In The Doghouse

Don’t tell anyone else about this.

I would really be embarrassed if people knew that I did it, so you have to keep quiet.  Okay?

I did it because I was tired of folding blankets.  Really tired of it.  Every night, I pick up the blankets out of the yard from where the black monsters have dragged them.

They know better.

How can I be so sure?

Well, when I head toward the blankets lying on the ground, they jump up and slink over to their house and, with a sad glance back at me, make their way inside to hide.  I used to yell at them for being so stupid as to pull the blankets, the only insulation between their bodies and the cold aluminum floor of their doghouse, out into the cold, sometimes damp, yard.

I don’t yell at them anymore.  It doesn’t do any good.

As I said, I grew tired of folding the damp, dirty blankets and shoving them inside the house every night.  Sometimes twice a night.

I finally bought some wood shavings to take the place of the blankets.  Everybody said I should do it.

“Oh, it’s so easy!  They’ll love it and you won’t have to worry about blankets in the yard.”

A bale of compressed pine shavings was purchased and brought home the other night.  The blankets were removed from the house one last time, by me for a change.  I spread four inches of the dust-free, aromatic bedding on the floor of their house, careful not to leave a single bare spot on the cold metal floor.

They refused to go back into the house.


It was twenty degrees out that night.  For hours, they found a relatively wind-free corner of the yard and snuggled together, shivering.  Oh, they had stuck their noses into the doorway of the house, but evidently aromatic wasn’t what they were hoping for.  There was no way they were going into that strange smelling place.

I called them over to the doorway again and shoved the big guy through the doorway into the house.  His head popped back out instantly and he bowled over the chubby girl as he charged back out.  She couldn’t be enticed at all, but just spread out her legs and refused to budge as I pushed with all my strength.

I didn’t know what to do.  They couldn’t stay out in the cold.  There is a heater in a compartment of their house, which would keep them warm, but it does no good if they remain outside.  I wasn’t worried that they would freeze to death, but they really needed to be inside.

What to do?

There was no way the blankets were going back in.  I’d just have to pick them up again from the yard (this time with a generous portion of the shavings attached) and I wasn’t about to do that.

This is the part you have to keep to yourself.  Promise?

I climbed into the house myself.

You know–to show them that there was nothing to fear.  Yeah, it might have been amusing.  I wasn’t laughing.

I got on my hands and knees and clambered through the doorway into the aromatic pine shavings.  Two wet noses immediately followed.  Just the noses.

It was a few moments later that the big fellow stuck his head through the flap and stared at me in the light of my flashlight (there’s a heater, but I’m not foolish enough to give them a light fixture in there, for crying out loud!).  He didn’t wait long, but pushed his way on in and sat beside me banging his tail back and forth in the ostensibly dust-free bedding (it’s not really dust-free), all the while attempting to wash my face thoroughly with his tongue.  I fended him off as well as I could.

I sat there for another five minutes before the girl would even venture to put her head in.  By the time I finally gave up and climbed out–mostly because I was worried the local police would see the light inside there and stop to investigate–she had deigned to put her front feet and shoulders through the doorway.  I figured it was as much of a victory as I would get and headed for home and a hot shower (I itched the whole night anyway.)

Remember, not a word to anyone about this!  You promised.

I felt foolish.  Still do.  But, when I sneaked my head out the back door of the house a couple of hours later, they both pushed out of the warm interior of their newly furnished house.

I haven’t folded a blanket since.

They haven’t spent any nights in the cold, either.

I’m assuming that I’ve lost all your respect.  The only way it could be worse is if you had actually seen me crawling in and then out again brushing the wood chips from my clothing.

I don’t really care.

The dogs are warm.

Some things you do because you care for those in your keeping.

Often, we have to lead by example.  Even when it’s embarrassing.  And inconvenient.

And demeaning.

Somehow, in my mind, I have a picture of a King who spent a lifetime in a dirty, smelly place simply to show the people in His care how to get out of the cold.

Because that’s what you do for those in your keeping.

Funny.  He doesn’t even want us to keep quiet about it.

Not like me.

You did promise, you know.





“A good example is far better than a good precept.”
(Dwight L Moody ~ American evangelist ~ 1837-1899)


“I have set you an example, that you should do as I have done for you.”
(John 13:15 ~ NIV)




© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2015. All Rights Reserved.

Come See Me Before…

“I’m going to say goodbye to my friend on Monday.  I need to see him one last time.”

The burly man next to me showed almost no emotion as he said the words.  As a consequence, I misunderstood what was happening on Monday.

“Oh, is he leaving then?”

The old guy snorted, his reaction a mixture of derision and frustration at my failure to grasp his meaning.

“No.  He died.  I’m going to his funeral.  You always go to the funeral, right?”

