Attracting Attention

On a recent afternoon we stood or sat in the music store, three old musicians, swapping stories of the glory days gone by.  I’m not sure if any lies were told.  Life is stranger than fiction, I’ve heard, and I have thought it true on an occasion or two.  If that is the case, perhaps no lies were necessary to the conversation that day.

I have followed a different path than these old pros, making a living by providing the tools of the trade for them and other in similar pursuits.  That doesn’t mean that I don’t have my own stories, just that they have occurred in different venues.

Still, I like to hear their tales.

I found as we talked that at times our conversation became animated and loud, since each of us had something to contribute and wanted to be next in line to share his story.  I think a time or two I may even have had my hand up in the air like an anxious schoolboy pleading for attention from the teacher.

Pick mePick me!

I need not have worried.  We all got a chance to tell our stories before the session ended and I realized that the attention-getting antics of the participants may have been exactly what we were discussing anyway.

We talked, as old musicians are wont to do, of gigs–events long past–in which we have participated.  There seemed to be a thread woven through each of the stories told on that afternoon.  That common thread was the need to be noticed, to hold the attention of the audience.

We spoke of noisy patrons in bars and at fairs, and even of haughty society matrons who shushed the band at wedding receptions.  None of us enjoy that aspect of performing.

We labor hard at our craft.  We rehearse and rehearse, both individually and as a group, to be sure that the product we offer our customers is of the highest quality we can present.  We work out tricky passages and quirky rhythms, discussing crescendos and fermatas–all in the hopes of pulling off the perfect performance.  The thing is, we want our audience to listen while we pull off that perfect performance.

They usually don’t.

One of the participants in the discussion told us in animated fashion of the good-old-boy saloon his band played many years ago–a venue more famous for its fist-fights than for its top-notch musical acts.  One more night, they had played, unheard and completely unnoticed, through several songs as an argument between two inebriated customers had escalated to include half of the patrons of that establishment.  The staff had tried in vain to halt the fracas, so the local lawmen came spilling through the door to see if they could attract the attention of the combatants.  They weren’t having much luck, until the sheriff walked through the door with a shotgun on his shoulder.  He said not a word, but simply stood in the middle of the room and cocked the shotgun.


The band had fallen silent by that time, but it wouldn’t have mattered.  The distinctive sound of the shotgun shell being chambered carried throughout the hall.  No voices were raised, no whistles blown.  The simple, menacing promise of those two syllables was enough.  The yells, grunts, and curses of the unruly mob ceased in an instant.  Throughout the bar, bloody noses were wiped and split lips sucked on as the humble and contrite men picked up chairs and tables in silence.

The sheriff knew how to get and hold attention.

Funny, as I put the story into words tonight, my mind is carried back in time.  I am once again seated on a hard pew in the little red brick church in which my formative years were spent.  When the doors to that church were unlocked, we were in those pews.  The whole family.  All seven of us.  Mom, Dad, one obedient sister, and four rowdy and rebellious brothers.

It’s funny that my mind should jump from the battlefield of that profane country tavern to the sacred quiet of the little church, but I remember the sheriff and his shotgun in the church, too.

No.  It wasn’t actually the sheriff, but there was a fight going on.  One of my brothers and I were involved in a clandestine tussle that involved kicks to the shins under the pews and a dig or two of the elbow into the ribs.  Like the bar fight, this was escalating.  Until the sheriff took notice.

He didn’t wear a badge.  Didn’t even carry a shotgun.  But I don’t think the distinctive sound of that gun being cocked could have created any more panic than the sound the battling boys heard that morning.  This sheriff had only to slide his thumb and middle finger together in a firm motion, and the deed was done.


Elbows were instantly to the sides and hands on legs.  Feet came out from under the pews and either rested firmly on the floor or dangled unmoving directly below the individual lad.  No shotgun in the world could have effected the change any faster.

Those boys knew what that same thumb and finger were capable of, if they came in contact with the fleshy portion of the back of the upper arm.  It had happened before.  The agony of being pinched in that place was almost more than the mind could bear to think about.  (The reader may feel free to attempt the maneuver for him or herself if there is any question.)  The threatening sound had weight behind it.

Nothing more was needed to gain their attention.  Or their acquiescence. 

Once again, my mind returns to the present and the conversation which had been going on around me.  We spoke of methods of getting and keeping the attention of the audience.  Almost as quickly as my mind has come back though, it begins to drift.

I wonder.  Why is it that we crave attention?  What is it within us that wants people to care about what we do and how we perform.  This is not true only of musicians, but is, in spite of protestations to the contrary, the common human condition.

We want to be loved.

We don’t just want attention; we want love.  Of course, the person who cannot achieve that purpose will seek other ways to gain attention, but the root desire is to be accepted and to be cared for.  As babies in our parents’ arms, we sought to be the center of their world.  We still seek that attention.

