The Six/Ten Rule

The rain fell all day.

The music store where I spend my working hours has a tin roof, ideal for announcing the celestial downpour.  It was a soothing sound, beginning with the first thump, thump, thump of the individual drops as they raced each other to see which could reach the ground first.

Soon, the whole building was filled with the gentle thundering, as of a waterfall, the individual raindrops melding into a downpour that flowed down onto the parched ground around the building.

I love the sound of rain on the roof.  Often, I’m tempted to lock the doors and go out to sit under the porch roof of the house next door.  It would be refreshing to enjoy the beauty of God’s re-creation from that vantage point.  But today, because I knew what was to come, I stayed put and waited.

Immediately after the steady cascade from the sky tumbled down in earnest, a cascade of another ilk began.  The second influx was that of folks who had nothing else to do, since the rain was falling.

First, came a flatbed truck with a sign on its door that announced the arrival of a lawn service crew.  Anyone knows you can’t mow the grass in the rain.  Besides, a little down time today wouldn’t matter, since the rain guaranteed more yard work in the weeks to come.

Next, the little red pickup with a headache rack over the bed, laden with ladders, arrived.  My old friend, the window washer wasn’t nearly as pleased as the lawn guys, but he wasn’t all that unhappy to take the break either.  He too, will find there is more work to do after the storm moves out.  Somehow, water blown onto the panes doesn’t leave clean glass behind.  He shrugged his shoulders and grinned as he greeted me.

With the hubbub of instruments on which the time-killers had begun to play, it was harder to hear the stress-relieving drum of rain on the roof, but I knew I would sell a few accessories at least, so I welcomed the latest arrival with a grin of my own.

More laborers made their way in and then out again before the dentist and his wife arrived.  I looked at them with a question mark in my eyes.

The man laughed and said, “We needed to get out of the rain and this seemed as good a place as any.”

I looked around.  “These guys all work in the elements.  Are you doing dentistry in the great outdoors now?”

As it turned out, it was his day off.  He and his wife had planned to spend the day outside, but the rain spoiled their plans.  I was happy to provide an alternative to being stuck in their house.  Besides, the last time they visited, I sold them a nice instrument.  Perhaps, we could plant a seed for their next purchase.

We talked  as they killed the next half hour.  As we gabbed about the rain and the plethora of displaced workers who made their way through my doors while the couple watched, a memory from long ago bubbled into my conciousness.

As I was working with my friend the electrician at the construction site of the new school (now one of the older schools in our little town), a few raindrops fell from the sky.

Our job on that day was to stub up conduit from underground into the void of the cinder blocks which the brick-layers were setting in place.  At the right time, the square boxes which would house the electrical outlets also had to be attached to the conduit.

The walls of the school were growing by the moment as an army of the masons slung the mortar onto the run of blocks already in place.  The two of us worked hard to keep pace and make sure that each outlet was placed correctly.  It wouldn’t do to have any of them inside the wall.

We felt the raindrops.  Looking up, we were pretty sure that the light shower would pass quickly, so we kept working.

Not so with the brick-layers and their helpers.  As the few drops became a sprinkle, they shook their heads and stopped work.  Within moments, the job site was deserted, except for two lonely electricians.

I looked at my boss.  He wagged his head in disgust.

“Six/ten rule,” was all he said.

“What in the world is that?” I queried.

“They draw a circle ten feet in diameter and when six rain drops fall in that circle, they’re done for the day.”

He was being sarcastic, but it seemed as if our workday was certainly going to be spoiled by what we saw as merely a slight inconvenience.  We would have worked on.

They had other considerations.  Mortar is mixed in a pretty strict ratio of cement, lime, and water.  If the mix is too wet, the walls will fail prematurely.  When that happens, the masonry company’s profits will be lost as they have to redo work which never should have been completed in the rain to start with.

Soon, we too packed up our tools and headed for the shop.  The six/ten rule had ended our day’s labor as well.

“Six/ten rule,” I said to the dentist and his wife today.  They looked at me in confusion, much as I had at my boss that day in the rain.

We watched the lawn workers and window washer leave to go home for the day, and we all laughed as I offered the explanation for my remark.

I’m wondering though.  Mr. Shakespeare said that discretion was the better part of valor.

But, what of the work which must be done?

Not all of us are masons, building walls from concrete and mud.  Some of us are soldiers, standing watch through the dark of night.  Some of us are fire fighters, battling blazes and rescuing helpless creatures from certain death.  Some are linemen, keeping electrical current running to hospitals and water treatment plants.

If we let a little rain discourage us, many others will suffer.  Some will be lost.

Isn’t it just possible that the mythical six/ten rule, while more convenient, may simply be an excuse for laziness?

I’m wondering if a little bit of rain doesn’t too often dissuade all of us from pursuing the goal set before us.  What of perseverance?  What of endurance?

I like to be warm.  And, I hate wet clothes.

