Vanity and the Preacher

“I think you’re vain.”

The dinnertime conversation suddenly turned from polite and enjoyable to blunt and uncomfortable.  The words were directed at me.

At me.

By my son.

Maybe I should clarify.  And no, the words were not spoken in the heat of a father/son argument, with the overbearing father squared off against his teenage son in a territorial dispute.  This is not ancient history.  The young man who uttered the words quietly is thirty years old.

It happened last week.

He is not wrong.

We were discussing my exercise regimen.  I made the comment that I needed to work out that evening, but was still sore from the extra miles I had done on my run the day before.

He wanted to know why I couldn’t just do a few less miles at a slower pace.  I suggested to him that I was too competitive to let myself do that.  I push myself every time I go out.

Faster!  Farther!

Feet hurt?  Keep going!  Muscles cramping?  Stretch it out!

We talked about my alleged competitive nature.  He wondered who I was completing with.  The Lovely Lady, seated beside me, nodded her head in agreement with his question.

Who am I competing with?

I thought for a moment.  I suggested that it was actually myself, but I knew that wasn’t right.  I thought maybe it was because of my lofty standard of self discipline, but quickly dismissed that.

Then I made a mistake.  I admitted that I know other people are watching me.  I use a social application on my phone to report my runs and rides.  Anyone who is my friend can see my stats for my workouts.

I worry that they will see I am slowing down.  I’m afraid they’ll notice I rode fewer miles tonight.

My, he’s getting older, isn’t he?   It won’t be long now; the weight will pile on soon.

I hear the voices already.  Imaginary?  Sure.  But, I hear them.

The young man sitting across the table stared at me for a few seconds and offered his diagnosis.  There was no accusation whatsoever in his voice; it was simply a factual declaration based on my own words.

“I think you’re vain.”

He’s still not wrong.

The Preacher said it, centuries ago.  Vanity of vanities!  All is vanity.

Vanity.  The word used to mean something different.  Emptiness.  Futility.  Meaninglessness.  The way we use the word today, it has another attached to it.



Now, there’s a word to celebrate!  It is a word to which we can aspire.  We glorify things and people worthy of honor.  The sunrise is glorious!  A hard won victory on the field of endeavor gains the participants glory.  We glorify our God.

Not so with vainglorious, or vanity.  The praise earned in vanity is void and empty.  The glory is futile and useless.  There is no real achievement, only the momentary surge of pride, followed by the subsequent letdown of disappointment.

Vanity seeks more glory.  Always.

It is never enough.  Never.

Empty.  All is empty.

Was the Preacher right?  Is that all there is?  Emptiness followed by more emptiness?

I ran yesterday.  As usual, the phone recorded my distance and speed.  In the back of my mind though, I heard my son’s voice.   Purposely, I ran a bit slower.  I still extended the distance a bit, but the slower rate helped me to think I was achieving a victory over the vanity.

Clarity sometimes comes when we least expect it.

As I ran, I saw others out doing the same thing.  I did as I usually do and kept my eyes on the trail ahead of me.  Suddenly though, I saw him.

I saw him.

The young man was overweight.  Extremely so.  Nevertheless, he was running.  Ahead of me on the fitness trail, I saw that I would soon overtake him.  Normally, I would give a little wave and speed past.

Something told me to do something different.  I pulled even with him and slowed a bit.  He was struggling.  I could see it in his face.  All it took was a few words.

“You’re doing great!  Keep at it!”

His face beamed through the perspiration, and he gave me a thumbs up sign.

I ran on.  My face beamed a little, too.

I know.  I know.  It’s nothing more than we should do all the time.  But, for just a moment, I realized that it wasn’t about me and my achievement.  How far or how fast I ran, or how many calories I had burned–those were insignificant.

The clarity hasn’t faded.

This is the place where I usually preach.  I’m supposed to tell you about The Apostle and his remonstrance that we should consider others better than ourselves.  I should encourage you to quit seeking the approval of man and instead seek the blessing of God.

I should.

But, my son wasn’t wrong.

About me.

And, that’s not vanity talking.  It’s conviction.

I’ll take a pass on the sermon.

Another day, perhaps.

