My List

I didn’t know how to answer the question.

Not usually at a loss for words (unless the word needed is the name of the person standing in front of me), this time I had no good answer.  The young man before me had stated his query in a perfectly understandable manner, but I was instantly in a fog.

“What kind of resolutions are you making for the new year, Mister Paul?”

I stood stammering.  Me!  Stammering!

It wasn’t that ideas wouldn’t come to me; there were so many of them spinning through my brain at supersonic speed that the air traffic controller had broken down.  They filled the already limited space in my head, and more were circling every second.

Exercise more.

Read more.

Stop procrastinating.

De-clutter my workspace.

Study the Bible daily.

Give more generously.

Be more sensitive to others’ needs.

Get more sleep.

Well, the last one, I just threw in there to make sure my readers are still paying attention.  It won’t happen.

The point is clear though, isn’t it?  There is no lack of things which need to be remembered, no dearth of projects with which to fill the new year.  All of it.  Until it is a very old year.  I need an awful lot of self-improvement.  An awful lot.

When I finally could form words again, I took the easy way out.  Well, I had to stop the supersonic barrage inside my brain somehow!

“You know, I really don’t believe in making resolutions.  It’s so easy to forget them, and frustrating too.  So, no.  I’m making no resolutions for the coming year.”

We talked a little more and, appropriately impressed at my wise discernment (you see how easily the youth of today can be fooled?), he went home to reconsider his own need for a list of resolutions, as well.  I was left to ruminate about the conversation, as well as the depth of my discernment.

I’m not quite so impressed as he.

A cop-out is a cop-out, no matter the terms in which it is wrapped.  Noble sounding platitudes often hide some pretty dishonorable truths.

My life is a mess.  A mess.

The folks around me see just what I want them to see, with a misstep or two thrown in occasionally.  On the surface, I may appear to have this thing called life pretty well down to a science.  Like Mr. Banks in the children’s story of Mary Poppins, I seem to have it scheduled and scripted, leading one to believe I can be the captain of my own ship and control all around me.  It is all a charade.

All of it.  A charade.  A sham.

So, I dig down deep and reach through the supersonic storm inside and grasp one cogent thought out of the thousands circling endlessly.  One.  It will have to do.

One resolution for the list.  The rest will have to wait their turn.  Possibly next year.  Or the next.

Call it desperation.  Call it lame.  It’s the best I can do this year.  Even as I write this, I realize the truth of the matter.  That word describes it perfectly.  For me anyway.

This resolution is the best I can do.  The best.

Here is my list in its entirety:

In the coming year, I will endeavor to continue to do the things which I did last year.

That’s it.

I think it is a gracious plenty.  Perhaps a word or two of explanation is in order, though.  I’ll try to be succinct, a trait which is not in my nature.

I know that my goal-making friends are already aghast at my lack of vision.  It’s not a very ambitious list; I freely admit it.  I hear the words already:  If you aim at nothing, that’s just what you’ll hitFailure to plan is a plan to fail.

All the slogans in the world won’t shift me from my resolve.  You see, I know a good number of people with lofty goals who have forgotten what they came here for.  In the world surrounding us, we see it over and over–folks remember inerrantly the things they are reaching for, necessities determined along the way, but cannot recall the most basic of tenets which have guided them to this point.

It’s not only the over-achievers who forget, though.  Everyday folks, people like you and like me, are falling down around us like dominoes, pushed over one by one–by life and the forgetfulness that comes with neglect.  Opposite though the cause my be, the effect is the same.  The path forgotten, all that has been gained is lost.  

Next year, I want to remember.  I want to continue.  I want to keep moving.

Straight ahead.  One slow step at a time.

This last year, I attempted to follow (as I have for many years) the truths I have held for most of my nearly sixty years on this spinning ball of dirt and water.  I made more than a few mistakes, falling short again and again.  It will happen again next year.  I can say that with certainty.  No matter.  I’ll go on.

You see, I’ve made promises.  Some, I spoke aloud to my God and to the people in my life.  Some, I whispered in the dark of night when no one else was listening.  I’m going to do my best to keep all of those promises.

I’ll die trying anyway.

Those other things–the supersonic wave of resolutions circling in my head?  They don’t have to be written down on any list.  I didn’t put them in my head on my own.  They’ve already been written on my heart by a loving God who wants only the very best for His children.  All I have to do is walk in His pathways faithfully.  I’m reminded, by His Spirit, of the responsibilities I have as I trudge along the road.

So, now you know.  My grand ambition in life is to keep walking down the same road I’ve wandered along all the years I can remember.

The company has been superb.  I hope the fine folks who’ve accompanied me thus far will agree to continue along with me for a ways further.

I’ve still a fair number of promises to keep.

And die trying.

“But I have this against you, that you have left your first love.  Therefore remember from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first…”
(Revelation 2:4,5a ~ NASB)

“The woods are lovely, dark, and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.”
(from Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening ~ Robert Frost ~ American poet ~ 1874-1963)

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

No Accident

Exhausted.  Physically worn out.