Some gain the attention by brute strength; some achieve it by trickery.  You know both types, to be sure.  Some make themselves pitiable to draw the attention of their target; others make themselves physically alluring to gain the eye of their audience.  We jump.  We wave our arms.  We scream at the top of our lungs to be heard above the din surrounding us.

I wonder if there is a better way.

I sat one Sunday morning some months ago and watched a curious thing.  Five minutes before the church service was to begin, amidst the noise of a crowd of people enjoying each other, the Lovely Lady mounted the steps to the platform and sat down to the grand piano.  Unobtrusively, she opened a book, and quietly, the notes began to stream forth from the beautiful instrument.  The hubbub of voices and chairs being moved around continued, unabated. 

For a moment.

I can’t tell you what it was; can’t even begin to define the reason.  All I know is that subtly, almost imperceptibly at first, a change came over the room.  Folks who were talking animatedly suddenly grew quiet.  Men who were standing up sat down.  Almost in a wave, the silence in the crowd grew, while the music from the piano wound its way to our ears and into our hearts.  It wasn’t a bombastic piece.  It didn’t have a lot of runs and arpeggios.  There were just beautiful chords and the sweet music of an accomplished musician who had selected a piece, not to attract attention, but to deliver a message of peace and joy.

No jumping up and down, no shotgun being cocked, no fingers being snapped.

Just the quiet of melody, harmony, and the Spirit of God.

It was a powerful moment.

A moment with a powerful message.  The attention we need doesn’t come from our efforts to attract attention.  The love we crave won’t come as we attempt to force others to love us.  If we will simply do what we are called to do, faithfully and skillfully, those things will follow.  Perhaps not immediately.  Perhaps not even for years.  But, they will follow.

I’m trying to learn the lesson of quiet faithfulness.

I may still wave my arms in the air a time or two, just to catch your eye. It’s obviously a work in progress.

Just be glad you’re not hearing the sound of the shotgun being cocked.

“Lighthouses don’t fire cannons to call attention to their shining–they just shine.”
(Dwight L Moody ~ American evangelist/pastor ~ 1837-1899)

“Everything they do is done for people to see…they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the churches; they love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and to be called teacher by others.”
(Matthew 23: 5-7 ~ NIV)

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

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Only the Important Stuff

She wasn’t my favorite grandma.

You know what I mean.  My other grandma laughed when I said stupid stuff.  She even stood up for me with my parents when she thought they were being too tough on me.

This grandma corrected my grammar and didn’t really like my jokes.  That in itself isn’t all that strange; many of my friends feel the same way, still.

Grandma Kirkpatrick thought I needed a firm hand, and she was just the one to lend it.  She made me change my socks when they stank.  She forced me to help my mom clean the house whenever she was around.  She didn’t think I should read so much, so she was always chasing me out of the house.

Grandma Kirk was grumpy.

Still, she loved me and I knew it.  She never forgot a birthday, always sending a dollar inside a birthday card.  She even sent the most wonderful treats at Christmastime, treats she made herself.  Candied dates–or were they figs?  No matter; they were wonderful.  She loved me.

But, she was grumpy.  She wasn’t my favorite grandma.

Funny how our minds trick us, isn’t it?  The years have passed, she’s been gone for twenty-some years, and I’m more fond of her than I ever was.  I miss the crotchety old lady.  And, I’m not being disrespectful when I say that.  I would love to have just one more visit with her.  Just one more.

Still, one of my favorite photos (you see it above) keeps her close to my heart these days.  If you can’t tell what is happening in the photo, the old lady (Grandma Kirkpatrick) is buttoning the little blonde girl’s coat.  The little girl is grinning from ear to ear, although you can’t see that.  That little girl is my daughter, herself now mom to four lively children.

Grandma was visiting at my brother’s house–one of the last times I would ever see her alive.  It was November and we were to have a feast with my brothers and their families, along with Grandma and Grandpa, on Thanksgiving day.  The little blondie wasn’t always that sociable a creature, especially when it came to strange adults.  But, she took to my Grandma instantly.

My grumpy Grandma.

Funny.  She must have changed.  Maybe she didn’t fuss that much at the racket the tyke and her cousins constantly made.  She may have even ignored the kid throwing a hissy-fit about having to eat her vegetables.  Whatever it was, the little girl adored her.

Every time we left my brother’s house that week, the little blonde two-year old had to make one stop before heading out the door.  She would let us help her find her coat.  She even tolerated her Dad helping to pull on the garment.  But, Great-Grandma had to do the buttons.  No one else would do.  There was no way she was going out the door until it was done.  By Great-Grandma.

I still don’t get it.  I’m starting to have a glimmer, though.

The little girl knew two things.  1) Great-Grandma loved her (and her Daddy).  2) She could be trusted to keep her warm when she went out into the cold.

One followed the other.  Nothing else mattered.

Was the old lady grumpy?  Possibly.  But, she loved her.  And, the old lady made it so she was warm.  Every time.