I do know enough to come in out of the rain.

It’s just that, sometimes

Sometimes, the job in front of us requires that we forego personal comfort and push ahead.  There are times when we can only reach safety and warmth through the rain and darkness.

And then, there are the times when we need to come in out of the rain and try another day.

I’m still working out the correct formula, but I know that circle won’t be much help.  The six/ten rule doesn’t apply.

Perhaps wisdom will come from somewhere or Someone else.

It’s been known to happen.  I’ll ask Him again.

Wisdom to know the difference.

“The victorious man in the day of crisis is the man who has the serenity to accept what he cannot help and the courage to change what must be altered.”
(Reinhold Niebuhr ~ American theologian ~ 1892-1971)

“But the one who endures to the end will be delivered.”
(Matthew 24:13 ~ HCSB)

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

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Guilty is Guilty

Do you know what I’m capable of?

I almost killed a man once.

My brother.

It’s not an easy story to tell.   I’m not proud of it.

I was twenty years old; he was twenty-four.  He was the one who handed me the shiny, chrome-plated .347 Magnum pistol. He should have known better.

“Just pull back the hammer and squeeze the trigger.  Be careful.  It has a hair trigg…”

I pulled the trigger.  Once.

The only problem was, the pistol was aimed right above his head.  Barely.  It was not on purpose; I just didn’t know what I was doing.  The blast took us by surprise, terrifying both of us for different reasons.

When he got up off the ground, I silently handed the pistol back to him.  Still trembling, I turned around and walked through the cow pasture in which we were standing, back to the parked car, and sat in the passenger seat waiting for him.  It was more than ten miles back to town.  I don’t think either of us spoke.

I don’t often think of the event.  When I do, it makes me shake again, at least inside.  Forty years later, I still hear the sound of that blast in my memory and see the terror in his eyes.  It must have mirrored my own.

I almost killed my own brother.  It’s not one of my best memories.

Do you know what I’m capable of?

I do.

I’m thinking tonight about the world in which we live.  It’s a world that is nimble on its feet when there is blame to assess.  If a terrible act has been committed, we leap to conclusions, picking out a scapegoat from the usual suspects without compunction.  Or proof.

And, when there is proof, if there are mitigating circumstances, we sweep them to one side and stand stubbornly on our judgments anyway.  No excuses are accepted, no compassion felt.

Guilty is guilty.  If you did the crime, you must do the time.

Funny thing.  As many times as not, our original conclusions are proven wrong. Our error exposed, we shrug our shoulders and move on to the next perpetrator.

It is true in our moral judgments, too.  Over the last months and years, I have learned of people I know personally who have failed morally.  They are adulterers and liars, dishonest and corrupt.  They are guilty.

And I rush to judgment, vowing never to be fooled again.  I have no compassion–no excuse is good enough.  I want nothing to do with these law-breakers.

Guilty is guilty.

I wonder.  If my hand had been two inches lower when that pistol went off, forty years ago, what would you think of me today?

“He killed his brother!  For no reason!  Just pulled the trigger and murdered him.”  I can hear the whispering voices now.

Two inches.  Two inches from being a killer.

I still hear the roar of the pistol in my head.  I know what I’m capable of.


“When they kept on questioning Him, He straightened up and said to them, ‘Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.'”
(John 8:7 ~ NIV)

“The quality of mercy is not strain’d,
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath: it is twice blest;
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes;
Tis mightiest in the mightiest; it becomes
The throned monarch better than his crown;
His sceptre shows the force of temporal power,
The attribute to awe and majesty,
Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings;
But mercy is above this sceptred sway;
It is enthroned in the hearts of kings,
It is an attribute to God himself;
And earthly power doth then show likest God’s
When mercy seasons justice.”
(from The Merchant of Venice ~ William Shakespeare ~ English poet/playwright ~ 1564-1616)

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

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They’re at it again.

A couple of hours ago, the truck pulled up to the shop across the road from me with the CD player booming out rap.  I can’t bring myself to call it rap music, since I haven’t been able to associate the two words in my mind, but some would.  The reader is welcome to suit himself.  Me?  I’d call it rap noise, but I’m already off-track, aren’t I?

After the truck, one of those foreign cars with a low-power four-cylinder motor modified to sound fast using a muffler that doesn’t (muffle, that is), pulled in.  The stereo in the truck and the motor on the import car were finally turned off and quiet reigned once again in the neighborhood.  For a few minutes.

More cars followed with more kids.  Not many, but still more than are usually in the area.  The black monsters in my back yard barked to announce the arrival of each.  That was before they began to kick around the soccer ball in the parking lot.  The kids, not the monsters.

More noise.

I wouldn’t mind, but it is after one in the morning.  I need my personal time.  I like to sit at my desk, listening to quiet music and writing.  Noise disturbs the ambience.  My mellow late night mood turns to frustration and petty anger.