“But I begin to fancy you don’t like me.  How strange!  I thought, though everybody hated and despised each other, they could not avoid loving me.”
(from Wuthering Heights ~ Emily Bronte ~ English novelist ~ 1818-1848)

“Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than himself.”
(Philippians 2:3 ~ KJV)

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

Listening to the Soundtrack

I hurt myself today.

It was the first time in quite awhile that I’ve needed a bandage.

I think I’ll live.  All that is left to show it happened is a one eighth inch wide hole in the side of my finger and the memory of the instantaneous pain when the drill bit snapped and the broken stub twisted into my flesh.  The pain is gone for the most part, but in that moment, it wouldn’t have helped to know that it was only going to hurt for a little while.

I’ve heard that before.

It only hurts for a little while.

You’re humming again, aren’t you?

Why does that happen?  I wrote the first line of this little essay and couldn’t help but hear the voice of The Man in Black mumbling the words.  Then, when the line about hurting for a little while was wrenched from my fingers and fell on the page, the tune changed and I heard the Ames Brothers and their sweet harmony right out of the fifties.

Perhaps I’m the only one who hears the music.  I may be the only one in the world with an internal jukebox playing–the selections made indiscriminately and at odd intervals (no quarters necessary).

I don’t think that’s true, but it’s possible.

Do you hear the music?

Funny.  In my head, the soundtrack starts with various stimuli–words, images, even voices–but for some reason, there is almost always a movie that plays with the soundtrack.

Someone tells me that a picture paints a thousand words and I hear the soaring voice of David Gates and his group Bread singing If, from the seventies.  But almost instantly, the scene shifts and I’m walking beside an irrigation ditch near my childhood home, singing those same words to a girl who is not there and who doesn’t even know I exist.

It happens all the time.  I don’t know why, except that our memories are strong triggers for emotions, both happy and sad.  Music is an integral part of our lives, the soundtrack being recorded and played back through all of our years.

Do you hear the music?

I said that I hurt myself today and heard that Johnny Cash song, dark as it is.  The song speaks of someone who hurts himself purposely, just to see if he still feels.  My thoughts didn’t stay on my injury, but I saw in front of me a customer whom I have befriended.  Maybe he befriended me.  I can’t remember.

The first time I saw the man–we’ll call him Rocky–he was a mess.  Oh yeah, the clothes were in disarray, and his hair was untidy, but the mess part–that was his arms.  He had five or six cuts on each forearm, one beside the other, like bloody soldiers standing in formation.

The knife didn’t slip and do that.

That doesn’t only hurt for a little while.

I never said that the movie playing with the soundtrack was funny.  Or happy.

Before he left that day, he had gotten one more thing than what he came in to purchase.  I gave Rocky a hug.

I don’t know why.  I’m not a hugger.  But, he needed a hug.

He may have cut himself to know what it was to feel, but I wanted him to know there were other things in the world to feel besides pain.

Rocky came in again yesterday.  All smiles.

No cuts anywhere.

He finished his business.  Gave me a handshake (he knows I’m not a big hugger).  Told us he loved us and walked out the front door.

He’s not fixed.

But, he’s working on it.  There is hope.

Funny.  From out of the blue, I hear a raspy voice singing.

“…and I say to myself, What a wonderful world.”

I’m starting to like this soundtrack.

“They make songs to the instruments of music, and are glad at the sound of the pipe.”
(Job 21:12 ~ BBE)

“Music is the soundtrack of your life.”
(Dick Clark ~ American radio/television personality ~ 1929-2012)

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

Time Flies

Forty years.

Gone by like the markers on the runway outside a jet’s windows.

Zip, zip, zip, zip…

You’ve seen it.  They are clear, separate and distinct, as you look out the window while the plane is taxiing out.  Then you sit for a moment, as if in preparation to spring into the sky.  The huge aircraft gathers all its faculties, like a great cat hunkering down to spring at its prey.  

Suddenly, the moment of take-off arrives.  The giant creature leaps forward, intent on flight.


A moment before, you were certain of the markers, your position on the runway.  In an instant, the blink of an eye almost, the markers are no longer distinct, but a blur.  A little faster and they become all one line, neither coming nor going–just a single line made up of many.
Forty years.

My high school graduating class held its forty year reunion last week.  I couldn’t attend.  Too many miles and a packed schedule made it clear that, like all the rest before, I would miss this reunion too.