The little girl never knew that her Great-Grandma was grumpy.  Never.  All she knew was this one very important thing:  Great-Grandma knew how to keep her warm.

There are so many more things I want to say.  I like to control the lessons that are drawn from my little stories.  But I’m still learning my own lessons from this one, so I’ll leave the reader with just a nudge or two in the direction I’m headed.

I wonder if we don’t focus so much on the negative that we miss the most important things about people.

I wonder if we all need a little child to instruct us.

I wish we would always get one more chance to tell people how much we love them.

We don’t.

I’m thinking that today we should thank the people who keep us warm.

Let’s do it while they’re still around.






…and a little child will lead them.
(Isaiah 11:6 ~ NIV)

Sometimes, not often enough, we reflect upon the good things
And our thoughts always center around those we love
And I think about those people who mean so much to me
And for so many years have made me so very happy
And I count the times I have forgotten to say thank you
And just how much I love them.
(Sometimes ~ Bessie Jones/Allen Lomax)
Listen to the Carpenters recording here.

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

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Face The Music!

“Your account is past due, Mr. Phillips.”  The voice on the phone was stern, almost judgmental.

I was speaking with the representative of a company with whom my music store does a fair amount of business.  I need them; I assume that they need me.  It doesn’t always follow.  Evidently, this lady wasn’t concerned with my needs at this moment at all.  She wanted the payment which I owed her employer.  She was certain that her condescending tone was warranted.

I, on the other hand, had a different thought in mind.  I pay my statement monthly with the company.  A phone call to my credit rep and authorization to pay the balance of my account by credit card are usually enough to complete the transaction.

Not last month.

“Good morning!”  the perky voice chimed.  “How may I direct your call?  Karen?  No she doesn’t work for us anymore.  You need to talk with Valerie.  No.  She’s not here right now.  I’ll give you her voice mail.”  Without waiting for a response, the perky voice was gone.

I left a message at the beep.  Three weeks ago.  No Valerie.

I tried to call Valerie today.  Instead I talked with my new friend up above.   Ms. Condescension, I think her name was.

All right, it was something else, but I wasn’t in a mood to remember it.  I was a tiny bit defensive in my response.

“I tried to take care of this weeks ago!  Valerie hasn’t called me back and…”  My voice trailed off as I realized what I was doing.

I spoke again, turning in my mind to face the music.  “That doesn’t matter, does it?  I owe the money, let’s get this taken care of today.”

I like that phrase–face the music.  I think it may have come originally from the theater, as nervous actors went onstage to deliver their lines.  They were probably likely to want to face the wings, looking at the prompter there who could help them with their forgotten lines, if necessary.

Instead, those who understood their responsibility and their best course of action turned right toward the pit where the orchestra was playing the overture and thus, they were directly facing the audience.  They belted out their lines and looked their worst critics (and biggest fans) straight in the face as they did it.  No mumbled words towards the wings for these brave souls!

Face the music.

I wonder today if we understand the meaning of personal responsibility.  I wonder how many of us realize that we ourselves hold the key to our performance.  I’m not speaking of being the captain of our own ship, ignoring the fact that our times are in the hands of our Creator.  I’m saying that each one of us personally has the responsibility to do what is right, independent of whatever is going on around us.

We live in a world gone mad.  Able-bodied people live all of their lives on government assistance.  Politicians point fingers and blame each other for gridlock.  Students cheat and lie, defending themselves with still more lies.  Pastors refuse to speak truth for fear that it will offend.  None of it is my fault.  You understand that, do you not?   

None of it is my fault!

A mug was broken in the kitchen at my house yesterday.  Our normal Sunday afternoon circus was coming to a close and the clowns had gone home with their parents.  The Lovely Lady and I had moved most of the mess from the three rings into the kitchen nearby.  My job was to rinse the dishes, while she put her puzzle working abilities to work in filling the dishwasher.

All of the sudden there was a loud crash and the tinkling of a thousand broken shards scattering across the hardwood floor.  Reaching for a dinner plate, I had grazed the coffee mug and knocked it to the floor.  My response was instantaneous.  I was angry and disgusted.  It was the first broken dish in the entire set.  We’ll probably not find another one to replace it.  I let out a cry of dismay and then I sulked.

Her response was almost as quick.  “I’m sorry.  That was my fault; I shouldn’t have left that stacked there.”

Do you see what she did?  And I almost let her get away with it.  For a moment, I was mollified, no longer disgusted with myself for my clumsiness–no longer thinking that I was responsible for breaking the first dish in the set.

For a moment.

“No.  That was no one’s fault but my own.  I knocked it off.  I did it.”

We both agreed that it didn’t really matter.  The broken cup, that is.  Taking responsibility for breaking it?  That was essential for me.