Stupid kids!  Get out of my neighborhood!

I wonder if it’s time to call the police?  They don’t belong there at this time of night!

I looked out the window a minute ago to see what was going on.  You can just see me, can’t you?  Typical neighborhood nosy busybody.  I’m standing in the dark and pulling the curtain aside to see where they are.  And, what they’re doing.

Well, would you look at that?  Six or seven guys sitting on the pavement next to the pickup.


Just talking.

My mind flies back.  Forty years ago.  It seems like a lifetime has passed.

Maybe it has.

The cars were Chevys and Fords.  The music was blasting from eight-track players and AM radios as we pulled into the driveways of our friends or into the parking lots of shopping centers.  Glass-pack mufflers were rumbling and the noise was heavenly.  To us.  Probably not to the aging neighbors.

We sat and talked.  We talked about cars and music, about jobs and girls.

We talked late into the night.  Sometimes, we got around to serious subjects.  Dreams and visions of the future.  Sad news about friends who had already met with disaster.  Our faith.

They were important conversations.  Important experiences.

I sit at my desk in the solitude of this early morning and reluctantly, my mind makes its way back to the present.  I’m a little jealous of those young men, sitting across the street, spinning their dreams out into the air.  I almost want to go over and ask if there is room on the pavement for one more.

Oh, it’s not that I’m unhappy with the way things have gone.  I wouldn’t change a thing.  With the Lovely Lady at my side, we’ve made some dreams come true.  There are more still in process.

I would like the chance to offer some insight, though.  I have a few years of experience that I could share…

But, no.  We wouldn’t have listened then.  They’ll not listen now.

Better to let them dream.

The moment has passed anyway.  The parking lot is now clear, the inhabitants thereof having left rather quietly over the last half hour.

I hope they’ve gone to follow their dreams.  Time will tell.

Me?  I’m left here with my quiet music, my thoughts, and a few of my own unfulfilled dreams. Very few.

God has been good.  I am grateful.

Tomorrow, this aging man (who still remembers what it was like to roar down Tenth Street in that ’72 Vega with the wide Parnelli Jones slicks on the back) is going to get back to work on the dreams.

Where there’s life, there’s hope.

I’m still breathing.

“‘In the last days,’ God says, ‘I will pour out my Spirit on all people.  Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams.'”
(Acts 2:17 ~ NIV)

“Hold fast to dreams,
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird,
That cannot fly.”
(Langston Hughes ~ American poet ~ 1902-1967)

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

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Tiny Beads

“We have water!”

The Lovely Lady, not given to idle talk, spoke the words almost disgustedly as I sat at my desk on a recent afternoon.  I, on the other hand, am given to more than my share of foolishness.  I had a quick answer.

“Of course we do.  We paid our water bill, didn’t we?”

Grinning stupidly, I stood and walked around the corner to where she stood pointing at the floor.

Water.  On the floor.  Any number of feet away from a plumbing supply line in the building.  The puddle was growing, so we moved.  In opposite directions.  She headed to find an old towel.  I stalked to the air conditioner’s closet and reached inside.  I knew exactly what I was seeking.

I slid my finger inside the inch and a half big hole on its top and touched cold water right up at the lip of the smallish black box.  Yep, the puddle was overflowing from here.

Oblivious to the water which I knew would splatter everywhere (it couldn’t be worse than the rapidly expanding lake on the floor), I lifted the box a few inches in the air and dropped it back on the shelf upon which it rested.  Immediately, the motor inside roared to life, and the water level receded almost instantly.

When the Lovely Lady arrived back at the scene twenty seconds later, towel in hand, the crisis was over.  The puddle still needed to be sopped up, but it was no longer expanding, so it was just a matter of moments before the mess was cleaned up.

How could such a thing happen?  And, what is this black box inside we keep inside the hall closet?

Suffice it to say that my stubborness is fully to blame.  The black box is a pump, placed there because years ago, I wanted the air conditioner in that location, and it is some distance away from a normal drain.  The condensate from the unit has to be pumped into the attic and then outside through a small piece of copper tubing.

The pump’s motor forces water out, but it also has a float which tells the motor when to run.  When the water level in the tank reaches a certain level, the float activates a micro-switch which starts the motor, draining the reservoir.


So why all the fuss?  And, why is there water running out the top of the pump and onto the floor?

I’ve known the answer to that question for a long time.  The answer can be held between my finger and thumb with ease.  The culprit is a little piece of polystyrene (commonly called styrofoam) less than an eighth of an inch in diameter.

Less than one-eighth inch!

The building is two thousand feet in area.  With eight-foot ceilings, the cubic feet to be cooled are a mere sixteen thousand.  For all those sixteen thousand cubic feet, we have a five-ton compressor unit that cools the air.

And, for that huge cooling unit, we have a tiny box which removes the moisture which collects as condensate.

