A Run On The Beach

They were laughing at me. I’m sure of it. The very same people who had been friendly and waving as we ran past each other just moments ago were now looking at me and feeling superior.

I could almost hear the unspoken words as they thought them: “What an idiot! Does he think he’s better than all the rest of us? Look at him down there by himself!”

Well, I will admit to the tiniest trace of paranoia, so maybe we should just move on instead of dwelling on what the other runners might have been thinking.

It had all begun as a morning to remember–a memory I wanted to savor for a long time. I had arisen before the sun on that chilly Southern California Saturday to be at the beach before the crowds began arriving. Easily finding a place to park along the Pacific Coast Highway, I spent a couple of minutes stretching by the car, and then made my way toward the wide swath of clean white sand beside the gently breaking waves.

Well before I reached the sand, I encountered a paved path. Other folks who had the same idea for that glorious early morning were already jogging and cycling along the pavement, so I followed suit.

No one was running on the sandy beach, a fact that baffled me a bit. I had expected to run beside the incoming tide on the packed surface, but there was not a single runner doing that. Not one.

So, I followed their example and stuck to the paved running trail that followed along the edge of the sandy beach. For two miles, I passed, or was passed by, other runners or cyclists. Most of them gave a friendly nod and some even called out a cheery good morning as they neared.

It felt good to be part of a crowd.

But, I had come to run on the beach. This wasn’t running on the beach. It was running on a paved path. I could do that anytime I wanted at home in Arkansas.

Still, for two miles, I ran. With all the other people. On the blacktop trail. Wishing I was on the beach.

At the end of the two miles, the distance I had predetermined I would run before turning back, I made my decision. Instead of turning and running back along the paved trail on which I had gone out, I angled down the sand dune beside me and onto the wide expanse of pristine beach.

It was really hard going in the loose, dry sand away from the ocean, but I told myself that the packed wet sand near the incoming water would be solid and easy to run on. In fact, as I approached the gently tumbling waves, it became considerably easier to keep a more natural stride.

Still, it wasn’t nearly as easy to run as it had been on the paved path. The surface beneath my feet gave and moved as I reached my stride again. I glanced behind me and saw the deep depressions my shoes were leaving in the damp sand. This wasn’t anything like running on solid ground.

The next two miles stretched out ahead of me, and I wasn’t at all sure I was up to the task. I glanced over to my left, toward the paved trail I had left just moments before. Over there, folks were still speeding along with each step, their running shoes bouncing almost effortlessly up and then down again on the solid surface.

My feet felt like I was running in oatmeal. Every step was more effort than any I had made in the previous two miles. Maybe I should get back on the pavement.

No. I came to run on the beach.

I was going to run on the beach.

For the next two miles I struggled. Physically, I struggled with keeping up my pace. I was sure I was losing ground on my normal time for each mile, and my GPS program proved that for me, the longer I ran next to the incoming waves.

But, I also struggled with something else. I was the only one running on the beach. Seriously.

The only one.

The implied peer pressure was something I wasn’t prepared for. No, no one said a thing to me. Not one person waved at me to get off the beach and run on the pavement. I didn’t hear anyone laughing at that hillbilly from the Ozarks who didn’t know to stay on the beaten path.

Still, I felt the pressure to comply with the crowd. For a little while.

After a half mile, I became aware that the sun was rising and beginning to reflect off the water’s surface. The early morning mist began to burn away and the view out over the ocean was incredible. Sailboats, ships, and huge, violent waves came into sight in the advancing light.

The seagulls and terns foraging for food along the sand caught my eye and I thought about how they were fed day after day, without a worry in the world. I trotted toward them and they merely swerved aside, continuing their feeding as I passed, almost as if I weren’t there.

The beauty of creation and the thrill of just being alive and part of it were overwhelming. It could have been the salt air, but there might even have been a tear or two that escaped from the corner of my eyes as I considered a Creator who could imagine such an exquisite spectacle and fashion it from nothing.

The two miles flew by. I may not have run very fast, but they came to an end all too soon.

Reluctantly, I walked off the beach, across the paved path which was growing more crowded by the minute, and up to my car. Sitting there for a moment before driving away, I considered the lesson of my morning’s run.

Do you know why most people run or cycle? Of course you do. They want to get or keep fit. The exercise is a way to burn calories and build muscle.

Why do you suppose people would run on a paved path when they could do the same thing on the beach, building more muscle and burning more calories?

Why do we go out with the intent to do one thing, but never do that thing because it’s too hard, or because no one else is doing it?

Why do we care so much what other people think?

