Future Results

Past performance is no guarantee of future results.

You’ve seen the ads for the financial products.  The flow charts show how the company’s stock has out performed its competitors for the last twenty years.  The words which are said give, for all intents and purposes, an ironclad guarantee that it will never be different.  You should call your broker now and buy as much of the product as you can afford!  Then you get to the fine print.  If you are listening to the ad on the radio, the next words you hear will be spoken as quickly as humanly possible.

Listen closely.

Performancedataquotedaboveishistorical.Pastperformanceisnoguaranteeoffutureresults.Currentperformancemaybehigherorlowerthantheperformancedataquoted.Theprincipalvalueandinvestmentreturnofaninvestmentwillfluctuatesothatyourshares,whenredeemed,maybeworthmoreorlessthantheiroriginalcost.(Big breath!)

Did you get all that?

Well, they really didn’t want you to have time to think about it.

It’s difficult to sell you the future, unless you swallow the hype that the past is a guarantee of what is to come.

I sit at my computer, awaiting the inevitable words that will come.  They must come; they always have.  I start out with an idea, a concept, and as I begin to write the rest of the thoughts are fleshed out around it.  Tonight though, all I see is that I am at an impasse.  There are either too many words to come, or too few.  I have numerous thoughts about the past and its relationship to the future.  Not many are worth putting into print.

Past performance is no guarantee of future results.  It applies to writers, too.

Will you allow me the liberty of stopping where we are?  Your mind will, no doubt, have leapt to applications of the concept that I could not imagine anyway.  My explanations would only seem trite and tired, by comparison.

I only ask one thing:  In your consideration of the idea, will you think a minute (or perhaps more) about how grace figures into the concept?

I would be distressed if the only response I encouraged was for you to reflect on the potential for negative and disappointing events to come.  And, unlike the profit-hungry dream-merchant we discussed above, grace requests–no–demands–that you consider the negative events of the past and then expect the opposite for the future.

Past performance is no guarantee of future results.

I think I may want to invest in that.  What about you?

“A miracle is when the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.  A miracle is when one plus one equals a thousand.”
(Frederick Buechner ~ American writer/theologian)

“‘For I know what I have planned for you,’ says the Lord. ‘I have plans to prosper you, not to harm you. I have plans to give you a future filled with hope.'”
(Jeremiah 29:11 ~ NET)

© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2014. All Rights Reserved.

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Off the Rose

It was another of the red-headed lady’s sayings.  She had an endless store of them and took each one out like a treasure to be shared at the appropriate moment.  This time, someone had mentioned a young couple who were having marital problems.  The pair were, it seemed, no longer interested in fulfilling their vows of lifelong commitment and appeared to be headed for divorce court.

“Well,” she said matter-of-factly, “The bloom is off the rose.”

The phrase may have entered the conversation matter-of-factly, but I wasn’t about to allow it to exit the conversation in the same manner.

“What does that mean?  Mama, what does the bloom is off the rose mean?”

It surely must have been a great burden to have a son who loved words so much.  The questions must have been incessant.  Nevertheless, I was not about to be ignored.  I was not much interested in the conversation about the young couple, but I did want to know about this blooming rose.

The red-headed lady seemed exasperated at the interruption, but realizing that it was pointless to push on, addressed the question.

“It’s just a phrase that my mother used to use.  I suppose it means that the initial excitement is gone and the people are losing interest in each other.”

It wasn’t exactly what I had hoped for, but it was all the explanation I was going to get.  At the least, I understood the gist of the phrase she had used–enough so that I tried it a time or two in my conversations in the next few days.  None of my friends understood the reference at all, nor did they even ask what it meant.  When you’re eight years old, some things just aren’t worth the trouble in the first place.  I dropped the phrase from my repertoire.

Today, nearly fifty years later, I thought about it again as a friend recounted a semi-tragic story to me.  His tale centered around a man with whom he played music at one time.  The fellow had come across a very desirable electric guitar which could be purchased for a tiny sum of money.  For any readers who care, the guitar was a sixties-vintage gold-top Gibson Les Paul.  The person who offered the guitar for sale wanted a measly fifty dollars for it.  Fifty dollars!  The guitar was worth, at the time, upwards of a thousand dollars (much more, today).  The man purchased the beautiful instrument on the spot.

He was proud of his acumen in finding the bargain and, anxious to show the guitar off, headed for my friend’s house to participate in a jam session with his new instrument.  He parked his car on the street and started up the driveway to the house.  There was no case for the guitar to be carried in, but he had plans to remedy that as soon as he replenished his funds.  There would be no need.

As he approached the house, he tripped over a rock in the drive.  Struggling to keep his balance with the heavy guitar, he let it slip momentarily.  He was quick enough to catch the body of the guitar, but the top of the head stock, at the end of the neck, smacked the pavement hard.  Nearly sick to his stomach, he pulled the guitar upright again to examine the damage.  There was no doubt that something was horribly amiss.  The top of the neck, with its tuning machines, canted forward at an angle, and the tension on the strings exaggerated the effect.  The neck was broken clear through, right at the place where the head stock flared out.  Now he was sick.

The taste of victory, so sweet because of the great price he had gotten, had quickly turned sour in his mouth.  Oh, he soon had the neck repaired and the guitar played adequately, even serving him for several more years, but somehow it just wasn’t quite the same.  My friend tells me that the man never was able to get over the disappointment of breaking the beautiful instrument before he even had a chance to play it with his friends.

The bloom was off the rose.

My mother’s words came back to me in a flood, as my friend told me the story.  But, I remembered the context of her words and then thought about the difference in the two situations.  As much as I hate to say it, she wasn’t applying the meaning correctly.  While it applies quite well in the case of the guitar, itself a completely inanimate object, with the disappointment and the inability to ever again achieve the pristine condition it once had, the phrase was never intended to apply to relationships with people.

