Fallen Hero

My disappointment was profound.

No.  Strike that.  My disappointment is profound.  Still.

Years after the release of the movie, I feel even now that familiar twist in my gut when I think about it.  I still imagine an apology from the screen-writer is forthcoming, and an amended version of the film will be released any day now.

I am, of course, speaking of the Lord of the Rings trilogy of movies.  It was a triumph of film-making.  The casting was nearly perfect, the special effects, spectacular.  The setting in which it was filmed remains one of its greatest triumphs; the scenic panoramas are breath-taking and awe-inspiring.

The movies had, however, a fatal flaw.  I may never recover from my disillusionment.

I am a LOTR nerd.

I refer, not to the aforementioned movie, but to the books.  I have worn out three sets of the paperbacks in reading and re-reading them over my adult life.  Each time I have picked them up, they have seemed fresh and exciting, even if at the same time they are like old friends–comfortable and familiar.

A good book is like that.  The books I don’t enjoy–those, I read once and place on the shelf, never to be opened again.  Good books invite a second (and third) reading.  Mr. Tolkien knew how to write a good book.

Ah.  But, you’re not all LOTR nerds, are you?  I’ll hasten on, if only to keep that glazed look from overtaking the reader’s eyes.

To get to the point, I’ll say this:  Mr. Tolkien wrote of heroes; the screen-writer for the movie series had no use for heroes.

Not perfect heroes, anyway.  And, therein lies my profound disappointment.

This hero wasn’t one of the main characters in the story, the individuals who are with you from start to finish.  No, the hero whose sullying I decry in the movie series is a relatively minor character named Faramir.  He almost doesn’t warrant a mention at all in the list of important protagonists in the story.

One_RingIn the film version of the story, Faramir is captured by the lust of the article of power, the One Ring, and very nearly brings disaster to the entire quest.  He takes the main characters captive and carries them far out of their way and into more danger before coming to his senses and releasing them and their ring.

I nearly shouted out loud in the movie theater as I watched the movie with a group of family and friends.  This man’s words are burned into my mind from the multiple times I have read the book.

“Not if I found it on the highway would I take it!”

Like all true heroes, Faramir wasn’t even tempted by the lust of power and fame.  It held no influence–none–over him, as he went about his duties as a heroic soldier with a clear heart.

I didn’t shout in the theater.  Not aloud, anyway.

To this day though, I feel I have been robbed.  Personally–robbed.

I want my hero back.  Unstained.  Unblemished.

You laugh.  Not without reason.

It seems a foolish grudge to bear, does it not–this trifle about the accuracy of a fictional hero’s character?  I myself still struggle with the rationality of it.  And, after all this time, I think I begin to understand why it affected me so.

I want my hero back, but I know–deep down–there is no such man walking the earth.  Not one.

Not one man who can keep his promises without fail.  Not one person who has never hurt anyone for selfish reasons.  Not a single human being who is free of the stain of lust and desire.

I once believed such people walked the earth.  I repent of that foolishness.  I have seen my own heroes fall, one after the other.  They fall from the pedestals they were put on, or climbed upon themselves, but they fall.

Eventually, they all fall.

HumanNot heroes.

Every one.

It’s actually a good thing, having all your heroes fallen.  The disappointment–the depressing certainty that all is lost–is profound at first, but it eventually gives way to hopefulness.  You see, if heroes can stand in their own strength, there is no hope for the rest of us.  We mere mortals who give in to our base nature, the sin nature passed down to us through our human DNA, again and again, have no hope as long as there is one single person who doesn’t need grace.

There was only one True Hero.  Ever.  Only one.

He saw the temptation on the highway and passed it by.  On his way to a cross, He passed it by.  Power and fame were nothing to Him.

He passed it by.  Because He loved us more.

I have told you repeatedly that I am forever grateful for grace.  Grace says to each of us, every fallen one of us, “You get to be a hero again. Not because of what you can do, but because of what He did.”

And when we fall again (and we will fall again), grace offers another chance to be a hero.  And another.  And another.

I like second chances.  There is still hope the quest may end in triumph after all.  And somehow, hope seems to me to be better than a nonexistent hero.

I’m still angry about Faramir though.

Are you listening, Peter Jackson?