And, for that tiny black box, a single eighth inch ball of polystyrene can (and frequently does) bring the whole works to a screeching halt.  All that has to happen is for a solitary piece of styrofoam to come between the contacts of the micro-switch which tells the motor on the pump it is time to run, and we’re done.

“We have water!”

I hate those words.

Why not get rid of the polystyrene ball?

I would, but the little one-eighth inch balls are what insulates my attic.  Thousands of them.  I have to have insulation.

They fall down into the hall closet around the duct work, also a necessary part of the system.  The pressure in the closet moves them around and they sift into the pump.

One ball.  All that big building, all that air moving, all that big unit blowing up a gale.

All shut down with one tiny polystyrene ball.


The size of this O.

You will, no doubt, fill in the blanks to make an appropriate application for your circumstances.  I have my own issues and their tiny culprits.

I wonder if it is time to turn my attention to a detail or two.

Then again, there is no water today.

Perhaps tomorrow.

“Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark.”
(James 3:5b ~ NIV)

“A little neglect may breed mischief …
for want of a nail, the shoe was lost;
for want of a shoe the horse was lost;
and for want of a horse the rider was lost.”
(Benjamin Franklin ~ Poor Richard’s Almanac, preface [1758])

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

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No, Not One

“I just came in to look at the guitar strings.”

The young man walked in my door this morning just like any other customer.  I took him at his word and pointed him to the back wall which is covered with string sets of all sizes and varieties.

“We always sell them at half-price.  Let me know if you need any help making a selection.”  I said the words almost by rote, having repeated them thousands of times over the last thirty-some years.

I thought it a little odd when he only glanced at the wall full of strings and made his way back to the front of the store, so I asked if we were out of the ones he wanted.  Making a comment about already having new strings, but thinking about getting a different brand, he immediately changed the subject.

“While I’m in here, I’ve got this great new product I want to show you…”

Oh.  So that’s how it’s going to be.  First a falsehood, then the payoff.

I listened to his sales pitch and let him down easy, sending him out the door with no sale.

For me or for him.

No sale.

I thought it odd, a few minutes later, when my sister called out from the back room where she was working. She can’t see the sales floor, but the open pass-through window doesn’t stop conversations from filtering through.

“Were those two guys together?”

Two guys?  Curious, I explained that there was just one person.

“I’m sure I heard two different voices.  The guy wanting strings and the one trying to sell you that stuff.”

No.  Just one guy.

Or, was it?

I hate being lied to.  Hate it.

Twice more today, it happened.  There was the girl who was all bubbly about being in the store for the first time, even though she had been raised in this town.  She was waiting to meet surreptitiously with a cousin, one whose girlfriend was extremely jealous.  So jealous, in fact, that she chased this girl down the alley moments later, when she caught sight of her with her boyfriend.

Cousin?  Maybe not.

The other time, the painfully thin young man stood in front of me, twitching, telling me that he wasn’t using oxycontin or codeine anymore.

“The doctors wanted me to take it, but I won’t do that.  I hate drugs.”  He jerked his head toward the door as he said the words.

I seen enough people who are high and still looking for money for the next fix to recognize the signs.

Did I tell you that I hate being lied to?

It’s not only the salespeople, the cheaters, and the addicts either.

There was the pastor the other day.  He bought a harmonica.  To use in church he said.  That was on Saturday.  On Monday, he brought it back.  Sunday comes between Saturday and Monday.  I just thought I should remind you.

“We didn’t need it after all.  Could I get my money back?”

I cautioned him that we can’t take back harmonicas which have been played.  They can’t be sterilized adequately, so we don’t sell used harps.

“Did anyone play it?”

He shook his head.  “No.  Not one person.”

The package was open, so I looked at the harp.  It was covered with smudges from someone’s lips.  Slimy, even.  It was my turn to shake my head.  Telling him that it was obvious that it had been played, I handed it back to him and sent him on his way.

He was offended!  He lied to me, but he was offended when I wouldn’t give in to his larceny.

People lie.

I really do.  I hate being lied to.

Can we talk about the first man again?  My sister heard two people talking.

Two people.

How do we describe a liar, often?  What’s the term?  Two-faced?  That’s it.  Two-faced.

He speaks out of both sides of his mouth, we say.

Liars don’t always lie.  They also speak the truth.  When it suits them.  I just wish they would stop being liars.  I like honest people.

I’m just not sure I know any.

Wait.  Did I just say that?  Not any?

I remember the stories from Sunday School.  The angel comes to Abraham and tells him that he is going to destroy Sodom, so he’d better get Lot and his family out.  Abraham begs the angel to spare them.  Surely there are fifty good people there.  Nope. Forty-five?  No.  Thirty? Twenty? Ten?  The answer still is no.

