An Admission of Failure

I’m a failure.

I never expected anything different.  All is just as I have always envisioned.  Some things were just destined to be.

Before you start sending those encouraging notes, before you put on your best therethere face, give me a chance to explain.

I’m a failure at being a failure.

“Now,” you say.  “Now, you’re just bragging.”

I don’t mean to brag.  It is an admission of failure.  I say it with contrite intent.  I intend it to be an apology.

The magnitude of my ineptness has become clear to me today.  The revelation began this morning.  I sat down at my desk in the music store and, as I frequently do, re-read what I had posted last night for my friends–those who are so inclined–to peruse and digest.  The further I read, the less I liked what I had written.  I became convinced that no one would think it worthwhile.  I assumed that over the span of the day, it would neither garner any attention, nor acquire any indications of approval.

I deleted the entire post.



You didn’t notice, did you?  Very few of you had any idea of my failure to produce a good article, since the evidence had disappeared into the ether.

I don’t want to be a failure.  Therefore, I will not allow myself to do things that will show me up as one.

The point was driven home again this afternoon as a customer laid the old guitar case on the counter of my music store.  Inside the case lay a gorgeous vintage guitar worth thousands of dollars.

“I want you to modify it for me, Paul.”  The aging man looked earnestly into my face.  “I know you.  You’ll take good care of my baby.”

I am torn.

On the one hand, my customer has confidence in my abilities to achieve the task.  It is an exhilarating feeling–being aware of the trust that another person places in your skill.

On the other hand,  it is a daunting prospect.  As I gaze at the beautiful instrument, lying in the case before me, my stomach tightens up and I can’t suppress a tiny shudder.  What if I make a mistake?  What if my drill slips?  What if I butcher up this wonderful old guitar beyond recall?

I may fail.

I’m not well equipped to deal with failure.  I’ll sulk.  I’ll mope around.  I may even lose faith in my ability to do other things I have been doing all of my life.  Just the prospect of failure is terrifying.

More and more recently, I find myself telling people, like my friend on the other side of the counter, that I cannot fit their needs into my schedule.  Well obviously, all they have to do is to look around them.  My business (and life) is stacked high with jobs which are waiting to be done.

But, time is not really the issue, is it?

I simply cannot abide the thought that I may fail.  I cannot be a failure.

I have, instead, become a failure at being a failure.  If you never attempt the risky undertakings, you cannot fail.

Problem solved!  No risk, no failure.  Ergo, I will not take risks.

I am safe.

You do see the problem, don’t you?  Safe is nice.  For awhile.  Safe doesn’t raise a ruckus, doesn’t rock any boats.  Safe is–well–comfortable.  You know, like house slippers.  Comfortable.

And, therein lies the problem.  House slippers are okay for lying around the house.  They even let me shuffle my way into the kitchen for a cup of coffee and a cookie.  Okay, maybe a bowl of ice cream, too.

House slippers aren’t very efficient for hiking in, are they?  I’m not likely to wear them when I go for a jog, either.  The old comfy mules wouldn’t be my choice for riding the highway on a motorcycle, for that matter.

In short, the safe, comfortable house slippers won’t get me anywhere.

Funny.  Risk is all around us.  Even funnier–we never accomplish anything without taking risks.

Did I say that I wasn’t well equipped for failure?  It is not, of course, true.

Did someone say failure is not an option?  That also is a lie.  If we live, we will undoubtedly experience failures.  It is an option.  In fact, it is a certainty.

But, what’s not an option is sitting safely on the couch, never really living.  What’s not an option is lying about, defeated by one failure, when success is just as likely to be the result the next time we attempt the deed.

For, in achieving what we call safety, comfort, we really place ourselves in danger of the greatest failure we will face individually and corporately.

That danger is complacency.  Achieving nothing.  And, as certain as I once thought myself that I wasn’t equipped for failure, I am that much more certain our Creator did not design us to sit in complacency and safety, doing nothing.

I’m not sure about you, but I don’t want to waste the short time I have left on this planet.  I don’t want to look back and see nothing of note that has been accomplished.

Life is risky.  Life is uncertain.

There is much to be lost, but there is more to be gained.

Time to start moving again.

I think I’ll see what I can do with that guitar.

There may be other tasks needing our attention, as well.

Got your walking shoes on?

“Tis dangerous to take a cold, to sleep, to drink; but I tell you, my lord fool, out of this nettle, danger, we pluck this flower, safety.”
(from Henry IV, part 1 ~ William Shakespeare ~ English poet/playwright ~ 1564-1616)

“He who observes the wind will not sow, and he who regards the clouds will not reap…In the morning sow your seed, and at evening withhold not your hand, for you do not know which will prosper, this or that, or whether both alike will be good.”
(Ecclesiastes 11:4, 6 ~ ESV)

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

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Seeing Red Again (Blood Moon)

I saw red again last night.

Many of you did, too.  You stayed up until the wee hours to stand in the cold night air and stare into the sky.  Well, some who are not so adventurous took an easier path and set alarm clocks for 2:00 AM and clambered out of beds to peek out their windows for a few moments before slipping between the covers again.

But you saw the red, didn’t you?

I was reminded it was during this very week only a year ago–this week that we who are followers of Christ call Holy Week–that we saw red of a different sort.  It was a week of acrimony, loud with the shouts of anger and accusation between brothers, between friends.  Red was everywhere as one side of the argument made their positions clear with symbols which they considered vital to their message.  Others took offense.  It was an ugly week, and felt not holy at all.