“‘Not if I found it on the highway would I take it,’ I said. “Even if I were such a man as to desire this thing, and even though I knew not clearly what this thing was when I spoke, still I should take those words as a vow, and be held by them.  But I am not such a man.  Or I am wise enough to know that there are some perils from which a man must flee.”
(from The Return of the King ~ J.R.R. Tolkien ~ English author ~ 1892-1973)



“Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in Me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father.”
(John 14:12 ~ ESV)



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

That Will Leave a Mark

She had her teeth buried in his thigh!

I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a little girl express her displeasure at her father quite like it.  Moments before, all had been peaceful as she played at the little table we keep in the music store for youngsters just like her, accompanying their parents.  Normally, the toys on the table keep the children occupied and happy while their parents conduct business with us.

And so it had been, earlier in the day.  The Native American man, along with his pretty little girl, had dropped by to leave a guitar to be repaired.  The little miss had played happily while we discussed the work to be done.  It had taken a few minutes and I suppose her father had been just as happy for her to have the entertainment as she was to play there.  When they left, promising to return in an hour or two, the little tyke was all smiles, waving bye-bye enthusiastically.

What a difference two hours makes!

After lunch, the pair returned to retrieve the instrument.  The repair had gone smoothly and all the time that was necessary on this visit was a moment or two to check the repair and pay the bill.

Evidently, the young lady had intended this stay to last longer.

When her father told her it was time to go, she dallied for only a moment.  She stood up from the tiny chair and walked to the door behind him, obediently.  If I had been deaf, I would have thought she was happy to do his bidding.

I’m not deaf.  Her scream went right through me.

She screamed all the way out to the car.  She wasn’t crying, just screaming in anger.  Following him to the back of the car, where he placed his guitar in the trunk, she continued to scream.  But, when he came back around the side of the car to open the door, she was hugging his leg.  Quietly.

I breathed a sigh of relief.  Everything was all right.  The storm was over. She was probably even smiling.

Just then, I noticed where her face was.  It was against his thigh very tightly.

She was biting him through his blue jeans. Biting him!  No, she wasn’t smiling.

Calmly, he opened the door and lifted her from his leg, placing her in the car seat inside.  The only emotion he showed as he closed the passenger door gently and opened his own was to shake his head a little sadly.

I’m still trying to sort out my feelings.  Different cultures certainly have diverse ways of raising their children, but my reaction would have been considerably different.

Somehow though, the father’s reaction isn’t what I’m struggling with.  The child’s actions intrigue me.

She was obedient.  Obedient.

My mind jumps to the words from the Bible which many who grew up in the church are thinking about right now.

Children obey your parents

I’m smiling as I write.  The child obeyed her father, moving to the door when he instructed her to.  I’m not saying her heart was in it.  It wasn’t.  Nevertheless, she did as she was bidden.

But, there is something added to the words from the Bible I quoted above, isn’t there?

Honor your father and mother

Somehow, I don’t think there was much honor in those teeth buried in that man’s leg.  The little darling’s obedience came with a caveat.

Obedience isn’t always rendered with honor.

I’m not smiling anymore.

The little toddler can be excused for her selfishness.  She will grow into the knowledge of what is right and wrong.

Me?  I’ve already lived a few more years than she.  Quite a few.

The implications grow clearer in my mind.  If, in our relationship with our human parents, our obedience should be an outgrowth of the honor due them, how much more is that true in our relationship to God who is our Heavenly Father?

I wonder.

True obedience–the kind which comes from the heart–grows out of respect and honor.  Fear of repercussions and punishment only yields the obedience of a subordinate or slave.

Grace frees us from that fear.  Grace and love.

Time to quit screaming and baring my teeth, isn’t it?

Honor.  And, obedience.

There is still so much to learn.

Out of the mouths (and teeth) of babes…




“There is no fear in love.  But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment.  The one who fears is not made perfect in love.”
(1 John 4:18 ~ NIV)




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


Cat_stalking_birdsStealthily, they creep
Like children on Christmas Eve down the stairs,
Or as cats track a mockingbird, all unawares.

They won’t be held back;
They don’t regard trifling things, like money.
Onward, onward they proceed, smoother than honey.

I have named them thieves,
Wayward gluttons, consuming all they touch;
What’s taken is gone, never returned, desired much

They are those and more.
But with another breath, I call them kind;
Too fair to be forgotten, the gifts left behind.