I’ve spent some time in research tonight, word nerd that I am, and I realize that the phrase never meant that the blossom has been separated from the plant.  The bloom that is referred to is the sheen, the life, that vivid color that gives the rose its beauty.  The bloom signifies vitality–longevity.

When we acquire a possession, it is inevitable that the bloom will fade.  Somehow though, it never fails to surprise me.  That item, whether it be a painting, or a piece of furniture, or even an automobile, is stunning in its beauty to begin with.  I want to sit and take it in; I want to fuss at the grandchildren to keep their feet off of the material; I have to walk out to the garage to polish the surface for just a minute.  The surprise comes months later, when I realize that it just hangs on the wall, another framed decoration.  I see the children standing on it and playing king-on-the-mountain and merely smile.  I see another nick on the door in the Walmart parking lot and only shrug.

The bloom is off the rose.

But, when we speak of people…

I sit and think for a moment and I have it!

Our relationship with people, be it a spouse, our parents, or our friends, is not a single rose.  No.  A single rose is doomed to wilt, to lose its appeal, to die and be gone.  People, along with our relationships with them, are the entire garden.   

The entire garden.

In the garden, change is always happening.  Buds are developing, overgrowth is being cut away, cultivation is taking place.  Each season, more beauty is seen, as the garden is tended.  Every year, the anticipation is greater, as the display grows more and more spectacular.

Do the individual blossoms lose their initial outer beauty?  Is there disappointment as the astounding glory of this season passes?  I would lie if I said no.  The petals wilt and fall, the leaves drop to the ground. There is sadness, there is regret.  But, there is always the knowledge that more is yet to come, that the beauty of the next season will almost certainly surpass what has come before.

The seeds of the blossoms from past years drop, along with the petals and the leaves, and guarantee the splendor that will be.  True–the garden must be cared for, must be tended to continue, but there is never a time when it is less important, less rewarding.  Blossoms or no, the garden lives.

Do I have on rose-colored glasses (pun intended)?  Am I hopeless in my optimism for the future?  Maybe, just a little.  I have seen it with my own eyes, though.  I have wandered through such gardens.

I have seen friendships which last for a lifetime; I have seen brothers and sisters live in harmony through long years; I have seen marriages that do not come to unhappy ends, the principals disappointed and disillusioned with the rose they have plucked from the garden.  Husbands and wives do learn to tend to the garden, rather than selfishly demanding a beautiful rose to sit in their vase, never wilting or losing color.  The grace of old lovers who still show the beauty of their living, growing relationship is unmistakable and something to be emulated.

It was no coincidence, I think, that when God chose an image so mankind could remember His intent for all creation, He put His creatures in a garden.  He put them there to tend the garden and care for it.

It’s still what we’re supposed to be doing today.  Look around.

The garden plot stretches out as far as the eye can see.

Oh!  I forgot to tell you.  There are a few thorns in the garden too.  You’ll have to figure them out on your own.  I’m guessing you can handle that.

I’ve had to suck on my finger a time or two, also.

“Every time I’ve held a rose, it seems I only felt the thorns.
And so it goes, and so it goes.”
(from “And So It Goes” ~ Billy Joel ~ American singer/songwriter)

“There is hope for the future because God has a sense of humor and we are funny to God.”
(Bill Cosby ~ American comedian/author)

© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2014. All Rights Reserved.

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‘Til the Music is Done

I flung up my hands, as if in surrender.


There are days when the lesson begins first thing in the morning and continues to day’s end.  

Yes, only one lesson—all day.  

That was today for me.  I learned about surrender.  And, a little about what comes after that.

In the wee hours of this morning, I pulled the clarinet out of the case.  A cheaply made instrument, I had opted to make the repairs myself, instead of sending it to the instrument technician who usually handles them.  The customer has no money to pay for a complete repair, so I suggested a lick and a promise, if it could be done.  

The bent key needed only to be returned to its original location.  I have a pair of key-bending pliers, made just for such occasions.

The slight torsion I applied to the metal key was enough to break the solder joint loose, and the entire piece was suddenly hanging by a thin piece of metal slag.  I gasped.  I laid the clarinet back into its case.

I went home—to sleep.


My friend walked into the store and sat down.  He had nothing in his hands.  He didn’t even look around at what was on the shelves or hanging on the walls.  It was going to be one of those visits.

“People are asking me about the Lost Gospels.  What do you know about them?”  

It was a loaded question, leading to another and another, until finally we would speak once again about Saints versus saints and Grace versus works, and Confession versus confession.  

My friend is a member of the Eastern Orthodox church.  I am not.  He knows what I believe.  I know what he believes.

Point, meet counterpoint.

Finally, I asked him if we could switch places and he would argue the evangelical side, while I espoused the orthodox doctrine.  He peered at me with a quizzical look on his face.

“Why would we do that?”

I explained that it made as much sense as each of us saying the same things we had said the last time he had been in for a visit.  We are both evangelists for our respective faiths.  

He was disappointed, but he conceded the wisdom and threw up his hands in mock surrender.  We’re still friends.

It wasn’t exactly surrender, but more of a cease-fire—recognition of the stalemate.

The grandfather of a piano student, his resolve to await her lesson’s end in his truck beaten by the outside temperature, wandered behind my desk chair.  I looked up and nodded, an action he took as an invitation to make conversation.  It wasn’t, but I politely answered his remarks about the weather, with a couple of sympathetic statements of my own, quickly turning to my work once again.

He wasn’t done yet.

“Yep, it’s sure cold, but we really need some rain.”

I almost snorted.  It’s January!  It doesn’t rain in January!  I was smart enough to keep my mouth shut, but he wouldn’t let it go.

“I’m serious!  The lake is down four feet!”