I thought of that, as I stood under the frigid sky last night, anticipating the red that I would see.  I wasn’t prepared for the message which would be written in the heavens for all to read.  Well, perhaps not many saw what I did.  Oh, the images they saw would have been no different, but their significance might have varied a bit in the mind of the observers.

The day had been cloudy and overcast, a dreary, dim span of hours.  But as the night approached, the clouds blew away, the whole expanse of the sky above was revealed and the full moon arose towards the south in the eastern sky.

It was a brilliant white, its rays almost piercing the sight.

As the dazzling lunar orb swung in its circuit across the sky to the west, almost it appeared that the astronomers had missed the date.  There was no dimming of the brightness, no sign of anything out of the ordinary that was to come.  Nothing, that is, except for a few fools who stood in the dark and cold waiting for what they believed with a certainty was to come.

And then it happened.

A shadow fell across the eastern sector of the huge, round body.  Seemingly, within minutes (it was longer, I know) the whole of the moon was in darkness, eaten up by that same shadow, which consumed it from east to west.

Before long, where moments before one had seen the radiant reflection of light from the surface, all was black.  That was it–black.

Not red.  Black.

They had been wrong.  This was no Blood Moon.  There was no red to be seen.  Just blackness, nothing more.

To one who had not dressed appropriately for the cold night, the wait seemed interminable.  Would the scene never change?  Was the anticipation for nothing?  This was it?  A black shadow?

Photo: Jeannean Ryman

No.  The watchers were not to be disappointed.  It was not long, a matter of minutes, until the shadow of blackness was replaced with a slight reddish glow.  That glow grew and spread until all the surface of the once bright white, then dark black, moon had turned to a blood red.

If the empty blackness of the lunar eclipse had made the blood run cold, standing there in the frigid darkness the  luminescent glow of the moon bathed in red  made chills run up the back.  I have written before of moments to be collected and saved in the memory.

This is one of those.

I won’t drag on through the rest of the event, but I do want you to consider, briefly, the sequence that ensued to return the moon to its accustomed state.

After the Blood Moon had hung in the sky for some time, the red began to recede and the dark of the original eclipse, the shadow, returned.  But, before you knew it, a matter of another few moments, from the darkness, the shadow, the brilliant white orb that we have always known and expect to see in the sky emerged again.

It was clean and bright, and devoid of any sign of the dark eclipse.

White.  Pure.

For one who loves imagery and parables, the occurrence of this breathtaking event during Holy Week is invaluable.  There are conclusions to be drawn from the imagery of the bright, and the shadowy, and the red moon, followed again by the pure, bright light.  I want to ramble on and on about it.

I’ll move on instead.

Tonight, I still see the red.

It’s a different kind of red, though. As I sat down to write tonight, my heart weighed down with the cares of this world, I realized that it is almost Good Friday.  I’m not quite sure of the historical accuracy of Friday being the day on which the crucifixion took place, but it is the day on which all Christendom pauses to consider the incredible cost of Grace.

The transaction of redemption wasn’t clean and neat; it wasn’t a simple contract signing in an office.  It was messy, and grotesque, and bloody.  That’s right.  Blood was shed.  The contract for Grace was sealed with the blood of the Son of God who said, in bright red, “For you.  So that you can be with me in heaven.  So that you can live in unity with each other here on earth.”

I’m seeing red.

This week, it seems that all of us who are followers of the Lamb who took away the sins of the world, could take some time to pause and consider what that means to us individually and collectively.  I suggest that we might bow or kneel or stand with arms outstretched to heaven and simply be grateful that God’s mercy has reached to us in the red, red blood of His Son who died willingly for us.

The red was–and is–there to give every one of us individually the opportunity to believe.  It is also there to demonstrate God’s great love for us collectively, so that we might live together in His love. Perhaps, as we kneel in gratitude, a petition that we can love our neighbors wouldn’t be out of place.

I’m seeing red tonight.  It’s a red of a different type than the red I saw last night–a different red than what I saw last year during this week.  And, my eyes still hurt as I consider the cost.

The tears come as I realize how far from being a loving disciple I have strayed, arguments and excuses on the tip of my tongue, as I seek to justify my sinful conduct.

I’m grateful that God sees the red, too.  It is all He sees, as His Son says, “This one’s mine.”

As we approach this, one of the high and holy days in the life of the Church, I am determined to live in a way consistent with that truth.  I pray that it will show in my conduct every other day, as well.

How about it?  Are you still seeing red too?

“In letters of crimson, God wrote His love
On the hillside so long, long ago;
For you and for me Jesus died,
And love’s greatest story was told.”
(“Written In Red”~Gordon Jensen~Canadian born song writer)

“Christ suffered for our sins once for all time.  He never sinned, but he died for sinners, to bring you safely home to God.”
(I Peter 3:18a~NLT)

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

Be the Doorknob

Illumination comes at strange moments.

It was about seven this morning when I reached down to do something I have done thousands of times before.  In my semi-catatonic state (one might almost say I was in a waking dream), I suddenly became aware of the significance of what I was doing.

More to the point, I became acutely aware of a tool I had been using repeatedly, but had never acknowledged.  My hand jerked back from the door knob on the closet door, and I stooped down to look at it.


