Who’s Gonna Know?

It wasn’t a great night to be working on guitars.

In almost the same manner as I speak to the Lovely Lady most nights when I go out to exercise, my last words as I headed to a late night work session at the music store recently were, “I hate this!”

I hate this.

This was a job which had to be completed that night.  The beautiful vintage guitar had been brought in a couple of weeks before.  It could be put off no longer.

“You’ll need to put in a new selector switch,” were the words the owner said nonchalantly.

I had tried everything I knew to nurse the old switch back to working condition over the last week, but it was to no avail.  I would have to install a new one.  An easy job. Physically, at least.  Not so, the emotional cost.

The fifty-year-old Fender Telecaster awaited my ministrations.  I would do 66telebutcherywhat must be done. 

There must be a law against such things: New cloth patches on old robesnew wine in old wineskinsBe not unequally yoked…

My heart ached as I desoldered and then reattached the wires to the new 3-way switch.

The repair completed, I attempted to move to my next job, but my heart just wasn’t in it. 

This was a beautiful, modern, American-made guitar, and I merely needed to install a new pickup cover.  Again, an easy job, but somehow in the process, I broke a wire.  I never knew that until later, but instead, completed the installation and reassembled the instrument.  I polished the chrome cover, noticing the other metal parts had fingerprints on them.  Almost without thinking, I cleaned the entire instrument until it virtually gleamed under the lights of my workbench.  It was perfect!  What a great looking instrument!

Then I remembered I hadn’t yet checked the function, so I plugged the beautiful guitar into a nearby amplifier, thinking I might still have to make a minor adjustment or two.

No sound came.  None.

I had to completely disassemble the guitar once more, after which I searched for the culprit, finally finding the broken wire.  It was a tiny thing, not much larger than a human hair.

Two and a half thousands of an inch in diameter!  I had nicked it while securing the new cover.  Nicked it, yet it was completely useless in that condition.

I made the repair and moved on.  Covering the same ground I had already done, the instrument was put back together and tested, coming through with flying colors this time.  Polishing it again, I set it down into the case at my feet.

I breathed a sigh of relief.  Under my breath, I said (audibly), “Good.  He’ll never know what I did.”

I went home and went to bed.

I slept like I hadn’t seen a bed in a week.  No dreams.  No tossing or turning.

But, when the alarm clock went off the next morning, the first thought in my mind—the very first one— was of that tiny wire and the statement I had made as I placed the guitar back in its case.

He’ll never know…

He wouldn’t. 

I would.

I told him the whole story when he came to pick up his guitar.  He smiled and told me he’ll know who to blame when it stops working in about twenty years.  When he left, he left behind his good will and a thirty dollar tip.

He would have left the tip whether I had told him about the gaff or not.  I don’t think I could ever enjoy using that money if I had not told him the truth.  Lies have a funny way of disrupting your thoughts at the strangest times.

I have spent a lifetime listening to little lies—no—tiny lies.  I’ve even been encouraged to aid and abet in their perpetration.  Indeed, I have told my share of them.

No honey, I’m just at the grocery store picking up the bread you asked me to get.

You don’t have to charge any tax.  Just take the cash; I don’t need a receipt.

No, nobody played it.  It’s still brand new.

Miniscule lies.  No one hurt. Where’s the harm?

I wonder—How big a lie does it take to destroy trust?  How bad a falsehood may be told before a man is no longer considered honest?  How egregious does the untruth have to be to do away with integrity?

A wire, hardly bigger than a human hair, breaks and the entire guitar will not function.  The tiniest wire in the entire instrument.  If any of the other wires, ten times the diameter of that one, had broken, the result could not have been any worse.

A lie told hurts no one worse than it does the one from whose mouth it proceeds.  For the tiniest of lies, our integrity is forfeit, our trustworthiness thrown to the wind.

On the exterior the musical instrument was perfect, lacking nothing.  Hiding deep inside the heart of that fine guitar was one tiny defect.

We’re not so different.

It just takes one.




The Lord abhors a person who lies, but those who deal truthfully are his delight.
(Proverbs 12:22 ~ NET Bible)

One lie has the power to tarnish a thousand truths.
(Al David ~ American author)






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

Making The First Move

As they did last night, the skies have opened up and are raining down their gloominess above my head.  And, as it did last night, my heart responds in kind.