It really wasn’t something I was going to argue about.  I just nodded my head and made a noise that could have either been a wise hmmmm of understanding or just me clearing my throat.  One way or the other, I hoped he would move to a different subject.

He still wasn’t done.

“We really have to have some rain soon or we’ll be in real trouble!”

I’m not sure what made me do it.  I think I just needed to concentrate on the project I was struggling with, so I simply asked the question that had been flitting around in my head from his first complaint about the weather.

Turning around to face him, I put my hand under my chin and asked, quite seriously, “What do you think we should do about the problem?”

He sat, motionless.  Then he spoke.

“Well, I supp…”  He looked right at me and said it, “I guess we’ll just have to leave it to the Good Lord, won’t we?”

His hands went up in the air as he gave up ownership of the weather to the only One who could ever possibly control it. (Matthew 5:45)

For some reason, he didn’t want to talk to me anymore.  I really didn’t mean to be rude.  But, sometimes, you just have to quit beating your head against that solid wall in front of you and admit that there is nothing to be done about it.


She brought her guitar in last week for me to examine.  Thought she only needed to have the neck adjusted.  It turns out that the way she plays has worn the metal frets on the fingerboard almost all the way through.  Three years old, the guitar is.  Frets usually last thirty or forty years for most people.

She came to pick up the guitar today after I worked my magic on the frets, leveling and re-crowning them.  I was prepared to rail on her about the way she plays the instrument, but I thought better of it.  It’s her guitar; she can play it however she wants.

As she checked over my handiwork, I told her, “This is the only time we’ll be able to fix the problem this way.  The next time, either you have to get a new guitar, or the frets will have to be replaced completely.”

She seemed sad.  Momentarily, her hands started up into the air as the words I had said took effect.  It was only a moment and her hands returned to pluck the strings tenderly.  Then she looked at me and smiled.

“I bought it to play music.  I’ll keep playing it ’til the music is done.”

Surrender.  Plus resolve.

And, the Teacher said, “Which of you, by worrying about it, can add a single hour to your life?” (Luke 12:25)

I’m with the young lady.  I’m here to play music.  I think I’ll keep playing ’til the music is done.

How about it?  You want to play a verse or two with me?  

The day is coming when the music will be silent, but it’s not today.

Let’s play on.

You can throw your hands up in the air while the music’s going, too. 




Allow yourself to let go, surrender, and breathe in the beautiful world that is waiting for you just outside your comfort zone.
(Leigh Hershkovich ~ American writer)

Music expresses that which cannot be said and on which it is impossible to be silent.
(Victor Hugo ~ French novelist ~ 1802-1885)

© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2014. All Rights Reserved.

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Feeling Pins and Needles

I never want to be so numb that I don’t feel the pain of another’s loss.

It was just another of those statements I wrote as the New Year rolled around a couple of  weeks ago.  I felt the need to verbalize some of the thoughts that were rolling around in my head.

I’m not so sure now that it was a good idea.

Did I say just another of those statements?  It seems that this is anything but just another one.

I feel like a challenge has been issued and accepted.

Almost before I clicked save for the list of thoughts which I wanted not to lose in the noise and confusion of daily life, the news came that a friend’s unborn grandchild was likely to be born without some of the organs necessary to sustain life.  The child will almost certainly die.  I, along with the Lovely Lady, was grief struck as I contemplated the months of pregnancy, and the dread that the young parents will face each day of those months ahead.

Not numb, but grieving and prayerful.

Within days, the same news came about a different family.  The exact same news.  The grief grew and the prayerful attitude expanded as well.

I never imagined the number of friends who would experience loss, or would be facing it in the very near future.  At least four of them have lost parents, more than one has a parent in hospice–waiting for God, as they say.  It is not a time without hope, but the sadness is multiplied as I hear about each one and the circumstances.  An old friend and teacher in my town passed away suddenly, another friend’s father decided that this life was too much for him to bear and ended it abruptly.  A close friend in my church is facing radiation therapy for cancer this week–Well, you get the picture.  That’s not all of them, but it is enough.

The avalanche has buried me.

I’m lying under the cold, icy layers–all of the sudden, remembering that I have problems of my own.  I am buried under my own mini-avalanche here at the music store, family members need my attention and prayers, grandchildren are fighting the everyday illnesses of the winter, relationships need tending.

And, the door handle on my pickup truck is broken.  Okay, that last one is kind of a non-issue.  But, there is this thing they call the straw that breaks the camel’s back.  That just might be it.

I’ve got problems of my own.  They do make me kind of numb, and I’m not sure that I can keep sympathizing, can keep offering support, can keep helping the less fortunate.  I don’t feel all that fortunate myself tonight.

But there is that statement.

I meant what I said.  So now, what do I do?  What about this numbness that is setting in?

My mind drifts away, as it often does, to a less hurried–a less stressful–time.  The tow-headed boy is asleep in his single bed, really just a section of a bunk bed, the same bed he has slept in for as long as he can remember.  He is lying on his stomach, his left arm completely under his torso, the hand, actually hanging over the opposite edge of the bed.

The call comes up the stairs from his mother.  “Time for breakfast!  If you don’t get moving, you’ll get nothing!”

He awakes and, realizing how long it will be until lunch, sits up on the side of the bed.  Suddenly, he looks down at his left hand.  He can’t feel it at all!  He pinches a finger with his right hand.  Nothing!  The arm hangs, useless.

Terrified, he runs to the stairs and shouts down to his mom.  “My arm feels dead!  I can’t use my hand at all!”

His mom, with five children, is not one to panic.  She comes partway up the stairwell and looks at the dangling arm.  Seeing the tell-tale marks of the compression from his arm lying under his body, she shushes his crying and tells him to go get dressed.

“But, I can’t use my arm!  What will I do?”  This is a new experience for the little tyke and he has no idea why his mother is not more sympathetic.

