again by trusting in the wrong thing.

 I see that it’s time to step down from my soap box and let you take it from here.  Consider though, that there is One in whom hope may be placed, an unmovable Rock, who brings an unshakable kingdom.

There’s no guesswork about blue moons with Him, but simply a place you can rest and trust.

Oh!  Just to clarify–I don’t wait for the changing moon to eat pizza, either.  Once in a blue moon?  That’s when we eat asparagus around here.

“When the moon hits your eye
Like a big pizza pie, that’s amore.”
(“That’s Amore”~Harry Warren/Jack Brooks)

“Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.”
(Psalm 20:7~NIV)

© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2013. All Rights Reserved. 
Did you enjoy this post?  Let your friends know about it by “liking” our page on Facebook

Spilling the Beans

Somebody spilled the beans.

I don’t think I was meant to find out, but I did anyway.  Come to think of it, I’m sure that no one tried to hide it from me either.  Regardless, I know all about it now.

That’s the way it is with secrets.  Somehow, they make their way inexorably to the light of day.  Deeds done in private, things thought hidden from all prying eyes, push through all the layers of secrecy and burst into full view when you least expect it.

Frequently, they have help from someone.  Usually, all it takes is time.  Time–and nature working the way our Creator intended.  Suddenly, where you never thought to find it, the mountain of evidence is amassed and the secret is out.

I certainly wasn’t looking to find such a secret as I mowed my lawn the other day.  Seven days after I had last mowed, the yard was showing signs of getting out of control again.  So, I did what I had to do.  Normally, I don’t enjoy this kind of work.  The surprise that awaited me in the side yard was almost worth the trouble on this day.

I expected to be trimming too-long fescue grass (along with more than a few weeds), and in fact, that is mostly what I found.  But, suddenly, as I pushed the red and white mower along the verge of the grass closest to the parking area, I saw a section of almost vine-like growth.  Standing four or five inches above the tallest grass, it looked so out of place that it grabbed my attention.  That wasn’t here last week!  I would have noticed.  Killing the mower, I bent over to see what this strange plant was.

Unmistakably, there near the ground on almost every shoot was the skin of a pinto bean, shed by the quickly sprouting plant as it shoved its way out of the ground.  We’ve had a lot of rain this summer, so the fertile ground is not lacking in moisture, but bean plants require beans to start.  Except for the original creation mentioned in Genesis, I can safely say with Fraulein Maria in The Sound Of Music that nothing comes from nothing–nothing ever could.

How did these get here?  Someone had to put them here!

I asked the Lovely Lady, who had no idea.  No.  She did have a thought.

“I gave some pintos to Mary the other day to take home.  Maybe one of the kids dropped them.”

A conversation today with our daughter cleared up the mystery.  Our oldest grandson had been carrying the beans to their car when he dropped the bag and it broke open.  He picked up most of them, but some must have remained hidden in the grass, where they seized the opportunity offered them and put down roots, springing into mature plants in less than a week.

The secret is out.

What’s that you say?  That isn’t what you expected?

When I said someone had spilled the beans, you thought perhaps someone had told a juicy secret about something I wanted to hide.  Maybe someone close to me had a skeleton in the closet which they’ve kept hidden for decades.

It happens often enough.

I’m not all that sorry to disappoint you in that respect today, but it should be pointed out that the truths mentioned at the first of this little expose’ are no less poignant than you may have believed when you first read them.  Secrets can’t be kept hidden forever.  The evidence of what has passed will come to light when the natural results bring them into view.

Just like the beans sprouting into full-grown life, our most guarded secrets can’t be hidden indefinitely.

The red-headed lady who raised me used to say, “Be sure your sins will find you out.”

Those words usually preceded a spanking to reinforce the idea that I shouldn’t be hiding whichever secret it was that had come to light that day.

I’m not sure I’ve completely learned the lesson yet.  There are dark places within me which I would still be chagrined beyond belief to have opened to public view.  Grace brings forgiveness, but not forgetfulness.  But, now that I consider it, that’s not such a bad thing.

When I recall the darkness I have lived in, I am determined to never dwell there again.  The dark places we have been remind us to live in the light we are given today.

One last thought–I’m pretty sure the plants I found the other day will have pinto beans on them eventually, not corn or peas.  Things done in secret seem to yield the same fruit as that from which they have sprung.

Just a word to the wise.

“Yet this is no cause for shame, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day.”
(2 Timothy 1:12b ~ NIV)

“The man who can keep a secret may be wise, but he is not half as wise as the man with no secrets to keep.”
(E.W. Howe ~ American novelist/editor ~ 1853-1937)

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

Did you enjoy this post?  Let your friends know about it by “liking” our page on Facebook

Just Getting Started

It suddenly strikes me that I have never written a post about my wedding anniversary.  Not once. 
Perhaps we should leave it that way.  Articles about anniversaries tend to get maudlin and trite.
Even so, as I write these words, the annual celebration of that ancient event is imminent.
It does seem to me that something should be said for thirty-five years spent in the company of another person.  Maybe, I could redeem the time as I tell the secret of a successful relationship.  I would share from my great storehouse of wisdom about how to treat a woman like a queen.  
I would be a fraud if I did it.
I don’t understand love.  I certainly can’t explain it, nor can I begin to describe how it works. 
I’ve been asked the secret of a happy relationship before and I realized that I have absolutely no idea.  Oh, I remember events which have occurred over the years of my marriage and the couple of years leading up to that, but the events don’t explain the phenomenon.