I have never before considered what an amazing thing it is to have a latch that is actuated by a knob on a door.  Any door.  But today, especially my closet door.

It’s not a pretentious doorway, not even a renowned one.  No famous person has ever, to my knowledge, opened it or even peeked through it.  Essentially one human being has utilized this doorway over the last ten years with regularity.


In all the time I’ve turned that knob, I have never written a tribute to it, never immortalized it in song, never even so much as mentioned it to a friend.  You would think that the brass-colored mechanism means nothing to me and that I wouldn’t care if it stopped functioning tomorrow.

You would be wrong.

I need that doorknob.  I depend on it in a way I depend on few things in my life.  Without it, I cannot reach through the doorway and select a clean shirt to put on in the morning.  I can’t pick up the pair of shoes that matches my activity for the day, and wouldn’t be able to decide whether I will wear khakis or blue jeans to cover my legs on any given workday.  In short, that doorknob is a necessity for life as I know it.

I don’t have to think about whether it will work the next time I turn it.  I routinely slam the door behind me, certain that it will latch and seal the doorway until I need it once again.  It simply does what it is designed to do, what it was built to do many years ago.

It is, after all, a very old doorknob.  Older even, than I am.

Still it functions, day after long day, night after dark night.

Turn–open.  Slam–close.  Turn–open.  Slam–close.  Again and again, it fulfills its purpose.

And, I have never once knelt down and talked to it, encouraging it in its labor.  I’ve never complimented it to anyone while in earshot, never reached down and patted it after I opened and closed the closet door to take out my clothes for the day.

I want to be careful how I communicate this next thought, for I fear it might be misunderstood.  You see, the lesson of the doorknob, the astonishing thing that I perceived in the fog of half wakefulness this morning, is one that I have yet to engage in my own life.

I know that I have a purpose.  I am confident of it.  I am also fairly sure I am in the process of fulfilling that purpose in life.  My problem is I don’t want to be used.  Not without being acknowledged.

I don’t want to be used.

Not unless you intend to praise me, or stroke me, or pay me.

The fear I mentioned of being misunderstood is a concern that folks who read this will think it incumbent upon them to stroke this scribe, to compliment what I do.  That is not the point I am making.  In fact, it is exactly the opposite.  I want to learn to do exactly what I have been placed here for without ever once expecting a compliment, without ever once craving a pat on the back.

I have mentioned before the mindset performers get into of needing more and more encouragement every time they perform.  And, that’s just the thing.  I don’t want to perform.  I want to be a doorknob.

I want to be a doorknob.

I realize I will never be the doorway.  I will never be the destination.  But, I can be the doorknob, the mechanism which enables people to move between the place they are, through the doorway, and into the next location.

The doorknob serves.   And yeah, the doorknob gets used.  And, it’s okay.

So, here’s an invitation for each one of you who read this:  Perhaps you’ve been trapped in a room and needed to find the doorknob to get out.  If I’ve ever helped you to do that, I am paid in full.  No compliments, no pats on the back, are necessary.

But, more than that, I hope you’ll want to be the mechanism by which others do the same thing–move through the doorway to better places, to be changed people. It is what every one of us is intended to do.

I told you that I will never be the doorway.  But, I know Someone who is.  He made the claim when he walked this earth many centuries ago. 

“I am the Door. If any man enters through Me, he will go in and out and will find sustenance for his soul.”

I think I’m going to like this doorknob job.

“I like stepping into the future.  Therefore, I look for doorknobs.”
(Mark Rosen ~ American sports reporter/author)

“Proclaim the message.  Be ready to do this whether or not the time is convenient.  Refute, warn, and encourage with the utmost patience when you teach.”
(2 Timothy 4:2 ~ International Standard Version)

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

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Footsteps on the Stairs (2014)


The six year old boy beside the easy chair has appeared, not quite silently, from the upper floor of the big old house.  It is well past the hour when he was sent to bed, and his parents assumed that he was asleep hours ago.  They are sitting in the living room, still commiserating about the same subject they had discussed with the children earlier that evening.

As they spoke quietly, they heard his footsteps on the stairs, plopping down each one of the fourteen treads, one halting step at a time.  The young lad from the upper regions evidently wants to discuss the subject with them also.

Some parents keep their affairs secret from their children because they are afraid to burden them. They want their kids to have a carefree childhood, free from the problems of the world.  It is a viewpoint that is not without merit, but this family had determined some time before this that they would talk (and pray) about their problems forthrightly, in just the same way they rejoiced openly over their victories and blessings.

They had learned earlier in the day that a debt, which they hadn’t even realized was owed, would be due within the next week or so.  It was of significant size.  Rather than whisper about the issue, it was spoken of openly at the dinner table with the children present that evening.  The thought that either of the children would lie awake and worry about their conversation hadn’t occurred to the young parents, so they are concerned.

“What’s wrong, buddy?  Are you upset?” his dad asks.  The boy has a pensive look on his face as he replies, “No, not really.  I just wanted to talk with you about something.”  They are relieved, but know that more is coming.  It is not at all what they are expecting.   

“I know you need money.  I have some I want you to use.” 