Thieves? Kind? Which are they?
I sit in my corner and try to decide;
Half full–Half empty–I can’t say, but I have tried.

Years have come and gone.
Treasures they’ve taken; Great gifts they’ve bestowed.
I have a record, a heritage, an abode.

Still years sneak by me
Rapidly now; so much faster they roll.
Yet God walks beside me; while I push to the goal.



“Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow.  What is your life?  You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.”
(James 4:14 ~ NIV)



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

Come Down

It has been over ten years since we moved from the old house, but still I remember the exhilaration of sitting on the big wrap-around porch.  The house was situated on a corner, where the streets came up from the valley below. 

Seated on the porch, one could view traffic along the roads below.  Conversations could be heard, both amicable and contentious.  Often, one learned more than was desired about neighbors and passersby.

From that perch, it was easy to acquire an inflated opinion of oneself.  Well, I suppose I should speak for just myself and not for anyone else. 

I could sit on that elevated plane and imagine I was better than most any of the folks I observed.  Over time, this is what happens when we find ourselves separated from and elevated above others.  It is not our intention; it just happens.

In the brick house down the block, the husband’s work takes him on the road for long periods of time, so his wife is raising their children by herself.  When he is at home, they fight, the angry words wafting on the breeze up the hill.  When he is gone, the children run wild as their mom tries to balance work and parenting without a father present.

I would never be that irresponsible, either as a husband or a parent.

Late at night, another neighbor drinks to dull the pain of utter failure.  Failure to support his family adequately.  Failure in the past to protect his child, now dead because of a freak accident for which he blames himself.  Failure to understand his wife needs his attention–a failure which results in a trip to the emergency room as she attempts to end her own life.

He drinks and forgets his problems momentarily, singing country songs at the top of his lungs on his own front porch.  That porch is much lower down than mine, thank goodness.  His drunken voice rings throughout the neighborhood and I smile–a condescending, arrogant expression.

I would never be that pathetic.  Never.

Oh, but I have been.  More.

I have spent a lifetime in arrogance. 

It was never intentional.  It never is.

Arrogance grows, like a cancer, as we lose touch with the reality of our humanity–of our own sinful nature.  We separate ourselves physically from the world, keeping to ourselves in our palaces.

We sit on our elevated perches, whispering and pointing. 

Would you look at that

Did you see what she just did

Have you ever. . .?

Choosing our insults carefully, we avoid, with precision, any issue with which we struggle ourselves.  The more we practice, the better we get at it.

And, oh how we practice!

The lists we make of things we are not capable of grows and grows.  The rules we make for others based on our own strengths and abilities expands with the size of our heads.

ivorytowerIvory palaces. 

Towers of righteousness.  Self righteousness, that is.

I don’t live in the house on the hill anymore.  Perhaps that is a good thing.  Now when I sit on my front porch, the folks walking along the road are level with me.  They look over at me and smile (or frown) and I usually wave and speak to them.  Somehow, the realization that we walk and live on the same level changes my thinking.  Funny how that works.

The change in my attitude is not all as a result of moving into a different house.  Over the last few years, I have been shown (in various ways) my sinful nature.  I have become reacquainted with the reality of our fallen state.  My fallen state.

I have discovered anew the astounding miracle of grace. 

GraceAnd forgiveness.

Strange.  I thought those things were just gifts given to me from a gracious God through His Son.  It turns out they are gifts given which are meant to be shared.

It’s hard to share when one lives in a tower.

The Lovely Lady and I took a drive through the beautiful Ozarks on a recent Spring day.  As we drove, I noticed a number of imposing houses built along a particular bluff, high above the roadway upon which we traveled.

“How nice that would be,” I exclaimed to her.  “What a view!  You’d never even notice the noise of the highway way up there.”

And, even as I gazed upward with envy and wished to be able to afford such an abode, I realized the danger of dwelling in a place like that.  If one can’t hear the traffic, they forget there are people who have to struggle every day to get to their destinations.  When one is separated from others, he forgets we are all called to compassion as a way of life.

Concern for those with whom we rub shoulders requires that we actually rub shoulders with them.

The psalmist speaks of a King living in an ivory lined palace, with all its amenities and luxuries.  It is, in truth, the same King who left the comfort and safety of those towers to come down and live among us.

To rub shoulders with us.  To eat with us.  To work among us.  To teach us.

To die for us.

