Beasts in the Field

In a melancholy mood tonight, I found my favorite photograph and spent a while not looking at it.

By that, I mean I saw the photo, but then, looking on through the lovely, placid scene, I watched a life gone by.  Several lives, if one counts not only the little girl and her Daddy but also the people with whom they’ve been blessed to travel in the thirty years since the photo was taken.

It’s strange, but in the tranquil, almost Rockwellian, perspective of a young father and his beautiful daughter caught unawares gazing through a barbed-wire fence and across the meadow, I see a part of the story which I had never considered.

The tale the photo tells doesn’t brighten my spirits as much as I had hoped when I began looking for the snapshot earlier tonight.

That’s the way life is, isn’t it?  Moments we once thought simple and carefree, when viewed from across the years, assume the burdens of those years and the simplicity is lost, the freedom from cares suddenly erased by time itself.  In some ways though, it seems that I may have actually changed the narrative in my mind years ago and am just now seeing the truth of the vista opened before me.

Looking carefully at the photo, one may notice that the sweet tyke is smiling at what she sees.  I know (because I was there) that she is looking at Dr. Weaver’s cows as they grazed in the big open field.  What child doesn’t smile at such strange creatures when viewed from the safety of her father’s arms?

We did it more than once even though there is no further photographic evidence to prove it.  

Thirty years ago it was, yet I still remember well the routine that led to this timeless scene.

The tall thin man leaned down and held the hand of the little blonde-haired sweetheart and they walked along the side of her Grandpa’s workshop toward the fenced meadow behind the house.  Passing the garden plot to their east, she noticed there was only dirt where once the vegetables had thrived.  That didn’t slow them down though.  She wanted to see the cows.

Until she got closer to the fence.

The animals were some distance away, on the other side, but it wasn’t far enough.  The grip of her little hand in his grew tight.  He understood.  Leaning down closer to her, he quietly reassured her that he wasn’t going anywhere.  He reminded her that she would always be safe with him.

She believed him.  But still. . .

By then, they were at the fence and he squatted down, pulling her toward his body.  In a half hug, she realized her Daddy was up to the task of protecting her.  She relaxed a bit and moved closer to the fence.  

As one of the old cows looked up from her grazing, the child backed up again and felt his chest behind her shoulders.  She leaned on one knee and smiled.

It was the smile of a child who knew safety.  And joy.

But look at the picture again and tell me—can what the young man is looking at be seen?  Is there a smile on his face?


I wonder—what do you suppose he is seeing?  He is almost certainly not looking at the cows the little girl is viewing.  

And, where is his smile?

I sit here and I think back again.  It was a hard time.  There wasn’t much money.  The young man and his Lovely Young Lady had just had another baby.  He was a joy to them, but there were hospital bills.  A bigger house would have to be found.  Clothes.  Cars.  Utilities to be paid.

The little girl is safe and care-free.  Protected and loved, she has no worries.

Tonight, years removed from the event, the realization hits me hard.

So hard the tears come.

How did I miss this?  

All this time.  All these years.

I thought I was the protector.  The provider.

I needed One.

I had One.

I just wasn’t leaning on His knee.  Or resting in His embrace.

There are still scary things in front of me.

It’s not too late, is it?




Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God.
(Corrie ten Boom ~ Dutch Christian & holocaust survivor ~ 1892-1983)


And he got up and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, ‘Hush, be still.’  And the wind died down and it became perfectly calm.  And He said to them, “Why are you afraid?  Do you still have no faith?”
(Mark 4: 39,40 ~ NASB)

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

The Payoff

“There are two kinds of riders–those who have had an accident, and those who will have one.”


Not a single bike ride goes by that I don’t remember the comment made by my friend the mathematician.  He’s not all odd numbers and bad jokes, it seems.

“Two kinds…”

My friend fits into the first category.  So do I.  Neither of us actually remembers our respective accident, since concussions were involved.  He was hit by a car, ending up in the hospital; I bounced down a hill in the dark on my head and other parts, eventually finding my way home again in the pitch-black night.

We’ve both had our accident.

And yet, not a single ride goes by without the words coming to mind again.  I can’t avoid this sinking feeling–this feeling that I’m not completely home-free yet.  Now, why would that be?

Oh yes!  I’ve got it!  Being in the first category?  It doesn’t preclude being a member of the second.

“…those who will have one.”

Any day now, I may have another bike wreck.  Any day now.  And yet, I get on the machine and pedal away time after time.  Does that make any sense to you?

One doesn’t have to be a cyclist to understand the drive, the inherent need to do whatever it is they do.  Again and again.  It is true that we may face the paramedic’s gurney, or the CT-scan machine in the emergency room.  We do it anyway.

It is also possible that the consequence will be something entirely different.  No less devastating–just different.  The activity we must participate in may cause us pain, but we do it anyway.

My friends said goodby to their children and grandchildren–years ago now, it seems.  When we speak with them about their loved ones, there are always tears in their eyes.  Always.  Their grandchildren are growing up in a foreign land without grandparents to spoil them.  They can’t even gather their children into a hug that shows how much they love them.

It is their own fault.

Does that seem harsh?  I don’t mean it to be.

You see, when we teach children to love God and to love others, there is the distinct possibility that they will do just that.  Sometimes when they do (love God and others), they decide to go someplace else to do it–someplace half a world away.

Ask my friends if they would do it again.  Go ahead.  Ask them.

You know the answer, don’t you? 

In a heartbeat.  A heartbeat.

