Plucking Thistles

Die when I may, I want it said by those who knew me best, that I always plucked a thistle and planted a flower where I thought a flower would grow. *


The boy had hope written across his smiling face.

Hope is a beautiful thing, especially in a child. It animates and motivates, forging dreams for the future.  I love the beauty hope generates in young folks.

Hope is not something I enjoy dashing on the rocks of reality.  The results can be ugly.  I don’t love ugly.

This had all the earmarks of ugly.

His father, having told me he was trying to teach his son the trade of picking—of buying used objects for a small amount of money and flipping them for more money, asked me to advise the boy.

The hopeful young man handed me a clarinet-shaped object.  By that, I mean the long black piece of plastic with metal keys attached had been a clarinet in another life.  No longer.

It was unplayable, with bent keys and broken springs.  The pads, the life source for a woodwind instrument, had long ago deteriorated and crumbled away to dust, leaving no way for the individual notes to sound.

A re-pad job on a clarinet would cost more than the price this sad instrument could ever bring.  The other issues—bent keys and broken springs—would only drive the potential investment in the old horn up into the stratosphere.

As I examined the instrument, my dismay showing on my features, the hopeful face of the boy that peered into mine changed perceptibly.  He steeled himself for the bad news he sensed was coming.  I glanced into his eyes and saw the unhappiness there.

What a disaster!

I wondered—for a moment—if I should tell him a fib, a white lie.  Just a little one—for his own good.  I would save his pride and give him hope for another day.

“It’s a fine clarinet, but I’m not buying them right now.  You might check at another store.  They may need it worse than I do.”

Can’t you just hear me?  For him.  I would be saying the words to save him the pain of failure.

I didn’t say those words.  That would have been the easy way out for me, too.  But sooner or later, the boy would have to face two different truths:  First, his investment was not going to bear fruit.  Second, the hateful old shop owner lied to him.

I won’t lie. 

Gently, I began to speak to him about what makes a clarinet play and what gives it value.  Pointing out the catastrophic defects in his instrument, I explain why it would not make sense to repair the horn.

He is disappointed.  Horribly disappointed.

But, he wants to learn.  Asking questions, he probes my store of knowledge so he will make better choices the next time.  I happily share what I know, taking time from my workday tasks to aid him.  We make comparisons with functioning instruments.  We talk about the need for knowledge about the brands of horns and of the importance of a good carrying case.

As he prepares to leave, he reaches out to shake my hand, his tiny one dwarfed by mine.  His father follows suit, expressing his gratitude for my time and my willingness to share.  He mentions a sacrifice on my part to help the young man, and I wave aside the thought.  There is nothing to what I have done, I suggest.

Suddenly, I remember why I do this—why I have done it for a lifetime. 

The opportunity to plant seeds far exceeds the objective of making a profit. 

Oh, I need to make a profit to keep my doors open, but the reward of seeing the eyes of that young man when he left—no longer just full of hope, but also bright with the pride that comes from being treated with respect—no money in the world could ever purchase that.

Some would say the loving thing would have been to let him keep his dream alive—the dream of making money on that instrument.  Some today even suggest that speaking hard truth in the face of error is hateful.

I wonder which is more loving:  Is it to dash his immediate hope as his expectation for the future is built up and he is equipped to meet that future, or is it to keep quiet and let him believe a lie?

petunia2The boy will return, of that I am sure.  The day may come when he has learned the lesson taught him today so well that he is a threat to my own livelihood.  I smile at the thought, enjoying the expectation of his success.

Weeds are uprooted—seeds of hope planted in their place.  What better task could I have?  What more reward could I ask?

How does your garden grow?



These are the things that you shall do: Speak the truth to one another; render in your gates judgments that are true and make for peace.
(Zechariah 8:16 ~ ESV)


Anyone who doesn’t take truth seriously in small matters cannot be trusted in large ones either. 
(Albert Einstein ~ German born theoretical scientist ~ 1879-1955)



*  (Abraham Lincoln ~ U.S. President ~ 1809-1865)


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

Only a Test

“Are you selling stuff in my parking lot?”

The little girl’s instinct to close the mini-van’s door as I approached was the right one.  I was angry.

I own the building from which our little mom-and-pop store operates.  It’s not much of a structure—a concrete foundation with a frame building topped by a metal roof, but the Lovely Lady and I have spent the last seventeen years working to pay off the loan the bank was kind enough to advance.

Earlier, the Lovely Lady had come back in after watering her flowers to let me know there was a vehicle sitting in the middle of the parking lot next door, but I shrugged it off.

They’d leave soon enough.  Why make a big deal about it?

Two hours later, they were still there.  I watched a couple of cars pull up beside the mini-van and exchange bundles of something with the occupants.  Then each of them drove away.  The van remained.

I was conflicted.  Perhaps it was just folks stopping by to check on them.  Maybe they were just helping out.

Or, maybe they were selling something and had chosen my lot as a place to set up business!  The nerve! 

My lot!  The one I’m paying for.  The one for which I fork out my own dollars each year to seal and re-coat.

My lot!

When the third car pulled up, I was done waiting.  Storming out the front door, I headed straight for the dingy mini-van.  Seeing me coming, a young girl in the back seat quickly reached for the sliding door and slammed it shut.

Asking the question on my mind in an accusatory tone, I didn’t expect the answer I got.