“Oh.  You’ll know when it’s ready to be used again.”  His mom smiles, a little comic smirk, which should have given him some idea of what was to come in just moments.

He still wasn’t ready for it when it happened.  The stabbing of a thousand pins into his arm and hand was not on his radar screen at all.  As the blood rushed back into his once-numb limb, he wished for the lack of feeling which had been present just seconds before.   Mercifully, the sensation didn’t last long, but it left a lasting impression on the young boy.

My mind comes back to the present day and once again, I am amused at how it comes and goes at will.  I’m less amused at the thought of what will take away the numbness I am feeling.  It is pretty simple really.  My mother gave me the key, when she explained the cure to that little boy so many years ago.

“All you have to do is get the weight off your arm and start using it again!”

It’s all a little simplistic, isn’t it?  But, the more I think about it, the more I am convinced that there is something to the suggestion.  You see, when I talk about being sympathetic and caring for others, I often leave out one small detail.

Others care for me as well.

Everyday, they ask me if things are going well.  They inquire about my parents, about my sister and her husband, about my business.  They are not being busybodies; they actually care and want to encourage me.  They do encourage me.

I’m not in this alone!  The numbness?  I just have to realize that the weight isn’t mine to carry by myself.  The weight that is making me numb can be lifted.  All I have to do is to get up and allow other people to do what they are called to do.

And, I can keep doing what I am called to do.  With them.

Yep.  Just like in the movies, we have seen the hero go down under the weight of the avalanche that caught him as he skied down the mountainside.  All is quiet and we are sure that he is dead.  All is lost.

But, no.  There is a hand poking through the snow.  Then another.  The head pokes through and looks around.  Against all hope, the mountain has not won.  Our hero is bent, but not broken.

The pins and needles stabbing, the numbness is wearing off now.  I think I may have the use of my limbs again back soon.

…Not so numb that I don’t feel the pain…

I think I’ll stay out on the slopes awhile longer.  How about it?

Are you up for a run down the hill with me?

“Sympathy is two hearts tugging at one load.”
(Charles Henry Parkhurst ~ American clergyman ~ 1842-1933)

“For the entire law is fulfilled in this one command, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'”
(Galatians 5:14 ~ NIV)

© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2014. All Rights Reserved.

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The racket from a snow shovel wasn’t all that familiar a sound to my ears back then, but I knew what it was.  I wondered who was out working in the failing light and why.  The six inches of snow that had fallen earlier had effectively closed down our sleepy little burg, and unless there was an emergency, no one was out on the roads.  As darkness fell, it could only get more slick out.

Scrunchhh!  I heard it again.

Holding the curtain on the big window aside, I looked across the street.  There he was.  Mr Harold, the crotchety old guy in the house on the corner was out shoveling his drive.  Close to eighty years old, the portly, balding man set his shovel down for another pass across the parking area in front of his garage.  I stood and considered my next move.

Oh, it doesn’t matter.  You know what I did.

Yeah.  I went and got my shovel.  Crossing the road, I walked up his drive and stood near him, ready to get to work.

“Hi, Mr. Harold!  It’s a little nippy out, isn’t it?”  I said the words lightly, but I wasn’t prepared for his reaction to my presence.

You know what I expected, don’t you?  Surely he would thank me for coming out to help.  Possibly, he would protest that he was able to do the task himself.  Regardless, he would be grateful and we’d make short work of the job, a job which would have taken a long time and have been much harder to do by himself.

I was wrong.

“What do you want?”  It wasn’t a friendly question.  The man was openly suspicious.

“What do you mean?”  My reaction was almost as abrupt as his question.  I had been taken aback by his attitude and needed a minute to find my bearings.

“You want something.  What is it?  The old guy looked at me, his lips pursed and with a surly set to his chin.

I finally got what he was driving at.  He thought I wanted him to pay me for helping.  He assumed that I would never do the job for nothing.

“No. Nothing.  I’m just trying to be a neighbor.”  The words from my mouth were polite and reassuring, but in my mind, I added the words “you grouchy old geezer” silently.  I didn’t wait for a reply but started my own swath down the drive.


We finished the whole driveway in near silence.  The last shovelful was pushed off onto the lawn before he really spoke.

“Thank you.  Not many people do nice things for me nowadays.”

I looked into his face once more and saw a different person than the one who had been there the first time I’d looked.  The angry, suspicious Mr. Harold was gone.  This Mr. Harold was softer, perhaps even close to tears.

I smiled.  “Neighbors ought to help each other.”

He smiled back and offered his hand to shake mine.  I crossed the street and he went back into his house.  He was never a crotchety old guy again, but was a good neighbor, waving when he saw us and always cheerful when we had the chance to talk.  I helped him a time or two more while we lived in that house.

Funny.  The older I get, the more I understand him.  It makes me sad that I understand him.

“…just remember, life turned her that way.”

For some reason, I hear the hillbilly twang of the singer’s voice as the words come to my memory.  The old country song excuses the coldness and bitterness of the person under consideration, assuming that we will agree it’s a reasonable explanation, knowing all she has been through.

I want it not to be true.

I especially want it not to be true in me.

Suspicion is not a pretty thing.  It is a reaction which is born of long experience.  When people take advantage of us often enough, we assume all people wish to take advantage of us.  When we are fed enough sales pitches by folks who claim to have our best interests at heart, we assume every phone call is a sales pitch.  I know.  I hear it in the voice of every person who answers the phone when I call, asking for the person I need to speak with.  The second I identify myself, their voice changes, the suspicion gone, the former hardness absent.

I’m reasonably certain that suspicion keeps us apart as a human race.  It makes us avoid folks who don’t look like we do, or people who don’t believe like we do.  I’m even thinking it convinces many of us not to even attempt to fulfill our responsibility to those who are unfortunate enough to have needs.  We believe they will exploit us, will milk us of everything we are willing to offer.  We expect them to cheat us.