The Lovely Lady and I were married by a wise old man who, alongside his sweet wife, had spent years in Africa as missionaries–a lifetime before, it seemed to them. We heard the story many times.  But, I will never forget the tremor that came into this rough German pastor’s voice every time he spoke of it.  Never.

The it he spoke of was the little infant-sized coffin he made and then buried under the African dirt with his own hands–a coffin that held their tiny little girl who died of a tropical illness for which no treatment was available in that remote region.  As he painfully described the event which had happened in years long past, it was as if the tragedy had occurred only the day before.

Some things you never completely recover from.

Once, as he talked of that sad event, I watched his sweet wife cover her mouth with her hand to hold back the storm that threatened to overtake her emotions, and I suddenly realized the incredible personal cost of their service.  It was a realization that cannot be soon forgotten.

Like the friends mentioned above, I wish I could encourage you to ask the old pastor and his wife if it was worth it–if they would do it again–but they are both gone from this earth now.  Reunited with their sweet baby.

I think I know the answer they would give you though.

In a heartbeat.  A heartbeat.

Each of us have dreams and plans of things that we must accomplish in this lifetime.  Must.  The pathway to those goals is fraught with pitfalls.  Cyclists have wrecks.  Investors lose fortunes.  Sadness awaits at the end of relationships.

When we face the potential disasters, the prize that awaits at the end of the road may seem momentarily to be diminished in value.  But, if we have counted the cost, we forge ahead, regardless of the possibility of loss.  

When we risk all, we may well lose all.  We risk it anyway.

The payoff comes when the course is complete.

Not before.

I’ll keep riding.


The ship is safe in the harbor, but that’s not what ships are for.”
(William G.T. Shedd ~ American Presbyterian theologian ~ 1820-1894)

“But don’t begin until you count the cost.  For who would begin construction of a building without first calculating the cost to see if there is enough money to finish it?”
(Luke 14:28 ~ NLT)

Thanks to Matthew Williams for permission to use his photo, taken by Mike Briggs.

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

Palindromic Thoughts

The little group of people needed to meet and discuss important matters.  Someone had to set the time.  We should have known better than to let the mathematician do it.

“We’ll meet at my house at 7:14 PM.”

That’s what the email said.  7:14.  Not 7:00.  Not 7:30.

We arrived at 7:14 and laughed about the odd scheduling.  We talked about why certain numbers were acceptable when setting timetables and others were not.

I don’t know where the thought came from, but suddenly it hit me.  I don’t love math, but some numbers are of interest to me.  Perhaps that is true for everyone.  I know many people who are superstitious about numbers.

I’ve had customers in the music store who had to buy something else when their total came to $6.66.  Seriously.

Or, how about the number 13?  Does it mean anything?  Anything at all?

I’m happy to report my numbers aren’t the superstitious kind.  For some reason though, I do have a connection with a few which have an interesting feature.  I was born on June the sixteenth–616.  The Lovely Lady and I tied the knot on August the eighteenth–818.  When I was a kid, we got our mail at Post Office Box 313.

Funny.  I notice that the time on my digital clock is showing one of those numbers and I smile.  The number comes up on a sales receipt and it feels like I’ve just gotten a note from an old friend.

I know.  I’m an odd duck.

I never said I wasn’t.

The mathematician had a name for those numbers.  Palindromic.  They read the same going forward and backwards.

Symmetry.  Order.  Harmony.

The realization hits me like a ton of bricks.  I don’t know if I like the number sequences because of my personality, or if my personality has been influenced by the sequences, but I suddenly remember my need for order and symmetry.  I’ve jokingly called it my little OCD problem.

I like whole potato chips on my plate, not broken ones.  Colored candy is sorted and eaten until there is an even number of each color in my hand.  The shopping cart in the grocery store is sorted into categories as items are selected.  If I’m in the kitchen when the Lovely Lady is at work there, I clean and arrange dishes and pans behind her.

She is not amused.  Oh, she understands me, but she is not amused.

Perhaps I should move on.

The concept of order and symmetry has become a bit esoteric in the world in which we live.  Before we move too far though, there was another comment made tonight as we joked about the palindromic numbers which bears a bit more thought.

“So–you like looking forward and looking back–do you?”  The mathematician asked the question.

I realized, with a start, that he was correct.  There wasn’t time to discuss it, so I let it drop.  But as I sit at my desk, I can’t get away from the feeling that there is a deeper truth here.

Much deeper.

Sometimes it’s in looking back that we can see our way forward.

I love to write about the past.  I don’t live there, I just enjoy frequent visits via the memories which I’ve been privileged to retain.  The bigger picture shows that often the past gives us answers to unlock the future.

It can only do so if we raise our eyes from the vault of our memories to gaze again toward the mysterious road ahead and interpret correctly the knowledge our visit to the past has given us.

Perhaps a couple of illustrations from real life might help.  From many years ago, there are two old men who come to mind.  They were both leaders in the church I attended.

The first was an old farmer, with a love for history and tradition.  But, change had begun to creep into the fellowship.  Some wanted to use a different, more understandable, version of the Bible.  Then there was the music, and even the artwork on the new sign.  It was all too much for him.

With his eyes fixed firmly on the past, he refused to accept any of the changes, making sure that people knew his viewpoint on each one.

“We’ve never done it that way before.”

The other old gentleman also had a love for tradition.  Like his friend (and they were friends), he insisted on consistency in the doctrine of the organization.  He too, liked looking back at the past and remembering how things had been in his younger days.

But he saw things that his friend didn’t–or wouldn’t.  Looking back, he saw that in his day, changes had been made–changes that he had been happy about.

He wondered.