I don’t know why I didn’t expect it.  I should have thought about it. 

I should have asked.

“No sir!  We’ve got a flat tire.  Those people just took our spare, which was also flat, to get it repaired.”

I mentioned seeing the other cars and the lady in the driver’s seat, her face tired, almost to the point of exhaustion, explained.  She delivers newspapers at night to augment her husband’s too-small paychecks. 

They had been out since 11:00 PM last night trying to get the papers to their destinations. 

It was the second flat they had had during that time.  The second one, and the reason they were waiting for someone to get their spare repaired.  The spare was actually the tire on the car,  now flat.

The extra cars?  The packages exchanged? 

Friends who were helping get her papers delivered.

Friends.  Who wanted to help.

Apologizing for misunderstanding, I offered to help if there was anything else to be done.

Too little.  Too late.

I trudged back through the lot—My lot—and into the store.  My head was not held high, nor was I in good spirits.

Two hours.  Two hours, and not once did the thought cross my mind that I should see if they needed help.  Not once.

It was almost another hour before the repaired tire was brought back and installed.  There was some consolation in that the folks availed themselves of the bathroom facilities in the music store, but it was not enough to disperse the clouds of guilt in my heart.

Their cheerful and heartfelt thanks for my help was merely enough to heap coals on my head.  What help?  What had I done, save to be suspicious of them and remain ignorant of their need for assistance?

The Lord said, “I was hungry and you didn’t offer me food; I was thirsty and there was nothing for me to drink.  I was a stranger and you left me standing outside your door.”

The words are not lost on me.  Not today.

Another test.  There is no curve on which to be graded.  I failed.

It would be easy to hold on to the guilt—a simple thing to wallow in the shame and believe that failure is permanent.  It would be wrong.

Better men than I have stood right where I am.  Beaten.  Worn out with tests and failures.  I look back and see the long string of the failures in my life.

But, in my mind I see another man, standing beaten.  A friend is there also, his long accusing forefinger poking him in the chest.

You.  You are the one!

And, King David, broken and beaten, does the only thing he knows to do, indeed, the only thing there is to do.  Turning his back on the prophet Nathan, he falls on his knees before his God and pours out his heart.

Create in me a clean heart, oh God!  I am broken and grief-stricken for what I have done.  I implore You to accept the sacrifice of my broken and stained heart.

I haven’t committed adultery or killed anyone to cover up my sin.  It makes me no less guilty.

It makes Him no less able to restore a right spirit in me.  And, no less willing.

And Jesus said to the lady caught in the act, “Neither do I condemn you.  Go.  sin no more.”

Tomorrow is another day. 

There will be more tests.

And a few passing grades, I trust.



Suspicion always haunts the guilty mind.
(from King Henry VI ~ William Shakespeare ~ English playwright/poet ~ 1564-1616)


Behold, thou desirest truth in the inward parts; And in the hidden part thou wilt make me to know wisdom.
(Psalm 51:6 ~ ASV)




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

Still, My Soul


 Angry, a voice cries out.
Bitter, the answer screamed.

Words in a torrent, released from the dam
Overflow of hearts filled with pain.

Voices clamor, bluster of a wounded band;
Hurt, combatants proclaim superiority.

Floodgates opened, unspeakable filth teems over.
The ugly deluge splatters all in its path.

Good intentions seek the flood to slow,
Sandbags slung before the unstoppable rampage.

Words prohibited; banners torn from halyards,
Pointless posturing, no visible effect.

We stand agape, terror claiming our souls.
Eyes on the carnage, courage flees.

Overwhelmed, I am
Seeing only the flood.

I hear my own voice, raised in anger.
Raucous ranting, it but adds to the cascade.

Lost, pulled under by the unyielding surge,
Twisted and broken, spirits surrender.

Soft, the voice speaks from nearby
Peace. Quietness is yours.

Not in the flood, but on it;
Untouched by anger, standing apart.

Words yet fly; sides are chosen, battles fought.
He quiets them not, nor fights for any.

Peace reigns in His kingdom,
Kingdom of the heart.



Sometimes He calms the storm.
And other times, He calms His child.
(Scott Krippayne ~ Singer/Songwriter)


Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.
(John 14:27 ~ ESV)




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

The Present

We sat down to dinner with the table almost creaking under the weight of the food.  As is our habit, we prayed before we began to eat, realizing that all the blessings we enjoy are really gifts from a loving Creator.  We held hands around the table, a chain of family and friends, from very young children all the way up to Great Grandma, showing our love for each other and thankfulness for the gifts.

Grandpa prayed, as usual. 

By long experience, I have learned the attention span of the children is short.  Dinnertime is not the time to engage in long-winded prayers, remembering all the sick and troubled, all those who have traveled afar, and those in the world less fortunate than we. 

No, we are simply thankful for the food and a few other blessings, asking that we will be faithful stewards of the gifts.  Short prayers are the best at the dinner table.  My grandchildren would agree. 

Some time ago, they learned that the words, in Jesus’ name, usually preceded Amen, which was the signal to eat.  Accordingly, the older girl would begin saying Amen as soon as those other words were heard. 

I’m not sure if I have gotten longer-winded with time, or if the girl has just learned the process can be hurried a bit, but recently, she has taken to saying the word earlier in my prayer, long before I’m ready to invoke our Savior’s name. 