What I do know is that the Lovely Lady and I have spent well more than half of our lives enjoyingeach other.  Undoubtedly, I’ve had the better part of the bargain, but she tells me she’s content (and I’ve never known her to lie). 

I’m still wracking my brain to explain it and probably will go to my grave confused about the reasons.

I really don’t have a clue.  All I know is I wouldn’t give up a minute of the last thirty-five years for anything.  Whatever makes this love and marriage thing work, I’m up for another thirty-five.  After that I might be qualified to wax eloquent regarding the origins and mechanics of a good relationship.

Write down the year somewhere.  2048

Ask me again then.

“Let the wife make the husband glad to come home, and let him make her sorry to see him leave.”
(Martin Luther ~ German theologian and church reformer ~ 1483-1546) 

“One time I gave Dale a little peck on the forehead and we got a ton of letters telling us to cut that mushy stuff out…So I had to kiss Trigger instead.”
(Roy Rogers ~ “King of the Cowboys” ~ 1911-1998) 

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

Did you enjoy this post?  Let your friends know about it by liking our page on Facebook

Who Do You Think You’re Fooling?

Writers are some of the oddest people I know.  They agonize over the weirdest details and blow past the obvious subjects to focus on the most trivial theme imaginable.  I think though, that the oddest thing about writers is what they do in their spare time.

When they are not . . . Okay, I’ll just admit it and get it over with.  I’m one of these strange creatures.  It’s not they, but we.  When we are not writing, we actually spend time talking about writing, and learning about writing, and practicing writing.  We have groups and websites that are dedicated to the proposition that in order to be a writer, one must immerse himself in not only the practice of the art, but the culture of the artist.  I haunt at least one such website with some regularity.  There may be more, but let’s just keep that to ourselves, okay?

There is a point to be made with this meandering discourse, though.  I’ll try to make my way to it presently.

Today, I opened an email on the site in question.  It was from one of the moderators of the blogging group I’ve joined.  No, not a personal email, but just the daily writing prompt.  The prompt for today–What’s that?  Oh. Why would we need a writing prompt?  I did mention we are a weird bunch of people, right?  The thing about writers is that we worry when we don’t want to write.  Well, it’s more than that.  We worry when we want to write, but can’t seem to get anything to come out of the pen, or on the monitor, or–Well, you get the picture.  We need help occasionally.  The prompt is sometimes enough to get the creative juices flowing.

Today’s prompt asked the question: “When was the last time you successfully tricked someone?”

I typically glance at such emails and close them, forgetting the message immediately.  If there is anything I don’t struggle with, it is subject matter about which to write.  I don’t need someone giving me extra grist for the grinding wheel in my brain.  I’m not trying to boast; I just know that in the everyday progression of life, there is an unquenchable fountain of lessons to be learned and passed on.  So far anyway, I have not needed to resort to these gimmicks.

This session would end differently.

Tonight, after reading the one line suggestion, I sat gazing unseeingly at the little black lines on my computer screen.  The trickle of thoughts turned into a torrent in seconds.  Tricked someone?  Why would I do that?  I’m not a shyster, seeking ways to make unethical profits!  I treat people with complete honesty!

My customers are confident they can trust me.  Why just today, that guy handed me five hundred dollars and told me he didn’t need a receipt, because his friend told him that I was as honest as the day is long.  Whoever said that knew what they were talking about!

“That’s why we brought it to you.  We know you won’t steer us wrong.”  The lady standing on the other side of the counter needed my opinion about an instrument which she is considering for purchase from someone else.  Of course, I agreed with her sentiments.

The torrent poured along the riverbed of my mind and memory.  With each landmark it passed, I was filled with pride that I am not that kind of man.

The Lovely Lady knows she can trust me.  I would never fool her–not for a second.  My family members all are sure they can depend on me.  The people I go to church with, my friends, the acquaintances who wave as I walk down the street . . .

The torrent turned off abruptly, as if an unseen hand cranked the hydrant shut.  Not a trickle more escaped.

I immediately knew the answer to the question.

I know now when I last fooled someone.

I know who it was.

Right now.


For if anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself.
(Galatians 6:3 ~ ESV)

When I was a little boy, (when I was just a boy)
And the devil would call my name (when I was just a boy)
I’d say, now who do,
Who do you think you’re fooling? (When I was just a boy)
I’m a consecrated boy.
I’m a singer in the Sunday choir.
Oh, my mama loves me, she loves me.
She get down on her knees and hug me.
Loves me like a rock,
She rocks me like the Rock of Ages
And loves me. (She love me, love me, love me, love me)
(from “Loves Me Like A Rock” ~ Words/Music by Paul Simon ~ Universal Music Publishing Group)

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

Did you enjoy this post?  Let your friends know about it by “liking” our page on Facebook!