Do you think Sodom was all that different than the the world we live in today?  Again, the memory strikes me from Sunday School days.  God is going to detroy the world he created because of the great evil, but there is one righteous man.  One.  We all know the story of Noah and his ark.  One good, honest man out of all creation.  Later, Job also was alone in his generation.

So it is today, it seems.  I’m surrounded by lying, scheming people.


May I shift gears for just a moment?  I need to talk about my vision.  No not that kind of vision.  I mean the kind my optometrist talks about.  You see, I wear glasses because I’m near-sighted.  I’ve worn them since elementary school.  Without the glasses, I can’t see much of anything at any distance.  They are the first thing I reach for in the morning and the last thing I lay on my bedside table at night.

In recent years though, I’ve had a different problem.  If things are too near, I can’t see them with the glasses on.  Oh, I have the bi-focals to read with.  But, the really close things?  To see them clearly, I have to remove the glasses completely.

And so it is that I can see them, the lying, scheming people with whom I’m surrounded.  Well, of course.  I have on my spectacles!  My spectacles of self-righteousness.  They help me to see everyone about me clearly.  Liars!  Manipulators!

None of them righteous.  No, not one.

I wonder what happens if I take my glasses off.

Hey!  How’d that other guy get in here?


I think that’s all I have to say for now.

“A man is never more truthful than when he acknowledges himself a liar.”
(Mark Twain ~ American author/humorist/satirist ~ 1835-1910)

“If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.”
(I John 1:8 ~ KJV)

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

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Just Like That

The house is quiet tonight.  It wasn’t so at this time twenty-four hours ago.

The giggles of little girls crept around the corners of doorways and grew into raucous laughter that sailed into the other rooms of the house as the four young ladies enjoyed a game of cards.  They sat at the dining room table, their bowls of ice cream before them and broke into song, the lovely young voices disturbing the ghosts in this old house of almost-old people.

But, sleepovers end with the arrival of morning light, and visits from relatives come to a screeching halt with the last tearful goodbye and a quick squeeze.

Silence descends.  Once again, the Lovely Lady and I sit, our feet almost touching as she stitches and I doze.

If I may be so forward, I’m going to share a secret.  You won’t tell anyone, will you?

It’s not the manly man thing to admit, but I’m going to say it anyway.

I miss the girls.  Already.

Funny.  I dreaded them coming to visit.

Old age creeps up like that, you know.  First, the empty nest and its accompanying blue periods.  The excitement of ball games and concerts, of proms and ACT tests, is missing from everyday life.  The arguments over bedtimes and haircuts, and the bustle of school mornings and the cemetery-like silence of Saturday middays, all are suddenly over.  Done.

Just like that.  Done.

Time moves on–a year, then ten–and another reality takes the place of children and constant action.  The house is a lot cleaner.  And, I like that.  Bedtime is more calm.

“I’m going upstairs now.  Good night.”

No shouting, no arguing about who gets the shower first–or last.

I like life like this.  It’s peaceful.  Calm even.

Why did she ever invite those girls to stay for all that time?  Aren’t there motels in this town?

The dread built for weeks ahead of their visit.  Then, another bolt from the blue comes.  A sleepover with even more girls?  Absolutely not!

Oh.  It’s already arranged.  Whatever.

They arrived five days ago, charging into the house to bury their heads in my chest as they shouted my name.  I suppose they did the same to their aunt, the Lovely Lady.  I just remember that I was suddenly thinking about how glad I was to have those noisy girls in this quiet old house.

girl-42353_640Wet swimming suits on racks, laptop computers recharging in the corner, and heat lamps left on in the bathroom. . .

It’s all coming back to me now.  I like having children in the house.

But, the five days flew by and their visit is over.  Done.

Just like that.  Done.

Even pizza with a couple of the grandchildren wasn’t enough to capture the feeling in this ancient house for long this evening.

It is quiet.  Too quiet.

If you’ve followed my writing for very long, you know I live inside my own head a good bit.  There are memories flying around in there that only I recall.  Tonight, I am remembering being a young father again and I have trapped a couple of jewels of wisdom I want to give away.

You’ve heard the first one before.  There are a lot of ways it has been said, but this is my perspective on those years, seemingly now gone beyond recall for me:

Grab hold of the time you have with your family at home and live it out–to the last minute, to the last hug, to the last tear.

Every moment we have with them is a gift from our Creator.  Every moment.

While you’re at it, grab that foam-rubber pool noodle and have a sword fight with the kids.  Blow bubbles on the front porch.  Play the piano as they stumble through the trumpet solo.  Get on the ground and look for a four-leaf clover with them.  Smile as you teach them to drive a stick-shift car.  Even if you’re terrified.  Smile.

Come to think of it, there is an item or two on that list that I can still do with the future generations coming up.  Not the stick shift thing, though.

I am still alive.  I may need to grab hold of another moment or two before I sink down into that easy chair for good.

What’s that?  Am I forgetting something?

Oh.  The other jewel of wisdom.