Amen, Amen, Amen, Amen, Amen, is what I heard at the table today as I Franz_von_Defregger_-_Grace_Before_Mealstarted to wind up my prayer. 

I hurried a bit faster to the real Amen! which echoed from several different points of the table.  We all laughed and Grandma hugged the beautiful girl as the abbreviated prayer was ended.

 These times are precious and I wouldn’t trade them for anything.

It did make me think a bit, though.  I wonder if deep down inside, we’re all still little children at heart.  We are in such a hurry to get to the next part that we forget to enjoy where we are right now, today. 

For some reason, we keep looking to the future and its promise, forgetting that the reality of the present is actually a gift given for us to savor and to carry us into that future. 

I know I am often guilty.  Just get me through this day—this job—this crisis, and I’ll be okay. 

Then I get to the future and it’s not much different—simply more wishing for whatever comes next.

I’m not a lover of country music, but I can’t get the words of this song from the seventies out of my head:  I…I’m driving my life away, looking for a better way, for me.  I’m driving my life away, looking for a sunny day…  

It’s not so much that we’re driving it away as we are working and eating and sleeping it away, but little by little it is speeding past, while we look for that time when we’re satisfied with where we are. 

I’m pretty sure that time never arrives unless we learn to be satisfied with today, here and now.

As children, we learn to wait (and long) for future events—class bells to ring—big yellow buses to come—summer vacation to parole us.  Back then, it seemed that those things took forever to arrive.  From today’s perspective, they came and went with lightning speed. 

But, still we wait for future events and thus waste today and its joy.

I hear a little voice out there saying, Amen, Amen, Amen, Amen, and realize that it’s time to stop blabbering on now. 

I will oblige. 

But I will say this before I stop:  This is the day which the Lord has made.  I will rejoice and be glad in it! 

Take time to live, really live, on this spectacular day. 


It is indeed a lavish gift not to be ignored, nor scorned.




Time keeps on slipping, slipping, slipping into the future.
(from Fly Like An Eagle ~ Steve Miller Band ~ 1976)

Godliness with contentment is great gain.
(I Timothy 6:6 ~ NIV)



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

Tell Your Story

I was fascinated.

Fascinated.  Well, of course I was.  I’m a music nerd.  I love music—making it, practicing it, learning new techniques, even (and perhaps, especially) listening to others make it. 

I know it’s odd, but I even enjoy watching the coalescence of musical styles which occurs when great minds come together to learn from each other. 

The video program I watched one night recently gave stellar evidence of that process. 

I hope those of my readers who don’t love music all that much will stick with me.  I’ll try not to be too detailed in my description.  I hope the conclusion will be worth the journey.

They called them master classes.  Professional musicians sat onstage with up-and-coming stars and listened to them perform.  Then the professionals made suggestions.  Not correctionssuggestions.

Their goal was a path to improvement, suggested in a non-judgmental manner.

I listened to the talented young man play that beautiful Steinway grand piano masterfully.  An old Billy Joel song.  I could just hear Billy singing and playing as the young artist performed.  It was obvious the young man had studied the original recording.  He wanted to get it just right.  And, he nailed it.

It was perfect.  If you were Billy Joel.

The professionals, sitting at a little table off to the side, clapped and cheered along with the crowd.  Then one of them said the last words the young musician expected to hear.  Perhaps they were the last words he wanted to hear.

“I think it’s good sometimes to do a song without the piano.  Try it again and leave your hands down.”

The young man’s face fell, but he nodded.  He positioned his mouth against the microphone before him.  Nervously, his hands reached for the piano keys, almost of their own volition.  Embarrassed, he let out a little almost-laugh and looked pleadingly at the pro.

“You want me to not play the piano?”

When the teacher responded in the affirmative, the young man breathed a sigh of disappointment, perhaps even of frustration.  Laying his hands in his lap, he began to sing.

He began to sing.  Billy Joel wasn’t there.  At all.

It was an amazing transition.  The melody was still the same.  The words were still the same raunchy words that Billy sang.

But, it was all him.  His voice.  His tonality.  His inflection.

All him? Just because he stopped playing the piano?  No, not really.

It was because he stopped hearing the music the way someone else had performed it.  This was just him and a song. 

His song.

I almost cried.  The message was so powerful.

I wrote down these words in a note to myself, so I wouldn’t forget.

Tell your story.  YOUR.  STORY.
Unaccompanied.  Pure. Fresh.

It has always bothered me.  On television, I see all the Elvis impersonators.  They all dress alike.  Comb their hair alike.  They even talk alike.

“Thank you very much.”

Admit it.  You said it like they would.  Like he did when he was alive.

Marco_la_voz_del_rock_and_rollThe impersonators whirl and grind and kick like they have seen him do, either in person or on a video.  Their study of the real Elvis has helped in perfecting their mimicry. 

Their sideburns are trimmed like Elvis’s. The cape hangs over their shoulders with the stiff, high collar sticking up against the fringe of the greasy pompadour they have slicked back to mimic the so-called King.

Have you ever thought one of those impersonators was actually Elvis?

Of course not!  They may remind you of the man, but they could never be the man.  He is dead. 

The king is dead.

We spend our lives imitating others.  Parents, teachers, sports idols, Hollywood stars—the list is endless.  We imitate them.

We imitate.