Out of ivory palaces.  He came down.

How can we do less?

Come down.



He was a friend to man, and lived
In a house by the side of the road.

(Homer ~ Ancient Greek Poet ~ ca. 800 BC)



Out of the ivory palaces,
Into a world of woe;
Only His great eternal love
Made my Savior go.

(Ivory Palaces ~ Henry Barraclough ~ 1891-1983)





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

Past Meet Future. Future–Past.

Two significant events–no, three–took place in my little town a few days ago.  Two were scheduled to occur.  Their outcomes could have been forecasted, albeit with varying success.

I, being the hermit I have said I would never become, missed both events.  The reader will have to accept the following description of activities as coming, not from a witness, but from a story teller with the basic facts at hand.

The old folks (those in my peer group) got together at the community building to listen to and play music, as well as to spend a little time reminiscing about the past.  They called it a reunion.  By all reports, the evening was completely successful in achieving its purpose. 

More than a few folks, just past middle-age, had the chance to perform or listen to the music they were playing and singing forty years ago.  They saw people they hadn’t seen for years–or days, as the case may be.  The folks who were not gifted with the talent (or the nerve) to get up on stage visited, and danced, and sang along.

My friend Randy, being a musician of some repute, and being of the appropriate age, was honored to be on the stage.  He described the experience as outstanding.  His word.  Outstanding.  When the old folks’ soiree was winding down, he took his leave to play another gig in a popular restaurant across the street.

On the other side of town, at the local university, the young folks assembled at what might have seemed to be a similar event.  For weeks, the bands and individuals had been in preparation.  Songs had been written and re-written; lyrics memorized and revised.  Equipment was purchased, or repaired, or borrowed.

This night was the big event.  The best talent on campus would be selected by judges, as well as by the audience.  The prize was a recording session and an album for the winner.  Better than that would be the adulation of a thousand fans who would almost certainly cheer and stand throughout the event.

As in the other event across town, the stage was the focal point; the participants were celebrated one after another.  Music–and applause–filled the air.  Band followed band, and single acts took their turns as well.

When the battle was complete and the votes were in, Molly stood in the victor’s spotlight.  She was ecstatic–maybe even a little shocked.  What a rush of emotion and adrenaline, all at once.

Two events, one for folks almost over the hill, the other for folks just beginning life as young adults.  Truly an evening to put in the list of great memories for all involved.

But, wait a minute.  I thought there were three events?  What about the third one?

Oh yeah, that’s right.  Three.

Funny thing.  Randy went to play and sing at his little gig across the street from the old geezers’ get together.  Molly left the university and went down the street with a group of friends and landed at the little restaurant where the old guy was playing.

Sometime in the next hour, Molly decided that perhaps she could sing with Randy.  She didn’t know him, but she liked his music.  And, she had won her contest, hadn’t she?  She knew she could hold her own.

Randy readily agreed and they did some songs together.


It will never work, right?  He’s one of the old has-beens from across the street.  She’s a winner with a future.  I’m thinking the old saying fits here–East is east and west is west, and never the twain shall meet.

I would be wrong.

The way I hear it, their duet on Amazing Grace is one of those moments I’ve talked about before, a moment that needs to be savored and then committed to memory.  A moment to pull out in future times and recall with joy and gratitude.

Someone today told me that at one point in the song you could see a visible shiver go through the gathered crowd as the two voices blended together.  It almost made me wish I hadn’t opted to stay home in my little cave with the Lovely Lady.  Almost.

photo by tableatnyOld. Young.


They meet and they mesh, like gears in a machine, one nearly-complete function leading to the next.  The past teaches and encourages, while the future learns and adds its brilliant talents.  The hand-off in the relay has begun, the baton is ready to be passed.

As much as I enjoy the telling of the story, one that brings joy to my soul, I somehow also have a sense of sadness.  Oh, Randy and his friends at the reunion aren’t done yet.  They’ve got a good many years left, in which they’ll make music and receive and give pleasure in the making.

But, the future belongs to Molly and her fellow musicians.  Their stars are rising, regardless of how they choose to follow.

And, as I consider it, I realize why I am sad.  As happens frequently, the larger lesson of the past and the future has already been brought to mind earlier today.

I received news this evening of a friend from school days whose father passed away today.  My first reaction was to think about what it would mean to my friend.  Birthdays without him, holidays with an empty chair, moments that will never be shared with one who she loved.  She can never have him back again in this life.  Never.