Under the Paper Bag

The antics of the small boy must have been something to see.  Around and around the little yard he ran, following the sound of his brothers’ voices.  
“Hey!  Over here.  Right here.  Come and get me!”
“No!  I’m this way!  You better turn this direction!”
Zig-zagging across the yard and around the small mobile home, the little guy scrambled, his head covered in a brown paper sack.  No one forced him to put it over his head.  He just figured it would be fun.  It was.  For a little while.
But soon, his older brothers had decided that it would be fun to confuse the four-year old and began to shout instructions to him.  He attempted to obey, following first one voice, then another.  From the inside of the sack, it was hard to know where he was, so he began to rely on the voices.  It was a poor decision, since they weren’t interested in helping, only in laughing at the antics of the baby of the family.
Around and around, swerving this way and that, he ran.  It was a disaster waiting to happen.  The disaster wasn’t long in coming.
Rounding the front of the trailer home, he sped at full tilt, thinking he was close to catching one of the boys.  He never knew anything was in his way until it smacked him right between the eyes.  Thunk!  The sharp edge of the butane gas tank mounted on the tongue of the trailer caught him right on the bridge of his nose, slicing right through the brown paper and nearly to the bone.  As we like to say in the South, he bled like a stuck pig.  There was blood spurting everywhere.
The red-headed mother of the little imps was outside instantly when the other kids shouted for her.  Her years of training as a registered nurse (and a few more years of being the parent to five children) kicked in and she immediately held the skin closed over the cut, staunching the flow of blood.  After a little clean up, a butterfly bandage did the trick of holding the little tyke’s nose and forehead together, giving the gash a chance to heal.  It would be good as new soon enough.
Well, perhaps not as good as new.  Now a fifty-six year-old man, he can still look in the mirror and see the scar.  Fifty-two years later, the lesson is reinforced with regularity.  
There is no guarantee that he has learned it yet.
Frequently, I post one of these essays on a writing website, hoping for some advice on grammar and punctuation.  I even look for some input regarding the structure of the piece.  I am learning that it is a little dangerous to do this, perhaps even a bit like donning a paper bag and following unseen voices.  There are many voices, from many different walks of life, here.
A recent essay, one of my personal favorites, garnered numerous reviews, much to my initial delight.  Most of them were light and non-threatening–words like loved it and great writing leading the pack.  Then, there were the more in-depth ones, each with their own idea of how the narrative could be improved.  There were constructive ideas, and one or two of them pointed out errors which I should have caught myself.  But, a few in the in-depth category picked apart the style and the voice used (“You should have used first person, past tense…”, “Make up your mind; is it father or dad?”), and one critic wrote a review almost as long at the piece itself.
I almost decided to rewrite the entire essay, attempting to follow most of the suggestions, and then submit it for their review again.  Almost.
The email arrived tonight.  The fellow who wrote the lengthy review was contacting me again.  I opened the email warily, not sure about what I would find.  My suspicions were confirmed upon reading the missive.  
“Hi. I checked your story again, and noticed you haven’t made the corrections, yet.”  There was more in the same vein.  I was being castigated for not making the prescribed changes this particular reviewer suggested!
My first reaction was outrage.  I won’t repeat the thoughts that went through my head.  I have calmed down now.  It seems though, that I must have smacked my head on something as I followed the disembodied voices around the little yard I have been playing in. 
Not to worry, though.  The blood has all been cleaned up; the bandage applied to start the healing process.
You may not be a writer.  Perhaps you play music or paint still lifes.  Are you not an artist at all?  Maybe a teacher, a mechanic, a clerk, or an electrician.  It doesn’t matter.  Whatever you do, there are voices telling you to do it better, or faster, or more often.  Lots of them. 
We all spend time under the paper sack, listening to the voices that direct us in the convoluted dance that is our life.  We want to make people happy.  We need their approval.  
Or do we?
Today I’m suggesting there is only one voice I must heed; only one which makes any difference in the long run.  I need the approval of One, not many.  Most of you who read my essays with any regularity know where this is headed.  The rest of you won’t need much of a clue to figure it out.
I will leave you with a clue, nevertheless.  Who is it that can be trusted to be a faithful guide, never running us into barriers?  Who wants nothing less than the best for us, and has only plans to benefit us?
Ah!  I see the paper sacks beginning to come off now.
It’s so much easier to walk when we are in the light, isn’t it?
“Work with enthusiasm, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people.”
(Ephesians 6:7 ~ NLT)
“Soli Deo Gloria”
(Latin meaning “Glory to God Alone”, used most famously by Johann Sebastian Bach on his musical works.)
© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2013. All Rights Reserved. 

Did you enjoy this post?  Let your friends know about it by “liking” our page on Facebook