It’s not all that bad a system.  We say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.  We even understand that we learn more quickly when we have an example to follow.  Imitation to learn isn’t the problem.

The problem is we imitate to live

We pick another human being and model our life on them.  Another flawed, fallen human being.  Disappointment is not just a possibility.  It is inevitable.

Tell your story.  Your.  Story.

It is true if you write, if you paint, if you teach, or even if you perform on a world-wide stage.  When you live your life, simple or elaborate though it may be, make sure it’s your own story being told.

God made only one of me—only one of you.  You are already the best you there is, simply because there isn’t another one in existence.

Be you.  The way He made you.

We don’t need any more Billy Joels.  We don’t need any more Elvis Presleys. 

There is One we are called to follow, though.  It’s interesting that we don’t know more about the physical methods He used in His activities on this earth.  There are no photographs, no videos to imitate.  No expose’ of His taste in homes and shoe fashion will ever be leaked to the Internet. We can’t mimic His hairstyle or vocal idiosyncrasies.

He doesn’t want or need a bunch of impersonators running around, sighing piously and pretending to do the things He did. 

No one buys that act anyway—no more than they buy the Elvis impersonator’s schtick. 

We don’t know all that much about what He did.  I think that is purposeful.  What we do know is who He wasAnd is.

We get to love as He did.  We get to have the same mind that He had.

You still get to be you.  The best you there is. 

Only better.




You are you.  Now, isn’t that pleasant?
(Dr. Seuss ~ American author ~ 1904-1991)


Have this mind in you, which was also in Christ Jesus…
(Philippians 3:5 ~ ASV)


A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.
(John 13:34 ~ NIV)





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



The pond is a large one beside a major roadway.  Each spring, the rains fill it to overflowing, the excess water siphoning over the banks and making broad rivulets down the hillside. That fortunate overflow makes its passage to the river nearby, joining with the rest of the huge torrent as it shoves its way with abandon down the waterway, to join ever wider rivers, eventually making its way inexorably down to the sea.

Fortunate overflow?

How could water be fortunate?  

I suppose one would have to stay around for a few months to understand that point of view.

The pond, for a short time, is a beautiful sight, so much so that some optimistic folks have built park benches and even a dock from which to fish or swim floating on the surface near the bank.  During the months blessed with rain, there is frequent use made of these improvements.  Romantic couples sit by the water’s edge; children splash and paddle in the clear, sparkling liquid that fills the reservoir; even a fisherman or two might stand on the bank, tossing lures under the snags and stones that line the end of the basin.

But, the day comes–sooner than one might think–when no one considers By Berit from Redhill/Surrey, UK (A green pond  Uploaded by russavia) [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commonseven sticking a toe in this pond, much less gazing on it admiringly.  The water which was not blessed to make its way to freedom while still clear and refreshing, has turned a grotesquely green hue and is rapidly covered with a layer which defies any brave soul to violate its surface.

Presently, there are  no admirers, and the once-popular retreat is abandoned, bereft of visible activity of any kind.  The unfortunate water left behind in the rainy season is trapped in a putrid sea of green, stinky scum.

How could this happen?

What disaster has struck this beautiful body of water, to leave it so–lorn of appeal and purpose?

Simple.  The rains have all but ceased, and the water that replenishes the pond comes sporadically, but not in a deluge as before.  When it does fall, none escapes over the side.  

The new supply only goes into the depression in the ground, not out of it.

There is no flow, no moving current.  The biological eco-system produces nutrients, lots of them, upon which the algae feeds, and then it thrives in the bright sunlight.  Soon the green scum is out of control, making the pond useless for any kind of recreation.

A chance conversation with a customer drove my thoughts to that unattractive place again just recently.

“I’ve come to the point in my life where there are no expectations of anything from me,” he declared.

I wasn’t sure what he meant, so I prodded a bit.

He explained, “For most of my life, I’ve been engaged, and active with other people.  I’m getting older now and I no longer have to interact with them.  I get to just enjoy the things I’ve learned and am learning.”

It seems my friend believes he has earned this respite–that his God has given it to him as a reward for hard work.

As he speaks, my mind wanders. All I see in my vision is that scum-covered pond.

Imagine!  Of all the times when he should be sharing, in copious quantities, what he has learned, he chooses to become a hermit.  Satisfied to keep his knowledge and wisdom to himself, he will die happy.  

I say his, but I intend that you understand clearly I don’t believe it is his in any way.

Every single thing we have is a gift; we have deserved none of it!

It not only should be shared, it must be shared.

To keep knowledge and wisdom to ourselves is to become thieves, not once—not twice—but three times.

First, we steal from our Creator, from whom all good things come.  They are His, not ours.

We steal from those waiting downstream for the bounty to overflow.

We steal from ourselves, preventing interaction which keeps us vibrant and active.  

Like the pond, that which once attracted visitors now repels them.  We even suffer personally, as all activity moves deep under the surface.  

Trapped in an eternal cycle, we regurgitate the same old things again and again, never interacting and never sharing.


The word describes smelly, putrid water that is trapped and still.  Likewise, it describes our souls when we move ourselves prematurely out of the current and flow of life.

Give me the white water of the rapids any day!

I want to be rushing to the sea, surrounded by others who are going the same direction.

The torrent of the raging river is alive and dynamic.

The backwater of the stagnant pond is instead, defunct and listless, going nowhere.