Changes.  In the past.  Hmmmm…

Looking back to the future, he made his proclamation.  It was a bit different than his friend’s had been.

“We’ve had our day.  It’s time for the younger folks to have theirs.”

We look back.  And, we see our way forward more clearly.

There is one other type of person.  I’m surrounded by this type.  I have been this type.

It is the person who only looks to the future and makes changes willy-nilly, without ever considering a historical perspective.

Disaster awaits.

It’s true.  Change is the only real constant we know.

We don’t live in the past.  We don’t yet live in the future, either.  The success of the latter depends on paying attention to the lessons of the former.

Right about now, I’m looking back and realizing that I haven’t slept for a number of hours.  It’s time to rest so I can do it all again tomorrow.

And, I know by experience that the clock will soon be displaying my old Post Office box number.  It’s an old friend I’m not anxious to greet tonight.

Looking backwards.  To make the future better.


Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards.”
(Soren Kierkegaard ~ Dutch philosopher ~ 1813-1855)

“Be still, my soul: thy God doth undertake
To guide the future, as He has the past.
Thy hope, thy confidence, let nothing shake;
All now mysterious shall be bright at last.
Be still, my soul: the waves and winds still know
His voice Who ruled them while He dwelt below.”
(Katharina von Schlegel ~ German poet/hymn writer ~ 1697-1768)

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

She Hears the Music

Well, that’s just rude!

I looked around to make sure that I hadn’t said the words out loud.  I hadn’t.  No matter.  I thought them, which seems to me to be the same thing.

I had just exited the worship center at church to run an errand between services.  Walking down the sidewalk, I had approached the little elderly lady, who was headed toward the center I had just left.  As I usually do, I said a cheery word or two of greeting.

She didn’t respond.  At all.

Keeping her head down toward the sidewalk, she walked on past.

That’s odd.  The white-haired lady’s appearance reminded me almost of my own grandmother.  To look at her, one would think that she would be a sweet, kind  person.  Yet, there it was.

My words of greeting fell on deaf ears.

I would learn the truth of those words very soon.

Half an hour later, as I strode up the ramp at the rear of the stage and stood at the microphone to lead worship for the second service, my concentration was broken when I saw her sitting on the front row.  Directly in front of her was a young lady, seated with her back to me, her hands moving vigorously in the air as the customary welcome to the congregation was concluding.

My words of greeting fell on deaf ears!

The sweet, elderly lady is, in fact, deaf.  She wasn’t rude at all, she just had no idea that I had spoken to her.

There was little time to consider the shame at my earlier internal churlishness.  Worship time had started.  I had a job to do.

I have stood on that stage many Sundays.  There have been more times than I can count when the spirit in the place was transformed as we have sung the old hymns and the new worship songs, one after another.  I have mistakenly taken credit for the transformation myself on more than one occasion.

Not on this day…

I went through the mechanics of leading.  Musically, I suppose it was passable.  Still, I know there is more required in worship—something other than any emotion or feeling I can muster on my own.

As we sang, I found myself glancing again and again at the little deaf lady.  Her rapt attention was on the young lady who faced her, signing the lyrics to the songs.  I smiled to myself as I thought about the helpfulness of the young lady, to aid the lady in participating with the songs which she could not hear.  In some ways, it seemed such a futile effort.

But, as my eyes returned again to the pair, those hands moving in the air seemed to me to take on a symbolism that went much further than just the words.  Then I realized, with a start, that the old saint herself was signing along with the young lady.

My eyes shifted to the children standing nearby.  They weren’t watching the lyrics up on the wall behind the musicians on the stage anymore; they were watching the two ladies.  Several of the young girls were mimicking the sign language themselves—not in the way that children often do when I conduct music, making fun—but they wanted to understand, wanted to be a part of what was happening there on the front row.

lillianBy this time, more faces were turned toward the front row.  I saw others, not just the children, whose hands were moving in concert with those of the two ladies there.  And the truth finally hit me.

The hearing-impaired lady was no longer even looking at her young interpreter, but was standing and signing the words to the song, looking for all the world as if she heard the music into the depths of her soul.  Hands and arms moving joyously in the air, she too sang the song of worship as we did.

Her face beamed.

Some moments are full of profound clarity.  This was one of those moments for me.

I didn’t lead worship on that morning.

A little deaf lady did.

Oh, I wouldn’t be surprised if many of the folks there missed it.

But, I tell you, I didn’t.

The little deaf lady, who can’t carry a tune in a bucket, showed me how to worship.

I’m wondering.  What kind of handicap do I have that keeps me from accomplishing the tasks I know are mine to do?   Why is it that I’m still hanging around, not meeting the challenges?

My excuses hang in the air and then, like the passing breeze, just evaporate.

The little deaf lady hears music.  In the depths of her soul, she hears music.

I’m convinced of it.  I didn’t ask her if she did, but that kind of emotion—that kind of joy—doesn’t just happen on its own.

For just a few moments as I considered tonight, I felt the promise, the expectation of a day that is coming.  On that day, the imperfections and limitations of this earth and these bodies of clay will be swept away and we will be as our Creator intended. (1 Corinthians 13:12)

I practiced with the worship team at my church tonight.  The only problem is, I have managed to lose my voice today.  The morning started out as it usually does, with customers and telephone calls, and no sign of a problem.  But, as the morning waned, I felt a tightness in my throat and I grew hoarse.

By this evening, I could hardly speak above a whisper (a blessing to the Lovely Lady, I’m sure) and knew that it was futile to go to practice.  I went anyway, to be sure I was familiar with the songs we’ll sing on Sunday morning.