The finality of death, at least to us still living here in what some call this vale of tears, is irreversible.  We can’t go back.  As long as we live, we will miss our loved one.  As long as we live.

Funny.  My mind jumps to other news from the last few days.  Babies are being born to my young friends at quite a brisk rate.  I have seen notice after notice of new life, babies desperately loved by their parents, and I am happy with them.  The future beckons.

I am struck with the realization that our Creator continues to sustain His handiwork in a way that brings both joys and sorrows, great losses and great gains into our lives. It has always been so.

The past moves on, and the future arrives.

Vale of tears?  Only if you include both tears of sadness and tears of joy.  I’ve cried both recently.  Many others have also.

I’ve quite a few of those moments in the past, both joyous and melancholy, which have been saved and are brought to memory now and then.  That doesn’t mean that there won’t be more in the future.  I’m looking for more to add to my collection, every day.

The future is looking better all the time.

I believe I’ll keep moving.



“‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.'”
(Jeremiah 29:11 ~ NIV)


“Remember that life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away.”
(Vicki Corona ~ American dance instructor/author)




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

It May Come Out Today

After rain, comes the sunshine.  Dark days cannot last forever.

I want to believe that.  Every time the darkness has surrounded me, I have considered it a temporary thing.  Illness, sadness, fear–each has its ending.  There is light to be seen at their certain conclusion.

It was, I believe, the poet Henry Longfellow who said it most famously:  Into each life some rain must fall.  Not so famous, but every bit as important, is another line from the same poem which reminds us that behind the clouds is the sun still shining.

We laugh at the naivety of Annie the orphan as she sings the sun will come out tomorrow, but we are almost certain of the truth the words convey.


I do meet folks who have no hope of seeing the sun again.  They have given up on the idea that behind their clouds is the light of day.  Staying too long in the dark can make us forget how brilliant the light actually is.  It may even cause us to doubt that there ever was such a thing as light.

I’m going to go with Annie and Hank on this one. 

Sometimes, we are surprised to find that the sun will come out today, even.

This was such a day.  The weather forecast called for rain.  Ninety percent chance of it. 

All day.

I sat this morning, in my easy chair and moped.  That’s right–moped.  I had intended to tend to my yard today.  In fact, I had neglected it for the last week and a half with this morning specifically in view.  Saturday–Saturday, I would mow and trim. 

Saturday arrived and it was raining, with no chance of a reprieve.  I would have to give up an evening next week, an evening for which I already had plans.

I moped. The rain outside was creating a storm inside. 

She didn’t appreciate it much.  And, she wasn’t going to have me under her feet all day feeling sorry for myself.

What she said was, “Let’s go get something to eat.  You may feel different after you do something.”

Oh well.  It was better than sitting there hungry and moping.  At least after we got done at the restaurant, I’d only be moping.  We went.

I sat at the table with the Lovely Lady and we talked.  We laughed.  We ate.  Biscuits and gravy.  Comfort food.  Eaten in good company.

When we walked out of the restaurant, I looked up.

“Hey!  I see blue sky over there!”

It was true.  The rain was still falling, but over in the west, a slash of blue cut through the rain clouds.  Perhaps it was a sign. 

We stopped to put gas in the car and I stepped out from under the canopy to look at the sky again.  The slash of blue was now a whole lake of brilliance, shoving the gray of the clouds apart. 

Sun_through_cloudsThe muddled gray skies were giving way to the brightness of the sunlight I had anticipated and desired.  And in just the same manner, I realized that my gray mood had disappeared, going where, I had no idea.  Good riddance, anyway!

I stood, just moments ago, in my back yard.  Smelling the fresh cut grass and seeing the neatly trimmed edges along the sidewalk, I smiled.


Sometimes, it will even come out today.

You might want to get your sun screen out.






So comes snow after fire, and even dragons have their ending.

(from The Hobbit ~ J.R.R. Tolkien ~ English writer/poet ~ 1892-1973)


He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.

(Matthew 5:45 ~ NIV)



The Rainy Day

The day is cold, and dark, and dreary;
It rains, and the wind is never weary;
The vine still clings to the mouldering wall,
But at every gust the dead leaves fall,
And the day is dark and dreary.