I wonder how many of us take the path of least resistance. I wonder what we lose because we never move off the beaten path to follow the way that offers so much more.

By now, it may be clear that this really isn’t about my run along the beach a few weeks ago. Bigger choices are being made every day based on what the crowd is doing, and we follow without giving a thought to the ultimate consequences.

And, make no mistake. There will be consequences.

I think it may be time that we remember why we came here and what we were determined to do when we first set out.

I came to run on the beach.

I plan to do just that.

Even if no one else goes with me.




“Every temptation to follow the crowd is an opportunity to be thankful you didn’t.”
(Robert Brault ~ American author)

“But the gate is narrow and the way is difficult that leads to life, and there are few who find it.”
(Matthew 7:14 ~ NET Bible)




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

Sitting in the Dark

We sat on the airplane, a couple hundred of us, waiting.  The sky was overcast, the air loaded with moisture.  If there was a sun anywhere above us, it was nowhere to be seen.

My neighbors on the flight seemed content to sit quietly and not force any interaction, and I was happy to leave that just as it was.  My trip had been stressful and emotionally taxing.  The only ray of light I was clinging to was the thought that tonight I would be home.

Back to normal.

I stared, unseeing, out the window from my perch in the middle seat.  Gloomy and damp seemed about right.  But just then, we began to move down the runway. At first, the big wheels bumped along the concrete, the huge jet lumbering along in the dim light.  Rapidly, though, the powerful machine accelerated until it broke free of gravity and we were in a steep climb through the clouds.

Gone to find the sun.

I willed us up past the mist and moisture, watching the scene outside the two windows through which I had a view.  Surely, there was light somewhere.

Certainly we would be above the clouds soon.  Blue sky.  Clear sailing.

Yes!  There it was!  The sun was shining, after all.


The lady to my right, next to the window, slammed the sliding cover down on the sun.  What was she thinking?  Why would you close out the light?

Oh well.  There was always the window in front of that.  Gazing out that pane, I focused my attention on the thinning clouds through which we were still ascending and the energy from the sun which lit the tops of those clouds with increasing intensity, the higher we got.

We would travel in the light after all.  All was not gloomy up here, was it?

Snap!  The lady reached forward and pulled down the cover on that window, as well.

It was dark again.

I wanted to shake her.  I wanted to yell at her to open at least one of the shades.

Then, I felt sorry for my anger and wanted to explain to her that I needed the light.  I wanted to reassure her that the sunshine was a good thing which we all needed.  I held my tongue instead and drowsed for the next two and a half hours.  She did the same, while the man on my left worked at his laptop the entire trip.

I was to remember the young lady’s need for darkness a good bit in the days to come.  At first, I wondered why anyone would prefer the darkness to the light.  Then, two days later, as I acquired the symptoms of the influenza virus which overcame me, I understood her perfectly.

Whenever my eyes were open, I covered them to keep out as much light as possible.  I walked from the bed to my recliner holding my eyes.  I pulled the blankets over my head when the sun shone through the window blinds.  The light hurt my head horribly.

The light hurt me.

I preferred the darkness.

For five days, I wanted nothing but to be left in the dark.  The Lovely Lady understood and left the lights off as much as possible.  She didn’t harp, didn’t nag, at me to get over it.  She didn’t try to show me how much better the light was than the dark.

She just made sure I knew she was there if I needed her, occasionally touching me gently as she went about her own life in the light.


A young friend of mine came by to see me at the music store the other day.  An important person in his life passed away a couple of weeks ago.  He and his family are overwhelmed with the support and response of their friends.  But, before he left that day, he had a few quiet, but poignant, questions to ask.

“Why is it that they all want to talk the whole time?  Why do we have to show them that we’re okay?  Couldn’t they just come sit with us and tell us that they love us?  I’d like that better.”

He’s not complaining.  But sometimes, when you’re in the dark, it’s because you need to be there for awhile.  You don’t need a bunch of people walking around turning the light switch on again and again.

There are times when being in the full light of day is painful.  The brilliance of the sun reveals the full extent of hurt and sickness that cut us to the core.  We need time to heal.

Gently.  Slowly.

We all know people who hurt.  People who are sick.  People who are sad.

I wonder how much faster they could heal if, instead of trying to fix things for them, we would just go and sit with them.

In the dark.  In the quiet.

Somehow, I think that’s what God did for us.  He sent His Son to sit with us in the dark for awhile and to bring healing to our weary and hurting souls.

We’re not intended to stay in the dark.  We can’t thrive there.  But He meets us where we are and gently draws us to His light.