I will admit I don’t always go to the funeral.  I have heard the phrase used before, usually when younger folks are describing their upbringing.  Dad always said, whatever you do, go to the funeral.

I was mulling this over in my head, when I realized that the big fellow was still talking.  He was telling me about his friend and his circumstances over the last few years.

His friend had been in an accident which left him paralyzed and unable to communicate well.  While his mind functioned just fine, his body could no longer respond to the signals from his brain.  Talking with him was like talking with a child just learning to say words.

Believe me, I know how frustrating that is.  I have been grateful for the Lovely Lady and my daughter on any number of occasions over the last few years, as the grandchildren jabbered on about everything and nothing.  Interpreters are amazing assets in such a situation.

I was still nodding my head in agreement at how hard communication is, when I became aware that the man had moved on in his description of his relationship with his late friend.  The words he was saying were hard for me to process, so I asked him to repeat what he had just said.

Almost angrily, he said it again, “I didn’t want to see him like that and couldn’t understand him anyway (I’m hard of hearing), so I stopped visiting him at all.”

I didn’t know what to say, so we stood in silence for a few seconds.

Defensively, knowing that I was a little shocked, he went on, “But, I am going to say goodbye to him on Monday.  Like I told you…”

His voice trailed off and he looked away.

Our conversation was done and he knew it.  He said one more thing before he walked away.

“You always go to the funeral.”

If he was worried about me scolding him, he needn’t have bothered.  Before he hit the front door, my mind was already calling up the names and faces of several people, friends and family members, who I had failed at the end of their earthly travels.  I have no right to correct anyone on the issue.

I see their faces before me, young and unchanged.  Well, of course that’s the way I see them.  I never went to spend time with them in their sickness.

I took care of me.

I went to the funeral.

I don’t have a whole lot more to say tonight.  The words would only be directed at myself anyway.  Maybe the reader can fill in the blanks for the rest of what needs to be said.

What your father taught you is still true.

Go to the funeral.

A visit or two before that might be a good idea, as well.


“True friends walk in when the rest of the world has walked out.”
(Walter Winchell ~ American newspaper commentator ~ 1897-1972)

“‘I was sick and in prison and you did not look after Me…Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for Me.”
(Matthew 25: 43b, 45 ~ NIV)


© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2015. All Rights Reserved.

Dirty Shoes

I’m in a black mood tonight.  Bad news.  People I love in trouble.  Interactions coming in my schedule which I dread.  Friends making poor decisions.

My spirit is as near to being crushed as it has been in months.

Moments ago, I left the Lovely Lady sitting in a warm and cheery room,  coming to my office to sulk and be miserable.  Warm and cheery only makes me more unhappy when I’m like this.

I want to write, but I don’t do well with that when I’m carrying the weight of the world.  Besides, my mind is spinning out of control.

I need to fix things.  Maybe, if I can think through this, I can fix it.

Do you know all the hours I’ve spent speaking words into the dark room–dreaming that things, and people, would change?

Could you even begin to imagine the number of times I’ve prayed as I’ve lain in bed, sleepless through the early hours of the morning?   Prayers for illumination, for wisdom, for a change of heart in folks for whom I care deeply.

Letters are put into my mailbox,  emails appear on the computer screen, phone calls are answered, and my spirits sink as I  learn of disastrous events and foolish actions.

Tears come.  Why are people so stubborn?  Why can’t I convince them?

The thoughts racing through my head are all about the problems of other people, not my own.  The pain I feel, and the blame I accept, begin to come into focus as I think.

Bear each other’s burdens.

Give to him who asks of you

Surely those words mean that I should help others.  I can’t turn my back on people who need my help.

Can I?

As I consider, in my thoughts I see men, rough and strong, standing at the gate of an ancient walled town.  They are not going in the gate, but coming out.  As they leave, they turn back and, looking at the men standing behind, lift their sandaled feet, one after the other and shake dirt from them.

Their Master had told them to take His good news to the city.  He also gave them directions about what to do if the people rejected the news.  It was a warning to the people, a promise of unhappiness to come.

I’ve always imagined the angry faces of the disciples as they shook the dust off of their feet.  FoolsStupid peopleYou have only yourselves to blame for what comes next!

But, as I watch the scene unfold in my head tonight, for the first time I really see them.  Their sadness is unspeakable.  The tears that flow tell the real story.

Not anger, but sorrow.  Not hate, but love.

And loss.

The Teacher told them the action of shaking the dust off would be a testimony against the people, but I wonder if there was more to it than that.

The responsibility for rejection is not laid on the messenger.  There is no blame to be carried away from there.  That burden is not theirs to carry, but is left on the ground behind them.

Mentally, I turn away from the scene.  And again, as they have more than once today, my eyes are filled with tears.  I am sad, as the truth sinks in.

I have to move on.  The road stretches out in front of me and I must follow.