My life is cold, and dark, and dreary;
It rains, and the wind is never weary;
My thoughts still cling to the mouldering Past,
But the hopes of youth fall thick in the blast,
And the days are dark and dreary.

Be still, sad heart! and cease repining;
Behind the clouds is the sun still shining;
Thy fate is the common fate of all,
Into each life some rain must fall,
Some days must be dark and dreary.

(Henry Wadsworth Longfellow ~ American poet ~ 1807-1882)





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

The Whole World Smells Clean

You make the whole world smell clean.

I smiled at the Lovely Lady as I entered the room, amused at my own wit, and tickled at the confused look she gave me as she raised her eyes from the needlework in her hands.  The clothes dryer rumbling monotonously back in the laundry room should have given her a clue to my puzzle, but she didn’t have the patience (or inclination) to work it out for herself.

Almost exasperated, she shot the question at me.  “Whatever are you talking about?”

I laughed and explained. 

Just moments before, as I walked along the sidewalk behind the house, my senses had detected the aroma, a combination of laundry soap and scented dryer sheets.  It reminded me, not unpleasantly, of clean things—hands freshly washed, babies after a bath, clean towels after a hot shower.

The world doesn’t always remind me of such wholesome things.

Frequently, I run on the jogging path beside the local sewer treatment plant.  It’s not at all the same. 

The highway alongside the livestock sale barn on sale day?  Yeah.  Not the same either.

Sometimes, the world around us stinks to high heaven.

But, on wash day? 

On wash day the back yard at my house is, literally, a breath of fresh air.  The dryer vent on the back wall of the house fills the atmosphere in the vicinity with the smell of freshly cleaned clothes being tumbled dry.

What’s that? 

It’s just hot air that’s been blown over the clothes to dry them?  It’s merely what happens on any ordinary wash day? 

Sure it is.  I never said it wasn’t.

I just said she makes the whole world smell clean.

farm-490128_640As I write, my thoughts are transported back over many miles and more than a few years.  I’m still in a back yard and that clean smell is in the air.  But this time, I’m surrounded on all sides by sheets and shirts, along with various other articles of clothing. 

As I wander down one row and up another of the freshly laundered fabrics hanging on the clothes line, I marvel at the difference, not only in the air, but also the clothes themselves.

Moments ago the shirts were filthy, stinking rags.  The fishing trip the other day was just the start.  Hours of playing in the sun—riding bikes, chasing lizards, even climbing trees—had all taken their toll on the material.  Dirt, fish debris, sweat, and perhaps even a little blood were all hopelessly embedded in the garments. 

Now?  Even the air around them smells clean.

This—this is a mystery.

Things that once were dirty and smelly now perfume the air around them. 

How is that possible?  If I found a piece of clothing in that condition by the side of the road, I would either pass it by or throw it away. 

Useless trash!

But someone, realizing the value (probably because they were the ones who had paid the price) of that garment, made the effort and spent the time to bring it back to pristine condition.  The aroma emanating from the freshly laundered clothes was simply a by-product of the process.

It has, by now, become obvious that we’re not just talking about clothes anymore, hasn’t it?

Mercy picks the filthy rags up out of the gutter, while Grace washes them clean.  The just washed aroma of joy makes the whole world around smell clean.

Once it did, anyway.

I stop and think about that for a moment.

I want to go on and speak of responsibilities and activities.  I want to shake a finger under noses and wonder where others went wrong.  I have blame to place and shame to impart.

Perhaps, I should pass.

Somehow, the air in my vicinity isn’t as fresh as I remember it.

It seems that it may be time for another visit to the laundry room. 

As I recall, King David had to make that trip more than once.  He asked for a clean heart and for a right spirit to be renewed inside of him.  Knowing the result would be the joy that spread to others, he begged to be washed again.  It’s all there in Psalm 51, if you don’t believe it.

I’d like to influence the world around me like that, too.  Every day. 

I have no question about my salvation.  The grace of God ensures that.  My problem is I don’t always act out that grace in my life.  Forgetting who He has made me, I stink up the place—just like filthy rags.

I like wash days.

He makes the whole world smell clean.




Behave so the aroma of your actions may enhance the general sweetness of the atmosphere.
(Henry David Thoreau ~ American essayist ~ 1817-1862)



He saved us, not because of the righteous things we had done, but because of His mercy.  He washed away our sins, giving us a new birth and new life through the Holy Spirit.
(Titus 3:5 ~ NLT)




© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2015, 2016. All Rights Reserved.