I think I’ll keep rolling along.  There is still a bend or two to go around before I reach the ocean.

 The company along the way has been a treat, too.  I hope you’ll keep moving right along with me.  We’ve got lots more to learn together as we go.

Besides, I’m not a fan of scum-covered green water.

I agree wholeheartedly with those immortal words of the late humorist Erma Bombeck:

Green is not a happy color.




If thou would’st have that stream of hard-earn’d knowledge, of Wisdom heaven-born, remain sweet running waters, thou should’st not leave it to become a stagnant pond.

(Sir Frances Bacon~English lawyer/philosopher~1561-1626)

For just as the rain and snow come down from heaven, and do not return there without watering the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, yielding seed for the sower and bread for eating, so will my message be that goes out of my mouth–it won’t return to me empty.  Instead, it will accomplish what I desire, and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.
(Isaiah 55:10,11~ISV)



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

One Day

“Birth date?”

The lady behind the desk has asked the question a thousand and more times before.  This query is just one of the identifiers the clinic uses to ensure they are treating the right patient.

That’s funny.  I’ve also answered the question a thousand times before in my life (give or take a few hundred).  The answer is on the tip of my tongue.

The tip of my tongue.

I hesitate.

“Do you not know your own birth date?”  She is incredulous. 

Everyone knows his own birth date.  Five year old kids know their own birth date. (I’m four and two-thirds years old!)

“No. No, I know my birth date.  It’s just that I’m not sure you have it right in your records.”

Sounds stupid, doesn’t it?  Yeah, it feels stupid, too.  But, here’s my problem: I’m not sure what day I was born.

What’s that?  Check my birth certificate?  Now, you’ve put your finger on the issue.  The date on my birth certificate is wrong.

How do I know it’s wrong?  My mother said it was.  Incidentally, so did my father, but when Mom says it, you know she’s right. 

All my life, I’ve celebrated my birthday on a certain day.  All my life.  Fifty-whatever years.  Every legal paper I’ve ever filed has had that date on it.  My school records, medical records, driving records, financial records, all claim the same date. 

The lady is waiting.  Not patiently.  I suppose most of the folks reading this are feeling the same way.  Not to worry.  I’m going to tie all this up directly. 

I give the lady the same answer I’ve been giving for fifty-something years, and she is satisfied, telling me to take a seat in the waiting room with all the other sick people.  It will be a while before the doctor will actually see me.

Two birth dates.  Who has that?  What kind of mixed up world is it when a guy doesn’t know what day he was born?

My parents tell me one date, the ceremonial birth certificate from the hospital being in agreement, and birthday celebrations are set for a lifetime. 

Then one day, a fewbirthcertificate years into my adult life, the legal birth certificate–the one on file with the great State of Texas–arrives.

The phone call to my parents followed pretty quickly.  “June fifteenth?  The fifteenth?  Not the sixteenth?”

They insist the doctor or nurse must have recorded it wrong.  They both maintain that I was born on Father’s Day the year I arrived.  I’ve checked.  Father’s Day was on the sixteenth that year.  They won’t budge in their insistence.

You want me to choose? 

Well, as much as I love the great State of Texas, I’ll take my Mama any day.  The doctor recorded it wrong.  (My Mama didn’t raise any dummies.)

Still, I wonder if the day will come when someone calls my bluff and demands to see proof of my birth date. 

I sit for a moment and my mind wanders.  So, I’m not quite sure of the date on which I was born.  What am I sure of?

I’m pretty sure I was born; that seems to be a certainty. 

I’m sure the red-headed lady who raised me is really my mother.  Even if the (flawed) birth certificate didn’t proclaim it, the signs are all there.  Physical features which can’t be hidden. Hands with long thin fingers, now beginning to twist at the knuckles just like hers, as arthritis slowly begins to take its toll.  Physical and character traits all prove my maternal heritage.

The same is true of my father, the shape of his nose clearly visible in the middle of my own face.  The same heavy, hooded eyelids cover my eyes, forcing me to wrinkle my forehead as I open them widely enough to see where I am going.  The medical issues which have troubled him for decades now visit me with regularity.

My lineage and family ties are settled issues of record.  There can be no doubt who I belong to.

So, I celebrate my birthday on a day which may or may not be the actual date upon which I made my entry into this world.  Our Savior has the same problem, so I’m in good company there.

What difference does the date make?

What difference indeed? 

I’ve talked with a number of people over the years about their faith.  Every once in a while, the subject of when they came to know the Savior comes up.  Answers vary greatly, from the exact hour and minute, to one I used to have a problem with:  I think I’ve always believed.

Without exception, all profess to believe completely today.  I accept their testimony of the facts. 

Not all would agree with me.

Some would tell you there must be a clear record of the time you came to God in belief and acceptance of His gift of grace.  I would suggest that you ignore such talk.

Do you need to know clearly Whom you believe in?  Absolutely!

Whom.  Not when

I know I’m part of the Family.  I know who my Father is.

It’s nice when someone notices the Family resemblance, too.

There is a record book.  No clerical errors there.

My name’s written in it.

The book is still open for new entries.





The Lord writes in the census book of the nations, “This one was born there.”
(Psalm 87:6 ~ NET Bible)


But I know Whom I have believed, and am persuaded that He is able
To keep that which I’ve committed unto Him against that day.
(I Know Whom I Have Believed ~ Daniel W Whittle ~ American lyricist/evangelist)





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

The First Step

I don’t believe that dreams are prophecies.