As he speaks the words slowly, the little fellow is holding out both hands, one full of wadded up dollar bills and the other running over with pennies, nickels, and quarters.  The couple is dumbstruck for a moment.  The boy has emptied his piggy bank of every cent.  He is saving for a skate board and has been working at different tasks for his grandparents and parents to earn the money for it.   

This is more important to him.

Struggling to hide the tears, and with his voice quivering just a little, the young dad takes the money from the boy and thanks him.  He then has the presence of mind to ask the young man if it would be all right if the money stayed in his piggy bank until it was time to pay the amount owed.

“That way, if enough money comes in from our other income, we might be able to leave some of this for your skate board.”

The boy thinks a moment, then smiles while he nods his little head and, hugging his dad and mom, turns to make the trek back up the stairway.  Unlike the trip down a few moments before, his steps are light and quick as he dashes back up to bed.

It was over twenty years ago, but the evening is burned into my head indelibly.  I do remember having two conflicting thoughts as the little tyke disappeared around the corner to go back to bed.  The first was an apprehension that we might have weighed the children down with more than they should be expected to comprehend at their young age.  I still struggle with that.

But, the second thought was a feeling of pride in the character of our young son.  In the face of  trouble, he gave selflessly of what he had to meet the need.

I was proud–of him.  Come to think of it, I still am.

You see, the emerging character in a young child, when nourished and encouraged, becomes the strong character of the grown man.

I told the story some time ago to a friend and he assured me that children learn character from their parents.   While I won’t insist on it, I actually think that in this case, the parents learn character from their children.  The selfless act of that little boy many years ago has inspired me on many occasions over the intervening years.

We do learn character from each other.  I remember a little while back, an insurance company had a series of ads running on television which really didn’t sell a product at all, except by association.  I liked the concept.  People doing the right thing, they said, showing case after case of individuals seeing one person helping another and then responding in kind.

I’m not sure that the world actually works that way, but it should.  It is what our Creator expects of His own.   

“And let us consider how to spur one another on toward love and good deeds.”

I’ve never given everything I have to help someone.  Someday, I just might follow in that little boy’s footsteps. 

They’ll be hard ones to fill.

“While we teach our children all about life, our children teach us what life is all about.”

“So encourage each and build each other up, just as you are already doing.”
(I Thessalonians 5:11~NLT)

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

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Going Fishing

Being self-employed has its advantages.  This particular week in April isn’t one of them.  The due date for filing tax returns and paying unpaid taxes from the former year has always been one of those days which I approach with apprehension and disdain.

Oh, I know for most of you reading this, that statement makes no sense.  You’ve worked another year; your employer withheld the amount of taxes you requested, and you probably already received a refund from your wealthy Uncle Sam.  I’ll try to go easy on this point, but the reason he has all that money is that you gave him an interest free loan for the past 12 months.

That said, I have dreamed about receiving a refund from the Treasury some April, but it will probably never happen.  At least, it is to be hoped not.  As a businessman, it’s not to my advantage to allow any capital to leave my control except for investment in merchandise which will net a profit.  If I’m giving interest-free loans to my Uncle in Washington, I can’t be buying guitars in my hometown.

There was one April, over twenty-five years ago, when I wished I had given the IRS a fair amount more money, because when the time came to pay up for the year, all the capital was tied up in assets.  They didn’t appear to be liquid assets either.  I was devastated to learn, the week before the fifteenth of the month, that we owed almost four thousand dollars in taxes on the previous year’s income.

I argued with the accountant, to no avail. 

“The numbers don’t lie, Paul,” he explained as he showed me the facts in black and white. 

We had purchased too much inventory and the government was treating that increased stock as profit.  Cash or no cash, we needed four thousand dollars within the next week or the penalties and interest would begin to stack up.

It was a little ironic.  Just the year before, when the accountant handed me the packet of forms to mail in, he had asked delicately, “Paul, do you need anything?  We’re about the same size.  I’d be happy to give you some clothes…”

I thanked him, but gently brushed aside his offer.  We didn’t know we were financially embarrassed.  Our two children had nice clothes, we were making our payments on our house and business, and the old cars were paid for and running (most of the time).

The Lovely Lady and I had  giggled about someone thinking we needed to be helped and then kept plugging away at the business we had just acquired and were struggling to keep afloat.  Now, barely a year later, we owed almost twenty percent of a year’s profit in taxes because of poor planning on our part!

Where were we going to get that kind of money in a week?  We didn’t believe in borrowing money to pay taxes; it just didn’t make any sense.  But, we never had that kind of cash come in in such a short period of time, at least not funds that weren’t already designated for rent and other overhead, or inventory purchases.  I nearly panicked.

What to do?

Aha!  I had it!  I would call my Dad.  Obviously, I wouldn’t ask for a loan, but after hearing our predicament, he couldn’t do anything but offer to help, right?  I made the call that very night.  After making small talk for awhile, I mentioned my problem.  He listened and then offered advice.   

Not money, advice!

Evidently, he hadn’t gotten the memo that when his son, who never asked for money, called talking about money problems, it meant that he was expected to pony up.  That’s what Dads do, isn’t it?  Well not my Dad, at least not this time.

“Hmmm.  You know, the disciples in the Bible had a similar problem.  What did Jesus tell them to do?” 

Well I knew the answer from Sunday School days, just as most of you do.

I was disgusted with him, but I responded anyway, “He told them to go fishing and they caught a fish, with the money for their taxes in its mouth.”  I couldn’t resist a little jab though, “How does that help me?”