How about it?  Whose fault is it that you’re upset by the things you see on television?  Who’s to blame for the offensive things you read on Facebook?  Who do you yell at when you are angry at the way the traffic is moving (or not moving)?

You hold the key.

You make the decisions of what you watch.  You determine whose posts show up in your social media.  You make up your mind about whether to react with anger or with patience.

Time to face the music.

There are more people in the audience watching you than just your friends, or other drivers, or people at work.  Your children are watching–and learning.  Those other folks?  They’re watching and learning too.  You may think it’s too late for them, but I don’t believe there’s any such thing as too late.

Where there’s life, there’s hope.

Hey!  The view from the stage isn’t bad either.

And, that tune they’re playing is kind of catchy.

“A hero is someone who understands the responsibility that comes with his freedom.”
(Bob Dylan ~ American singer/songwriter)

He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”
(Luke 18:13b ~ NIV)

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

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“Look!  A flare.”

I know better than to look up in the sky when the Lovely Lady says the word.  My eyes automatically drop to the ground and I see it.  What she is pointing to are actually the tips of the leaves of our old friends, the crocuses.  Last week it was a skin-biting six degrees one morning, yet here are the crocuses, making promises.

Okay.  I know you want to know why one would look to the ground to see a flare, so I had better get that out of the way or you won’t hear a single word I say.  It is a story I have heard numerous times since I became part of her family, thirty-five years ago.  The Lovely Lady’s mother told and retold the bit of lore and it has long ago intertwined itself into our everyday life.

It seems that the young family was visiting grandparents in Florida many years ago.  On a lazy summer day, the adults sat and enjoyed their iced tea on the screened-in porch when the voice of one of the Lovely Little Girl’s brothers wafted on the breeze from the garden beside the house.

“No Jessie.  Don’t say flares.  Say flow-ers!”

The little neighbor girl, her southern accent firmly in place, could say no such word, but the young boy certainly gave promise of becoming a first class grammar cop.  He has made good on the promise.  I like him.

Now, where were we?  Oh yes!  The crocuses are making promises.  The weeks ahead will show us if they also can make good on that promise.

I’m betting on the crocuses.

Reading this, one could be forgiven for thinking that I am once again railing against the harshness of winter, although, in a way, I guess I could be.  It has been a brutal winter, one of the worst I can remember, and I am tired to death of it.  The ice, the frigid temperatures, and the accompanying hardships, along with the gloomy skies that follow have sapped me of any resolve to stay positive and upbeat.

More than once in the last month, I have thought about sending up a flare–no, a real flare, a signal of distress–to make sure that the Creator knows we’re still down here, waiting for relief.  I’ve certainly done enough complaining in my flare/prayers that have gone up His way.  Isn’t it odd–how the distance between us and Him seems at times to be as hard as the icy ground was last week?

But when all is said and done, I’m not talking about the weather at all, am I?

May I talk about the crocuses for a minute more?

I didn’t plant them.  Someone else did that.  Down there, under the ground, there are some bulbs.  I’ve never seen the bulbs, but I know they are there.

Two weeks ago, when there was four inches of snow on the ground above them, they were there.  As the snow melted and refroze into a hard, glistening sheet of ice that made walking hazardous, the bulbs weren’t wondering what they should be doing.  They weren’t concerned about whether the shoots they were preparing to push skyward would be able to punch through the ice.

Those bulbs, which I have never set eyes on, just did what they do.  They gathered nutrients from the soil, some of those actually put there by that snow up above; they turned those nutrients into the immature leaves which were developing, and they began to push them up through the ground above them.  When the shoots got almost to the level of the soil, they stopped.  It was too cold for those leaves to be above ground, so they waited.  Then this week, the ground warmed up above freezing again, and they immediately started pushing upward once more.

The bulbs, which I really cannot give witness to actually being there, have been doing this for all the years we have lived here.  I have never tended them, never lifted a finger to aid them.

They have always kept their promise.  Every year.

No.  I’m not talking about the weather.

Come to think of it, I’m not really even talking about flower bulbs.

Life is not as easy as it once seemed to be.  Complications have set in.  Plans which have been set in motion haven’t come to fruition.  People I expected to remain alongside me have gone elsewhere, some physically and some spiritually.  There are more than a few who have gone from my world permanently.  I will never see them again, never hear their voices again.  Paths I have chosen have been blockaded, dead ends which disappoint in their ending.  Frequently these days, I am in a dark place.

But, I realize that I didn’t plant the seed.  I’m also coming to realize that I have no control over the end result.  That said, the promise of spring that follows winter has been made.

Someone planted the bulbs.

There will be crocuses.  Right on time.

The leaves are pushing through the ground right about now.  I can wait.

Seasons change.  There are still promises to be kept.

Look!  A flare.