Well, now that I’ve ostracized a good number of folks, let me qualify the statement.  When I say dreams, I mean the normal sort.  You know–the ones we have when we lie down to sleep at night.  The ones made more vivid by that extra round of extra spicy Buffalo wings you had at dinner.  Or, the scary movie which was splashed across the television screen as you sat and dozed in your easy chair.

It doesn’t mean dreams aren’t meaningful.  They often are.  When we sleep, our minds go where they will, no longer guided and controlled by our discipline and resolve.  Things we already know about ourselves, but aren’t willing to think or talk about when awake, somehow can be revealed as images in our sleep.

I usually can’t remember what I dream about. 

Usually.  But, not last night.

Even before I was completely asleep, in the wee hours of this morning, I lay in bed and saw myself standing on the edge.  No, not the edge of a cliff, although I have seen that image in my head before, both in real life and in dreams.

The edge I stood upon was that of a circular hole in the floor beneath me.  The hole was large enough for a body to fit through comfortably.  Funny thing, I could look down the hole and see that it was lined with a white pipe, almost like PVC.

I could only see about ten feet down the pipe and then it curved out of sight.  Even in my half-awake state, I could feel my heart racing.  In my dream, I backed away from the pipe.  Then, drawn by some irresistible urge, I eased forward step by terrified step to peer downward once more.

I really dislike heights.  Heights without handrails, that is.  Give me a good grip on a handrail and I’ll look down from the highest cliff or the highest tower you could imagine.  There was no handrail here.

It was just a hole.  A hole that led somewhere–I couldn’t tell you where.

I knew it was a dream.  I knew it.  You know how your mind works.  It seems real, but you know it can’t be.  And besides, you’re lying in bed with the fan blowing on you.

It’s only a dream.  Jump!  What could happen?

No.  Wait!  What’s down around that curve?  You have no idea what’s down there! 

What if there’s no more to it than what you can see and it drops you into a bottomless pit (I hear those are real common in dreams)?  You’ll fall screaming forever.  All because you jumped into a hole you knew nothing about.

I considered the issues.  Really. 

In my dream. 

I wondered–Is this the only way I’ll ever really make the transition from restless dreams to deep sleep?  I have to trust myself to this tube that goes who-knows-where without any more information.  If you think about it, we do it every night.

Mr. Tolkien talks about roads that sweep you off your feet to foreign lands.  Sleep can do that too.  Really.

Perhaps the mystery slide is representative of a major decision which I need to make.  Life goals stand ready to be grasped, if only I’ll trust myself to the unknown depths.  I’ll never get there if I don’t take the plunge.

Decision time.  What will I do?

I take one last downward look and–I swing my legs over the side of the bed and go downstairs to get a drink.  When I return ten minutes later, the slide is no longer to be found and I sleep.

Ah, wonderful sleep.

After attending church this morning, I came home to help the Lovely Lady prepare our traditional Sunday Dinner.  The feast for family and friends has come to be a high point of our week.  Food, discussions–escalating to disputes and then diminishing back to agreeable differences, jokes, and lovely memory-making are the stuff these times are made of.

There is a shadow over my memory of today’s feast. 

As I helped prepare the table, my brother sent me a text.  I wasn’t ready to read it yet.

“He doesn’t feel like she has a lot of time left.”

He is my Dad.  She is my Mom.

Tears came to my eyes without warning.  Even as I write these words, they come again.

Through my tears, I see that hole from my dream again.

I’m beginning to grasp it now.

skycaliberwaterslideYou’ve seen them before, haven’t you?  Extreme water slides.  Thrill seekers flock to them every summer.  The drop in altitude is what they love–that quick plunge, setting them free from gravity for just a fraction of a moment, long enough to wonder if they’ll ever stop in time to avoid disaster.

They know they will.  It’s been safety tested.  Why, they even climbed the tower right beside the tube, exclaiming all the while about where each twist and turn will take place.  Pointing to the plastic pipe right beside them soaring up into the sky above, they know just where it starts and where it will end.

They know.  And they’re happy to take the plunge.

Because they know.

The red-headed lady who raised me has been climbing for a good many years now.  She’s had lots of company along the way, but there is just One who has always been there.  Always.

The day is coming.  Soon, it seems.  No one can know for sure.

I can just see Him standing there smiling, asking her if she’s ready.  I don’t know if she’ll be frightened, like I was in my dream.  But, I do know her answer will be in the affirmative.

She’s ready.

He’ll wrap His strong arms close around her and they’ll take the first step together.  She’s never done this before.

But, He has.

And, He knows.




For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.
(1 Timothy 1:7 ~ KJV)


I won’t have to cross Jordan alone
Jesus died for my sins to atone
In the darkness I see he’ll be waiting for me
I won’t have to cross Jordan alone
I won’t have to cross Jordan alone…
(I Won’t Have To Cross Jordan Alone ~ Thomas Ramsey ~ American songwriter)


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

Lather, Rinse, Repeat

“How many times a day do you sweep your kitchen floor?”

The question was asked, ostensibly as a query in an informal poll, by my funny friend on her Facebook page the other day.  And, by funny, I mean funny ha-ha, not funny weird.  Well, maybe funny weird a little, but mostly funny ha-ha.