Funny, isn’t it?  We actually cheat them as we close our hearts and our hands.  The opportunities for them to see God in us are lost.  All because of suspicion.

And in the end, we are also cheated.  We’re cheated of friendship, of generosity, of love that gives regardless of the cost and response.

David, that greatest of worshipers, says of God that He opens His hand and satisfies the desire of every living creature.

We, too, can have open hands and satisfy the needs of those who surround us.

The telephone rang in the music store one day last week.  I picked up the receiver and heard the voice of a telemarketer.  As I waited for an opportune moment to close down his memorized sales spiel, I happened to look at my free hand.  What do you suppose I saw?

A clenched fist.  A fist that said, “You’ll get nothing from me!”  The automatic reaction to every perceived attempt to separate me from my worldly goods.

There is a reason they call selfish misers tight-fisted.

I’m not certain it’s only a coincidence we fight people with that same clenched fist.  I’m suggesting tonight that it might be time to open our hands–might be time for us to reach out in love instead of grasping in fear.

I’m thinking it might be time we have a new explanation for our actions.

Love turned us this way.

“As we work to create light for others, we naturally light our own way.”
(Mary Ann Radmacher ~ American author)

“…I command you, ‘You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land.'”
(Deuteronomy 15:11b ~ ESV)

© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2014. All Rights Reserved.

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Playing Shadow Tag

“Man, did he stomp you!  You are so dead!”

My brother shouted out the words triumphantly.  He was right.  David, the boy from two houses up, had just killed me.  He had smashed me with no mercy whatsoever.  It was over.

Well.  Now that it was over, this dead boy could head for home and some supper.  The sun was leaning down low in the western sky and the shadows grew longer and longer.

What’s that?  You want to know about the stomping and smashing?  Well, I just told you.  The shadows were growing longer.

It was a game we played sometimes.  I bet you did too.  We had been walking down the road and noticed the elongated shadows our bodies cast as we ambled along, the westering sun behind us.  Immediately we were trying to step on each other’s shadow, playing a game of shadow tag.  The one that lasted the longest without an opponent’s foot coming down on his shadow was the winner.

For a long time on this particular evening, I had prevailed.  I’m sure the neighbors thought we were crazy.  We jumped and jived, yelling while spinning this way and that–all the while, stomping at the ground like wild men stepping on cockroaches.  Anyone looking on would have seen nothing on which to stomp, but there we were, slamming our feet down here and there, dodging across the pavement to avoid the certain death that awaited us.

My favorite trick, and the one that kept me alive as long as I had lasted in the game, was to wait until someone’s foot was about to smack down on the pavement where my shadow was and quickly to duck down, almost on the street.  The fifteen foot shadow that had loomed out ahead of me seconds before shrank to a tiny thing no longer than I was tall.  The ruse worked for awhile, but finally David, who was the only opponent left alive, figured out what was happening and stomped the road right in front of me.  Even the tiny shadow I cast while crouched down was long enough that there was no doubt of the kill.  I clutched my throat, as did the shadow stretched out on the pavement, made a gurgling noise, and fell to the road.  The shadow followed suit, lying perfectly still as long as I did.  It was such a copycat!

I have always been interested in shadows.  Well, I was when I was a boy.  As a man, I had forgotten about them, the obligations of adulthood robbing me of the freedom to sit and watch my shadow grow and shorten in the sunlight, to make shadow puppets on walls, to play a game of shadow tag with my peers.  It may be that I am moving into my second childhood.  It may just be that I am taking more time now to think about days gone by.  In any case, I have been noticing my old companion again recently, that omnipresent pal from my youth–my shadow.

I saw him once again last night as I took a late evening run.  Oh, I know he is most visible in the sun, but in the winter months, I don’t get out in the daylight as much as I’d like, so the moonlight has to do.  We’ve had a clear night or two, and the waxing moon is casting a vivid shadow as it eases toward its full stage later this week.  I watched my shadow run that five mile course with me last night, but the path on which I run has many lamps to illuminate the way, so the extra shadows can be a bit confusing.

I realized something as I ran.  There was a shadow always visible, since the moon barely shifted in the three quarters of an hour that I was out in the night.  But, each time I ran under one of those lamps, the shadow changed.  The moon shadow was at a different angle than the one cast by the lamp and the closer I got to the lamp, the more distinct the artificial shadow grew and the less defined the moon’s became.  The lamp’s shadow was first stretched out behind me as I approached the lamp, shortening to nothing as I was exactly under it, and then lengthening out in front of me as I sped past the artificial light source.  As I looked steadily down, the lamp’s shadow began to waver and the moon-cast shadow became distinct once more in exactly the same place it had been before I ran under the lamp.  Soon the lamp’s shadow was no more, but the moon’s remained.  This was repeated again and again all along the path.

You know, it seems to me that the light source in which we choose to live and walk is pretty important.  Artificial light is bright enough–for a moment, but if we move, we will outpace it easily.  The only way to keep that shadow from disappearing is to stay under it, never moving.  Even the moon’s light is transient; if we continue in it long enough, the shadow lengthens and disappears.  The same happens eventually with the sun.

I wonder if I need to continue in this vein much longer.  Is it obvious to you by now that this conversation can only end in contemplation of the one true Light?  All others pale before Him. But, like the other light sources, if we stay directly under this Light, there is no shadow, no darkness.

I like that.  Nobody gets to stomp on us in a game of spiritual shadow tag.

No more lengthening shadows as the light goes.

Every good gift is from above, coming down from the Father of Lights.

I want to live in that Light.

“I have a little shadow that goes in and out with me,
And what can be the use of him is more than I can see.”
(from A Child’s Garden of Verses ~ Robert Louis Stevenson ~ Scottish Poet ~ 1850-1894)

“This is the message which we have heard from Him and declare to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all.”
(I John 1:5 ~ NKJV)

© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2014. All Rights Reserved.