Unlike the three previous events, this time I would see much of what transpired through the windows of the internet and social media.  Photos and videos, as well as written messages fairly blasted from my computers and phone all weekend.  I was grateful and happy to be a part of it, even if only through the media.
The weekend ended.  All the participants went home.  At first, the posts continued unabated, with new photos and new messages.  Then they gradually slowed, a transition from the torrent of Niagara Falls to the trickle of a little hillside spring.
I was still grateful.  Still happy.
Until yesterday.  I saw the video.
The title read, “The Class of 1975…Remembers.”
We do.

I do.   

I wasn’t prepared for the photos.  The faces.  
But they’re not.  
I already knew it.  I have seen the list of my classmates who had passed on.  Accidents–AIDS–cancer–suicide–the list of causes includes all these and more.  I have dealt with the intellectual knowledge that they are gone.
But, the faces.
Suddenly, the tears flow.  I am back in homeroom as the teacher calls the roll.  Susie was always near me because of her last name.  She doesn’t answer.  Peggy, too–right before me in the alphabetical list.  No answer.  I answer here, but the next name called out after me, Raul, evokes no response.  He, too is gone.
So many more.
They are not just names; they are faces from my past–people whom I knew and who knew me.  Gone from view, perhaps forever.
Someone said that we will see them again.  I want to believe that.  My faith tells me that for some, it will be true.  My heart tells me that for others, it will not.  The grace of God is not lacking, but the permission from the individual is a condition which must be met.  
I pass no personal judgment, but God will not violate the choices we make in this life.
The tears begin anew.  So many–gone so soon.
I have spoken more than enough about tears recently.  I want to stop.
I want them to stop.  
As I dry my eyes once again, I consider the speed of the years going by once more and become aware that the blurred lines on the pavement are no longer passing at a frightful speed.  They have given way to clouds and a far away landscape which is passing even faster than the lines. 
Is this all we have to look forward to?  Will all of life soon be sad, distant memories left behind us?
In my mind, I reach over and slide the cover down on the window.  I shake my head and look around.
That’s odd.
In here, time is moving at a normal speed.  Folks are deep in conversation; young children are playing; refreshments are being served.  There is not a sign of hurry, no sense of despair.
Just like the jet, this sphere we ride on through the universe is spinning at breakneck speed, seemingly out of control at times.  Yet, in our little corner of the world, time passes as it always has, one day at a time.
Tomorrow is a new day.

There is still time.  
“In their hearts, humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps.”
(Proverbs 16:9 ~ NIV)
“How did it get so late so soon?
It’s night before it’s afternoon.
December is here before it’s June.
My goodness how the time has flewn.
How did it get so late so soon?”
(Dr. Seuss ~ American children’s author/poet ~ 1904-1991)
© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2014. All Rights Reserved.


It’s officially the first full day of Autumn.  The Autumnal Equinox, the exact moment at which the sun’s position passed the equator, occurred yesterday at 9:29 PM, local time.  I’m sure I felt a chill go down my spine right about then.  I don’t love Autumn.

No.  The name of the season is Fall.

It fits.


We call it that for obvious reasons.  The gorgeous covering which the Creator has provided for all things alive and growing suddenly recognizes the signs that time is getting on.  With not a hint of embarrassment–without even the politest pardon me–the leaves clothing the entirety of nature will soon be shed, leaving the trees and ground bereft of cover.


The nakedness of the trees aside, I have other reasons for disparaging the season.  The chill is already in the air.  The trees know it, in spite of the fact that temperatures have hardly dipped into the sixties.  The wind blew through a week ago, with just enough of the northern bluster behind it to tempt a few leaves to surrender without a struggle.

Cowards!  I look out the window and see most of the trees still covered in green, but I know, from many years of experience, that will change very soon.  Little by little, word will sift through the arboreal world that the battle is already lost.  Much of the foliage will simply alter from green to brown and let loose of the branches to which they have clung tightly for half a year.

Granted, there are a good few of the leaves which will put up a fight, clinging stubbornly to their posts.  But soon, the forces of change will begin to withdraw their life support, little by little drawing away the sap which supplies their energy and vitality.

They will not surrender easily.  No, they will hold on tightly, feeling the green fade, replaced by yellows and oranges, perhaps even a purple or red.