I didn’t intend to sing a note.

I couldn’t keep quiet.  Raspy, croaky tones, barely discernible as music are what came from my mouth.

It didn’t matter.  I stomped my foot in rhythm to the music and thoroughly enjoyed the time, all the while seeing that dear saint’s face in my mind.

I saw her as she sang…

At the top of her hands.

The day is coming when she’ll hear—really hear—the voice she longs to hear, that of the One who gave her the song.  She’ll listen to heaven’s choir, and she’ll smile, knowing that it’s the same song she’s heard all along, deep down inside of her.

The day is coming when the blind will see, the crippled will run, and the deaf will sing at the top of their lungs.

Until then?

I guess we’ll just have to make do with what we’ve got.

I’m thinking that it’s enough.




And I will rise when He calls my name
No more sorrow, no more pain.
I will rise on eagles’ wings
Before my God fall on my knees,
And rise.
I will rise.
(from I Will Rise ~ Tomlin/Giglio/Reeves/Maher)


Hear this, oh foolish and senseless people, who have eyes, but see not, who have ears, but hear not.
(Jeremiah 5:21 ~ ESV)



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

An Ill Wind

The little girls rolled on the floor with laughter.


The younger one at least, was lying on the carpeted living room floor convulsed with laughter as her grandpa attempted to play his new French horn.  It was her first experience hearing the odd instrument.  She and her sister were having problems with the similarity in sound to a bodily function which I shall not describe here.

The reader may be able to draw his or her own conclusion upon further consideration.

I’d rather they didn’t.

In short, I am the owner of the French horn.  I am also the person who expelled the sounds in question from the bell of said horn.  It was not one of my proudest moments.

There is a description of the horn which is trotted out periodically.  It usually gets a laugh at the expense of the one who manipulates it.

An ill wind that nobody blows good.

I want that not to be true.  I have spent a lifetime in an attempt to dispel the rumor.  Alas, at times each of us who picks up the wayward instrument would have to agree.

An ill wind.

The mind goes wandering.

An ill wind–somehow, I see the red-headed lady who raised me when I think of the words.  It was one of her phrases–one of hundreds.

It’s an ill wind that blows nobody any good.

She explained the meaning to her offspring by reminding them that often, bad things which happen to some people help others.  I’m sure she gave examples.  I don’t remember what they were.

I do remember the wind.

She called it the gulf breeze.  To her, in a land where the temperature was eternally sweltering, the wind blowing off of the Gulf of Mexico, some sixty miles away, was a Godsend.  The sun heated the earth faster than it did the water of the Gulf and the resulting inequity in pressure caused the wind to blow off of the water and into the Rio Grande Valley.  Constantly.

I hated it.

I spent my childhood riding my bicycle in a northerly or southerly direction just to avoid it.  To ride east meant that you fought the wind.  Fifteen to twenty miles per hour it blew.  All day.  Every day.  At least, that is what I remember.

An ill wind, I thought.

To the red-headed lady, salvation from the torture of the unbearable heat.  To this young man, a hardship that would never end.

An ill wind.  That blew good to my mother.

I will admit that I think of that gulf breeze with a different attitude these days.  Oh, I still wouldn’t want to ride against it for very far, but when I remember it, I smile.

Why would I not?

It pleased my mother.

The mind wanders again, and I think about how I make a living.  Frequently, I buy used musical instruments from individuals to sell in my store.  It has supported my habit of eating and sleeping in a bed with a roof over my head for some thirty years.

One might ask how that could be a problem.  Perhaps one example will suffice.

A young lady carried in a saxophone case one day recently.  Her children followed, each carrying another saxophone, except for one of them who had a case in each hand.   Five saxophones in all.  Different sizes–alto, tenor, baritone, and soprano.  There was even a melody sax in the key of C.

An ill wind was blowing on this young lady’s family.  Not only financial want, but the death of her father in recent months, had left them casting about for an answer.

I examined the instruments as she talked about the old man.  My examination was professional and unemotional.  Not so, her monologue.  She was distraught, bereft of her father and her children’s grandfather.  Soon, she would be bereft of his beloved horns.

It was all she could do.  When the ill wind blows, it is futile to attempt to withstand it.

I made her a fair offer; she accepted it and left with tears still in her eyes.

I have profited.

From the ill wind.

The thought gives pause.

I understand the balance which exists.  Mortuaries profit because of the death of our loved ones.  Nurses and doctors are able to pay their bills because we become ill.  Florists thrive because hapless husbands will never understand their wives.

I understand.  Still, I struggle.

Around me, friends are suffering.  Parents have died, or are grappling with the weight of old age and the loss of independence.  Just tonight, a friend shared the sad news that his daughter-in-law passed away today, leaving behind an infant and my friend’s son.  They are sad and confused, wondering what the future holds.

Do you know what it’s like to feel guilty because things are going well?  I look at my friends in their struggles and I tell you, I do.

At these times, it feels wrong to rejoice in the good fortune I am experiencing, while I know others are in the grasp of sadness and pain, and yes, even anger.  But, I’m doing just fine.

And, that makes me feel bad.

I’m not sure that there is a really good answer.  Well, not one which completely satisfies what I want to know, anyway.  But I am, finally, rejoicing with my mother over her gulf breeze.  The time comes when we learn to walk in the shoes of the ones on the other side of the wind.

We rejoice as our friends rejoice.  Our tears flow when theirs do.  The two may occur within moments of each other.  To participate in both is not to live a lie, but to feel empathy and love.  Our Savior did the same.