In the shadows behind me, my loved ones sit in chains.  The key, the simple assurance of freedom, has been placed in their hands, but they sit motionless.

Their choice.

I can’t stay here.  The chains which bind them will almost certainly claim another victim if I do.

The darkness lifts a little as I turn away.  It is painful to leave the people I love behind, but ahead, the light is shining.

This is the hard part.

Time to shake the dust off.

Life is calling.





“Even the dust of your town we wipe from our feet as a warning to you.  Yet be sure of this: The kingdom of God has come near.”
(Luke 10:11 ~ NIV)





© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2015. All Rights Reserved.

Holy Kisses

The boys in the Mr. Olsen’s Sunday School class were at it again.

The mild-mannered man seemed a little confused by their reaction, but perhaps that was only an act for their benefit.  He knew what they were on about.  Oh, he knew.

They were at the end of their journey through the New Testament book of Romans.  Last instructions were being given by the Apostle before he closed the letter.  All very boring (to the boys), and of little interest to them.

Wait just a minuteDid you hear what he just read?

“Greet one another with a holy kiss?”

The snickering started.  Holy kissHe said we should kiss.  At least one boy put his hand up to his mouth and made a rude sound like a wet, noisy kiss.


Mr. Olsen looked up and chuckled.  He had expected no less.  It was a good thing the lesson was almost over.  There was certainly no more learning going to happen in the class on that morning.

Holy kissGreet each other with a holy kiss.

I wonder.

A friend (who is female) ended a comment about one of my recent writings with the words I love you.  Her expression of fondness was in response to my encouragement to not leave important things for later.  Later doesn’t always come.  I like it when people read things and take them to heart.

I showed the comment to the Lovely Lady today and she smiled.  She knows there is no threat to her to be found in the words from this friend.

The Teacher told His listeners to love their neighbors as they loved themselves.  Since we are bound to obey this, I think it’s not a bad idea to tell folks we love (not meaning in the romantic sense at all) that we love them.

It not only reminds them that we care, but it reminds us that we need to care.

The Teacher carried this radical idea a step further when He suggested that His followers should love their enemies.

That’s hard!  Ms. Dottie is a sweet lady who is always agreeable and I’m happy to hug her neckCalI argued with him last week and there’s no way I’m hugging him!

But, there it is.  Love your neighbors and your enemies.  Greet them with a holy kiss.

Still, I wonder.  See, I imagine heads are nodding in agreement with the words.   

That’s rightIt’s what the Book says.

boehmerpelosikissI wonder if those heads are still nodding.

Do you still feel the love?

Some readers strongly dislike one of the people in the photo; some strongly dislike the other.  There may even be some who can’t abide either one.

It’s funny, but when the teaching is just a concept, a nice sounding  ideal, we’re happy to agree.  But, put faces and history behind the words and suddenly, we’re not so sure.

The Teacher, who became our Savior, was sure.  So sure that He turned His cheek to accept a kiss of death.  From an enemy he called friend.

I don’t really have a lot to add.  How could I?

If you see me someday soon and I give you a kiss on the cheek, I’m not being forward.  And, if I tell you out of the blue that I love you, don’t be surprised.  I won’t have gone over the edge, at least no further over the edge than I’ve always been.

I’m simply going to try to follow the Instructions.  Somehow, I have a suspicion that things will work better when we do.  All of us.

Time will tell.

We should start soon.  Today would be good.

“Do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friends?”
(Abraham Lincoln ~ 16th President of the United States ~ 1809-1865)

“I say, ‘Love your enemies! pray for those who persecute you.’  In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven.”
(Matthew 5:44.45b ~ NLT)

© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2015. All Rights Reserved.

Dreams Die

I’m still sad.

I got the note on New Years morning.  The note said he had died just hours before.

I guess you could say New Years Day wasn’t that good of a day for me.

I would have just breezed past the three-quarters of an hour I had to stand on the roof in the cold, running a plumber’s snake through the waste water system of the house.  The hours I spent counting merchandise in the music store, as awful a fate as that is, I could have overlooked.

But, my friend died.

Before I go too far here, I want to be clear; I hadn’t seen or communicated with him in over forty years. 

It doesn’t seem to matter.

But I have to ask myself the question:  Why does this news hurt more than others who have also passed?  There have been many over the years.  I have felt each one, but none like this one.

All morning on that day, as I called out prices to the Lovely Lady, sitting with her pencil poised to tabulate, my mind wandered.

Over dusty paths long since paved over, along drainage ditches filled in decades ago, I rambled again with my friend.  Cold summer nights—colder than ever I had imagined closed up in my sweltering bedroom—we spent in the tent in his backyard.  Pool games in the den, sneaking out from the back yard in the dead of the night to wander the neighborhood, milk and cereal at the dining room table the next morning—grinning at each other over the milk glasses when his Mom or Dad asked how we had slept.