Perhaps, we could do the same for each other.

Dawn comes gently–not like the glare of a powerful spotlight in the eyes, but with the hint of a soft golden touch and the rising glow of warmth.




“…on those living in the land of deep darkness, a light has dawned.”
(Isaiah 9:2 _ NIV)


“Everything has its wonders, even darkness and silence, and I learn, whatever state I may be in, therein to be content.”
(Helen Keller ~ Deaf & Blind American author ~ 1880-1968)






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


Frozen Words

Photo: Jeannean Ryman Used with permission.
Photo: Jeannean Ryman. Used with permission.

I knew you were no good.

Nearly two weeks later, the words still hang in the frigid air of the Chinese restaurant.  The cold gale is still blowing through that door held open by the helpful stranger.

And the words still hang there.  They are colder than the air blowing in from outside.

I knew you were no good.

It’s warmer there now, I know.  But my mind can’t move on.  She said the words to me.  To me.

Her baby.

They had warned me that angry words might come.  I was prepared to be kicked out of her house, along with the others.  I was even prepared for the conversational words she would speak which would have nothing to do with any conversation going on in the vicinity.  The disease from which she suffers has robbed her (and us) of the reality we have shared for all of my life.  I know that.

When she said the words to me, I didn’t react—in fact, didn’t think anything of it.  It wasn’t really her saying that to me; it was this different person who has no memory of the past left, speaking to a man she didn’t recognize.

I know that.


Back home now, lying in my bed at night, the words have echoed in my head.  My mother, who never in all of my life uttered a cruel word to me, told me to my face that I was no good.

The facts of her illness, I know—intellectually.  My problem is the event happened to me—personally.  My brain struggles to keep the two straight, failing miserably.

I’ll sort it out, eventually.

Still.  The words hang, frozen by the frigid wintry blast.  And, sitting here in my cozy corner, I shiver.

She doesn’t know me anymore.  She doesn’t recall she had any children, can’t remember who my father is.  Even though she can’t stand for him to be out of her sight, she couldn’t tell you who the man is.

I wonder what it would be like to be surrounded by strangers in your own home.  I even have this strange thought that starts to take root, asking: what if she no longer knows who God is?

Ah, but you see, now the worries and the what ifs, and the if onlys start to tumble one by one, when I reach that question.

The reality is that whether or not she knows Him anymore is not nearly as important as the answer that stands above every question in my long list.

He still knows her.

He still calls to her.

He still communicates with her.

Don’t believe me?

That very morning, in a little church fellowship hall, I sat beside her, a stranger sharing his hymnal with her.  She took hold of the edge of the book and tugged it over in front of her, soon commandeering well more than her share of the page.  And, without a thought in the world about who was listening, she sang.  As loudly as she could, she sang.

Me too.

Song after song, we shared that book—I, finding the right pages for her, and she, pulling more and more of the volume her way, until I held nearly none of it in my own hand.

That red-headed lady who raised me taught me to sing in church.

I spoke of it with that other red-headed person in my life, the Lovely Lady, just the other day.  I don’t know any other way to sing.

Why would you worry about who hears you?  You’re not singing for them!  All my life, growing up, I heard it and saw it modeled.

Sing it out!

My Mama and I sang for the One who still knows her.  And me.  A couple of ladies in the church mentioned my singing later.

I’m still not sorry I sang so loud.

You know, as I sit and write, I glance mentally over at those horrid words, frozen in time.  Funny thing.  They’re not frozen anymore.  They’re just mixed in with the rest of our conversation and communication from that day.

Come to think of it, they weren’t all that untrue.  That lady spent a lifetime understanding that none of us is born good, and she tried to do everything she could to help me past that.  She taught and sang, begged and demanded, all the while trying to help form and shape a man who would be good.

I’m not there yet.  But, I got some world class coaching along the way.

Oh, and an introduction to the One who will make me good.

I’ll keep moving.

And singing at the top of my lungs for Him.



…the sheep recognize His voice and come to Him.  He calls His own sheep by name and leads them out.
(John 10:3 ~ NLT)


My mama loves me, she loves me.
She gets down on her knees and hugs me.
She loves me like a rock
She rocks me like the Rock of Ages, and she loves me.
(from Loves Me Like a Rock ~ Paul Simon ~ American singer/songwriter)



© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2015, 2017. All Rights Reserved.


Photo courtesy of Jeannean Ryman.  Used with permission.  Jeannean has many of her wonderful images available for sale and for use in projects.  Contact us if you’d like to communicate with her.