His laconic reply came, “I really don’t know.  I was just remembering that’s what He told them to do.”

With nothing else to be said, we ended the conversation.

“Great!”  I groused at the Lovely Lady.  “No help at all, just some stupid line about what the disciples did in the Bible.”

I still had no plan, no visible means to take care of my obligation.  I went to bed, only to toss and turn as I lay there.   

What does it mean?  What does it mean?

Sleepless, I got up and went downstairs to sit and read the passage in the Bible.  No help there.  I knew what they had done.  They went fishing.  They were fishermen, and they went fishing.  The light in my head came on with a brilliant flare!   

They went fishing!  They were fishermen and they went fishing!

They did their jobs; nothing more, nothing less.  Their profession was catching fish from the sea, so that’s what they did.  I still wasn’t completely sure what it meant to me, nor how the money would come, but for now, all I was sure of was that I needed to go to work and do what I was trained to do, what I had been gifted at.  And, that’s just what I did.

For the next week, we opened the music store at the regular time in the morning and then, at the regular time in the afternoon, we closed it and went home.  In between, we did a bunch of praying.  I kept expecting some moneybags buyer to walk in and purchase half of our stock, paying cash for it, but it never happened.  We rang up sales on the cash register, day after day.  Some were for significant amounts, some were small, but there was no spectacular, miraculous event.  We paid our rent and our electric bill, as well as the invoices for merchandise which we received during that time.

And, on April fifteenth, we placed our tax forms in the stamped envelope, along with a check for nearly four thousand dollars, completely covered by cash in the bank!  There was no hoopla, no extraordinarily large sale, no borrowing; we just did our jobs.  I will affirm that we never had that much extra in a week’s time before or after, without a large sale.  I still cannot explain it.  We paid our bills, did our regular tasks, and were provided for.

“How anticlimactic!”  I hear you say.  “No huge miracle?  No wealthy benefactor?  No mysterious check in the mailbox?  Just, go to work?”

That’s it.  And, you know, my years on this earth tell me that this is how most miracles happen.  No genies, no lamp to rub, no magic wand–just simply doing what we were made to do.  God rewards faithfulness.   

In the quiet, plain paths His miracles are inconspicuously bestowed.  Not with the commotion of a dog-and-pony show, not in the glare of the spot-lights and television cameras, but in factories, and shops, and homes, He cares for His own.

“Going fishing!” 

That’s how I answered the question from my young children about how we were going to take care of our need, that April so long ago. I’ve thought of it often at other times too, but without fail, the events of that week in early spring twenty-five years ago are called to mind every time April rolls around again. 

I’m still grateful today.

“…go down to the lake and throw in a line. Open the mouth of the first fish you catch, and you will find a large silver coin. Take it and pay the tax for both of us.”
(Matthew 17:27~New Living Translation)

“When we do the best that we can, we never know what miracle is wrought in our life, or in the life of another.”
(Helen Keller~blind and deaf American author and educator~1880-1968)

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

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Dead Center

The old, balding carpenter looked up at me from his kneeling position, and just shook his head.  It was not an encouraging moment.

“From the back corner of the room to this wall right here, the floor drops nearly four inches!  How are we supposed to get a level surface for a bathtub to sit on?”

I had to do some fast talking to keep him on the job.  We really needed a new bathroom upstairs in that old house.  The three-quarter bath downstairs was a long way from the bedroom in the middle of the night!  Our young children needed something closer.  So did their father.  No. We had to figure out a way.

A week later, the old fellow was back on his knees laying out two-by-fours on that floor and marking them to be cut diagonally lengthwise.  As the boards were cut and returned to their respective positions, I saw that at the lowest place in the floor, they were the full three and a half inches tall.  At the other end, only seven feet away, the same boards were trimmed down to just a tiny thickness, perhaps an eight of an inch.  It looked like a cobbled up mess to me. 

I didn’t see how this would ever give us the result we needed, and said so.

“This is nuts!  I want a level floor, not these ugly wedge-shaped two-by-fours.  This is going to be awful.”

The craftsman looked up at me from his place on the floor, with a sad smile.

“You’ve got no faith in humanity, Paul.  Give me time.  You’ll see.”

I didn’t have long to wait.  Within a day, the plywood was cut to fit the room and was screwed down over those ugly, cut boards which had been firmly anchored to the old tilted floor.  I walked on it over to where my friend sat on the floor once again, this time to check the four foot long level he had brought up with him.

He allowed himself the barest of proud smiles as he pointed to the liquid filled tube in the center of the big straightedge.  Dead center, the little bubble floated in plain view.

Dead center!

Just a couple of days before, that same bubble couldn’t be seen, as it scurried to the back end of the tube when the apparatus was placed on the floor.  I had had to walk uphill to get from one end of the room to the other.  Now, no matter where he set the level, the result was the same.

Dead centerLevel.

When the tub and toilet were placed in their respective positions, the water levels proved the accuracy of the little bubble in that level.  As long as we lived in that old Victorian house, I was amazed when I remembered what was hidden just under the surface of the floor we walked upon in that room.

I had seen the email when I first sat at my desk this morning.  I just wasn’t ready to deal with the issue right then.  I guess I should have said that I had seen the emails, plural.  She had written two of them.

She wasn’t happy.