I often sit late into the night and put into words what my heart feels, asking the reader to feel it as well—the tears, the pain, the emptiness—eventually reaching a conclusion before I stop writing—a conclusion which shares what my head tells me.

The conclusion is what I want to feel, what I want to experience.

Sometimes what I want is not what I get, and vice versa. 

I suggested, when last I wrote, that it was time to turn the corner and move on in the new direction.  Against my better judgment, and disregarding my fears, I would move on. 

Towards home.

Yet here I sit, in the turn lane still.  My arm is raised, signaling my intent.  My feet are glued to the pavement, with no response to the instructions from my brain.  The traffic lights overhead have cycled endlessly; the motorists behind me, tiring of blowing their horns, are going around this idiot refusing to move.

You’ve been here too, haven’t you?

So, here we sit, rain falling around us and inside of us.  It’s dark out here, as well.  How do we start again?

Perhaps, home is a goal too lofty, and still so very far away.  I wonder—could we just push the pedals once? 

Then, we’ll see what comes next.

Just once.



Lead, Kindly Light, amid the encircling gloom,
          Lead Thou me on!
The night is dark, and I am far from home—
          Lead Thou me on!
Keep Thou my feet; I do not ask to see
The distant scene, —one step enough for me.

I was not ever thus, nor pray’d that Thou
          Shouldst lead me on.
I lov’d to choose and see my path; but now
          Lead Thou me on!
I lov’d the garish day, and spite of fears,
Pride rul’d my will; remember not past years.

So long Thy power hath blessed me, sure it still
          Will lead me on,
O’er moor and fen, o’er crag and torrent, till
          The night is gone;
And with the morn those angel faces smile
Which I have lov’d long since and lost awhile.

(John Henry Newman ~ British Roman Catholic Cardinal ~ 1801-1890)







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


I’ve begun to map out my bicycle rides a little more carefully.

Oh, I remember how I used to laugh at my riding friends who would explain how that highway has too many patches, or there are a few too many hills to follow this road.

Wimps!  Why do you ride if you’re afraid?  What’s a little hill to a rider?  Who’s concerned about a bump or two?

Odd.  I’m still not much worried about the bumps or the hills.  No. I can dodge potholes with the best of them.  And, I’m learning how to trim the gears on the forty-year-old ten-speed well enough to climb most of the hills I encounter along the way.  Most of them.

So why would I be careful about planning my rides?  You’ll laugh.

I hate hand signals.

It’s the lane changes and turns that get me now.  Turning left?  Left arm straight out, fingers together, warning approaching traffic (both front and rear) that the lightweight bicycle is about to brave the crossing of a lane or two of oncoming cars.  Right turn?  No, not the right arm, but again the left—this time straight out from the shoulder with a right angle at the elbow aiming upwards, still with the fingers together, pointing to the sky.

I hear the laughter already.  What could be hard about that?

If you had seen the number of people who wave back at my right-hand turn signal, thinking I’m just being friendly, you’d laugh even more.  But the icing on the cake—the epitome of turn-signal blunders—was a left turn I made recently across a busy four-lane highway which has a turn lane in the center.

I rode north about half a mile along the heavily traveled state highway, staying as close to the right hand side of the shoulder as possible.  Carefully, glancing over my left shoulder repeatedly as I neared the intersection at which I was turning to the west, I stuck my left arm straight out and crossed both lanes of northbound traffic.  Riding on in the center lane to my turning point, I kept my arm out at the ninety-degree angle to my body to warn the oncoming traffic of my intentions.  It worked beyond my wildest dreams.

I was twenty feet away from the corner when I realized the next car coming toward me was a sheriff’s deputy.  He saw my arm stuck straight out and stood on his brakes, stopping short in the southbound lane, turning on the blue flashing lights in the light bar atop his vehicle.

He thought I was waving him down! 

The traffic behind him, as well as the cars coming up behind me, all stopped as I flew across the lanes and around the corner.  How embarrassing!  When the officer saw I was merely turning, he sheepishly turned off the lights and went on his way.

I didn’t look back either, but pedaled on down the little country road as fast as my tired legs could spin the wheels.

I am realizing something as I grow older.  I don’t enjoy changing directions.  For one thing, I have to take a hand off the handlebars, a decidedly tricky feat for me as my balance erodes and confidence fades.

I must also turn off the road on which I’m riding, usually a familiar route.  I like familiar routes, roads mostly chosen for ease of travel and lack of traffic.