“If winter comes, can spring be far behind?”
(From Ode to the West Wind by Percy Bysshe Shelley ~ English poet ~ 1792-1822)

“He who makes the promise will find ways and means of keeping it.  It is mine to obey His commands; it is not mine to direct His counsels.”
(C H Spurgeon ~ British pastor/theologian ~ 1834-1892)

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

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Tears Fall

“Flowers for my heart with tender words
And a gentle touch that says so much
This is how I’ve heard that love should always be.” *

Valentine’s Day.

Again, the commercialized and cloyingly cute messages are filling the in boxes, mail boxes, and trash boxes across the country.  More flowers, candy, and cheaply-made cards will be purchased than at any other time of year.

All to express a love that never was and never will be.  Love, that is.  It will never be love.

Love isn’t flowers, isn’t a close embrace, isn’t sweet nothings whispered into an ear as you dance in the dark.  And, it certainly isn’t the thousand dollar diamond necklace slipped around the throat of the picture-perfect beauty queen primping in the mirror before slinking out to a romantic dinner for two.

Our culture lies.

It lies every time an ad suggests that all you need to keep your mate’s love is some pretty new bauble.  It lies with each new revelation of ways to keep love fresh in some exotic destination or with an amazing new scent.

I want some new images to exemplify love.

How about a toilet seat?  Either up or down will do.  Love is him, putting it down for her.  It’s her, ignoring the fact that it never gets put down.

Perhaps it could be black olives.  He loves them, so she includes them in her recipes.  She hates them, so he removes them from the frozen pizza before it goes in the oven.

The list could go on, including not a single item that Hallmark could market.  The old toothbrush he used to clean up that ugly old vase that she bought at the second-hand store.  The spool of thread she emptied to mend his favorite old work coveralls.  The ice scraper he uses on frosty mornings, so she doesn’t have to stand out in the cold and do it herself.

In recent years, I have found some new items that illustrate love.  You don’t want to hear about them.  They are uncouth and will make you say the word gross as you see them in print.  And that’s a shame. Because, you see, the other lie that our culture tells is that your mate will always be attractive and will always be healthy.

He won’t.  She won’t.

The bedpan and the urinal spring to mind.  Bodily functions become the concern of the one who loves.  Embarrassment and squeamishness are abandoned as love does, not what it wishes, but what it must. Not so uncouth, but still not an attractive thought, the fork and spoon push their way into the symbolism, as one mate must feed another.  The memory of feeding the cake to each other at the wedding comes back with a rush, and we realize that it is a promise we will keep.

I believe that the one item I would chose to symbolize love most is nothing more than a simple handkerchief.

 These cloth relics of the past have fallen out of fashion–replaced by the paper tissues we use and crumple into the trash by the thousands, but I like to have one in my back pocket.  I would be lost without it.

With the handkerchief we dry the tears of children, and yes, wipe their noses too.  I mop my forehead when the perspiration beads and threatens to run down my face.  But, all through my life the one thing I have used that square bit of cloth for, more than any other use, has been to wipe away the tears that have come.

When puppy dogs died suddenly, the tears from the children’s eyes were soaked up; those from my own, as well.  When the frustrations of financial want were too much, the handkerchief once again dabbed away the tears of fear for the future.

I have seen the tears of spouses as they turned away from the hospital bed their lover lay upon, perhaps for the last time.  Other tears have been wiped away as elderly parents departed from this world to a better place; they were wiped away as conversations led to the realization that mental faculties were failing.

Tears fall.  Sometimes, they are tears of happiness.  More often, as life progresses, they are tears of worry and of sorrow, but always, they are tears of love.

Tears fall.  And we wipe them away.  For each other.

And, there’s nothing cheap about that.

You can keep your cheap paper valentines.  You can keep your sugary-sweet chocolates (well, maybe just one…).  You can even keep your diamonds and jewels.  They’re cheap too, in a way.

Tears fall.  And we stay.


Life is like an onion; you peel it off one layer at a time, and sometimes you weep.”
(Carl Sandburg ~ American writer/poet ~ 1878-1967)

“He will wipe every tear from their eyes.”
(Revelation 21:4 ~ NIV)

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

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* from “How Love Should Be” by Jeremy Michael Lubbock ~ American singer/songwriter

Warts and All

“You will make mistakes; play them loudly so everyone can hear them.”
It was the second thing my old horn teacher told me that I still remember.  I started to say the second thing that he taught me, but I don’t remember ever following this directive.  There was no way I was doing that.  No way.
Think about it.
In the midst of a group of accomplished musicians sits an introverted young horn player.  He is not even supposed to be there; he just took advantage of his talented young wife’s membership in the group.  He is terrified of playing even a single wrong note that anyone would take notice of.
What Mr. M knows though, is that if he can hear the wrong notes, the poor intonation, the badly placed rhythms which his students play, he can make corrections before they have time to become habits.  And, if he can catch such aberrations during rehearsals, he won’t have to worry about them showing up in the performances.
I wasn’t cooperative.
I always played especially difficult passages softly, not because the music called for it, not even because the passages sounded better that way, but because if no one could hear me play, no one would be able to hear and draw attention to my mistakes.  
Nothing was more important to me than avoiding negative attention.  I hated to admit that I wasn’t perfect; didn’t want anyone to think less of me because of my lack of expertise.  I especially could not tolerate the prospect of having my faults pointed out in public.  Mr. M had to constantly ask me to play louder, so my part could be heard.  
That’s just what I didn’t want to happen.  Ah, but there’s the rub.  The only reason to play a musical instrument is to be heard.  