In a minute, I’ll turn off the coffee pot and the lights.  As I check the door though, I see the lights of the candles in the windows next door and my mind wanders.


Earlier on this long Eve of Christmas day, we sat in a dimly lit church auditorium.  It’s not a beautiful sanctuary, just an old Quonset hut gymnasium finished out to seat a couple hundred people, but it’s warm.

Comfortably we sat, and then stood to sing as the familiar carols began.

It was no accident that he picked our building to wander into.  That homeless man could not have known who would be there; he could not have predicted his reception.  But in he walked.

There are no accidents.

We stood and sang.  He trudged right up the middle aisle.  You know, usually folks in his condition take a seat near the back, awaiting the chance to ask for help quietly.  This fellow?  Right up front.

No.  This was no accident.

The man set his plastic Walmart sack on the communion table.  In Remembrance of Me, the words cut into the wood declare to the onlookers.  Somehow, I think that’s no accident either.

There are not many items in our church building that we would call sacred.  It’s just not how we worship.  Altars, fonts, icons–those are not really part of our experience.  We believe that true worship is from our hearts, disregarding the physical trappings, almost to a fault.  The Communion table though–that’s the Lord’s table.  If not sacred, it is at least worthy of respect.

Dirty Walmart bags don’t scream out respect.

Sinking to his knees, the unhappy fellow bent himself down to the bare concrete floor and began to speak quietly.  I couldn’t hear the words and I still don’t know what he prayed, but soon, others would kneel beside him and pray as well.  They were still ministering to him as the rest of us left, nearly forty-five minutes later.

A young friend has already written of the event earlier, giving a profound illumination to the incident and its connection to that first Christmas and the arrival of another Stranger.  I could add nothing more to that conversation.  Nothing at all.

Still, I need to say the words.

It was no accident that the man set his dirty Walmart bag on our Communion table.

I wonder.  How many of us who were there left unchanged tonight?

I’ve written on numerous occasions of homeless folks and our responsibility to them.  Their stories always pull at my heart, and I’ve attempted to communicate that same sense to you in my writing.

Tonight though, on the eve of our observance of the birth of Christ, a dirty man set his dirty sack right down in the middle of my worship.

Right down in the middle of it

But, as I stare over at the candles in the house’s windows, I begin to understand.

You see, it was no accident that the Baby was born to an unmarried young lady and laid in a feeding trough.  It was no accident that His companions throughout His life on earth were outcasts, and drunks, and the poor.

It was no accident that this Holy, perfect God-man was hung on a cursed, profane tree.

His intent was to show us that what we define as profane is what He calls sacred.  For all of His time here, He made clear as well, that what the religious folk of that day called sacred was actually profane.

The Baby in the barn calls us to care about the sacred instead of focusing on the profane.

He calls us to speak grace instead of declaring law.  He calls us to give mercy instead of dispensing justice.

He calls us to let the dirty Walmart bag sit atop the Lord’s Table.

In some ways, the bag is more sacred anyway.  It is if it allows a seeker to find once more the Baby who came to be Savior.


The Savior came to offer grace.  More than that, He came to change who we are.

I know.  He’s still changing me.

And that’s no accident either.

“The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.”
(Isaiah 9:2 ~ NIV)

“Anything that happens to you, good or bad, must pass through His fingers first.  There are no accidents with God.”
(Tony Evans ~ American pastor/author)

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

Do You Know Who I Am?

“Do you know who I am?”

The words came angrily out of my mouth.  The young cop in front of me looked in my face and recognition lit up his eyes.  His mouth though–his mouth remained closed as he shook his head no.

I turned to his superior, another of the officers standing in front of my place of business, all of them having startled me from my desk moments before.  I had heard the sound of someone climbing over the chain link fence and, rushing out into the darkness, had the terrifying ordeal of being faced with a blinding light in my face and the certainty that behind that flashlight, the young officer’s pistol was aimed straight at me.

As I stood in the parking lot moments later, shaking with fright and anger, I recognized the young officer.  He had been at my front door only weeks before.  His mute denial of knowing me only made me more angry.

Facing his superior officer, I pointed my finger at the young man furiously.

“He knows me!  He was here just a couple of weeks ago!  There’s no excuse for this!”

He knew who I was.

“Do you know who I am?”

The man in front of me looked vaguely familiar, but it would take me a minute.  A grin broke across his face as he punched his female companion playfully.

“I told you he wouldn’t remember me,” he said jovially.  “It’s been too long.”

My eyes followed his hand as he poked her on the shoulder again.  I noticed the forefinger was misshapen, as if it had been cut off and reattached at some time in the distant past.

“Sure, I know you, Luke!  How could I forget selling you that banjo?”

It had been twenty-five years ago, but the memory of that mangled finger had stayed with me.  It had caused him considerable pain as he tried to relearn a skill he thought had been lost forever.  All it took was a look at the injured digit to bring back the name.

He looked at me in shock.  His friend did as well.  They couldn’t believe I remembered him.