The ill wind is blowing, but some also benefit.

One ship attempts, unsuccessfully, to sail into the storm and leave port.  Another, battered and beaten by months on the sea, makes its way into the haven, aided by the gale.

The same wind blows.  Ill and good.

I will weep with my friends, as I rejoice at the blessings of a beneficent God.

Weep with those who weep. The day comes when they do the same for us. Click To Tweet

The day will come when they will do the same with me.

We live.  We learn to walk with each other.

The wind keeps blowing. 




To perceive is to suffer.
(Aristotle ~ Greek philosopher ~ 384 BC-322 BC)

Rejoice with those who rejoice.  Weep with those who weep.
(Romans 12:15 ~ ESV)

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

Tables Turned

She dropped the sealed envelope carelessly on my desk.

“There ya go.”  She grinned.  “That ought to make your day.”

I picked up the white envelope with my name handwritten across the face and, not wanting to take the time to find a letter opener, ripped it open.  The page within was covered with numbers and medical abbreviations.

It didn’t make my day.

I have spent the last year and a half working tirelessly at getting back into shape.  A lifetime of bad habits had taken their toll and my body was showing the years, both inside and out.  For the first eight or nine months after I began, I had religiously followed a diet low in animal fats and also engaged in a rigorous exercise schedule.

Reaching my goal weight and receiving the news from my doctor that the tests all showed that my work had achieved my target numbers, I knew I had to keep working.

I did.

Well, I kept to the rigorous exercise schedule anyway.  Most weeks still find me putting in forty to sixty miles in cycling or running.  My weight is still exactly at the goal set last year.  There has been no fluctuation.

I may have slipped a bit in my dietary regimen, but no matter–right?  Exercise burns the calories; my weight is exactly where it should be.  What else do I need?

I looked at the numbers on the paper in my hand again.  This had to be wrong!

My doctor will not be happy.

I am not happy!

Disappointment surged through my whole being.

I had believed that everything was perfect.  It was, in fact, all wrong.

The tables have turned.

At work that same afternoon, I made a phone call I didn’t want to make.  I have written before about my problems in dealing with representatives from big businesses.  The hierarchies in those companies make it astonishingly difficult to communicate, much less to rectify issues.  I usually hang up the telephone after these calls with elevated blood pressure and in a bad mood.

I expected to meet with failure.

A customer had reneged on an agreement and consequently, the huge banking establishment had rescinded their payment to us.  The transaction was for a large enough amount that I didn’t want to lose the money without at least making an attempt to collect it.

I had no hope of success.  I was already feeling like a victim and placing blame on the customer for being dishonest.

There was a mud hole of unhappiness before me and I hopped right in to wallow in it.  I anticipated a long stay.

My pessimism stemmed from that fact that I hadn’t a leg to stand on.  I had not followed the bank’s protocol and had shipped the merchandise to a different address at the request of the customer.  There was no way I would receive a reinstatement of the payment.

No way.

Moments later, I was astonished to hear the bank’s representative say the words.

“Mr. Phillips, I will be happy to issue a credit to your account in that amount.  We can’t charge the customer again, but we want to make sure you don’t have a loss.  We’ll cover it.

I stopped in mid-wallow.

“What?  You’ll issue a credit?  Huh?  Did I understand you correctly?”

The questions kept coming to my mind.  It was almost as if I didn’t want the company to make this right for me.  I kind of liked the victim role.  I could blame someone else for my unhappiness.  If not the customer, then the bank could stand in as the villain.

I enjoyed the mud hole.  I wanted to wallow awhile.

I hung the phone up in a daze.

Maybe it was just a ruse.  He probably just wanted to get rid of me and didn’t want have to face my tantrum. It was inevitable.  He had to know that and just wanted to avoid the confrontation.  There would never be any money in my account.

I checked my account today.  Right there in the deposits column, I saw it.  Three hundred and twenty-six dollars–deposited from the banking firm this morning.

I want the satisfaction of being angry at the greedy corporation that won’t give me my money!  I want to hate forever that customer who wronged me!  Crooks!  Liars!

But no.

The tables have turned.

In black and white, the numbers tell their tale.  Two separate occurrences, both with unexpected conclusions.

Tables turned.

The good news I hoped for because of my own hard work?  There was none there.  I had done some things right, but not everything.  I couldn’t achieve the result I had hoped for, no matter how hard I had worked.

The bad news I expected?  Blown away, like the morning mist.  With one stroke of a pen, the wrong was made right.  I have no villain to complain about.  I am not a victim.

I open the Book and find the words there in black and white as well.

All my own effort, for all of my life, has been in vain.  All for naught.  The good I do can never outweigh the wrong which has been done.


The gift has been given and credited to my account.  One who had no obligation whatsoever to pay the debt did so.  I can claim no part in its payment, and I can never make restitution to the One who paid it for me.


Tables turned.

“Shouldn’t you have mercy on your fellow servant, just as I had mercy on you?”
(Matthew 18:33 ~ NLT)

“Sometimes, when you least expect it, the tables turn and that scary feeling that has taken hold of you for so long somehow turns into hope.”
(David Archuleta ~ American singer/songwriter)

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

Not As Advertised

The old farmer picked his words carefully.  This was important stuff.

“It’s a hard life.  You’re either in all the way or you’ll be out soon enough.”

 Almost sadly, he nodded his weather-beaten and graying head. as he considered his own words.

I was standing at my work bench, toiling at a repair job.  I’ve often wondered why that seems to be an invitation to customers to open up about their life.  Perhaps, the fact that they don’t feel the pressure of a constant stare–or maybe it’s just easier to talk to someone when you know honest labor is being done.  Whatever the reason, this wasn’t my first such conversation today.