They will be glorious in their defeat, but they will be defeated.

By the thousands, humans will take to the highways and back roads to exclaim about and photograph their death.

Gorgeous!  Splendid!

I hear them exclaim already.  It doesn’t matter.

It will end badly.

It always does.  Every year.

Fall.  The Fall of the Leaves.  Almost like the Fall of Rome–or the Bastille–or the Alamo.

Ah.  But, I grow cynical, don’t I?

It’s only fall.

It happens every year, only to be followed by winter.  Which, in its turn, will be followed by spring and summer.  I know that.  My brain does, anyway.  The promise of God is that seedtime and harvest, summer and winter, will continue as long as the earth endures.

And yet.

I have seen the desolation which is to come.  The glorious splendor of the trees’ defeat still turns to darkest winter.

I do not love winter, either.  The cold cuts right through me.  The darkness…but, I’m borrowing trouble, aren’t I?  Winter will come.  When I have to go out, I will dress for it.  When I can, I will stay in where it is warm.

I will sit beside the fire and wait.  And wait.

And wait.  For what comes next.

For what comes next!

You see,  today I know the sinking feeling of certainty–certainty that fall is coming with winter following.

But, I also know the certainty, the joyous assurance that spring will come again.

I wonder.  Do the trees know that too?

As I sit and consider, I suddenly remember that the leaves aren’t the tree.  When they die, the tree yet lives.  Fall isn’t surrender, but simply preparation for next spring.  Our Creator, in His wisdom, designed it to be so.  Half a year of glorious life, a few weeks of glorious splendor, a few more of rest, and then…

Rebirth!  New life!

The reader will, no doubt, by now be aware that the images drawn on this page, the picture of ebbing life and sleep, as well as the new life which follows cannot be contained in the physical description of the earth’s seasons only.

It seems that I have more to think about tonight.

Perhaps, I’m not the only one.

I may even need to plan a day trip through the hillsides and valleys nearby in a few weeks.

There may be something worth looking at soon.

This old world keeps turning.

“You expected to be sad in the fall.  Part of you died each year when the leaves fell from the trees and their branches were bare against the wind and cold, wintery light.  But you knew there would always be the spring, as you knew the river would flow again after it was frozen.”
(from “A Moveable Feast” by Ernest Hemingway ~ American author ~ 1899-1961)

“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted…”
(Ecclesiastes 3: 1,2 ~ ESV)

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

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God Has a Bottle

The preacher said it so many times that,
Even if I slept through it once or twice,
I would know it to be so.

God knows the number of hairs on my head,
I am convinced.  Still, I will sleep tonight
Without the slightest need to know.

Omniscient, Omnipresent, Omnipotent–
Of those I need no proof. What I most want,
Is a sign He feels my woe.

The Apostle warned in words unlovely,
Confusing words.  Beset and perplexed,
Persecuted and struck down–tears will flow.

Through misty eyes and over years, I see,
The tiny tyke playing at the table.  She says the words
To no one but herself, but hopes grow.

God has a bottle, the sweet voice repeats.
I knew it once, but long since forgot.
A bottle with one use, His heart to show.

Tears are saved, down inside they splash,
Now in torrents, now drop by painful drop.
Every one a memory in His heart, of spirits low.

He cares; He knows!  The sign I wanted
Was always there.  Little children trust,
Like a Father He loves, but I let doubt grow.

In tenderness He cares, for me and you.
One day, the bottle emptied, He will Himself
Wipe away every tear we’ve cried here below.

God has a bottle.  Our sorrows here
Are not for naught.  He saves the memory of each,
To show to all, His tender guidance as we go.

Is it full yet?

“You have taken account of my wanderings; Put my tears in Your bottle. Are they not in Your book?”
(Psalm 56:8 ~ NASB)

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

Past, Meet Future

The house is quiet tonight.  Ghostly quiet.

The Lovely Lady has left me on my own for a little space of time.  I sit, because there is nothing else to do, and listen to melancholy music that, in its own way, only makes me more aware of the silence around me.

My mind wanders.  You knew it would.

It was just yesterday–no really–just yesterday.

It’s a raucous, rowdy mess.  The noise spreads to every corner of the old house and I realize that there is no place to go to escape the racket.

Not that I really want to.