Who knows what lies around the corner?

Often a new route leads steeply uphill—then again, sometimes just as steeply downhill, reminding me that another hill to climb will be in my path on the road back home. Just when I’ll be tired and running out of enthusiasm.

sunset-on-the-curving-roadAround curves, dodging stray dogs and potholes, the thought of unfamiliar terrain overwhelms and yes, sometimes frightens.

I don’t like transitions.

Besides how poorly I execute the maneuvers, I abhor the unknown.

During this last week, I’ve been approaching one of those turns.  As it does eventually, life has progressed to the point at which I’ve lost the first member of my nuclear family.  Things are going to change.  Again.

The status quo, the reality I have lived with for nearly sixty years, has come to an end, and my arm is out—signalling a change in direction.  I don’t want to make this turn.

We all, without exception, face these transitions.  Some are more adept at making the turn—even better at signalling their intention.  No one will mistake their turn signal for a plea for help.

Change is coming.  But then, it always has done that.  The difference is that there will be no turning around from these changes.

Realization hits and I see clearly that I actually don’t want to turn around.  This is not some bicycle ride—out a few miles and then back home.

No.  I’m headed on the home lap right now.

Home is out there ahead of me.

Around one of those corners.

I’ve been signaling this turn long enough.

Time to move on through the intersection.

I can’t get home just sitting here.



Hear my prayer, O Lord! Listen to my cries for help! Don’t ignore my tears. For I am your guest—a traveler passing through, as my ancestors were before me.
(Psalm 39:12 ~NLT)



This world is not my home, I’m just a’passin’ through.
My treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue.
The angels beckon me from heaven’s open door,
And I can’t feel at home in this world anymore.
(Albert Brumley ~ American songwriter ~ 1905-1977)





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

Bedpans and Handkerchiefs

Flowers for my heart with tender words
And a gentle touch that says so much
This is how I’ve heard that love should always be. *

I’ve been thinking about love recently.  You may be surprised at what I’ve decided.

Love isn’t flowers, isn’t a close embrace, isn’t sweet nothings whispered into an ear as you dance in the dark.  And, it certainly isn’t the thousand dollar diamond necklace slipped around the throat of the picture-perfect beauty queen primping in the mirror before slinking out to a romantic dinner for two.

Our culture lies.

It lies every time an ad suggests that all you need to keep your mate’s love is some pretty new bauble.  It lies with each new revelation of ways to keep love fresh in some exotic destination or with an amazing new scent.

I want some new images to exemplify love.

How about a toilet seat?  Either up or down will do.  Love is him, putting it down for her.  It’s her, ignoring the fact that it never gets put down.

Perhaps it could be black olives.  He loves them, so she includes them in her recipes.  She hates them, so he removes them from the frozen pizza before it goes in the oven.

The list could go on, including not a single item that Hallmark could market.  The old toothbrush he used to clean up that ugly old vase that she bought at the second-hand store.  The spool of thread she emptied to mend his favorite old work coveralls.  The ice scraper he uses on frosty mornings, so she doesn’t have to stand out in the cold and do it herself.

In recent years, I have found some new items that illustrate love.  You don’t want to hear about them.  They are uncouth and will make you say the word gross as you see them in print.  And that’s a shame. Because, you see, the other lie that our culture tells is that your mate will always be attractive and will always be healthy.

He won’t.  She won’t.

The bedpan and the urinal spring to mind.  Bodily functions become the concern of the one who loves.  Embarrassment and squeamishness are abandoned as love does, not what it wishes, but what it must.

Not so uncouth, but still not an attractive thought, the fork and spoon push their way into the symbolism, as one mate must feed another.  The memory of feeding the cake to each other at the wedding comes back with a rush, and we realize that it is a promise we will keep.

I believe that the one item I would chose to symbolize love most is nothing more than a simple handkerchief.

These cloth relics of the past have fallen out of fashion–replaced by the paper tissues we use and crumple into the trash by the thousands.  I still like to have one in my back pocket and would be lost without it.

With the handkerchief we clean the hands of children, and yes, wipe their noses too.  I mop my forehead when the perspiration beads and threatens to run down my face.  But, all through my life the one thing I have used that square bit of cloth for, more than any other use, has been to wipe away the tears that have come.