I knew who he was.

We all want to be important enough to be remembered.  I wanted the policeman to remember who I was so he wouldn’t pull his gun on me in my own backyard.

My customer wanted me to remember that man from the past who had needed a boost in self-confidence and the fact that he had persevered through the pain. 

It’s Christmas week–the week we set aside to consider a God who became a baby and was born. 

For us. 

In a barn.

I can’t help but think that the symbolism–of that birthplace and the only people who came to visit the birthplace–was entirely by design.  The Lamb of God, who would be a sacrifice…no…The Sacrifice, was born in a sheep pen, to be surrounded hours later by, of all people, shepherds. 


Not priests.  Not military men.  Not kings.


“Do you know who I am?”

The King of all Creation left His throne to be forgotten by men.  He would be a common man.  Like us.

The answer to the question is a resounding no.  In the words of the famous song, “We didn’t know who you was.”

We didn’t know.

Two thousand years have passed since that humble birth.  The baby became a boy and then a man.  A man who would die. 

I think I know who He is now.

And yet.  I stand in the dark and I ask the question.  Shameful, dirty, and still filled with evil thoughts, I ask the question.

“Do you know who I am?”

The arrogance with which I addressed the policeman is gone.  The hopefulness of recognition from long ago is not a factor; it could only make matters worse.  I simply don’t understand how anyone who knows me intimately could love me this completely.

But there it is.  He knows me

Yet He came.  And died.

He knows who I am.

Still today, we recall the Baby, laid in a feeder trough, in a stall, in a barn, in a little back-water town so long ago.  And the question comes down through all the ages.

“Do you know who I AM?”

Now, do we know?

“Sweet little Jesus Boy
They made You be born in a manguh.
Sweet little Holy Chile
We didn’t know who You wus.

Didn’t know you came to same us Lawd
To take our sins away.
Our eyes wus bline;
We couldn’t see.
We didn’t know who You wus.”
(Sweet Little Jesus Boy, 1932 ~ Robert MacGimsey ~ American composer ~ 1878-1979)

“He was in the world and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him.  He came to His own and those who were His own did not receive Him.  But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become Children of God, even to those who believe in His name.”
(John 1: 10-12 ~ NASB)

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

Ringing In My Head


I can’t get them out of my head.  The last time I wrote, it was about bells.  Mr. Longfellow heard them.  I thought I was listening too.

Joy to all people.  All is well.

Lesson learned.  Can we move on now?

My young friend blew in from the dreary, damp world yesterday.  I asked her cheerfully how her day was going.  The anguished look in her eyes was enough to let me know I had touched a sore spot with those few words.

“Oh.  Please don’t ask me to answer that question.”

She always smiles.  Not that day.  It was as if the door was slammed shut on her feelings.  I have learned to leave those doors alone.

I apologized and helped her find what she needed.  As she headed for the exit, briefly, a window opened up to her emotions and she mentioned how hard Christmas will be this year with her mom gone.  Tears glistened in her eyes as she turned to go out the door.  Mine too.

The bells hanging on the door knob jangled rudely as the door shut behind her.

Bells!  What is it with the bells?

Addison came with her mom today.  Her mom washes our windows once a month to make sure we can see out and customers can see in.  Four years ago, we became good friends, Addison and I.  She came every time her mom did and we visited.  A lot.  She brought me flowers.  I gave her candy.

But, little girls grow up and go to school.

“I’m too busy to come most times now.  You’ll just have to get used to seeing me once in awhile.  Okay?”

Today, while her mom washed windows, Addison and I talked.  Well, Addison talked.  I listened.  After awhile, she asked her mom to unlock the car so she could get something to show me.

I wondered what it could be.  You already know what it was.

Yep.  A bell.

A single little brass bell to hang on her Christmas tree.  She shook it proudly.  Again and again.

And again.

I like Addison.  I was glad when she left with her bell.

I wonder.  Did I really learn the lesson of the bells?

What was I missing?

Ah well.  It would come to me.  Or not.

I sat in my easy chair tonight and dozed off by the fire.  Warm and comfortable, nothing would bother me in my cozy den.

My sleep was filled with the sound of–yeah, you knew it was coming–bells.  While I slept, the antiques program the Lovely Lady was watching on the television had ended and a holiday concert by a bell choir began.

I slept as long as I could and finally brought myself to wakefulness, grumpy and almost angry.  Stupid bells!

Stupid bells!

I reached for the remote, but something stopped me.

The music was beautiful.

Bell choirs are amazing cooperative efforts in which no one takes a front seat and every single ringer is absolutely essential to the process.  From the tiniest of tinkly high notes, all the way down to the huge bass bell, nearly two feet across at the throat of the brass dome, each one plays its part.

At exactly the right time, the different bells sound, manipulated by different people, both male and female.  Entrances have to be perfect; cutoffs, precise.  No one carries the entire melody; no individual person is relegated to the rhythm part.  Every single bell counts.

I overcame my grumpiness and frustration to listen to the astounding music.  Beautiful songs.