If the mistakes can’t be heard, the right notes won’t be either.
It’s obvious by now that I’m not going to confine myself to the realm of music, isn’t it?  The parallel to all of life is striking.
I have long ago decided that the whole of our existence takes place in this huge rehearsal hall we call life.  The Conductor has placed us together to live, hopefully in harmony, with the other musicians around us.  
I think I am finally coming to grips with the reason for my fear of making mistakes.  I was raised in an environment where people who had been caught in error were punished, possibly even made an example of.  When missteps were discovered, the folks in authority seemed more inclined to use that discovery to warn others than to try to instruct and correct the one who made the mistake.  
As a consequence, folks hid their shortcomings, reluctant to live openly in front of the very people who should have been able to help them.
Hmmm.  Rereading the paragraph above, I realize that I’ve made an error.  I wrote that in the past tense, which would lead one to believe that it isn’t happening today.  I wish that were true.  It is not.  Ridicule and persecution follow the discovery of weakness still today.  It always has and always will.
So, we hide our shortcomings.  We are reluctant to live open lives.  We live quietly, hoping to escape the scrutiny of a world that loves to point out our missteps and private sins.
I wonder what would happen if we all followed Mr. M’s advice instead.  How about if we live life out loud–every bit of it?  What if we dare to make our mistakes in the light of day, in front of witnesses?
I said before that I think this world is a great big rehearsal hall where we are learning how to live life. 
Perhaps it is time for us to learn how to do life right, to make the mistakes where they can be heard and take our correction.  
We might even get better at it.
Will someone point a finger at us in hopes of making us look small?  Yes.  Small people do that–point out mistakes in hopes that their own won’t be discovered.  It doesn’t matter.
We’re rehearsing.
I’m looking forward to the day when I step out onto that stage in the real concert hall.  The Conductor will raise His hands to lead the combined chorus and instruments, and…  

I’ve got more rehearsing to do before that.  
You’ll hear it. 
Mistakes and all.

“One who makes no mistakes makes nothing.”
(Giacomo Casanova ~ Italian adventurer/author ~ 1725-1798)

“So admit to one another that you have sinned.  Pray for one another so that you might be healed.”
(James 5:16a ~ NIRV)

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

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Trust Issues

I was only a boy when it happened, but how could I forget the day I nearly brought down the house?
The Spykers (pronounced “speaker”) were missionaries in Mexico, but Mr. Spyker was also a building contractor.  The family took a break from ministry for a few years about the same time my family was getting settled in the home in which I spent most of my growing up years. 
The incident I’m thinking about today happened while they were building their house which was essentially next door to ours, although a narrow side street separated us.  The house was to be built completely of concrete block, including the inner walls.  It may seem a little unusual, but block buildings tended to be cooler than most homes constructed of other building materials. Given the fact that we lived in a very warm climate in those days before air conditioning was common, it made perfect sense. 
Of course, it was impossible to keep a six-year old kid away from the construction site, with the cement mixer and power tools filling the air with attractive noises, and the structure rising up from the ground.  Where there had been an empty lot, a building was literally growing daily, since all the block walls had to be laid from the ground up at the same time.  My intense curiosity was to have disastrous consequences.

On this particular day, all the walls had risen to about five feet tall, towering above my head.  I wasn’t supposed to be there, but I sneaked in anyway, just to watch the block layers plying their craft.  They worked quickly, first, slathering a layer of mortar on top of the last course which had been laid, next, taking the eight-inch blocks from their helpers who constantly kept them supplied, and finally, setting them into place, tamping them down with the handle of their trowels.  They would level the big blocks up with the string which had been stretched from one end of the wall to the other, pausing to make sure of the level after each course was completed. 

Every once in awhile, one of the block-layers would take a funny top-shaped steel device out of his pocket and holding the string it was attached to at the top of the wall, would let the “plumb-bob” dangle down to the floor, checking to be sure the walls were plumb and not leaning at all.  Unfortunately, it was during one of these periodic checks that I got involved, although purely involuntarily.  As I watched the men, engrossed in watching their actions, I had gradually leaned against a small stub wall behind me. In height, it was just as tall as the others, but it was only a short length of wall between interior doorways.  Because of this, it wasn’t connected to any other walls. 
You can guess what happened in short order. 
 As I leaned, the wall began to tip.  I yelled; one of the men carrying blocks dropped his load and leapt behind the wall, pushing it back up into position.