A mere half-hour before, another aging man had stood and said the words going through my mind tonight. We had been talking about a family relationship which had come to an abrupt end.  I guess I should say, he had been talking about it.  I was listening as I worked.

“The product wasn’t as advertised,”  was his gloomy pronouncement.

The man he was discussing had been talkative, and even seemed to be forthcoming and honest in their conversations.  Nothing had prepared my friend for the disappointing conclusion which would end the relationship mere months later.

Not as advertised.

I have bought such merchandise.  Cars that became lemons.  Kitchen gadgets which disappointed in every way.  Telephone service which was non-existent when needed.

I understand the concept.

But, as he said the words, in a flash of illumination, I realized something else:

I embody the concept.

I am a walking, talking example of the principle in action.  What you see is not what you get.

I’m not proud of it.  In fact, to divert attention from my shame, I’d love to drag everyone around me into the mud in which I wallow.

I did it tonight.

We were sitting at the local restaurant, our old friends, along with the Lovely Lady and I, and the conversation just seemed to come around to the point.  Not content to bear the blame alone, I suggested that we all are guilty of false advertisement.

I even mentioned that I had been disappointed in someone I held in very high esteem, so I was sure that no one was exempt.  Somehow, I guess, spreading the glare of the spotlight to include others besides me is a little comforting.

As if that excuses my sin.

As if.

I have struggled with this guilt for much of my life–this realization that who I am  in the deep, dark secret place of my soul is not the same person promised by the facade which has been carefully erected, piece by carefully crafted piece.

In a way, today has been a day of epiphany.  Sort of.

I have a morsel of wisdom to share.  It could change life as we know it.  Well, maybe not, but I’ll share it anyway.  In a moment.

I have come to the conclusion that I will never be as advertised.  Never in this lifetime.


That realization is not going to stop me from advertising.  Nor will I allow it to stop me from doing one more thing:

I will continue to attempt to make the product match the description.

Over the last couple of years, I have, of necessity, undertaken a fitness regimen.  I exercise an average of six or seven hours a week.

I hate it.

That is to say, I hate it before I begin.  Nearly every single day, as I prepare to depart for a run or a bicycle ride, I complain to the Lovely Lady.

“I don’t want to do this.”  The words are the same every time.

But every time, I walk out the door.

I force myself to do what I do not want to do.  I have a goal in mind and I overcome my temporary desires in favor of the long term results.

To the folks sitting in the park, I am just another fitness nut.  Anyone knows that fitness nuts love exercise.  Why else would they do it?

The motorists who have to dodge my bike are certain that I love riding on their road, causing them to slow and creep around me.  What a shock it would be to them to realize that I am focused solely on completing the number of miles I have determined I must cover to meet my goal for the day or week.

I hate exercise.

The visible exterior may be of a thin, physically fit man, but a fat, lazy couch potato lives down deep inside.

Oh.  I promised a little morsel of wisdom, didn’t I?

There is less of the fat, lazy couch potato living inside of me than there was a year ago.  Less of him than a month ago.  One might even be able to detect that he has shrunk a bit from just last week.

The reason is–I make myself do what I don’t want to do in order to achieve what I must achieve.

The same principle applies to what is happening in the deep, dark secret place inside me.

The same principle.

We do what we don’t want to do in order to achieve what we must achieve.

I won’t argue dogma.  I’m not a doctrinal scholar.  But, I know that God’s grace has given me new life, not so that I can continue to feed the secret person deep inside, but so that the finished product can someday match the public promise.

I can’t do it alone, but I do have to work at it.  Every day.

The Apostle knew this.  He assured us that the One who began the work will bring it to completion.  The man who wrote those words is the same one who told us he brought his body under discipline on a daily basis.

Sounds like an exercise regimen to me.

The old farmer was right.  It is hard work.

And, we’re either all in or we’ll be out soon enough.

Time to head out the door again.  I’d love to have some company along the way.




“For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases Him.”
(Philippians 2:13 ~ NLT)


“The secret of life is honesty and fair-dealing.  If you can fake that, you’ve got it made.”
(Groucho Marx ~ American comedian/actor ~ 1890-1977)




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

I Forget

“I think you know what I’m here for.”

The lanky young man grinned conspiratorially at me at he glanced at the guitars on the wall behind the counter.  He had been in the music store just the day before.  I should have known what he was there for.

I had no idea.

Quickly, I sized him up.  Early twenties, tattoos, long black hair with almost a Goth look to him–I remembered hearing him play some pretty heavy rock music on an earlier visit.  He had the look of a heavy metal rocker.

I used those context clues, and glancing at the wall behind me, saw the tribal decorations on the flying v guitar hanging beside the old-school Gibson electric with a natural finish.  With an equally conspiratorial smile, I lifted the tattooed v-shaped guitar from the hanger.

“Yep.  I sure do,”  was all I said.

I didn’t.

Immediately his face fell and he waved his hands in front of his body in a disapproving motion.  Within seconds, a short, humorless laugh was drawn from his throat.

“No, not that one!  The Gibson!”  The words were impatient and almost angry.

No one wants to be forgotten.  No one.

But, I have this problem.

I forget.

It’s not personal.  I don’t do it selectively.

Still–I forget.

As frequently happens, there is music to accompany my thoughts tonight.  In my head, I’m hearing the lyrics to the theme song from the eighties television comedy series called Cheers.  The episodes centered around a little neighborhood bar and the folks who frequented it.  I have forgotten almost all of the story lines, but the main lyrics of the theme song are still stuck in my head.