Old familiar carols.

Bells.  Playing old familiar carols.  Who knew?

You’re humming the song aren’t you?  (“I heard the bells on Christmas day, their old familiar carols play…”).

I listened to the breathtaking music and my uneasiness grew again.  Something was wrong.  Unfinished business.  No, that wasn’t it.  You know how it is when you know you’re missing something, but you can’t quite put your finger on it?

And then I saw her.  Playing the bells. There!

No. Not on the television.  In my mind.

My Mom.  She loved the bells.  She wasn’t all that good at them; coming in on the wrong beat here; letting the tone ring in the air too long there.  No matter.  She loved playing with the bell choir.  I can see her now, sitting with the bells on the table in front of her, watching the music and the director like a hawk ready to attack, counting the beats.  She is desperately hoping that she comes in at the right place, but laughing at herself when she doesn’t.

Beautiful bells.

The tears come again as I write.  I listened tonight to that bell choir and wiped the tears then too.

Mom doesn’t play the bells anymore.  She doesn’t remember who I am.  She doesn’t know who my father, her husband of sixty years, is.  She is lost in the fog of dementia and, as I have been (and was earlier tonight), is angry.  Angry and lost.

I miss my Mom.

And still the bells ring–of peace on earth and good will to man.  Their tones pure and clear, they ring out.  Oblivious to our moods, our battles, our disasters, they ring out.  Parents die or are lost to us.  Children grow up and away from us.  Still, the bells ring their message.

Peace on earth.  Good will to man.


I thought I had learned the lesson.

Perhaps this is why Christmas comes around again every year.  Lessons are forgotten.  Situations change.  Old habits are taken up again.

We need to be reminded.

A Savior came to earth.  To save us.  To teach us.  To change our hearts.

Is there still sadness?  Death?  Poverty?  War?  The answer is still yes.

But the day is coming. . .

I’ll wait.  And while I wait?

I’ll keep listening to the bells, Mr. Longfellow.



“He will swallow up death forever!  The Sovereign Lord will wipe away all tears.”
(Isaiah 25:8a ~ NLT)


“The time draws near the birth of Christ;
The moon is hid; the night is still;
The Christmas bells from hill to hill
Answer each other in the mist.”
(from The Eve of Christmas ~ Alfred, Lord Tennyson ~ English poet ~ 1809-1892)



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

Christmas Bells

Nearly Christmas.  All is well.

That’s what I’m supposed to write, isn’t it?

Am I the only one who isn’t happy?

It’s hard to write when one is gloomy.  My mood matches the weather lately.  Cloud-bound and gray.

The world around me is angry.  Races are pitted against each other.  The wealthy and the poor are caught up in a war of the classes.  Friends battle with friends and brothers are angry with their brothers.

What’s not to be sad about?

I wonder.  Would it be okay for me to just  share a poem tonight?  The writer of these words had reason to be sad.  He had reason to be angry.

His wife had died from burns she received when her clothing caught fire.  In putting out the fire, he himself had been burned badly.

The next Christmas, he wrote this:  “How inexpressibly sad are all holidays.”

The year after, at Christmas, he penned these words, “‘A Merry Christmas,’ say the children, but that is no more for me.”

War raged in the countryside and his son was seriously injured in battle.  The next Christmas, he was silent.


Ah!  But the next Christmas–the next Christmas, these timeless verses came.  And, with them–hope.

And, peace.

Christmas Bells

I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
     And wild and sweet
     The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
     Had rolled along
     The unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Till, ringing, singing on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
     A voice, a chime,
     A chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And in despair I bowed my head;
“There is no peace on earth,” I said;
     “For hate is strong,
     And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep;
“God is not dead; nor doth He sleep!
     The Wrong shall fail,   
     The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men!”

He wrote the words exactly one hundred fifty years ago this Christmas.  One hundred fifty years ago.  Death and war, pain and hatred, were the language of the day.  The intellect of the poet said exactly what mine echoes today.

What’s the use?  Nothing changes.

But the heart–no, the very soul–of the believer knows.  It knows that the Child who was born on that first Christmas day brought with Him a message of Hope and Peace.  And Joy.

Joy that shall be to all people.  All people.

I think I’ll listen to the bells.

All is well.

“And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.  For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.  And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”
(Luke 2: 10,11,13,14 ~ KJV)

Christmas Bells by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

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

Carried Away

The young voices sing in tight harmony, the air surrounding us almost trembling with astonishment at the beauty of their song.  We in the pews are in agreement with the atmosphere; to a person it seems, holding our breaths, not wanting to miss a note or a chord.

The carol began as a common Christmas song—with familiar words and melody—but it has become much more than that.  The young artists, led by that genius with a stick in his hand, started with the simple familiar ditty and turned it into a symphony, a masterpiece of beautiful music and brilliant poetry.

Quietly, scarcely louder than a whisper, the voices draw us upward until, with more volume than seems possible from those young throats and greater skill than seems imaginable from musicians so inexperienced, we are overcome with wonder and with awe.