When puppy dogs died suddenly, the tears from the children’s eyes were soaked up—those from my own, as well.  When the frustrations of financial want were too much, the handkerchief once again dabbed away the tears of fear for the future.

I have seen the tears of spouses as they turned away from the hospital bed their lover lay upon, perhaps for the last time.  Other tears have been wiped away as conversations led to the realization that mental faculties were failing, and then again as elderly parents departed from this world to a better place.

Tears fall.  Sometimes, they are tears of happiness.  More often, as life progresses, they are tears of worry and of sorrow, but always, they are tears of love.

Tears fall.  And we wipe them away.  For each other.

Tears fall.  And we stay.




Life is like an onion; you peel it off one layer at a time, and sometimes you weep.
(Carl Sandburg ~ American writer/poet ~ 1878-1967)

He will wipe every tear from their eyes.
(Revelation 21:4 ~ NIV)


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


* from How Love Should Be by Jeremy Michael Lubbock ~ American singer/songwriter

Flying Hotdogs

Baseball and hotdogs. 

What could be better on a hot summer evening?  If there is a more archetypical activity for rural America in July, I don’t know what it would be.

The evening was wonderful!  The Lovely Lady’s sister is in town with her two daughters and we headed to the ballpark to take in a semi-professional baseball game.  To make things even better, it was one dollar hotdog night.

HotdogSeriously!  Only a dollar for each one of those mystery-meat tube steaks, encased in a white bread bun and loaded with whatever condiment one could care to splat on from the self-service pump station.  Mustard, ketchup, mayo, even a dollop of sweet pickle relish, were yours for the effort of holding the semi-nutritious, but unquestionably delicious, frank-on-a-bun under the nozzle and taking your chances on the quantity of material which would exit the opening.

Oh man!  What  a treat!  The hometown team went ahead by three runs in the first inning and I had three hotdogs in my hand.  Three!  Well, to be completely accurate, they were in my hand for a very small portion of that inning.  They spent the rest of it inside of me.  Oh, but was it satisfying!

Later in the evening, we would get dessert.  Ice cream cones for the grown-ups, dipping dots (whatever those are) for the kids.

Everything was washed down with pure water.

What a meal!  What ambiance in our dining area!  We yelled—we clapped—we danced when the jumbo screen told us to—we even yelled at the umpire at least once.  Hey.  It’s a ball game.

I have paid over a hundred dollars for a meal which was no finer than the one just described.  A meal I enjoyed slightly less than those hotdogs and ice cream.  Some things aren’t about the money.

The little three-year old beside me had a mitt on his hand for the first five innings, waiting for a foul ball or for a player to toss him a ball between innings.  When he finally got one tossed up to him, the kid was beyond ecstatic, clutching his treasure in his little glove with a death grip.  His father pretended to be unhappy, suggesting that he would have to play catch with the tyke until all hours of the night, but you could tell he was almost as happy as his son.

Besides the balls, we saw tee-shirts being thrown to the crowd at different times.  None came our way, but it was fun to see the missiles, wrapped tightly for their journey, rocketed to their targets.  One was even flung all the way from the top of the dugout into the upper deck, where a kid hung over the rail, begging for a prize.

We danced the chicken dance; we shouted Charge! at the appropriate moment in the music; we even sang Take Me Out to the Ball Game during the seventh inning stretch.

We got to root, root, root for the home team.  They even won, so we didn’t think it a shame at all.

What a great evening!

There was one moment though—one moment—when the the joy of celebrating the traditions which millions live out every baseball season was overcome by a different sensation:

Noticing a stir in the crowd over a section or two from where we sat, we turned to look.  A couple of men had walked down the steps of the bleachers and were shouting out something.  It wasn’t all that odd to hear the word at a ballgame.

“Hotdogs!  Hotdogs!”

What happened next was fun, for a minute.  After that it was just a little weird, almost surreal.  With one man handing the wrapped hotdogs to the other, they began giving the food away—by tossing it to the audience nearby.  Hotdogs swaddled in foil wrap went this way and that as folks held up their hands for their share.

Where the situation turned strange was the point at which people further away in the crowd, some right next to us, started calling out and holding up their hands for the free food.  Who doesn’t want free hotdogs?

The man heaved one our way.  Halfway over the crowd, the wrapping separated from the food.  A little farther on, the bun separated from the sausage inside.  When the food arrived at our general location, it was nothing but the wiener.