“Sometimes you wanna go
Where everybody knows your name,
And they’re always glad you came…”

We all want to be recognized.  Recognition equals honor in many ways.  If someone is important enough for us to remember their name and their story, they are reassured that they matter to us.

I would like to tell you that the young man standing at my counter the other day matters.  Because the reality is, he does.  That said, I admit my memory of our conversation from just a day or two previous was foggy at best.

I am–slowly–coming to grips with the fact that I can’t keep the names and preferences of every person I meet in my head.  I am learning, more often than not, to camouflage my confusion with humor and questions which offer context clues (better ones than those I come up with on my own) for the direction in which our conversation should go.  We used to call this faking it.

I guess we still do.

Each day now, dozens of folks come through my door, and every one of them has my name on his or her lips.  I could tell you that I have never seen half of them before.  Regardless, they all think they know me.  They know me!

But, therein lies the real problem.  You see, like the song lyrics above, they do know my name.  They do.  Somehow, though, knowing my name isn’t the same as knowing me.

It turns out that even knowing things about me isn’t the same as knowing me.  Because I communicate through my writing and through social media, folks know things about me that they wouldn’t have found out otherwise.

But still–no one really knows me.  Not my closest friend–not even the Lovely Lady.  Oh, she is far closer to knowing me than any other human I know of.  And yet…

And yet, I have secrets hidden which I will never reveal.  I would venture to say that everyone of us does.

It’s clear where this is leading, is it not?

There is One–just One–who knows my heart.  He knows who I am, what makes me tick, the stubborn heart that lives inside of me…

He knows.  Me.

I want to go where Somebody knows more than just my name.

I wonder if there is anybody else who wants to make that journey too.

I always enjoy company.

Just don’t expect me to remember your name along the way.

“Fear not, for I have redeemed you. I have you called you by name; you are mine.”
(Isaiah 43:1b ~ ESV)

“I never forget a face, but in your case I’ll be glad to make an exception.”
(Groucho Marx ~ American comedian ~ 1890-1977)

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

Time to Live

It was just a photo of grass.  That’s all.

Photo: Jeannean Ryman


My friend, the photographer, has a knack for seeing the beauty in the strangest things.  Horned frogs.  Dragonflies.  And now–grass.

I saw the picture a few days ago and was gone.  Instantly.

Gone back fifty years.  As if nothing else that has occurred in the time since had transpired, I was a child again in the fields of the Rio Grande Valley.  No fences, no property lines, no adults existed in that world.  At least that always seemed to be true for the hours we spent roaming freely near our home.

There were stinging red ants and black widow spiders, along with the occasional garter snake and even a bull snake or two, but we gave them space and they didn’t seem to have any animosity toward us.  We ran and crawled with abandon, even lay down in the grass when the notion struck us.

I cannot begin to count the number of hours we spent chewing on the stalks of these picture-perfect grass stems.  I’m sure we thought it made us look suave and debonair.  Or, just really cool.

I gazed, unseeing, at the photo, and life was once more a simple, carefree existence instead of the convoluted, complicated, stressful reality in which I now live.

Some days, I’d like to be back there again.

I can still feel the grass stalk between my teeth.

But, as I contemplated the gorgeous photo and wandered those old paths in my mind, I understood that this was to be only a quick trip, a there-and-back moment that would soon come to an end.  And, as I thought, my mind took a strange turn.

It does that.  Takes strange turns.

I gazed at the photo and, instead of sun shining through the spikes of grass seed, inspiring awe and amazement at the Creator’s artistic gifts, in my mind I saw the grass being struck down by a serrated  blade.  The jagged steel swung, now close, now farther away, slicing through the stalks and felling the once beautiful seed tufts to the ground.

Why would I visualize something as destructive as that, one might ask?  I could offer the excuse that I had to do that very deed many times while growing up, and it would be truthful.  The weed cutter was our weapon of choice for keeping the wild buffel grass at bay, away from the driveways and citrus trees.  It was a crude, but effective tool.

That excuse would also be a smoke screen.  The real reason my brain wants to envision the grass lying on the ground has less to do with my memories than it does my world view.  I know it seems strange, but there it is.

I can’t see beautiful seeds on the stalk without hearing the words in my head.  I have heard them over and over in my journey as a follower of Jesus.  I don’t want to erase them, and I couldn’t even if I did.

Except a seed die, it stands alone.

The words the Teacher spoke to His followers were intended to help them understand why He had to die soon.  They still couldn’t grasp it.

In my arrogance, I have been certain that I comprehended the meaning.

Super-spiritual me has grasped the meaning and made application.  All seeds must die.

All seeds must die.

And, so they must.  But, I wonder if I have fully grasped that the time of their death is in the Creator’s hands?  Do I deign to set the timetable and do the deed myself?  As I consider, I realize that I may, in my head, have misunderstood the Teacher’s words so much more than his friends did.

You see, the words applied to Himself.  While martyrdom would be required of a number of His followers, it is not a given for everyone.

It is even possible that I have mixed up the Savior’s words with those of others who followed and encouraged us to die to self and live to God.  It’s not the same thing.

It’s not.

Funny.  I have spent a lifetime thinking about those words in the wrong way.

Did you know that buffel grass (the species in my friend’s photo) has a life expectancy of ten years?  That’s a long time for grass. It is a hardy grass, with roots that go down deep, most of the time at least six feet below the surface.  It draws the moisture necessary for life from deep underground.