A problem with a transaction she had completed online made her whole world off kilter.  She didn’t want me to fix it, she wanted to pick up her marbles and play in a different game.  She was sure that the playing field was tilted in my favor and she wanted out!

I missed her first phone call while I was unlocking the door to my business.  For a wonder, I had actually drafted and sent a reply–a calm one–to her notes before she called again.  I had apologized for the problem and offered a solution which I was pretty sure she would accept.  But, when I pressed send on the email, I still was unsure of the outcome.

Her phone call came within minutes.  The tone of her voice told me that she wasn’t happy with my solution.  Apparently, it looked a lot like that bathroom floor had looked to me when the old carpenter started to make amends, all those years ago.  The cobbled up mess didn’t inspire trust.  I could see that I needed to complete the project–and quickly!

We talked.  I listened.  She listened.  She understood that we were going to make the playing field level again.  The marbles in the game would roll true and straight once more.  I apologized one more time and it was done.

I hung up the phone with a sigh of relief and allowed myself the barest of proud smiles.

Dead center.

I sometimes think the whole world has shifted from its axis just a bit and has become unlevel.  Children take knives and guns to school and attack people they don’t even know.  Friends shout angrily at friends as sides are chosen on issues and the distance grows between them, a gulf seemingly unspannable.  The gender gap and the generation gap widen, as does the gap between races.  Power flows from one group to another, always following the shifting landscape.

Sometimes, hope seems lost to bring the whole affair back to level.  We’ll never see the bubble in the middle of the tube again–never.

I wonder though. 

I’ve got some two-by-fours in my hands that just might level the room I’m in.  Maybe I could start here.  Perhaps, you could work on the room you’re in.  I think that we might just be able to work our way through the house, one room at a time.

You see, the great victory that old carpenter won in the old house was just one room.  One room with an unlevel floor in a house full of rooms with unlevel floors.  But he achieved that task and completed the one room.  Others since him have done the same thing, in the kitchen and the laundry room.  We don’t live there anymore, but someone may be working on one as I write this.

I’m no Atlas.  I’m pretty sure I know no one who is.  Not one of us has the power to shift the whole world at once.  But then, we weren’t called to do that, were we?

We are–every one of us–builders.  The Apostle spoke of being a master builder and that those who followed must be very careful how they build on the foundation that has already been laid down.

I want someday to be able to check my work and find it acceptable and thorough.  I trust that the level, when placed against the results of my labor, will show the craftsmanship I’m working to achieve.

How about it?  It would be really nice if, when the floor I’m working on reaches the one at which you have labored, we can put down the level to check the result together.

Dead center?

Time will tell.

“I know I ask perfection of a quite imperfect world
And I’m fool enough to think that’s what I’ll find.”
(from I Need to be in Love by The Carpenters ~ Carpenter/Bettis)

“By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as a wise builder, and someone else is building on it.  But each one should build with care.”
(I Corinthians 3:10 ~ NIV)

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

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Not Home Yet

“I want to go home.” 

You’ve all heard the words.  You’ve probably said them, years ago.  Everyday, around the world, children say them to parents, to strangers, to doctors, and to policemen.  There’s something comforting about home; it’s a place where we can relax and know that we are safe.

When a child–any child–says the words, we understand and sympathize.  But the person in front of me wasn’t a child, by any standard of measure.

Miss Peggy was over ninety years old.  She had been on her own in the world for many years; a spinster lady who gave her life to serve her God.  She lived alone, but had influenced thousands of children with the Bible classes she taught for fifty years in Oklahoma and Arkansas.  Now, here she was, old and nearly blind, hard of hearing. and dependent on friends who came daily to help her through the long, dim days.

She sat in her comfortable chair and said the words.  “Paul, I want to go home.”

I knew what she was talking about, but pretended not to comprehend.

All I said was, “You are home.  This is your house.  You have your things here.”

She brushed the words aside.  “No!”  She was defiant.  “I want to go to my real home!” 

I found myself casting around for the right words, but none came.  Later, as I left, I thought to myself, “Why would anyone want to die?  I want to live!”  

I can still remember when I talked with her some weeks later about one of her friends, slightly younger than she, who had passed away.

She looked through me with her almost sightless eyes and said, almost angrily, “It wasn’t her turn!  Why does she get to go and I have to stay?”

If she hadn’t been so serious, I would have laughed.  I had a vision of school days, with a line of kids waiting to get ice cream after lunch.

“No fair!  She cut the line!  It’s not her turn, it’s mine!”

The vision faded and Miss Peggy, her head tipped a little to the side, still gazed past me and said again, wistfully, “I want to go home.”

The dear lady has been home for many years now, and I still think about her words.

Funny…I’m starting to understand her a little better.  Life here is good.  I enjoy my family immensely; I love every single occasion on which we meet.  I love my church; love my work; love the town in which I live.  But, I’m starting to realize, just a little, that there is something not quite right.

I recall the times when as a child, home was a place of comfort and shelter from a scary world, and that’s all I needed.  I reminisce about early days of marriage to the Lovely Lady and remember the satisfaction of being at home with her and later, with our children.  Home was enough; nothing else was necessary to satisfy.  It has been so for many years.

Something tells me it won’t stay that way forever.