As I listen, I realize that the past is colliding with the future right in front of us.

I see a four year old, and in a corner of the same room, an eighty-four year old.  Generations mingle.  They share information.  Children, wide-eyed and agog with excitement, learn from (and teach) oldsters, some of whom are jaded and ofttimes disillusioned with reality.

We meet somewhere in the middle.

We are loath to douse the white-hot flame of new-found discovery; they instinctively recognize that we aren’t all that interested in learning the lyrics to “Let It Go”.  It doesn’t stop them from jabbering loudly to each other about the things they learned in their schoolwork that day, or arguing about whether a light saber is better than a ray gun, nor does it stop us from talking about the latest medical procedure or our battles with the Social Security officials.

It is an occurrence which is repeated in nearly every multi-generational gathering you can attend.

This is somehow different.

I’m trying to put my finger on it, but it escapes me.

I hear the ghosts again.  Only, they’re not dead.  This time, I’m hearing the ghosts of the past, speaking in the same voices, only older sounding.

I heard one of those voices on the telephone yesterday–that of my former sister-in-law.

That’s right.  Former.

I never asked to be a part of her family.

I got dragged into that when my brother and she married forty years ago.  I was the little brother and she became my sister.  That was all there was to it.

At some point, she and the brother decided their differences were past settling and they got a legal document saying so.


I didn’t get a documentNever wanted one.

She is my big sister.  Still.

A voice from the past.  Surrounded by voices from the past.  It is difficult to visit with her and not hear the voices.  Especially when the house is filled with people who were around then.  My brothers and sister, along with the Lovely Lady, all are part of that history.

How does one simply toss away history, the past they’ve shared?  

We jabber like children again, about school, and parents, and music.  We laugh, until we remember the unhappy parts and then we cry a little, until we think about the funny parts again.

The past is so real, you could almost package it and keep it on a shelf.

The old voices from the past keep mingling with the rowdy ones from the future.  The children don’t share our knowledge of the history, but their lives are shaped by it.

And suddenly, I have it in my grasp.

Whether we like it or not, whether we agree to it or not, our past shapes the future of generations to come.

What we do today changes the course of time for human beings not yet conceived, perhaps just as much as it does for those who are in the moment with us.

I look at the daily news from the Middle East and wonder what we would be talking about today if–four thousand years ago–Abraham had trusted his God to keep His word instead of taking events into his own hands.

Closer to home, and perhaps a little less earth-shattering, I wonder what I would be doing today if I hadn’t visited the little town in northwest Arkansas nearly forty years ago and fallen in love with the kudzu-covered hills and the rivers.  I sit and chew on that awhile and the consequences of my choices begin to overwhelm me.

It’s almost a George Bailey moment.  You’ll have to watch the old movie “It’s a Wonderful Life” if the reference doesn’t register immediately.

Choices and actions taken today will alter the course of history.  One event leads to several, and to dozens, and to hundreds, all turning on a single decision.

It’s a little humbling, isn’t it?

Kind of terrifying, too.

The momentary actions of that one man, Abraham, echo down through eons of time and human history.

And I have to go out and deal with people tomorrow.  Scary, huh?

I hear the key turning in the lock at the back door, and shake myself out of my reverie.

She’s home.  All is still well in my world.


Choices will be made tomorrow.  Choices that have consequences.

It would be easy to be paralyzed with fear, wouldn’t it?  For a moment, panic hits.  How will I…?  Who do I…?  When will I…?

Then I remember Whose I am.  He said the words Himself.

“Don’t let your heart be troubled.  Don’t be afraid at all.”


The ghosts of the past are silent as I write now.  The voices of the future aren’t quite ready to speak yet.

But, it is nearly time to take that next step.

The past meets the future at a place we call the present.

As always, I’d love to have some company on the road.

You coming with?