Heat won’t kill it.  Drought affects it only slightly.

Light a fire and it will burn like tinder.  The wildfire will spread in seconds, seemingly killing this hardy vegetation.  The ground will rapidly be seared and blackened.

Now, it’s dead.  Right?


Buffel grass loves fire.  The roots below the ground survive and are working immediately to regrow the stalks, and the leaves, and the seeds.  What comes up will be green, and lush, and tender.


Again, I look at the photo, amazing in its simplicity and stark beauty.

The light shines through, doesn’t it?

In a spectacular way, Light has a way of doing that.  Even for us.  While we live, and love, and care in the place and time our Creator has planted us, His light shines through.

Time to live.  Like the grass, stretching up to the heavens, yet covering the earth.  Shimmering in the breeze, reflecting the glory of the One who created and sustains it.

Time to live.

“Do you ever stop to think, and forget to start again?”
(A.A.Milne ~ English author ~1882-1956)

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.  The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”
(2 Corinthians 5:17 ~ ESV)

With special thanks once again to my childhood friend, Jeannean Ryman for sharing her amazing talent for finding the beauty in creation through her photographs.

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

Not Fishing

Have you seen the videos online?  On some rivers in Missouri and Illinois, folks have to be careful of the fish jumping into their boat.


By now, the reports are not only confirmed as true, the incidents are actually on the rise.  The Asian carp, which were introduced to help keep down algae growth in those rivers, are multiplying at an alarming rate, endangering many native species of fish.  This particular fish, for some reason, responds to the vibration and sound of the motors and propellers, swimming frantically by the thousands in the wake of the boat and also in front of it.

Then the real action begins.  The large silver fish, which can grow to four feet long, begin to jump, almost seeming to fly.  There are so many of them that large numbers can actually jump right into the boat.


Fishing without even putting bait on a line–without even throwing the line into the water.  All one has to do is to sit and enjoy the ride.  Oh!  They do also have to keep an eye out for the flying fish, since the larger ones can do serious damage to both boat and passengers.

That’s my kind of fishing!  I understand this type of fish is actually quite good to eat, too.  There is no legal limit in most states, since they’re considered a nuisance fish, so a casual boater (with a fishing license) could fill a freezer without much effort.

Now, I should mention–I’ve heard of other things that get into boats without invitation as well.  Snakes can drop from branches of trees.  In some places the alligators occasionally feel the need to approach.

Why, even President Carter in one incident, widely reported in the 1970’s, saw a rabbit swimming across the lake toward his fishing boat and, in a panic, began swinging an oar wildly to keep him out of the craft.

I’m trying to remember why I started this little essay on fishing and uninvited hitchhikers on water craft.  I suddenly recall that I really don’t like to eat fish all that much.  I’m not even a huge fan of being out on the water, over-eager fish notwithstanding.

I do, however, have a point to be made.  That was inevitable, wasn’t it?

In recent days, I’ve been thinking a bit about motivation for achievement and even ministry.  Previous essays have pointed out the dangers of having an artistic bent, the most prevalent danger being the need for reassurance.  Artists tend to seek approval from their audience, often to the detriment of their art.  Even ministers (which we all should be) tend to need a pat on the back with some frequency.

I should tell you before we go too far into this mine-field–I don’t write this seeking compliments or signs of approval for myself.  My cup is already running over and needs nothing more.

I guess you could even say my boat is teeming with a full load.  And, I haven’t even had to put a line into the water to coax the approval.

But, tonight I’m wondering about how we make sure people around us don’t have to go fishing for approval.

Why is it we make folks rig up their fishing poles and toss their bait into the water in front of us before we’ll simply say a few complimentary words to them?

When we see people doing something well, or even just trying hard, why is it so hard for us to tell them they did a good job?

I know from personal experience that if I have to go fishing for approval, the benefit from being bolstered up is short-lived.  Soon I begin to think that perhaps the words only came because I backed someone into a corner.

Maybe they didn’t even like what I did at all!

Recently, there have been a number of friends who have been kind enough to offer encouragement, seemingly out of the blue.  Funny.  When that happens, I have to assume they really mean it, that their enthusiasm is genuine and not feigned at all.

What a gift!

It seems to me it’s time the river gives up its harvest without any bait or any attempt to garner praise on the part of the person in the boat.  Like the real river and the fish, there is no shortage.  It’s not like we’ll run out of compliments and won’t have any to share with the next person who needs them.

If you’ve been blessed by something someone has said or done, tell them!

Just like the example I gave earlier, there is a flip side to this issue, too.

Sometimes what jumps into the boat isn’t what we need.

I stood and talked with a man this evening about his wife.  She used to sing in church, accompanying herself on a guitar.

Then one day, she quit.  Gave away her guitar.  She hasn’t sung again in public.  Ten years have passed and she still won’t sing.

It seems a snake fell into her boat.

On that day, the last time she sang at her church, a man came up to her after the service.  He was smiling.  He told her he appreciated her willingness to sing.  Then he went on to suggest that she should practice a little more before she got up in front of the congregation again.

Need a minute to let that sink in?  I did.

She may never get over the experience.  I hope she does.

The man who wrote the book of Hebrews gave us these words from the mouth of God:  Let us find ways to spur each other on to love and good works.  We need to encourage each other today.  Do it before it’s too late!

Words to live by.

“Like golden apples set in silver is a word spoken at the right time.”
(Proverbs 25:11 ~ ISV)

“We live by encouragement, and die without it–slowly, sadly, and angrily.”
(Celeste Holm ~ American actress ~ 1917-2012)

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