I saw recently that the Encyclopaedia Britannica is not ever going to be offered in print again.  After 244 years in print, the reference library is now only available online.  The reality of the information age in which we live is that we want instant and up-to-the-minute facts, not outdated words on a page printed a couple of years ago.  The publisher is admitting that the beautiful sets of books which found a home on the bookshelves and in the libraries for so many years, will now have a new home, albeit a nebulous one, in cyberspace.

I couldn’t help but think as I heard the news, that we certainly live in a transitory world.  Always have, always will.  In the business arena, we’re constantly warned to be agile and light on our feet.  If we get slow and languorous, we’ll not only be out of a home, we’ll be out of existence.

All things change.

The same might be said of our entire lives.  A Greek philosopher, who lived five hundred years before Jesus, put it this way,  “Nothing endures but change.”  His words still resonate today.

I’m not sure why we don’t (or won’t) see the truth of it while we’re still young.  Maybe that’s the way it’s supposed to be, but I vividly remember wondering why the old men in church were so anxious for the Second Coming, and why they sang that old song that said, “This world is not my home.”

This world was too my home!  I wanted to live!  A long life!

Now, a few years have passed and I have more than a sneaking suspicion that they were onto something.  Somehow, as I move along, I feel a growing certainty that we’re not made to be comfortable here.

There is something, somewhere that is better and I want to point the prow of my ship in that direction.

The will to live is strong in us.  Our Creator made it so.

I’m not telling you I’m going to start sighing and wringing my hands about a better place.  This is the place that I’m intended to be right now and I am content with that.  But I’m not going to get too comfortable  here.

I think I’ll stay light on my feet and ready to move.

After all, my treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the Blue…

 “…they are eager for a better land, a heavenly one…He has now prepared a city for them.”
(Hebrews 11:16)

“I am prepared to go anywhere, provided it be forward.”
(David Livingstone~Scottish missionary~1813-1874)

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

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Keep Your Shirt On!

A battle may be raging tonight.

No, it’s not a gun fight in Afghanistan, although that may be happening as I write this.  It’s not the earth-shattering resumption of the Cold War in parts of the old Soviet Union.  Those battles are unlikely to require my participation; the combatants there hardly need my hat to be thrown into the ring.  They will do what they will without the benefit of my contribution.

The battle of which I speak would seem small, with no guns and no physical violence, yet there is the opportunity for a lifetime of repercussions–little land mines planted here and there now which will take their toll for many years to come.  At its ending, friends may still speak, but the booby-traps will spring when least expected, starting with a memory of harsh words, and growing into the sudden suspicion that perhaps criticisms meant for a group in general were aimed at one person in particular.

I read the words last night and wondered where they would lead.

A friend is unhappy with the outcome of a local municipal decision and is exercising his right to speak out.  I disagree with his conclusion, but I will not deny him the right to speak his mind.  For a few moments last night I even considered offering my opinion on the matter.

That was before.

Before I remembered the horror of battle.  Before I saw those faces in my mind again, astonishment and pain written on them as they were decimated by the fury of my attack.  Before the thoughts of relationships lost in the dim past hit me like an armored personnel carrier.

Just as my decision to forgo the flight to Russia to offer my two cents’ worth, I have decided to refuse to enter this fray as well.

I am an opinionated and argumentative person.  I come by those attributes honestly.  First, I am a member of the human race, a true son of Adam–a man who had the gall to argue with his Creator, blaming Him indirectly for the original sin (“The woman You gave me…”).  I’ve told you before that the red-headed lady who raised me suggested that I would argue with a fence-post.  Truth be told, I learned a lot of it from her, but we’ll move on from there quickly, shall we?

When I argue, I am not interested in solutions, only in obliterating my opponent.  When I am challenged, I feel the need, like an old fashioned prize fighter, to pull my shirt over my head and head for the ring to settle this right here and right now.

I have shouted; I have yelled; I have slammed my fists on the table.  I have lost friends.  I have lost the respect of people who thought once that I was worthy of it.  All because I was ready to fight for what I believed.

No.  I will keep my hat on my head.  Better than that, I’ll keep my shirt on too. 

Fully clothed, I’ll stand before you.  I don’t want to argue about cars or sports.  I will keep mum about politics and Hollywood.  The list stretches on, but I’ll not be sucked in.

The shirt and the hat stay on.

For all of the arguments in which I’ve ever participated, I can’t remember the rationale for starting any one of them.  Those oh-so-important subjects are lost in the dim mists of the past, many of them made moot by the years.  They loomed bigger than life in my mind when the discussion began.  Today, on the scale of importance, they rate only slightly higher than zero.

Can I tell you what towers over them, right up near the top of that same scale?

Relationships with people.

Sometimes, it’s people who disagree with me and who want to argue all the issues.  It’s also people who need to be loved and couldn’t care less where I stand on those issues.  I don’t want to end a single one of these relationships because of the fickle winds of opinions and issues that have been blowing since the dawn of time and will be blustering long after I depart from this world.

Not a single one.

I’m wondering these days if my change in attitude is only because I’m getting old and tired.  I admit it.  I’m old and tired.  But, it’s more than that.

The years have taught me that there are more important things than these temporal trappings we see all around us.  We can invest our lives in fighting for the things.  Or–we can invest our lives in people.  The things are here today and gone tomorrow, swallowed up by time and progress.

People?  Not so much.

I’ve been doing a little genealogical searching for my ancestors recently.  With every discovery I make about where I come from, one thing has become clear.