Don’t dread what’s in the future.

Take life as it comes.  There are some events which will be less pleasant than others.  A lot less pleasant.  They are part of the process.

Every moment is a gift from the Creator.  Every moment.

You may actually enjoy the next one.

Try it.  Because these days too, will fly and soon be over.

Just like that.  Done.

“How did it get so late so soon?”
(Theodore Seuss Geisel (Dr. Seuss) ~ American writer/poet ~ 1904-1991)

“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.”
(Ecclisiastes 3:1 ~ ESV)

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

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All By Myself

“I do’d it myself, Daddy!”

He had, too.  The little boy wore his underpants backward all day.  But he had put them on himself, without any help.  A better father would have figured out a way to teach a life lesson while encouraging the tyke in his self assertiveness, but on that day, it seemed to be good enough for this young dad.

He did it himself.

Funny.  By yourself isn’t always a good thing.

The phone rang at the music store this morning.  It was the Lovely Lady, calling from a neighboring town about twenty-five miles away.  A good friend had an appointment with her medical specialist and needed some moral support, so she dropped everything and went.  By yourself isn’t always a good thing.

I assumed that the doctor’s consultation was completed and she was preparing to come back.  It wasn’t quite that simple.

“The back tire is flat.  It’s pouring down rain.”  “No, it wasn’t good news.”

The last was in answer to my question about our friend.  I wished I could put my arms around her right then, but these smart phones don’t work that way yet.  I closed the store and drove my old pickup truck the twenty-five miles in the rain to change her tire.  By yourself isn’t always a good thing.

She stood and held the umbrella to keep the rain off me while I took off the flat tire and replaced it with the little doughnut spare.  She could have stayed in the car and kept warm and dry, while I changed the tire by myself.   I’m glad she knows that by yourself isn’t always a good thing.

Why is it this way?  When we are children, nothing could be more important to us than to do something by ourselves.  It’s almost a rite of passage, this attitude of independence.

“I can do it myself!”

We stood by the side of the huge Arkansas River the other day and watched the event unfold.

A lone fisherman in his little bass boat pulled up to the jetty beside the boat ramp and tied up, jumping onto the rocks and trekking up to the parking lot where his truck and trailer waited for him.  Backing the trailer down into the water, he got out of the truck and back into the boat.  He used his electric trolling motor to push away from the rocks and rounded the point coming toward the back of the boat trailer.  Perhaps, he was distracted by talking on his cell phone, but as he approached the trailer, he switched to the outboard motor at the rear of the boat.

The start of the problem was when he got over to the left just about six inches.  Instead of pulling up between the outer supports of the trailer, he floated in right over the left one, tipping the boat a little.  I assumed that he would back out and try again.  He, being a man, wasn’t about to reverse the motor.  Seriously.

He did the only thing he could do (without backing up) and, walking to the front of the boat, dropped off to the front of the trailer, between the prow of the craft and the post by which it would be secured to the trailer.  Seemingly forgetting that the outboard was still pushing it forward, he stood in front of the boat and shook it until it dropped between the side supports.

No longer snagged and held back by being high centered on the left support, the boat surged forward and knocked the man down, trapping his leg between the hull and the trailer.  He was no longer distracted by the phone, but dropped it onto the deck, now looming over him, and turned his full attention to escaping the trap he had set for himself.  High up on a bluff above him, we were too far away to do him any good, and no one else was nearby to help.  He was on his own.

Within a few seconds, which no doubt felt like an eternity to him, he was able to shove the boat over a bit and release his trapped leg.  He jerked out quickly and sped around to the side of the boat trailer to cut the power to the motor.

By yourself isn’t always a good thing.

I think I heard him say into the phone, as he picked it back up a minute later,  “I do’d it myself!”

Well, perhaps not.  But, the situations don’t feel all that different–the toddler’s and the fisherman’s.

Sometimes, our pride gets the best of us, doesn’t it?

I remember the little boy’s face as he announced his triumph over the article of clothing.  I didn’t have the heart to correct him then.  That would come often enough in the ensuing years.  We expect our children to exhibit a certain amount of foolishness as they learn.  There is time to correct as they grow.

The fisherman, on the other hand . . .

My mind drifts back to the events of today and I realize the blessing of family and friends.  I also realize the blessing of wisdom to ask for help when we can’t face the task at hand alone.  From friends who need support as they face the unknown, to a husband and wife who can count on each other to help shoulder the burden of disappointment and unexpected barriers in the way, our lives are full of chances to step back and admit we can’t do it alone.

Perhaps it’s time to let go of our pride and just nod our heads the next time we hear the words–

“May I help you with that?”

I’m working on it.

By yourself isn’t always a good thing.