“‘How shall a man judge what to do in such times?’
‘As he ever has judged,’ said Aragorn. ‘Good and ill have not changed since yesteryear…'”
(From The Two Towers [Lord of the Rings] by J.R.R. Tolkien ~ English author ~ 1892-1973)

“Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil.”
(Ephesians 5:16 ~ NASB)

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

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No Time Like the Present

My two cents’ worth for a week in which my high school class celebrates its 40th class reunion:
The past meets the future at a place we call the present. 
The only problem is that we plan for the future and the instant we set foot in the moment, it’s already the past. 
Mind boggling, isn’t it?
Some of my friends keep telling me to live in the moment–Carpe Diem!–but that implies carelessness now and regrets later.
I think I want to savor the moments, to invest them like treasure, carefully and lovingly storing up memories for a future time when I need the capital to augment some quieter and perhaps even, lonelier, hours.
Live prudently, my friends. 
Moments squandered in youth can never be recovered in old age. 
Memories gathered in along the journey will forever be at your beck and call.
“…Making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.”
(Ephesians 5:16 ~ NIV)

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

More Tears

The big man in the white jacket grinned at us as we walked through the door.  Pulling his scissors away from the head of the fellow leaned back in his barber chair, he called out a friendly greeting.

The young boy who walked beside me grinned back just as casually, as I replied for both of us.  I glanced down at the 5-year old and thought about all the times he and I had walked through that door.  We sat down, but didn’t have long to wait.

“Who’s getting the hair cut today?”  The big man was still all smiles.

The boy was out of his seat like a flash.  Jerry grabbed the booster seat and plopped it down before the lad could clamber up the leather and chrome chair.  Jerry hadn’t even asked yet, but the kid was telling him what he wanted.

“I want a flat top.  Oh.  And, I want lightning bolts cut in the side!  Both sides!”

The friendly man ruffled the boy’s hair and replied reassuringly, “I can do ‘er, son.  You just sit up straight and we’ll get it done in no time.”

I jerk back to awareness and realize that I’m not in a barber shop at all, but merely sitting at my desk preparing to write.

It was yesterday I was at the barbershop.

No.  Not yesterday.  The boy is over thirty now.

I wipe the tears from my eyes and start to peck at letters on the keyboard in front of me.

Tears?  Why tears?

I can’t help it.  The bittersweet memories remind me that some things are gone beyond recall.  Tears of joy mix with tears of loss.


We talked about them today at the meeting of the liar’s club.  Oh, I don’t suppose we do much lying.  We just expand the truth a little–make the stories a little more interesting–you know…

The meeting was in full swing at the music store when the Lovely Lady walked through.  She rolled her eyes and told me that lunch was here.  She knows better than to get involved when the guys are in that kind of mood.

I was lopped over the counter, very un-businesslike, as the other two old geezers sat on stools across from me.  Our conversation had run the gamut already, but we still had enough material left to go all afternoon.

We were loud and nearly argumentative.  Nearly.  We like each other too much to really argue. We were getting ready to not argue about personal property rights, when I noticed her.

She was the only one in the place who was working.

I was the only other one who should have been working.

I told the geezers we needed to adjourn the meeting of the club and they agreed.  But, before they left, we didn’t argue about whether there would be any tears in heaven.  Yeah.  I know.  How do you get from personal property rights to tears in heaven?  Can’t remember.

What I do remember is that I suddenly decided that there were going to be tears in heaven.

Otherwise, how could He wipe away every tear?

He promised to do that.

We’ll probably get together and not argue about that subject again one day soon.


They fell again the other night.  A friend let us know that Jerry the barber had gone to be with his Savior.  I couldn’t help it.  The tears came.

No more lightning bolts cut into the sides of flat tops on the heads of little boys.  No more a little off the top and sides for the fathers of the little boys.  Not more discussions about music in church; no more visits as we walk past his table at the local restaurant, no more warnings from him about too much liquor (in jest, of course).

The memories played in my head and tears flowed.  As the Lovely Lady sat nearby and did her needlework, I missed my friend.

Too many tears.

So many friends have lost loved ones just this week.  Their tears are flowing tonight.  Tears rushed from the eyes of a mom whose memories of a son, gone way too soon, hit her as she did business with us in the music store yesterday. The remembrance of 9/11 and its horrifying images, never to be forgotten, brought tears to many today.

Too many, I said.

I reminded my friends today that David the Psalm-writer was the one who suggested God keeps a record of those tears.  If I read the words correctly, the tears are precious to Him–precious enough to be saved and remembered.

God has a bottle.  He has a book.  Are they real?  Symbolic?

I don’t know.  Here is what I do know: 

What we feel today matters.

What we are going through right now matters.

To HimIt matters.

I can’t speak for anyone else, but for me, that’s enough.