The things we do today have a profound impact on future generations.  Choices we make lightly now will alter, forever, the shape of our family tree.  The same is true of the conversations and interactions we have with people in this world, whether family, friends, or perfect strangers.

Every argument, every shouting match, every curse word uttered will alter the course of the future and have far reaching effects which we cannot foresee.  There are no exceptions.

Mrs. Olsen had the right idea when she taught us that little song, way back in Sunday School, didn’t she? 

“Oh be careful little mouth what you say.”

The shirt stays on.

“People’s minds are changed through observation and not through argument.”
(Will Rogers ~ American cowboy/humorist ~ 1879-1935)

“So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things.  How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire!”
(James 3:5 ~ ESV)

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

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“You have made us for Yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.”

“You’re a good boy–when you’re asleep.”

Two wise statements, made by two very different wise men.

The first is a famous quote from St. Augustine of Hippo, a leader in the Catholic Church in the fourth and fifth centuries.  He was, by the way, not a man given to resting early in life, himself a famously wild youth.  He understood, very personally, the restlessness of the human heart.

The second statement was made more recently.  Actually, I said it just the other day to one of my grandchildren, but truth be told, my father-in-law is the wise man who taught it to me.  He understood the restlessness of children.

I will now proceed directly past the discussion about medication for hyperactivity in children, mostly because of the vociferous defenders of the need for it.  I will, just as judiciously, avoid the conversation about diet for the same reason. 

Leaving those deep, theoretical discussions to those more highly qualified, I will move quickly to the more obvious solution.  You’ll be amazed at my acumen.

Restlessness is cured by rest.

My father-in-law knew it.  He regularly proclaimed it to many a rambunctious child.

That phrase he used to utter suddenly reminds me of a night many years ago, when my brother and I couldn’t seem to achieve that state–of being asleep and resting, that is.  It wasn’t all that rare an occurrence, but we usually controlled our volume level to the point that it didn’t make much difference to the adults in the rooms just below us.  On this night though, the argument was more than we could keep localized.

Suddenly, we became aware of the footsteps in the hallway leading to the steps, and a voice called up the steep staircase.

“You boys come down here right now!”

Oh.  Now look what we had done.  We were undoubtedly headed for a meeting with the cloth belt which Dad kept for just such occasions.  Well, there was nothing else to be done.  Reluctantly, we rolled out of our beds and our feet carried us slowly down the stairs to face our destiny.  Imagine our surprise when we were motioned into the dining room, instead of the bathroom (that was the locale where corporal punishment was always meted out)!  Our spirits lifted.  Still–no good could come of a midnight meeting with Dad.  We awaited the news with dread.

“You boys don’t want to sleep?  How about if you do some work instead?”

We looked at each other.  Work?  Who worked in the middle of the night?  Oh well.  If it got us out of a spanking, we were game.  For the next two hours, we swept, mopped and waxed the dining room floor.  All the while, Dad sat in a recliner in the living room and pretended to read while sleeping.  Or, did he pretend to sleep while reading?  I never could tell.

Either way, we knew better than to slacken off.  The floor glistened and shone when two tired little boys headed back up the stairs after two o’clock that morning.  We would be proud when we arose the next day.

For now, we were just exhausted.  I can’t speak for the other culprit, but I fell into my bed and slept as if I were dead to the world.

You’re a good boy–when you’re asleep.

That ancient wise man from Algeria also understood what it was to rest.  He had lived the life of dissipation, had partied with the wild bunch.  He knew what it was to be restless.  But when he was called by a faith that could not be denied, he comprehended what he had been searching for all of his life.

I wonder.  Do we comprehend what our hearts are seeking?

I do not easily give in to rest.  I have spent many sleepless nights in torment over one crisis after another.  My hyperactive brain turns the problem first one way, and then another.  I have a solutionBut no.  My brain worries at the issue, until another argument with my inner self ensues. 

Even in normal waking hours, I fret and fume about one problem or another.  Life has no shortage of such issues.

Today was another of those days.  Nothing was working well in my professional pursuits and then a message came, followed by a phone call that set off alarm bells about a personal issue. 

Rest?  Where is rest to be found?

I don’t have a pat answer to how the solution will be implemented.  I do know that those two wise men quoted above were both on the right path.

I will head upstairs in a moment or two, ready to sleep.  The landscape will almost certainly look different in the light of a new day.  Sleep is rest and I’ll take a dose of that soon.

But, that is not all that I need to remember, is it?  There is something to be said for a haven, a harbor, in the storm, isn’t there?  A place of rest and protection.  We all need it.

But, here’s the enigma I keep finding.  When I actively seek that haven, that rest, for myself I cannot pin it down.  It seems to be nowhere that I can find.  The search actually becomes part of the restlessness, the storm.

The mystery is that when I stop my frantic searching for rest and just give up, He grants the rest that I so desperately have been seeking.  The struggle is His, not mine.

I will rest.

In Him.


“Be still my soul; when change and tears are past,
All safe and blessed, we shall meet at last.”
(Be Still My Soul ~ Katharina von Schlegel ~ 1752)

“He made the storm be still, and the waves of the sea were hushed.  Then they were glad that the waters were quiet, and He brought them to their desired haven.”
(Psalm 107:29,30 ~ ESV)

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

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