Easy Way Out

Sometimes, I wish the instruments would stop talking to me. 

Now–now–give me a minute!  Let me explain before word gets around I’ve finally misplaced that final marble.

I don’t mean the instruments really talk to me.  I don’t even mean I hear voices coming from the pieces of wood and metal.  What I mean is sometimes the inherent message of the musical instruments is so clear I just can’t keep it to myself.

I preach their message to my customers.  That’s right.  Preach.

“All of life is a compromise.  Actually, one compromise after another.  Why, just look at the height of those strings on your guitar.  You can’t lower them too far or they buzz on the frets, but if you raise them too high, they’re impossible to press to the neck and they play out of tune. It’s all about the ability to give and take.”

The parishioners don’t always heed their preacher. Imagine!

I had sold the guitar only the day before.  One day, he had it.  On the second day, he brought it back.

“It buzzes all over and I can’t get any clear tones up the neck at all.”  I watched his face as he plaintively said the words, and I knew immediately he wasn’t telling me everything.

He played the guitar for me a bit and, sure enough, it buzzed and fretted out up the neck as he flailed away at the strings.  I took the guitar from him and put it on my work bench.

“These aren’t the strings that were on when I sold it to you.  Pretty light, aren’t they?”

Hanging his head a little he replied, “Yeah.  I’ve been playing so much I’ve almost got blisters.  I had to have lighter strings.”  He went on, almost combatively, as if daring me to argue with him, “And, I lowered the action as well.  It was too high.”

I sighed.  This was going to take awhile. Taking a deep breath to make myself remain calm, I spent the next few minutes explaining to the man what his guitar was trying to tell him.  I understood it.  He just couldn’t hear it himself.

“Guitar playing is a compromise.  Too light strings mean they’ll buzz and rattle unless you change the way you strike them.  If you must use light strings, you have to play with a lighter touch.  And, you absolutely cannot lower them that close to the frets.  You lose tone quality and the lighter tension guarantees they’ll vibrate against the neck. “

He nodded his head.  “But, I can’t play on heavier strings. It’s too painful.”

I wasn’t going to argue.  “That’s fine.  Let’s raise the strings a bit and, if you’ll lighten up with the pick, you should be able to work it out.”

“No.”  He was adamant.  “If it won’t play the way I want it to, I don’t want the guitar.”

Immovable.  Unyielding. 

I gave him his money back.

Guitar_PlayerofSeville1908The guitar has been restrung and set up correctly again.  It’s a very nice instrument which functions exactly as it was designed.  I’ll sell it someday to someone who will love it and make beautiful music with it.

What the instrument says to me is this: There is beautiful music inside of me, but for it to be heard, some difficulty must–absolutely must–be overcome.

  Not avoided.  Overcome.

I’ve been asking some questions this past week.  Well–all of my life, actually.  I’ve just been thinking more seriously about them this week.

Why does life have to be hard?  Why can’t life be all spring breaks and white sandy beaches?  What if nothing was ever more difficult than a sunny Saturday morning with no lawn to mow and no laundry to do?

I’m wondering because life seems hard right now (not for the first time).  Like my guitar playing friend, I’d like to get something easier on my fingers–well to be more specific, something easier on my heart.

You see, my cousin died suddenly this week.  Pamela was a sweet, kind person who loved the people in her life.  She loved God, too.  She is gone far too soon, at least to my thinking.  I don’t like the empty place her absence leaves in my world.

An auto accident happened to a loved one the other day, in which a car was destroyed, and a few hours were spent at the local emergency room.  There is no lasting injury and cars can be replaced. This, I know.  That doesn’t change the fact that I was standing at that intersection with bits and pieces of the once beautiful car strewn about my feet, wishing things had happened differently, and I found myself wondering why life was so scary sometimes.

I haven’t spoken much of it here, but the last two months have brought waves of illness to me.  Infections weakened me, both physically and emotionally.  I finally had a couple of sickness-free weeks when I was recuperating and gaining strength.  Then, early this week, both the Lovely Lady and I were stricken violently with a stomach virus.  It passed quickly, but in my innermost places, I am certain the white flag of surrender is beginning to unfurl. 