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Sleeping Dragons

2:30 AM–The dragon is sleeping.  Not dead, just sleeping.

It doesn’t look much like a dragon, does it?  Yet, I’m sure that’s what it is.  For weeks, I’ve done battle with it.  Oh, not continuously.  I don’t have the strength for that.

I fight with the dragon until I’m tired and then I retreat from the field.  Not in defeat, just a brief reprieve from the back-and-forth of blows and counter blows between combatants.

What’s that?  A guitar can’t strike any blows?  You’ve obviously never met this guitar.  I once thought this an easy conquest, too.

No more.

A few moments before midnight tonight, I sent a message to the Lovely Lady.  Tersely, I claimed victory, suggesting that I would be home soon.  The battle was won, the dragon defeated.

If only.

No sooner had I turned from my smart phone than the battle erupted anew.  A new tuning machine piece must be found, cover-plate screws were missing and had to be located, the volume potentiometer was scratchy and should be cleaned.  All those tasks were completed, but the potentiometer would not be defeated.  A new one had to be installed.  Oh.  And the tone potentiometer had the same idea and would not be denied.  Holes are the wrong size and must be drilled.  The knobs won’t fit on the new pots.

I have been badly burned by the dragon fire on this night.  This time, I have retreated from the field in defeat.  I will finish the fight another day.

But, something else is bothering me.  Yes, I’m feeling sorry for myself.  I’m sure I have earned the right to do that.

But, still…

Ah!  Now it comes back to me.  There are more important battles being fought, aren’t there?  My guitar is hardly in the running for any of the vicious dragons which must be slain in your mind, is it?  The guitar does provide food for thought, though.

I don’t claim to know what battles all of my readers are involved in.  I do know that an old friend lost her dad to cancer a couple of days ago, and another is struggling with the impending death of a beloved pet.  I talked with my Mom tonight.  She didn’t know who I was–couldn’t remember that she had any children at all.  Her loss of cognizance is a dragon my Dad fights daily (and the rest of us do from afar).  My sister is still facing chemo, her husband, the darkness of losing his sight.  I know people losing jobs, and a young man who faces hunger on a daily basis.  The list of dragons goes on and on.

What do we do?  How do we live?  How can we go on fighting dragons that won’t be killed?

I don’t know about you, but I’m going to go to bed in a little while.  After I rest a few hours, I’m going to awaken again, realizing that God has given me one more day to fight the battle which is in front of me.  It’s not just about a guitar, but that dragon is one thing I’ll do battle with again.  It is still in front of me and the only way to the other side is through.

A friend, who has ample experience with dragons, posted an article tonight that questioned whether God allows us to face more than we can handle.  Most believers would say that the answer is no.  This person says yes.

I agree with her.

I have been overwhelmed more times than I can count.  But, that’s not where I am today.

The thing we have to remember is that God’s promise to us is His strength is made perfect in our weakness.  Do you get that?  His strength.  Of course, we’re overwhelmed!

But, He’s not!

The sleeping dragon of a guitar will be waiting when I come in tomorrow.  I’m not excited about facing it again.  My mom will still be unaware of who I am and who my father is.  Funerals will be conducted and chemo regimens will be followed.

I took this picture while out for a walk one evening last spring.  I wanted to remember what a dead dragon looks like.

You see, just moments before the photo was taken, a tornado had blown overhead and the dragon had breathed its fire.

After fear comes new courage.

After destruction, new hope.

Dragons don’t live forever.

We will.

Are you locked in battle right now?  Fight on!

You’re not alone and the battle is not futile.  It may go on for longer than you had hoped.  The result may not be just as you expected.

God won’t be surprised.  He won’t be unprepared.  He promises you that His grace will be enough to get you through.

It’s enough.

Even as the dragon sleeps.  It’s enough.

“So comes snow after fire, and even dragons have their ending.”
(from “The Hobbit” ~ J.R.R. Tolkien ~ English educator/author ~ 1892-1973)

“‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the lord, ‘Plans to prosper you and not to harm you–plans to give you hope and a future.'”
(Jeremiah 29:11 ~ NIV)

© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2014. All Rights Reserved.

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Rescue Me!

“Failure to plan on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part.”

The sign hung over the instrument repairman’s work bench.  He had another sign which hung nearby. It stated tersely, “Good work takes time,” making it apparent that our friend behind the counter had little patience with folks who failed to plan ahead.

I used to admire him.

That was before.

Before I lived enough years to realize that emergencies do indeed occur.  Before I learned that the pride that one feels in being prepared in a world filled with unprepared people can disappear in an instant, dissolving like a sandcastle at full tide.  Before I discovered that the ability to plan is not the same as having twenty-twenty foresight.

“Extreme cold and very low wind chills,” is what the weatherman said a day or two ago.  “Better make sure that your pets are warm and the water pipes can’t freeze.”  I looked over at the Lovely Lady, sitting in our warm den and smiled, perhaps a little too smugly.  She smiled back at me, making me feel more proud than I had before.

The new doghouse arrived in the fall, a long heavily insulated thing, capable of housing the two black monsters in our backyard without crowding at all.  It seemed to make sense to winterize the house, so I had spent most of one afternoon closing up the gaps.  I experimented with a heating method or two before settling on a small space heater (placed safely out of their reach) which had a thermostat that could be set at an appropriate temperature.  It wouldn’t be as warm as being in the house with their owners, but the canines spend most of their time outside anyway, so it was important that there not be such an extreme variance in temperature.  A durable mat on the floor insured that they would be comfy on the coldest of nights.

I had planned.