The question triggered a thought (again) that has been bothering me for many years.   Maybe bothering isn’t the right word.  I think perhaps the correct term would be frustrating.  Because it certainly is.  Frustrating, I mean.

Why is it that some jobs are never done?  Even when you’ve done them?

Those of my readers who do housework will understand perfectly.  Laundry, dishes, housecleaning, meal preparation–the list is endless.  And repetitious beyond belief.

My own list, though somewhat less imposing, has the same challenge.  Tasks done today must be done again tomorrow.  Or next week.  Or next year.  It matters not.  They must be done again.

And again.

The lawn needs to be mowed?  Yep–I’ll have to do it again next week.  Car needs to be washed?  It’ll rain tomorrow and I’ll have to do it again.  Time to paint the eaves?  What, again?  I just did that ten years ago!

The problem with life is that it’s so daily.

I want to be able to assign the quote to a certain person, but I think it has been spoken aloud so often by now that Anonymous will have to do.  Still, the truth is, we all face the repetition of daily life–today, tomorrow, the day after, and the day after that.

I hate the dailies.  Really.  What’s the point?  They’ll just have to be done again.


We call it drudgery.  Difficult work to do.  Work that must be done repeatedly.  Day after day.

I was amused as I searched for the definition of drudgery.  I noticed a thesaurus listing which equated the word with an idiom Christians use frequently–at least in our discussions of fallen man:

By the sweat of one’s brow.

And the Creator said to His creation, “In drudgery shall you earn the food you will eat, until you return to the dust from which you came.”

Quite the depressing subject, no?  Do you get the idea that I’m not just talking about all the physical, menial tasks I’ve mentioned above? 

I’m not.

thestruggleI want to talk for a minute (maybe a little more than that) about what I’m doing right now. 

At this moment, I’m sitting in a dimly lit room with soft music playing, coffee cup at hand.  No, I’m not all that comfy.  The hard wood chair has a pad where it makes contact with my sitting-down parts.  No place else.  There is no plush rug to sink my feet into.  In fact, my feet have to stay corralled under the wooden desk, sharing the already narrow space with a computer tower.

I do this most nights.  I’m not playing games, not browsing the Interwebs, nor even answering correspondence from friends.

I come and sit here because I have to.  For hours, almost without moving, at times.

I have to.

Writing isn’t something I fell in love with; it isn’t a path to fame and fortune.  It’s not even an activity I chose to do.  Well, in a way, it is. 

I choose to be obedient to the assignment.

I know there are many writers who will disagree with me.  I know of several who believe that every word they write is given to them from God.  That’s not the gift I’ve been given.

The gift I have been given is a drive to write, a need to communicate God’s love through the printed words.  The gift came from God.  I have to write.

You want to know my problem with that? 

The words don’t just fall from heaven onto my desk. 

The nights I have plopped down in my hard wooden desk chair and had an entire essay flow like honey from my fingers, I can count on those sticky fingers.

It’s a struggle.  A fight.  On this emotional battlefield, I cry and I scream, all the while wondering if I’ll ever write another lucid sentence.  From many of those battles, I’ve crept silently home, defeated.  I lie in my bed, sleeplessly gazing at the ceiling and promising myself that in the morning I’ll break the news to the Lovely Lady that I’m finished. Washed up.

To my shame, from some of those battles, I have simply turned to my keyboard and slapped out enough letters and symbols to weave together the words which make up another empty and useless essay.  My victims will read it and wonder what the crazy man was getting at this time.  It’s still defeat.

The result is the same as before: no sleep, no rest in my spirit, an overwhelming sense of disappointment at my failure to achieve the purpose.

Funny.  My restless night notwithstanding, the next nights nearly always find me back here.  The hard chair is almost welcoming by now, the soft light calming, the beautiful music helping to keep the resolve in my soul firm and unyielding.  Regardless of the defeats that have come on this battlefield, the gift demands my attendance.

Why do writers write? 

You might as well ask why my friend, Ms. Barb, bakes rolls for her friends.  Or, question why, in my town, Pastor Wayne builds ramps in front of the houses of the lame and the aged.  Inquire about what drove my friends in Houston to adopt a child with lifelong needs, issues which will demand their attention from now until they no longer have the physical or mental strength to fulfill them.

God gives good gifts.  The Teacher said it.  If your child asks for food will you give him/her a rock?  How much more–there can be no question–how much more then, will your Heavenly Father give good gifts to His children?

Good gifts.

There are days when it feels more like a noose around the neck. 

Ask my friends in Houston.  Ask Ms. Barb–okay, don’t ask her.  She’ll never admit it.  Still, I wonder if sometimes, just sometimes, it doesn’t take all she has inside to muster up the energy.

Night after night, I struggle with my stewardship of this gift.  It’s not a word we use much, is it?  Steward.  The word implies servitude–the administration of things which will never completely belong to us. 

It is what we are if we follow Him.  Servants.  Stewards.

By choice.The_Gift

We give back the gift to the Giver.  Only, we have taken the time and made the effort to make the gift, which was appropriate and necessary for us, priceless and beautiful for the King of all Creation.

Drudgery?  Sweat of our brow?  Yes, in a way.  We labor at it, without doubt.