We who sit in the hard seats and listen have been carried far beyond the restraints of our time and circumstances.  For a moment which seemed an eternity, our spirits soared with the melodies and harmonies that have drawn us into the very presence of the King of Christmas.

It has always been so for me.  This music has power—power to soothe the spirit—power to move the soul—power to draw the heart from its deepest, darkest hiding place and lay it open before the Creator of all the Universe.

I know it is not the same for all.  My life has been full of music from the day I was born, until now in my waning years.  Many have had different experiences and have also lived joyfully.  I freely admit it.

Still—music moves me.

Can I go a step further and tell you what else moves me?

Just as much as the music.

It may come as a shock to the reader.  It did to me.

You see, I sit in the beautiful cathedral and am moved to tears by nothing more than sound in the air—that and the Spirit of God—and somehow, it feels natural and right.

But just this week, in my place of business, I was moved to tears. . .

The old man had been in before.  He had The Look.  You know, that look in his eyes—almost empty, but a little wild, a little confused, and perhaps even, dangerous.  He shuffled in, shoulders slumped, a defeated shell of a man, without hope.

He is homeless, or nearly so.  Drifting from one relative to another, living under the stars when the weather permits, he calls no place home, but any place he lies down his bedroom.

He had a guitar to sell.  I’ve told his story before.  Well, not his, but the same basic story anyway.  No money, no food, the urge to find funds has led him to my door.  The guitar would feed him for a few days anyway.

Or, so he thought.

I didn’t want his guitar.

It is damaged and worn now.  It was not much better when it was new.  If I had bought it, the guitar-shaped-object would have found a semi-permanent home in my back room, a room which is already packed full by too many cheap, broken guitar-shaped-objects.

I didn’t want the guitar.  I told him so.

The wild eyes turned angry for a few seconds, and I worried that things might get ugly.  Then, he shrugged his shoulders and looking dejected, turned to go.

I wasn’t done, though.  I know, after years of sleepless nights and guilt-filled days, that it was not my place to turn him away without help.  I reached into my pocket and pulled out a couple of bills which I shoved over the counter to him.  Immediately, the angry eyes were back and he waved away my offer disgustedly.

He didn’t want my hand-out.  He wanted to sell his guitar.

Quickly, I explained my dilemma.  Motioning with my arms at the guitars leaning against the back wall and the cases stacked in the aisles, I told him that I can’t—just can’t—acquire another guitar to repair.  Without disparaging his instrument, I made it clear.  I simply don’t need his guitar.

Again, I held out the money and begged—yes—I begged him to take it.  I suggested he could still sell the guitar to someone else who needs it.  For a moment, his demeanor brightened, as he saw a way to get more than he expected when he first came through my door.

Then another idea came to him.

“I’ll accept your gift.  But, I’m not going to sell this guitar.”  The old guy proudly gestured with the instrument.  “I know this guy who’s staying down by the tracks.  He says he plays, but he doesn’t have a guitar to use.  I’ll give this one to him.”

He reached a gnarled hand across the counter, first to take the gift I offered, and then again to grip mine in that ancient symbol of equality and respect, a handshake.

I looked into his eyes.  That’s funny.

They were as clear as a bell.  No anger.  No confusion.  No defeat.

Did I say they were clear?  I meant to say that they were clear except for the tears that welled up in the corners of each one.  As he let go of the firm grip he had on my hand, there were tears in my own eyes, as well.

He headed for the door.  I’m pretty sure he was taller than when he came in.  At least, his head was held up and the slump he had when he arrived was gone.

As he stepped outside, I heard his voice,  “God bless you, friend.”

I can’t explain it, but I felt chills.  Something like I felt when I listened to those young folks singing last night.

Something like it.

The apostle said that when we walk in love, our God smells a sweet aroma, as He did when His Son came for us.

This Christmas, as I worship in the beauty and opulence of the cathedral, with its stained glass windows and high ceilings, and all of it trimmed in oak, I’m going to remember that somewhere, out there in the cold and dirty world, a man plays a guitar.

The music inside might be prettier and more skilled.

I don’t know.

Somehow, I think the Savior of the world—the One who came as a baby on that first Christmas—I think He might consider the sound of that guitar playing down by the railroad tracks just a little sweeter.

Just a little.

A sweet aroma.



A song will outlive all sermons in the memory.
(Henry Giles ~ American minister/author ~ 1809-1882)

And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
(Ephesians 5:2 ~ ESV)



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

The Grinch Appears

The place was a zoo!

The Lovely Lady had said she would be back to help me open up the music store, but she was running late.  As I unlocked, the customers began streaming in the door, each one with a reason to need my attention.

And, the phone was ringing–Two lines at a time, over and over.

With my usual aplomb, which is to say, nearly none at all, the customer’s needs were dealt with, the peals of the ignored telephone frequently eclipsing the conversations.  Since the customers were patient, each one was finally served and the Lovely Lady arrived, just in time to help the last of the rush.  We had a short reprieve and then did it all again, several times.  It was, after all, the last Saturday before Christmas.