It’s not all I want, but it is enough.

Tomorrow, I’m going downtown to get a haircut.  And remember Jerry.

And maybe cry.

I hope it’s a big bottle.

“You have taken account of my wanderings; Put my tears in Your bottle.  Are they not in Your book?”
(Psalm 56:8 ~ NASB)

“He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain.  All these things are gone forever.”
(Revelation 21:4 ~NLT)

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

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Walls Tumbling Down

“I dare you to cross that line!”

The sneaker clad foot of the skinny kid with the burr haircut dragged through the dry soil, creating a wavy line between him and the other neighborhood boys.  It looked like a stand off.

Jaw stuck out, the heavy-set leader of the ragtag gang of boys belligerently stepped right up next to the line, being careful to stay behind it.

He challenged the skinny kid.  “What you gonna do if I cross it?”

The slim loner swallowed hard and stared the challenger down.

“You’ll just have to find out, won’t you?”

The big fellow edged his foot toward the line and barely, just barely, stuck the toe of his sandal over.  Looking contentiously at the light-weight on the other side of the squiggly line, he decided to take the bull by the horns.

He stepped across it.

The boys behind him held their breaths.  All eyes were on the skinny kid.

“Well?  What are you gonna do?”

The boy with the short hair looked at his antagonist.  For a moment, it appeared that fists would fly.

But no.

A smile appeared on the boy’s face.  “Ha!  Looks like you’re on my side now.  C’mon.  Let’s play some softball.”

I’m thinking tonight about the boundaries we draw.  For some inexplicable reason, we seem to have a desperate need to draw lines.

In the sand.  In our cars.  Around our homes.  Between countries.  Between people.

The other night, walking alongside the creek downtown, I saw the flashes of lightning in the northwestern sky.  They were still a good ways off, but nonetheless, it appeared that we were due to have a storm roll through soon.

Before I had headed out the door for my (then) moonlit stroll, I looked at the weather report with the Lovely Lady.

She was nonchalant about the possibility of me returning from my walk in a downpour.

“Oh, the rain is all still way up in Kansas.  It’ll be a long time before it arrives.”

Kansas.  That’s miles away.

Years even.

I haven’t been in the state of Kansas for ten years.  Really.  Storms all that far away will take forever to get here.

Yet, less than half an hour later, the clouds were gobbling up the stars overhead and the voltage in the sky was making its way to the ground with disturbing regularity.

Clouds and rain and lightning apparently care even less about boundaries than do boys who have been provoked.  State lines?  Those aren’t barricades to stop the wind and the storm.

The Teacher Himself said it.

“The wind blows where it wants.  You hear it, but don’t know where it comes from or where it’s going.”

I might as well have put up my hand and shouted halt in the midst of a stampeding herd of cattle.  The beautiful harvest moon above was extinguished and the stars disappeared as if they were candles being snuffed out one after another.

I knew when I was defeated.  Hurriedly, my feet beat a path for home and shelter.  Even so, more than a few drops had already landed on my head before I pushed the back door open at last.

Boundaries.  We need them.

Boundaries.  We need to do away with them.

Interesting concept, isn’t it?  Both statements are true.

Some boundaries, we need.

The traffic cop in Brooklyn sets a boundary simply by putting up his hand.  The two-ton masses of steel and plastic skid to a stop and wait impatiently for the boundary to be lifted, so they may be on their way once more.

It is a boundary that is absolutely essential.  The cross-traffic must have safe passage.  The hand of the policeman is all that guarantees access without fear of chaos and destruction.

Do you wonder at the power of that one gloved hand?  Don’t.

It has the power of the government and the people, and God, behind it.


The Apostle wrote the words he was given to share, centuries ago.

“There is no authority, except from God and those in positions of authority have been placed there by God.”

It would be an easy thing to get tangled up in discussion about this concept, but there is more to say tonight about boundaries.  I’ll just leave that little rabbit trail alone for now and move on.

Some boundaries should never have been put up in the first place.

The list is endless.  Class divisions are odious, causing envy and anger.  Racial divisions are just as bad, not only dividing us, but putting us at war with each other.  It is a war which cannot be won.

I couldn’t begin to list all the other boundaries my mind jumps to as I write.  The reader will, no doubt, have already begun to add to that list in his/her mind, as well.