And the water pipes?  Not to worry.  The only place where I knew the pipes could be exposed to the cold was the kitchen sink.  It stands near the north wall and there is access to the supply line on that wall.  I checked to be sure that there was a thick layer of styrofoam insulation in the cavity of the wall and a heavy block covering it to ensure that no frigid air could even begin to ice up the water inside.  Just in case, I left the cabinet doors open to the warm inside air, a precaution which I was sure was unnecessary.

I was ready!

The smug smile would be wiped completely off within hours.

Late last night, with the temperature outside hovering around zero, I heard the dogs whining.  Outside.  Outside?  Surely they were in their warm house. I had checked the operation of the heater just an hour or so before.  No, they were outside.  I walked out to where they lay atop the snow.  On their durable mat.  Which they had dragged out of the warm house. It was wet and covered with ice, so it couldn’t be used again without a good bit of work.  They would not go back in their house again–not without the mat on the floor–which they had dragged out into the snow and rendered unusable.

I found the remainder of the original roll of matting and carried it out to their house, folding it to fit and tossing it inside to lie on the floor.

The cold pooches scrambled to get inside the warm doghouse, the two of them almost getting stuck as they tried to enter at the same time.  I didn’t see them again until late this morning.

I checked the water in the kitchen early today.  I knew what I would find.  Well?  I had prepared.  It ran just fine, with no sign of a problem.  I allowed myself another smug smile–for just a minute, you understand.  Then I headed for work, leaving the Lovely Lady home since she wasn’t feeling well today.  She sat in front of the warm heater all day.  It ran all day with the outside temperature never rising above ten degrees.  About 4:30 PM, I got a text from her.

“Is there supposed to be a sizzling sound when the heater goes off?”

There wasn’t.

I locked up the music store and headed for the house.  When I arrived, I heard the sizzling sound.  It had nothing to do with the heater, but it couldn’t be heard when the fan was running.  No, it had nothing to do with the heater.  It did, however, have something to do with the wet spot I saw in the carpet along the wall behind the heater.

Pipes.  Broken in the wall.  A wall where I didn’t remember any pipes being located.  I wracked my brain.  Why would there be pipes in a wall of a room which had no sink, no faucet, and no toilet?   This room had been a carport before we remodeled the house.  Before that?  Oh yes–it was coming back to me now.  I remember the former owner talking.  Something about a little beauty parlor in the room.  One chair–one sink–in which to wash hair.

A sink.  Plumbing in the wall.  I called my brother-in-law.

“Hey, do you know where the shut-off is for the plumbing in this wall that we closed in?”

He didn’t.  I explained my problem and then told him that I didn’t want it to be his problem and that I’d figure out what needed to be done.

Disconnecting the heater and pulling it out, I began to cut into the sheet rock behind it.  The first hole I made gave me a clear picture of what was going on.  Feeling around, I could tell that there were actually two pipes which had burst and were spewing water behind the wall.  I turned off the water to the whole house and prepared to go to the hardware store for some supplies.  As I started for the door to go to my car, there was a knock on it.  My brother-in-law stood there, tool kit in hand.

“I thought maybe I could help.”

The job was finished in a few minutes, the water turned back on and the heater re-installed.

All is well in my world once more.

Three things:

1.  Those you care for make stupid decisions.  Care for them anyway.  The dogs needed me to fix things for them.  They would have laid in the yard and frozen.  Yes, they’re that dumb.  It doesn’t matter.

2.  You can’t plan for everything.  Plan anyway.  Deal with the unforeseen problems which will come when they come.

3.  Be grateful for the people in your life who make your problems their problems.  True friends understand that failure to think of every possibility on your part doesn’t excuse them from helping in your emergency.

It’s time for me to quit writing now and return home.  The thermometer outside is standing at zero once more.  I think I better check on the dogs again to make sure they’re not lying out in the yard.

Oh!  I’m going to open the cupboard doors, too.  I hope there are no more hidden pipes in the wall.

If there are, will you come and help?

“A friend in need is a friend indeed.”
(English proverb ~ origin ca. late 1400’s)

“Are you upset little friend?  Have you been lying awake worrying?  Well, don’t worry…I’m here.  The flood waters will recede, the famine will end, the sun will shine tomorrow, and I will always be here to take care of you.”
(Charlie Brown to Snoopy ~ Charles M. Schulz ~ American cartoonist ~ 1922-2000)

© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2014. All Rights Reserved.

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Stand Your Ground

January the first started out sunny.  The temperature climbed into the low fifties, and I found myself thinking, in between muttering under my breath about having to count this guitar in my inventory again and that trumpet costing way too much to still be sitting on the shelf, that it would be a good day to take a group bicycle ride.

The note had come the week prior and was encouraging in its wording.

“January 1, 2014 at noon…all riders welcome.  We will start out with an easy 8 mile loop…”

There was more, about riding at whatever speed you wanted and going only as far as you wanted.  It seemed an attractive invitation.

Eight miles?  I can do that. Everyone was welcome.  I want to be part of everyone.

I’ll be there!

Sunny and fifty-two degrees.  Nearly thirty brave souls showed up.  The first half mile was great.  We took up the whole westbound lane of the main avenue out of the downtown area.  I remember wondering momentarily if there were any cars behind us.  Only momentarily.

We had the right of way.

We did.  It says so.  Right there in the Arkansas Code, Annotated (whatever that means).

“Every person riding a bicycle…upon a highway, shall have all the rights and all of the duties applicable to the driver of a vehicle…”

The lane was ours for the taking.  No one could force us to give it up.  Nearly thirty strong, we stood up for ourselves and didn’t even look back.  I couldn’t tell you if there were any angry drivers back there or not.

I didn’t care.  Well–we didn’t care–and I was part of we.

After that ecstatic, power-infused half-mile, we came to the first major hill in the “easy 8 mile loop”.  It wasn’t that big of a deal, only about 65 feet of elevation gain in a block.  I got up the hill just fine, thank you.

Then we turned to the south.