Immediately following the third or fourth rush of the day, I noticed a bill lying on the floor directly in front of the counter.  It was a twenty dollar bill, so we assumed that someone would be missing it soon.  The bill went into a container we keep behind the counter to await its rightful owner, but no one came back or called.

After awhile, we thought perhaps it would make sense to phone a few of the morning’s customers with whom we were familiar, so we started through the ones we could recollect.

Those we could reach responded in about the same way.  “No, I didn’t lose it.  Hope you find who it belongs to.  Christmas isn’t a good time to lose money.” 

I did think of one customer whose name I couldn’t recall, but we had done business with her before and I knew we had a number somewhere.  The Lovely Lady found it after a lengthy search, and we left her a message to call us, without giving a reason.  Within a few minutes the phone rang.

“You wanted me to call?”, the curious voice on the phone asked.

When I explained that some money had been found, she took a minute, ostensibly to check her pocket.

Coming back on the phone, she said, “Yes, I lost some money.  Can you just mail it to me?”

A little surprised, I asked her the amount she had lost and she said, “Well, five dollars.”

I replied that this wasn’t the amount we had found, so she called to her husband (obviously in the next room), “Did you lose any money at the music store?”

When she returned to the phone, she was sure this time.  “Yes, he lost the change she gave him.”

Turning to the Lovely Lady, I asked about the change, finding out he had given her a twenty and received about six dollars in return.

“No,” I said.  “That wasn’t it.  It was a bigger bill.”

I assumed our conversation was over, but she yelled at her husband again,  “Did you lose a big bill?”

This time, I could hear him talking, but couldn’t understand what he said. Nevertheless, she was back shortly.   

“He lost a hundred dollar bill!”

I have to confess that each of these exchanges had made me a little more angry, since it was obvious this woman had no claim whatsoever to the cash.

However, keeping my cool, I said calmly, “It’s pretty clear that this isn’t your money.  We’ll keep looking.”

The audacious woman wasn’t finished yet!  She readily admitted the money wasn’t hers, but now she wanted to help me be virtuous!   

“If you can’t find who it belongs to, you should donate it to a group that helps poor people…”

Absolutely stunned, I hung up the telephone.   

I think I’ve just spoken to the Grinch who stole Christmas!

At least she’s done that for me.

I have written before, that I find most people to be honest in their dealings with me.  I want to believe that.  I’ll believe it again someday.  But right now, this one person has shaken my faith in humans.

Here I was, trying earnestly to find the owner of this money.  But this woman was willing to throw her morals aside for the sake of five, then six dollars, and then one hundred dollars.

And, if lying and attempted fraud weren’t bad enough, she decided it would be appropriate to add hypocrisy to the mix.

It hit me today, as I fussed at the Lovely Lady while we prepared dinner; I in turn was rapidly becoming a Grinch myself.

I was unhappy yesterday, as we visited a friend who had graduated from college. This morning’s worship services (including communion) had been grudgingly participated in. And, the joyful anticipation I always have of family arriving for Sunday Dinner was mysteriously absent.

It’s amazing how one encounter with a liar, would-be thief, and hypocrite could affect me so.  But as I considered the cause, it became clear to me.

The true issue isn’t with the woman, it’s with me. The truth is, I’m offended by her actions because I see myself when I think about her.  Down deep inside, I know who I am.

I’m the liar.  I’m the thief.  I’m even the hypocrite.

And, I desperately need forgiveness.

And, I deserve it no more than she.

It’s sad that I have to be reminded so frequently that forgiveness is offered to all who come, regardless of merit.

This month we celebrate Christmas.  The spirit of Christmas is forgiveness.  It’s love.  God’s free gift to us is redemption.  And, we get to respond in kind.

After all, the Baby in the manger grew up and taught us to pray, “Forgive us our transgressions, as we forgive those who transgress against us.” 

The Grinch after all, is just pretend.

This Christmas thing?

This is as real as it gets!

“Christmas began in the heart of God. It is complete only when it reaches the heart of man.”





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

Slipping Into the Future

Past meets future at this place we call the present.

Setting foot in the instant, we plan for what will come,

Yet it has already become the past.


See the world, living for this moment, now

Running helter-skelter, focused on empty pleasures.

We only imagine the regrets still to come.


Savor the moments, investing like gold–

Memories stored up for the future, principal yielding interest,

Augmenting quieter, lonelier days which will be.


Live prudently then friends.

Moments squandered in youth never can be recovered.

Memories gathered along the way are forever 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.

Connecting the Dots

During the morning church service, the beautiful little girl sits on my leg and moves her crayon confidently from one point on the page in front of her to the next.  As she slides the brown-colored wax stick from number to number, the outline of a picture appears, clearly depicting a shepherd with his sheep.

It hasn’t always been like this.

A year or two ago the little tyke, one of my four favorite grandchildren, would have asked, in her version of a whisper (meaning: loudly enough for all nearby to hear clearly), “What do I do here, Grandpa?”