From our days of playing in the sand box, we have drawn the imaginary lines.  Those lines have blurred and new ones have been drawn in the sands of the years.  Some will take extraordinary effort to efface; others will only be removed by the sole Power which actually has the authority to draw such lines (and the means with which to enforce them).

I observed some lines being drawn this afternoon as I worked in my store.  The children who blew through the sales floor one after another had only a couple of words for me.

“Hi Grandpa,” was all any of them uttered, as they headed for the back door.

The curious boy, the risk-taker, must have seen something of interest before he hit the door.  I heard the noise of physical objects being moved near the shelves where the band instruments awaiting repair are stored.

The careful one, the obeyer-of-rules, followed close behind.  Within seconds, the boundaries were being set as his authoritative voice laid down the law.

“Mom told us to go straight through.  You’re not doing what she said.”

The little policeman and the lawbreaker stood, at odds with each other–the boundaries reinforced as they bickered.  Then something happened that erased the line completely and instantly.

Mom followed them into the back room.


The officious voice stopped in mid-sentence, the indifferent whine of the other boy trailed off, as well.

Before The Authority, all other authority pales.  Differences put aside, both boys wandered out the back door in apparent amity.

The preacher in me wishes to explain all.  I would have my readers miss not a single detail of the message.

The man I am suggests that it is time to leave be.  Wisdom may be found in silence, too.

I am, after all, learning the same lessons.

I seem also to be erasing the same lines in the sand.

And figuring out which ones stay.

This could take awhile.

“And He arose, and rebuked the wind, and said unto the sea, ‘Peace, be still.’  And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm.”
(Mark 4:39 ~ KJV)

“‘I like geography best,’ he said, ‘because your mountains & rivers know the secret.  Pay no attention to boundaries.'”
(from Story People by Brian Andreas ~ American author/publisher/technologist)

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

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She was kind enough to leave a comment about my essay.  I am grateful.  Not many folks think about doing that.  You may do the same if you wish.  The button is down below, just waiting.  It will still be there when you’re finished here.

Did I say I am grateful?

I am.  She remarked on some thoughts she had taken away from the writing.  She even called it interesting.  I had talked about a legacy.  She said she is too busy to make plans for what the future holds.


“…for now I’m too busy living life to question what happens after it is over.”

Our friends left the United States the other day, going to a country near India to start a business.  They have known for a couple of years that they were going and will probably be there for many years to come.

Just the day before the five of them were to leave, they made a few phone calls.  They called the realtor and told her to sell their house.  Next, they called the airline and asked for tickets to fly to their new home within twenty-four hours.  Then, they threw a few things into a suitcase and called their closest friends to tell them goodbye.  They were on the next flight out of the country.

No muss–no fuss.

They didn’t have to plan, didn’t even have to clean the house.

They were too busy for annoying details like that.

If there is anyone who believes that, I’d like to sell them a few hundred shares of American Motors stock.

Our friends are going to a new life!  A new country.  A new business venture.

Their home was sold before they set the date to leave.  They sold and gave away nearly all they owned.

Airline tickets were purchased months before the date of embarking.  Schedules were considered and reconsidered.  Hard decisions had to be made.  There are strict limits to what can be fitted into a suitcase.  They packed and repacked, removing this and throwing away that.

Legal matters had to be attended to.  Governments of foreign countries have different and sometimes difficult regulations.  Taxes and business structures have to be considered and planned carefully.

Letters were written, emails sent and…

I don’t need to go on, do I?

I have said it a number of times before in my writing, so I hope you’ll forgive the repetition.

There is more.


I am absolutely convinced that eternity stretches out ahead of every one of us.  Whether we plan for it or not, every step we take carries us further into that eternity.  One day, we will board the vessel which awaits to take us to the far off land in which we will reside.

The day will come.  It comes to every person.

Decisions are being made–today–whether we believe it or not.  Choices are taken daily which will resound into time immemorial.

Too busy living?

I’m thinking it’s past time to be packing.

“Without goals, and plans to reach them, you are like a ship that has set sail with no destination.”
(Fitzhugh Dodson ~ American Presbyterian minister/child psychologist ~ 1924-1993)

“If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.”
(1 Corinthians 15:19 ~ KJV)

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

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