It wasn’t immediately clear to me why the men were all so angry, but I knew I had done something terribly wrong, even though my intent hadn’t been malicious in any way.  Mr. Spyker was immediately in front of me, asking—no—telling me in very clear language that I was not to enter the building zone again. 

He did explain to me that if the wall had gone over into the next wall, they might have been rebuilding the whole house, since the domino effect was a definite possibility.  He finished up by saying, “You have to keep your eyes open if you’re in here; and, you have to know what you can lean on and what you can’t.” 
Crying and ashamed, I headed for home and went straight upstairs to my bed and bawled.

Lessons learned?  Wow!  Where to begin?  

To start with, this domino effect was a new idea to me.  To think that one little error at a single place in that huge house could cause a problem which might require a complete rebuilding of the whole project was mind-boggling. 
It was just one wall!  I hadn’t touched any part of the rest of the house! 
 Was it really possible that a little boy of forty pounds, leaning against a wall section of sturdy concrete blocks much heavier than he, could wreak such havoc?  In spite of my embarrassment, I was unbelievably relieved that the man had caught the wall.  And, I thought that would be the end of the incident.  It was the end, right?
Not quite
It seems that the section of wall I had tipped that little bit had to be completely removed and then rebuilt, block by block, from the concrete floor all the way up to the level at which it had stood before.  All of the work on the rest of the walls came to a screeching halt while it was done, with a dozen men standing idle as they waited for the repair to be completed.  You see, as the wall had tipped, it broke the mortar joint at the floor, changing the level of each course.  Obviously, it would no longer be plumb either, so down came the wall right to the floor, a fate I thought had been avoided by the quick thinking of the fellow who had caught it as it tottered there above my head. 
In spite of my relief, workers still had to spend precious time and energy rebuilding a wall that moments before had been perfect and solid. 
All because of one little six-year old boy.

My mom was fond of maxims.  You know, “If it had been a snake, it would have bitten you”; “Don’t cut off your nose to spite your face”—that kind of thing. 

Her comment this time was, “Curiosity killed the cat.”  I wasn’t sure what it meant, but I didn’t think it fit.  I wasn’t hurt a bit, but I hadcaused all that damage for others to deal with. 
What a burden for a small lad to carry.  I still remember the shame and the desire to find a hole to climb into.  But, like most things, I got over it within a few hours.  Hopefully, the lesson itself has lasted a little longer.

What are you leaning on? 

Pretty solid, is it
Yeah, that’s what I thought, too.  If your prop gives way, who else is going to be hurt?  It’s easy to think that our actions and decisions will affect only ourselves.  But, time and again, that proves to be a falsehood, because everything we do has a domino effect.  Lives will be upset and turned upside down, needing to be put right.  All because we are putting our trust in something that isn’t solid and can’t stand up to our weight. 
Sometimes what seems to be solid ground is nothing more than shifting sand.   You probably wouldn’t expect a six-year old to know the difference, but we’ve got a little experience under our belts now.  
The longer I consider it, the more I realize that we’ve come to put our trust in stubs of walls that are not able to hold us up—money in the bank, governments, homes, guns—the list goes on and on. 
Maybe that’s what the Psalmist was thinking when he wrote, “Some trust in chariots, some in horses; but we trust in the Name of the Lord our God.”  Now there’s something solid on which to lean!

No more leaning against unfinished block walls for me! 

Now if only the rest of the decisions in life were that easy to figure out.     

“When I was a child, I talked like a child; I thought like a child; I reasoned like a child.  When I became a man,  I put my childish ways behind me.”  
(I Corinthians 13:11) 

“Lean on me when you’re not strong.

I’ll be your friend. I’ll help you carry on.” 
(Bill Withers~American singer/songwriter)

© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2014. All Rights Reserved.
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The young boy was desperate.  He looked up the road and saw only the immense distance that stretched out in front of him.  A moment ago at least, his sister had walked beside him.  Now, he was alone, miles from his destination.  The tears fell as he walked.  He would never get there.  His life was over.

It had begun like any other school day, the call coming up the stairs.  Perhaps, he had been a bit slow getting up.  No matter, breakfast was still on the table and he had eaten.  His mom had worked the night shift at the nursing home where she was the registered nurse, so Dad had made breakfast.  It wasn’t all that good.  He choked it down anyway.  Some things you just had to do.  That included eating your dad’s scrambled eggs and tapioca pudding first thing in the morning.

Then came the rush for the bus stop.

To put it bluntly, he had no one but himself to blame.  He missed his bus.  He might have been arguing with his sister.

He might even have been sulking about losing the argument when his brother yelled out, “Bus is coming!”

Why didn’t really matter.  What mattered was that he missed the bus.  What mattered was that this was the time his father had warned about.  This was the time he was going to learn his lesson. This was the time his father refused to get the car out and take him or his sister (with whom he might have been arguing) to school.