Grandpa would have explained that she needed to start on the number 1 and draw a line to the number 2.  A little squiggly line that wandered off to the side and then back again would have been drawn tentatively.  At that point, the crayon would be lifted from the page and the question repeated, possibly even a little more loudly.

Eventually the picture would be visible, although not nearly as neat as today’s, nor with as straight of lines from number to number.  Clearly, she has learned to connect the dots much more skillfully in the intervening time.

The services are notably quieter too, since she has learned to whisper a little better, as well.

I smile as I think about the beautiful little girl and how she is growing.  And learning.  But, as I think, my mind wanders.  Those dots remind me of something else.  They make me think a little about other types of connections.

Human connections.

They’re not so different from connecting the dots, are they?

I had a conversation with some friends the other day about being connected with family members.  One of my friends mentioned the spoons which her family uses in their home.  They once belonged to her grandmother.  My friend has made sure that her children know where they came from.  It ensures that they remember the lady, even though she is gone. When they use the utensils for a meal, they all feel a connection to an absent family member.

She is helping her children to connect the dots, pointing out numbers represented by various events and aiding them in seeing a clear picture of family.

I thought about those spoons and couldn’t help but see in my head numerous items in my own house.  One in particular which I have written about before is my great-grandmother’s sugar jar. It had, years ago, become my grandmother’s sugar jar, passing then to my father, who gave it to me.

We use the jar daily.   Nearly every time I twist the lid off to scoop sugar out, I see, in my mind’s eye, the faces of all the preceding generations who have used the jar.

By passing the jar on to me, my father was simply helping me to connect the dots.  Someday, I’ll do the same for the next generation.

As I write, I realize that the pictures drawn by my words here all have fairly tangible connections.  Numbers written in sequence and placed in the correct position on a piece of paper make a viable art project for a six-year old.  Relatives who have been a part of our lives and have already made their mark on them are remembered by objects we can hold in our hands, as we employ the items in everyday tasks.

But, what about other connections, not so easily seen?

If we can’t see them and haven’t actually experienced them, are they even real?  Do they make any difference at all?

On a recent evening, I sat in my easy chair and relaxed, letting the stresses and busy-ness of the day fall away.  Nearby, the Lovely Lady read from a book she held on her lap.  Things were as they should be–I lazing for awhile, and she getting ready to fill the hours with crafty activity, crocheting or sewing, or whatever it is she does with those needles and yarn.

Just a typical evening in our household.

But, then again . . .

Gradually, I became aware of a shift in emotion in the room.  I know I’m only a man.  It takes me awhile to get a clue.  But something was obviously different.

I looked over at the Lovely Lady.  She was unhappy.  Almost distraught.  As she looked up from her reading, I think I may have seen tears in her eyes.  It could have been my imagination.

Nonetheless, she was emotionally moved by what she had read.  I remembered then that she had found an old book of her family history while cleaning at her parent’s home (both of them deceased).  The book had been compiled about her mother’s side of her family.  It was full of information from the nineteenth century.

Great-grandparents, and great-aunts and uncles, none of whom she had ever known, filled the pages of the narrative.

She looked at me and, realizing that an explanation for her emotion was in order, spoke the words.  “Life was so hard for my family.”

Then, thinking that more information was needed, she added, “I would never have been born if they hadn’t survived these troubles.”

The words on the pages before her had come to life in her being.  These were her people, her family.  She is, in part, all of them.  The hardships they suffered–the wild fires they survived–the horrific living conditions they endured–all of them happened to her.

To her.

Connecting the dots.

Dots she never knew existed.  It didn’t mean they were not there.

My young friend, Grace, is studying photography at the local university.  She takes photos of what she sees. It is what photographers do. One of her photographs stopped me in my tracks yesterday.

The photograph will likely need some explanation.  Then again, perhaps not much.

The news has been full of events in Ferguson, Missouri for months.  Last week, riots and looting broke out as the racial anger boiled over and the filters that, in ordinary circumstances, would prevent such action were lost or discarded.

Windows were broken. Fires were set.  Property was destroyed.  Guns were fired.

Many words have been spoken and written about the situation since then–words which are hurtful and angry.  My own emotions have surged as I have seen the images and have heard the angry words from many different perspectives.

I have stood in despair and wondered why those people would be so angry and destructive in their actions.  I have listened in horror and wondered why those other people would be so angry and hateful in their words.

Those people.

Photo: Grace Ellen Nast  Used with permission.

My young friend went to Ferguson. Herself.  Standing in the place where the horrible violence occurred, she took a picture of her feet.

That’s right.  Her feet.

On the ground.  In Ferguson. In the middle of the bricks and the ashes.

I glanced at the photo and shrugged mentally.  Big deal.

Then it hit me.

Those same feet, the ones in the blue sneakers, walked into my music store one afternoon last week.

Funny.  Her feet–the ones in the blue sneakers, on the ground in Ferguson– they stood on the ground in front of me just last week.