Did I say it was sunny and in the fifties that afternoon?  I may have forgotten to mention the sixteen mile-per-hour wind blowing from the south.  And, the road keeps going uphill.

Already a bit winded from climbing the hill, the blustery breeze in our faces soon separated the real riders from the amateurs.  The riders in the front began to pull away from me (and a number of others behind me).  Before I knew it, I was virtually by myself in the middle of the lane struggling to catch up with the front-runners in this easy 8 mile loop.

I heard a vehicle approaching from the rear.  Remembering my Arkansas Code, Annotated (of course), I stayed where I was.  For about five seconds.

Right of way!  I have the right of way!

The horn honked once.

I moved over.

It’s easier to stand your ground when you have twenty-eight or nine other zealots around you, isn’t it?

The huge diesel pickup blasted past me, its driver gesturing with his hand as if wondering what in the world these stupid little people were thinking of, riding on his road.

“I have all the rights applicable to any vehicle!”  I said the words aloud.

I feel sure he didn’t hear.  I think perhaps, he didn’t care.  He didn’t even slow at all.

I glanced ahead to the larger group, about fifteen cyclists strong, still just over a block or so ahead of me, and wondered what they would do.  He sped up behind them and honked his horn.  Perhaps he assumed they would do the same thing each of the single riders, such as I, had done.

No one moved over.

He honked again.  And, then again.  Repeatedly laying on his horn, to no avail, the frustrated driver rode behind the bikes going fifteen miles per hour.  Finally, the angry man pulled into the other lane of traffic and went around them, still gesturing angrily.  I don’t think those gestures meant the same thing the earlier one had.

As the sun went behind a cloud, the easy eight miles turned into a torturous seventeen for me, but that’s not really part of this conversation.

I do have a few questions, though.

I’m not sure if there really are any right answers.

Why is it easier to insist on our rights when we’re in a large group?  Well, perhaps that’s not such a hard question to answer.  The more salient side of that question may be: Why is it so hard to do the same thing when we’re the lone dissenter?

Mr. Shakespeare suggests that the better part of valor is discretion.  He is not wrong, although the original quote in context reveals a coward in battle.  In our more common speech, we would say we need to pick our battles.  There is truth to that thought also.  But…

But–I wonder if I haven’t used the word discretion to excuse cowardice in myself more than a few times.  And I’m not talking about my little ride down the middle of the lane on New Year’s Day anymore, either.  You probably already guessed that, didn’t you?

I want to stand up for the right things at the right times.  And, not just when I’m surrounded by allies.

I want to defend the defenseless even when there is no one around to defend me.

I would like to be the brave knight who rescues the damsel in distress.  I want to do that even when my horse has thrown me before running off and my suit of armor is at the cleaners.  On foot and unprotected, I want to be a protector.

Oh.  And, one more thing.  I want to know the difference between a fight for justice and a brawl for selfish pride.  I have a long history of picking the wrong fights and living to regret them.

I think that I am slowly learning these things.  There are times when I wish I could have had the advantage of age when I was much younger.  My path would surely have been easier.  Or perhaps, I would have been just as stubborn.  We’ll never know, will we?

I do remember my father telling of the man who was run over at the street corner as he walked in front of an oncoming car.  In the hospital, he was still insisting that pedestrians always have the right of way.

It turns out you can still get run over when you have the right of way.  Even if you can quote the Arkansas Code, Annotated.

Who knew?

“Father, give us courage to change what must be altered, serenity to accept what cannot be helped, and the insight to know the one from the other.”
(Reinhold Niebuhr ~ American theologian ~ 1892-1971)

“The better part of Valour, is Discretion; in the which better part, I have saved my life.”
(Falstaff from Henry IV ~ William Shakespeare ~ English poet/playwright ~ 1564-1616)

© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2014. All Rights Reserved.

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The Test

The white page before me is terrifying.

The drive to write is a fierce fire that burns, but it cannot banish the fear of failure.  Failure and I–we go back quite a way.  I am not anxious to renew the acquaintance.

Still, every time I sit down to write, the blank page mocks and teases.

“You have nothing to say!  The empty page is nicer than anything you can come up with!”

Some nights I listen to the mockery and walk away.  It only makes the next time that much harder.

Tonight, I sat and looked at the blank space once more.  This time, the realization hit me with power and urgency.

The empty page is a picture of life.  More to the point, today, it is especially salient as we stand on the verge of a new year.

The story is already written for the year we’ve just lived.  It is now a completed book of history.  Oh, edits will be made.  The intellectuals and politicians will debate the wording for many of the events, and what results will be something completely different than the actual occurrence, but it won’t change the fact that the book is closed and ended.


I hear the fireworks outside my office walls as I type.

The moment has come.  The old year is dead and gone.  Scribbled pages, strike-throughs, erasures, and footnotes–all of that is complete.  There will be a time to look back and decipher it later.

It is time now to step onto the new, clean page.

Blank, like the page you’re reading here was moments ago, it may terrify us.  The fear of failure, of loss, of pain may keep us frozen, but it’s a sure bet that the page will be marked up very soon anyway.

Life moves on, whether we will or no.

What will you write?  What will I write?

Will the message be coherent?  Will the lines run true?  Will the communication be plain?

“These are the times that try men’s souls.”  Thomas Paine, that great American patriot, was speaking of the terrifying early days of the Revolutionary War.  He was speaking of military resolve, of political concerns.

No matter.  The words ring true for us.

What we do next will show our mettle.  What we say today will prove who we are at our very core.  What we face right now, this minute, is a test of our faith and our resolve.

The test begins now.

Pencils ready?


“When I am afraid, I will put my trust in You.”
(Psalm 56:3 ~ NASB)

“…Knowing what must be done does away with fear.”
(Rosa Parks ~ American civil-rights activist ~ 1913-2005)

© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2014. All Rights Reserved.

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