Shall I wave it for the world to see?  Is it time to surrender?

No. I’m thinking perhaps, not just yet

I may just heed the sermon from the guitar instead.  From sore fingers come clear chords.  From tired hands come pure melodies and counter-melodies that weave together in harmonies that come straight from heaven.


Life is hard.  Hard.  Difficulties lie in our pathway.  We’ll never be successful if we work to avoid the difficulties. 

The easy path leads to nowhere particular.  We’re not going there.

We have a goal in life.  We’re in this to win the prize.  It’s a high calling.

I’m pretty sure beautiful music comes only through hard work and overcoming obstacles.  I’ve felt the pain myself.  I’ve watched the Lovely Lady sit down after practicing the piano for hours, shaking her hands and telling me that they are numb. 

Numb.  Does that sound easy?  Painless?

Have I preached long enough? 

Missing those who have been taken from us only makes us long for heaven a little bit more.  The scary moments and the difficult seasons only give us more reason to persevere.

I hope you’re listening for the beautiful music.

I’m practicing right now.




“In theory there is no difference between theory and practice.  In practice there is.”
(Yogi Berra ~ American baseball coach)


“…to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness…”
(Isaiah 61:3 ~ KJV)



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

The Child Remembers

“Don’t drink out of the wrong side of your glass!  You can’t drink upside down!”

We were just sitting down to our weekly pizza night with our children and grandchildren.  The Lovely Lady’s voice was a little exasperated as she said the words, but I think I heard a touch of laughter in it as well.  I turned my attention away from one of the pretty little girls just in time to see the nine-year-old boy’s tongue snake out and lap up the juice in his glass.

Well, at least he hadn’t actually drunk from the wrong side of the glass.  But, as I considered it, the idea took root and grew.  I’ve been told that the fruit doesn’t fall far from the tree–probably not always true, but in this instance it could be accurate. You see, I wanted to try drinking from the wrong side of the glass, too.

Before I had a chance, the Lovely Lady’s daughter spoke up from the other end of the table, “Stop that!  You heard Grandma!”

The eight-year-old boy at that end of the table also had his snout in a glass and was tipping the glass the wrong way.  His attempt at the perilous maneuver was halted by his Mom’s intervention and he sighed audibly as he placed his glass back down on the table with a loud thunk.

Both ladies were surprised to hear another voice at the table say, “I want to see if I can do it.”

Yeah, of course it was.  My voice.  You knew it would be.

They both rolled their eyes at the same time.


I couldn’t tell you which one asked that.  They both thought it, I know.

May we talk about this for a moment?  Just for a moment. 

I don’t think I’m moving into a second childhood.  Most of the time, I’m as serious as I need to be.  I accomplish assigned tasks reasonably well.  I get along with folks around me.  I sometimes even see things which need doing and do them myself.

I am an adult.  It’s just that I want to explore sometimes.  I want to see if a thing is possible.  When told that it can’t be done, I want to be sure.

Children_playing_in_streetThere is still a child inside of me.  I almost think that child lives in all of us.  It’s the way we were made by our Creator. 

His Son, when He walked this earth, suggested that the only way we could come to God was as a child, sincere and trusting.  His followers were strong men, manual laborers who had left childhood behind long years before.  They were jaded and unwilling to trust completely. The teacher merely told them to put aside their suspicions and the hardness that life had brought to each of them.

Become as little children.  TrustObeyForgive.

Why is that so hard?

Life estranges us from loving others.  Experience hardens us to belief.  Failure turns us away from hope.

The child remembers.  The child inside still recognizes truth–and love–and grace.  Second chances still exist.

Adventures still await.

I don’t ever want to lose the joy and freedom of those years.  Oh, the body changes; life experiences have their effects.  But, the child remains.  And remembers.

I did try to drink out of the wrong side of my glass, by the way.  I may have spilled a drop or two.

Don’t tell anybody.  Okay?





“You are old, Father William,” the young man said,
“And your hair has become very white; And yet you incessantly stand on your head–
Do you think, at your age, it is right?”

In my youth,” Father William replied to his son,
“I feared it might injure the brain;
But now that I’m perfectly sure I have none,
Why, I do it again and again.”
(From Alice In Wonderland ~ Lewis Carroll ~ English author ~ 1832-1898)


“And He said, ‘Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.'”
(Matthew 18:3 ~ NIV)



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