It’s the same ground.


Suddenly, the miles and the man-made divisions seem insignificant as I begin to grasp the reality.   These are not someone else’s problems, occurring in a different world than the one in which I live and move.

These are my people.  What happens to them, happens to me.

To me.

In my mind the arguments pile atop each other; the evidence of connections between me and those people is overwhelming.

I want to convince with logic.  Perhaps, if I can overwhelm the reader with scientific proof of our shared ancestry, of DNA, of common history–perhaps then we’ll embrace each other.  Perhaps then the violence, the slurs, the hatred can stop.

It won’t happen.

The words I would say have all been said, the arguments made again and again.  The human heart is turned to evil and deceit, and only God can change it.  It has always been so.

But today, for me, sitting on the knee of the one true Artist, I see the connection.  Like my granddaughter, the skill at recognizing those points of connection may increase with maturity and practice.   

It may.

I want it to be true.

Maybe we can help each other.

We are connected, after all.

“We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.  Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”
(Martin Luther King Jr ~ American pastor/civil rights leader ~ 1929-1968)

“Be joyful.  Grow to maturity.  Encourage each other.  Live in harmony and peace.  Then the God of love and peace will be with you.”
(2 Corinthians 13:11 ~ NLT)

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

Hide It Under a Bushel

“You know how to work one of those, don’t you young man?”

The kid couldn’t have been older than six, and he had a streak of curiosity a mile long.

“What’s that?  Why is it hanging from that hook?  Does it make music?  I bet my Dad could play it.”

He moved on from the harmonicas and over to the table with thousands of guitar picks on it.

“Wow!  I like that color.  Does that go on your finger?  Is it for scraping stuff?  Why are there so many of them?  Grandma, I need one of these for my guitar at home.  Buy me one.”

Then it caught his eye.  The jar of kazoos.  The table covered with picks was forgotten in a second.

“I can play that.  Can I have one?  Please Grandma, please!  I’ll put the guitar pick back. Please!”

Grandma knew a good deal when she found one.  The kazoo cost less than the expensive pick the lad had selected.  As an added bonus, she was sure that the boy’s mother and father would be driven crazy when she sent the kid home with the noise maker.

“Okay.  But, the pick goes back.”

The boy quickly complied, returning immediately to the kazoo jar.  A green kazoo was selected forthwith and he held it in his hand gingerly, considering his next step.

Knowing that the logical thing which would happen next would be for the boy to place the little plastic instrument to his lips and blow as hard as he could, I attempted to assist with a little education.

“You know how to play a kazoo, do you?”  I was pretty sure he didn’t.

He was pretty sure he did.

“Sure.  You put it in your mouth and blow.  The music comes out the end.”

If you ever had a kazoo, you might know how disappointing that plan could have been for the boy.  I’ve had to dispose of any number of kazoos (before they ever left the shop) after that path of action was ventured upon.  The air pressure produced by blowing into the little plastic toy can perforate the little plastic disk which vibrates to produce the kazoo’s signature tone. Humming is the only thing which produces the desired result.  The only thing.

“Oh, don’t do it that way.”  I was quick in my response.  “Try humming instead.  You know how to hum, don’t you?”

Seeing the question mark in his eyes, I hummed a little children’s song aloud for him.  When I stopped, the look in his eyes was no longer one of curiosity, but of sympathy.  Obviously, the clueless adult in front of him was in the first stages of dementia.  He couldn’t even remember the words to the song!

“When I do that song, it has words.”

I explained that humming was really singing without the words and that he only needed to close his lips around the end of the kazoo and hum loudly to activate the vibrating resonator.

With that explanation from me, the little boy was finished.

He would not perform today.

The outgoing, loquacious kid fell almost completely silent, looking at the floor and shoving the bright green kazoo into the pocket of his jeans.

“I’ll do it when I get home.”

No amount of wheedling on my part would convince him.  His grandmother almost begged him.  He remained adamant.

“When I get home.”

I never heard a single note from the little instrument.  Not a note.

Overcome with embarrassment, he waited quietly by the door for his grandma to complete the transaction she had come to make.

I feel robbed.  I wanted to enjoy his discovery of the music that was already inside of him.  I love watching the kid’s eyes light up as they realize what they are capable of.

Robbed.  By a six-year old.

What good is a kazoo stuck in a pocket?

Two questions.

Just two.

What are we hiding that could bring joy to people around us?

Why would we not take it out and accept the offer of expertise from someone who can help us to use it?

The Teacher suggested that the residents of a city built on the side of a hill are wasting their time if they are trying to hide the light of the city.  He also wondered what would be the good of hiding a lantern under a basket.

Kazoos are made to be raucous and joyous.

And shared.

I’m thinking it’s time we empty our pockets.

“You are the light of the world.  A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house…”
(Matthew 5:14,15 ~ NASB)

“Your talent is God’s gift to you.  What you do with it is your gift back to God.”
(Leo Buscaglia ~ American author/motivational speaker ~ 1924-1998)

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