All the scenes played through my head as I struggled to focus on the job with the Lovely Lady.  After so many times of my voice cracking as I called out the price of one music book after another, I suggested we might as well go home as soon as we got to the end of the row.

She, wise companion that she is, agreed.  We went home, she to visit with her sister and nieces, and I to sit by the fire and follow my memories all that cloudy, gloomy day.

He was a friend when I didn’t have any.

I’ll admit it; I was a strange kid.  Skinny—no social skills—acne covered face.  It was a horribly awkward time.  Junior High School is like that.  If you weren’t an athlete or a brainiac, life was hard.  We were neither.

He was my friend when I desperately needed one.

Oh, we fought—wars of words, and even a time or two with fists.  We always got over it and were ready to go sit at the ball game the next week and make trouble together.

Except that once.

I read over the words I’ve written and wonder if anyone else will want to read them.  I wonder why I can’t say what I really want to say. 

Maybe I’m afraid to admit that I’ve thought about my friend many times over the years.  I wanted to see him again, but not just to visit with an old buddy.

It has been nearly forty-five years.

I always thought I’d get to apologize.  I recall clearly the words I said to hurt him, words I have wanted to take back.

I always thought there would be another chance.

In my mind, as I have remembered him over the years, I always dreamed we’d get another chance to sit in Shakey’s Pizza, around the corner from his folk’s house, and drink a coke together and laugh about the stupid things we did and said.  I’d tell him I was sorry, and he’d say he didn’t even remember the words I had said.

Sometimes, dreams die.

And suddenly, in a rush, it comes to me.  The sadness I feel isn’t just for my friend’s passing.  Not just for him.

Dreams don’t always come to fruition.  We hold them close and tell no one about them.  They are seldom written, but never forgotten.  And then, the day comes when there is no chance they will be realized.

No chance.

This one hurts.  I’ll admit it.  It’s going to take some time to get over it.

Funny.  I don’t think I want to get over it.  Some lessons are too important to forget the pain involved in the learning.

This is one of those.

In relationships, sometimes tomorrow won’t come. 

Say what you need to say today.

I still believe that I love you are the three most important words in the English language, but I’m absolutely positive there are two more which are very close runners-up:

I’m sorry.

Don’t know where the person is you need to say either of those two phrases to?  Find them.

Do it today.

And, keep dreaming.

It’s how we fly.  Or run.  Or crawl along.


Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
(Matthew 5:4 ~ NASB)

Hold onto dreams
For when dreams die
Life is like a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.
Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams go
Life is a barren field
Frozen with snow.
(Dreams ~ Langston Hughes ~ American poet ~ 1902-1967)

Hang on to your hat.  Hang onto your hope.  And wind the clock, for tomorrow is another day.
(E.B. White ~ American author ~ 1899-1985)

© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2017. All Rights Reserved.

The Test

The white page before me is terrifying.

The drive to write is a fierce fire that burns, but it cannot banish the fear of failure. Failure and I–we go back quite a way. I am not anxious to renew the acquaintance.

Still, every time I sit down to write, the blank page mocks and teases.writersblock

You have nothing to say! The empty page is nicer than anything you can come up with!

Some nights I listen to the mockery and walk away. It only makes the next time that much harder.

Tonight, I sat and looked at the blank space once more. This time, the realization hit me with power and urgency.

The empty page is a picture of life. More to the point, today, it is especially salient as we stand on the verge of a new year.

The story is already written for the year we’ve just lived. It is now a completed book of history. Oh, edits will be made. The intellectuals and politicians will debate the wording for many of the events, and what results will be something completely different than the actual occurrence, but it won’t change the fact that the book is closed and ended.


I hear the fireworks outside my office walls as I type.

The moment has come. The old year is dead and gone. Scribbled pages, strike-throughs, erasures, and footnotes–all of that is complete. There will be a time to look back and decipher it later.

It is time now to step onto the new, clean page.

Blank, like the page you’re reading here was moments ago, it may terrify us. The fear of failure, of loss, of pain may keep us frozen, but it’s a sure bet that the page will be marked up very soon anyway.

Life moves on, whether we will or no.

What will you write? What will I write?

Will the message be coherent? Will the lines run true? Will the communication be plain?

“These are the times that try men’s souls.” Thomas Paine, that great American patriot, was speaking of the terrifying early days of the Revolutionary War. He was speaking of military resolve, of political concerns.

No matter. The words ring true for us.

What we do next will show our mettle. What we say today will prove who we are at our very core. What we face right now, this minute, is a test of our faith and our resolve.

The test begins now.

Pencils ready?


“When I am afraid, I will put my trust in You.”
(Psalm 56:3 ~ NASB)

“…Knowing what must be done does away with fear.”
(Rosa Parks ~ American civil-rights activist ~ 1913-2005)

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