“Pride precedes destruction; an arrogant spirit appears before a fall.”
(Proverbs 16:18 ~ ISV)

“When we give cheerfully and accept gratefully, everyone is blessed.”
(Maya Angelou ~ American poet/author ~ 1928-2014)

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

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Dancing at Funerals

I finally admitted it to her tonight.  It’s been coming on for a couple of days and I just got tired of keeping it to myself.

“I think I’m depressed.”  I couldn’t hide the tremor in my voice.

She already knew.  Funny how that works. But, understanding that when I actually say something about it I need to talk it out, she asked a question or two. 

“Do you know why you’re depressed?”

I didn’t.

Well, I didn’t until she asked.  Then it hit me.

The phone call.  Yesterday.  At the music store.  I didn’t recognize the name on the caller ID and still can’t recall what the little girl’s name was.  Actually, she’s just graduating from high school, but under the circumstances, I think I’ll stick with the little girl designation.

All the girl wanted was to send some pictures of her graduation to her old piano teacher so she could share the girl’s joy.  She knew the lady no longer lived in her home, but she was also sure that I would know where she is now.

I do.

The old piano teacher was my mother-in-law.  She died just over a year ago.

How am I supposed to tell this little girl that her favorite teacher is dead?  Why do I have to be the one to interrupt the girl’s celebration with news that can only detract from her joy?  But, it must be done, so I do it as gently as I can.  In spite of my concern, the news must have been a shock.

The tears come as I relate the story to the Lovely Lady, and I stop talking.  She understands and allows the quiet to calm the storm within.  My mind goes to other sadness over the last day–another friend’s father-in-law died, and the brother of a friend will be buried tomorrow.  Again and again over the last twenty-four hours, I have heard of death and the prospect of it in the near future.

I am sad.  But as usual, simply putting the thoughts into words has set the process of healing in motion.  My mind recalls that I wrote of this immediately following my mother-in-law’s death last year and as I re-read those words, I remember that all is not as dark as I have allowed myself to believe.

It will make this post dreadfully long, but I hope you won’t mind reading the words again, too. 

Sometimes, being reminded of truths we already know is enough to give us new hope.

Dancing in the Grass

The two-lane avenue led through a once-rural residential area, and was normally a quiet road, with just the occasional family station wagon on its way home, or a school bus filled with kids who were bound for several hours of captivity in the academic world.  The funeral home around the corner seldom entered the thoughts of the folks living in the neighborhood, but once in awhile, the sleepiness of the area would be disturbed as a police cruiser would speed past, lights flashing, on its way to the intersection a few blocks to the west.  There, it would stop traffic for several moments as the oncoming procession, headlights ablaze (even in the bright sun of the afternoon), made its slow and tedious way through.  Oncoming drivers were respectful, pulling over and waiting to move on until the entire line of cars passed.

Not so with the young urchins at one house along the way.  At the first sight of the police cruiser, they would run to stand in the grass beside the road, awaiting the black Cadillac hearse which was sure to be close behind.  As soon as it drew near, the boys began cavorting and turning cartwheels in the grass between the palm trees that grew tall and straight.  Laughing and jumping, they played happily, as the sad procession eased along the avenue and then slowly moved out of sight.  It was an odd custom, but one which was repeated whenever the funeral caravan was spotted.

I’d like, if you’ll allow it, to speak for a few moments about death.  It’s not a popular subject for polite conversation, is it?  We’re uncomfortable talking about the end of life. 

We have so many euphemisms for the word die.  In genteel discussions, we suggest an individual passed on or possibly passed away.  A certain fine lady I know of used to describe a family member’s death simply by saying they went to heaven.  With others, one could perish or expire or even be deceased.  In coarser company, they would say a person kicked the bucket or possibly even croaked.  Trying to be a bit more poetic, we suggest they cashed in their chips or bought the farm.  However you look at it, we work extra hard to avoid saying someone died. 

Why is that?  What makes us avoid talking directly about dying?  No one denies it takes place; we simply don’t want to actually speak about it.  Oh, I know there are people who are obsessed with the idea of death.  Some individuals can’t speak of anything else. 

There was one young lady whose writing I once followed, simply because she posted links to some very nice music and classical poetry.  After reading a few items of hers, it struck me that she wrote and posted of nothing else but death.  Every piece of music was a dirge or requiem; every poem a tribute to some person who had died or a lament about death.  It was obviously an unhealthy preoccupation that could lead to no good end.  I quit reading her articles. 

Surely, somewhere in the midst of these two extremes, either never mentioning the subject or else dwelling incessantly on it, is the middle ground upon which we can walk and learn.

The Lovely Lady’s mother died last year.  Her body died, that is.  My spiritual beliefs assure me that her spirit is alive and living with her God.  Over the weeks after she died, I heard a good number of platitudes.  I don’t disagree with any of them. 

She is better off.  She is whole again.  I wouldn’t want to make her live in that crippled and diseased body for one minute more.  


Most of us don’t want to go past the trite words and talk about death in any more graphic terms.  It is a reticence born of long practice.  And, if we had no hope past our last breath in this life, that might be understandable.