I struggle with tenses and punctuation, fight with malapropisms, wrestling the sentences into order, night after night.  And still, the next morning, I await the emails from the Lovely Lady bearing the bad news.  A comma placed incorrectly, fuzzy antecedents, abused hyphens–all are grist for her mill, and I get a steady diet of them.

It’s hard work

No–these words don’t proceed straight from the mouth and heart of God.  They are filtered through this bumbling and inefficient scribe.  There will always be room for improvement. 

In anticipation of this essay, I shared a couple of thoughts with my online friends earlier this week.  It’s only drudgery if there is no purpose, I suggested to them. 

I have a purpose

So does Ms. Barb.  And Pastor Wayne.  And my friends in Houston.  So does every single one of us who has also been given one or more of those good gifts.  I suspect that includes most of those brave souls who have read thus far in this lengthy piece.

So.  What happens with the gift now? 

Often for a lifetime, and then again, sometimes only for a season, He gives good gifts.  And, when He sees our faithfulness in using that gift, He usually gives bigger gifts.

Bigger jobs, you ask?

Yeah, they’re the same thing.

Life is so daily

He made the days, too.  Gifts as well.  Seven in a week.  Three hundred sixty-five of them in a year’s time.

So we’d have more chances to get better at being faithful stewards.

I’m just wondering how I’m going to find time to write all the thank-you notes for the gifts–what with washing the car, sweeping the floor, painting the trim, and…






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)


Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.
(1 Corinthians 15:58 ~ NIV)








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


I’ve been ill again.  I don’t say that to evoke your sympathy.  It’s not a life-threatening illness.  At least, I don’t think it is.  Asthmatic bronchitis is not uncommon and there are any number of effective treatments for it.

Feeling better today, I told the Lovely Lady I think I’ll live.  Immediately, I remembered what the ultimate end of all mankind will be, and I added the phrase at least, until I die.

She was not amused.  Of course, she needs me well, so she can get back to her regular work schedule of only sixty hours a week.  I have left her in the lurch.  She’s not amused–I’m not happy.

I’m going to admit something I may regret later.  While I understand that my illness is quite treatable and am even now waiting for medication to effect its curative function, I confess that I get a little discouraged (and maybe a little angry) while I’m waiting. 

In the dark and by myself, I feel helpless.  You see, I’ve prayed that I’ll be free from this particular thorn in the flesh on numerous occasions over the years, but still it knocks me down periodically. 

I wonder why God doesn’t hear me.

Where are you God?

I would have shouted the words, had I the breath to do so today, but satisfied myself with whimpering them plaintively toward the ceiling in the den.

There was no answer.

He’s not here, is He? 

I asked myself the question and then shuddered at the implications.

Pushing up from my recliner, I went up the steps to the dining room.  The result was the same there.  Nothing.  Living Room–Kitchen?  Still nothing.

It’s a beautiful home, even if it is small.  Surely, God would want to live in such an attractive abode.  But, I’m pretty sure I never heard Him answer from the walls of any of those rooms.

I went back to my chair and flopped down, gasping a little. 

Disappointed, I sat for a moment.  Only a moment.  It seemed to be just a little brighter in the room as I considered the glimmer of truth which was gradually coming to my consciousness. 

Not too many years ago I went to an event, described as a house blessing, for some close friends.  Their denomination allows for such things, reading scripture, then blessing each room in turn, before calling for God’s presence in the home.  I expected to feel different when I left.  I didn’t.

I remember thinking that’s not how it works

I also remember some friends on the other end of the spectrum of faith who had someone come in and do a service to cast out the evil spirits from their home.  The assumption was, again, that God would come and fill that space, recently vacated by the bad things.

I wasn’t there.  I’m not going to get into an argument about exorcism, nor even about blessing houses.

I just know what is truth.  Straight from Him.


God doesn’t live in buildings.  Why would he want to inhabit dead, inanimate things made of brick, and wood, and steel?

Ah.  Now you know what that glimmer bursting into flame earlier was, don’t you?

God lives in His people.  Weak–strong.  Old–young.  Women–men.

Inside this weak, sick man, gasping for breath on a warm, summer day, the Creator has taken up His abode. 

Inside the old man down the street from me, overtaken by blindness, God sees clearly exactly what he needs. 

In the soul of my friend, awaiting word from her oncologist giving her the bad/good news about the result of her latest PET scan, He is not surprised nor panicked.  He sees all paths and knows all ends. 

And, He lives inside of us.

Do you think He doesn’t feel the despair? 

Do you assume He doesn’t understand my anger?

Do you suppose He doesn’t hear the frightened petitions? 

By bigbirdz (Flickr: Prayer: Mother and Daughter) [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia CommonsWould you imagine He is unmoved by our cries?

He lives in us!

So.  I’m done yelling at the ceiling.

Now, I begin to understand that song we used to sing when we were children.  Maybe it’s time to whisper our prayers to Him again.

Just a whisper.

Inside voice will work just fine.




Give me yourself and in exchange I will give you Myself. My will, shall become your will. My heart, shall become your heart.
(from Mere Christianity ~ C.S. Lewis ~ Irish born teacher/author ~ 1898-1963)



Whisper a prayer in the morning.
Whisper a prayer at noon.
Whisper a prayer in the evening,
To keep your heart in tune.



Yet the Most High does not dwell in houses made by hands…
(Acts 7:48a ~ ESV)





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