They started out walking together.  At first, they might have blamed each other for their predicament.  That didn’t last long, as they both struggled under the weight of their books and realized there was no way they could get to school before the tardy bell rang.  

Within blocks, a car stopped and his sister had a ride.  Just like that.  No, there was no room for the little boy.  Besides, his school wasn’t on their way.

Just like that.

He was alone.

And desperate.

You do know that desperate means the same thing as being in despair, right?  Out of options.  No hope.

The young desperado had no expectation that anyone would ever help.  None of his friends were likely to come along.  His father wasn’t going to help.  He was teaching him a lesson.  

The boy was learning the lesson just fine, thanks.  There was no reprieve coming.  He was on his own.  In despair.

On and on he trudged, the tears coursing down his pudgy cheeks.  He had no hope of achieving his goal, but somehow he knew that he had to keep at it.  His heart told him it was a useless attempt, but he kept moving anyway. 

Without hope.

Then without warning, a familiar old green station wagon pulled up beside him.  His mother, on her way home from the night shift, had seen him and came to his rescue.  She would talk to his father about learning the lesson later.  For now, the weeping boy needed to get to school before it was time to come home again.

The young man still remembers the feeling.

The weight in his soul of feeling abandoned?  Gone in an instant.

The fear of more reprisals to come from his teacher and principal at school?  Vanished like a vapor in the wind.

Despair turned to elation.  Hopelessness became relief without mitigation.

The event, with both its dark horror of despair and its brilliant scene of redemption, is indelibly written in his memory for all time.

Mr. Thoreau said that most men live lives of quiet desperation.  He even said that we go to the grave with the song still in us.  I’ve always thought him an idiot.  

I’m starting to think the idiot role is still up for grabs.  I may have a shot at the job myself.

I thought him an idiot because I had never believed the words apply to me.  I had never felt the desperation, never believed that all was hopeless.

I think I finally understand his words a little better.  The desperation isn’t constant, but recently there are moments, perhaps even hours, when I wonder if it’s all worth the trouble.  I sometimes feel as if I am trapped by the life I have chosen.

Once in awhile, even the good things are up for consideration, as I grapple with the overwhelming realization that the road stretches out in front of me.

And, I can never get there in time.

There’s not much singing during these periods, either.  I’m not talking about singing in church, or even singing in the shower.  When there is despair there is no song from the soul, no expression of joy, because there is no hope.

Mr. Thoreau may have had a better grasp on reality than I once believed.

I know there are many, perhaps even most, of you out there who have felt the hopelessness, the sense of being trapped without any escape.

Maybe it’s time for the old station wagon to pull alongside and give us a ride to our destination.

I got just such a ride a few days ago.

The Lovely Lady has mentioned on several occasions that she wanted to go to the Philbrook Museum in Tulsa, Oklahoma.  I haven’t been very cooperative.  But, that weekend, we took a couple of days off to recharge a bit, and to rest.  The trip to the museum finally went into the itinerary.

I griped as we went in the front door.

Nine dollars apiece!  We could have a good meal for that! 

I would regret the thought.

We walked through the doors to the gallery, and were greeted with a single painting.  It was a large oil on canvas, about four feet tall by three feet wide.  In somewhat drab colors, there was a mother seated with her two daughters, one on her lap, the other standing in her embrace.  On the floor nearby was a basket of laundry, perhaps indicating that the woman was a domestic worker.  Nothing about the picture indicated wealth or ease.

As I looked, I saw that the eyes of all three of the female figures were directed toward one small thing just inside the open window behind them.  It took a moment to recognize the object they were surveying.  If they were drab looking, it was downright depressing in its lack of color and distinction.  I recognized it though.  

It was a sparrow, eating something from the windowsill.

Right about then, the Lovely Lady spoke.  “That’s the focal point of the whole painting, isn’t it?”

My ride had arrived.

A sparrow.  Being fed.  (Matthew 10:29-31)

I pointed to the English title on the French painting.  He Careth, the letters pointed out needlessly.  I could not read it aloud, for fear that the tears would start. They did anyway.

As we finally tore ourselves away from the astounding piece of art, the Lovely Lady spoke again.

“I think we’ve gotten our money’s worth, haven’t we?”

One painting.  Such power.  Such hope.

Who am I to disagree?

What about it?  Have you missed the bus?  Do you need a ride, too?

Despair flees in the face of hope and promise.

It was so for the young boy, and even more so for this aging man.  I’m confident that your ride is already on its way, as well.

We’ll get there on time.





Desperado, why don’t you come to your senses?
Come down from your fences, and open the gate
It may be rainin’, but there’s a rainbow above you
You better let somebody love you, before it’s too late.
(from Desperado ~ Frey, Henley ~ American singers/songwriters)



He will yet fill your mouth with laughter and your lips with shouts of joy.
(Job 8:21 ~ NIV)

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