The phrase from the New Testament springs to mind:  “Where, oh death, is thy victory?  Where, oh grave, is thy sting?” 

That passage goes on to say that death has been swallowed up in victory, won by our Savior as He paid the price for our sins.  I will not argue the truth of the words.  I wonder though, if our reluctance to speak about death, our fear of the grave that follows death, shows how much we actually believe the words.  It stings too much to speak of it in plain language. 

It almost appears that we believe death has defeated us when loved ones are taken.  We seem, at least, to fear that same defeat for ourselves one day.  As we speak in hushed tones and use our cryptic language to describe the event, we teach our children to fear as well.

The odd behavior of the urchins described earlier may be a lesson for those of us who have forgotten what it was like to know no fear of the future. 

There was a time in our lives when celebration was the norm, rather than a rare occurrence.  We would live forever!  Why should you stand and be solemn when you could dance? 

I will readily admit today that my face burns with embarrassment as I confess to you I was one of those urchins.  Right now, as I consider the sorrow of the occupants of the limousine and cars following–mixed with anger at the oblivious children who danced at the approach of said cars–the shame I feel is almost palpable.  Others who participated may not feel as I do, but I would like to go back and take a different course of action. 

 That said, there is something to applaud in the unfettered spirit of those youths.  Why should there not be a sense of celebration at the graduation of a soul which in life has grasped hold of the grace proffered by a loving Savior, and now has entered into His presence?  If that is not cause for celebration, what is?

I won’t dwell on it–in fact, will probably not speak of it here for some time–but, I hope you will feel the freedom to talk openly about death and its role in shaping our lives and those who will come after us. 

Don’t be embarrassed to admit it if you fear the unknown, but by the same token, don’t be embarrassed to celebrate when a saint, who has run the race faithfully and finished the course in fine form, is rewarded with rest and heaven.  Our sorrow as we miss their presence surely is eclipsed by our joy at their going to their real home.

I’ll not be dancing at any funerals again. 

I do, however, hope that a little balance–sorrow offset with joy, our natural fear of the unknown weighed against the supernatural hope which lives inside of us–will give us the perspective we sorely need.

And, even though you probably require no such reminder, I’m going to keep this in mind:

Our God is good, all of the time!

“Nature is mortal; we shall outlive her. When all the suns and nebulae have passed away, each one of you will still be alive…We are summoned to pass in through Nature, beyond her, into that splendour which she fitfully reflects. And in there, in beyond Nature, we shall eat of the tree of life.”
(“Weight of Glory” a sermon by C.S.Lewis~Irish novelist/theologian~1898-1963)

“The walls we build around us to keep sadness out also keep out joy.”
(Jim Rohn~American motivational speaker)

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

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Holding the Pot

“Do not hold over people.”

We laughed aloud as we read the words, the Lovely Lady and I.  She had purchased a new coffee maker for me, the old one having given up on keeping the black liquid hot longer than five minutes after it was brewed.  I unpacked the replacement and thought that perhaps, I should read the warning on the carafe.

“Do not bump”  Okay.  That makes sense.

“Do not clean with materials that scratch.”  I’m on board with that one, too.

“Do not use on any rangetop…”  I’m not so sure here, since the hotplate on the coffee maker is a close approximation of one on a stove, but I don’t want to be argumentative, so we move on.

“Do not hold over people.”  Seriously.

What idiot holds a coffee pot over people?

We discussed it at the dinner table yesterday.  After we stopped laughing again, a number of explanations were offered.  Eventually, we narrowed it down to our litigious society and over-eager personal injury lawyers, and the conversation moved on to important things such as soccer and no-thank-you helpings of squash.

I can’t get the phrase out of my mind.

Do not hold over people.

The coffee maker’s carafe fades into the scenery as other images take its place.  They flash by so quickly, it is hard to retain them.  Parents reminding their children of past transgressions again and again–Husbands and wives bringing up the past and events which should have been long forgotten–Politicians using words spoken decades before to diminish and smear their opponents–The list goes on and on.

Do not hold over people.

I cringe as I think about the times I have held the scalding liquid over the heads of fellow travelers.  When I did pour out the contents of the pot it was, of course, for their own good.  Or, so I told myself.

I’m not so sure anymore.

I may have enjoyed it.  Power makes one cruel.  And unforgiving.

Perhaps, it’s time to put the carafe down.  Maybe, it’s time to use it for the intended purpose.  The contents, when dispensed in the correct manner, are refreshing and even invigorating.

And, they don’t leave the recipient scarred for life.

Do not hold over people.

My arms are tired anyway.

Coffee, anyone?

“Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you.”
(Colossians 3:13a ~ NLT)

“I believe in trusting men, not only once, but twice–in giving a failure another chance.”
(James Cash Penney ~ American entrepeneur ~ 1875-1971)

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

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