He tried several more times, with no better success.  By this time, half of us were laughing.  No one wanted the portion of the food which reached its target, so it was wasted completely.

Seeing the problem, the man left his post, waving at the folks next to us to wait.  Climbing the steps, he made the trek over to stand at the entrance to our section, fifteen or so rows above us.

He made the effort again.  Nope.  The food left the wrapper just as it arrived at its target, leaving the hungry fan grasping a piece of paper, but no food.

He gave up—we thought.

Everyone turned back to the game, but I couldn’t shake the strange feeling.  What had just happened?  Flying food at a baseball game?  How ridiculous is that?

I have never experienced anything quite as weird as seeing those naked hotdogs sailing through the air.  My guess is the cleanup crew is in for a surprise tonight, too.

Moments later, without any ado and without any showmanship, the man was standing behind their chairs.  Placing a wrapped hotdog into the hand of each of the folks who had requested one, he smiled and, turning, headed back up the grandstand to the top and disappeared.

As the home team made the last out, we stood to give them one last round of applause.  Leaving the stadium, we all declared the evening a great success.

No one spoke of the flying food.  I’m still not sure what to think.

Anyone who reads my essays with regularity will know that there is a lesson to be learned from the flying food.  I’m almost afraid to make the point.  I’ve never used hotdogs as an object lesson before.

When we do things in a good and orderly manner, we usually see the results of our labor.

The baseball tossed into the stands brought a broad smile to the little tyke, giving him a memento to treasure for a long time. 

The kid hanging over the railing on the top deck will wear his tee-shirt with pride.

Those items were intended to be delivered from a long distance, packaged for the journey.  The cover on the baseball, glued and stitched on, ensures that it will arrive intact, as does the paper tape with which the shirts were bound.

Not so, the food.

The food was made to be passed from one hand to another, the one-on-one transaction guaranteeing the entire package is obtained. Nothing is lost in this arrangement, all the benefit is realized.

Shortcuts make long delays.  So says Mr. Tolkien.  Personally, I think often the result is utter failure.

I won’t belabor the point.  Some things make the long journey between points well—money, gifts, merchandise, sometimes even flowers.

Other things need to be delivered in person—good news, bad news, apologies, declarations of love.  The reader will, no doubt, be able to add any number of items to this list.

As much as I employ the medium of communication from afar, I realize it is grossly inadequate to convey with clarity all that needs to be understood.  Often, what we’re left with is misunderstanding and blank spaces.

Words gone amiss, communicated from afar.

Perhaps, there is a reason, our Savior said Go.  Not transmit.  Not throw.


Words spoken between individuals, with a personal connection, are much more likely to be understood with clarity than a message sent from a distance.

Is there a place for media in giving the good news?  Sure there is.  Paul, the Apostle, sent numerous missives with messages for folks.  But, whenever the opportunity came, he traveled to where they were.

He went.  We need to do the same.

No more flying hotdogs.

Good food—given at the right time, every part intact.

We deliver.





If God’s love is for anybody anywhere, it’s for everybody everywhere.
(Edward Lawlor ~ Nazarene minister/general superintendent ~ 1907-1987)

For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you—
(Paul ~ Romans 1:11 ~ ESV)




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

Well, I’m Here

Quiet, I sit and ponder, how in the dark, sacred night my thoughts run rather more to the profane than the sacred. 

I wrote earlier today about  being thankful for gifts; a friend suggested just moments ago that it’s time to be thankful, and not a time for making more requests.

Oh, how I want to sit here in the silence and just rest, coming away from the noise and ado, as the Teacher implored His followers to do. 

Do you bear a heavy burden?  I will give you rest.  Just come.

Well, I’m here. 

I’m here, but I don’t feel very rested.  The noise in my brain is still playing at full volume—reminders of missed deadlines—accusations of things I have promised and have not done. My head spins with the dissonance.

Yesterday, I said no to a request from a friend.  Today, the answer is still no, but my heart begins to push back against my head, arguing the merits of acquiescing.  Guilt, and fear that the opportunity may never come again, play havoc with my spirit. 

Loved ones are ill, one near death, and I resist the tears of sadness that threaten to overflow.  Others need help, but won’t accept what is offered and I hold back tears of frustration at their stubbornness. 

I sit in the dark and quiet of the night with the maelstrom spinning out of control inside of me.  Maybe this isn’t what He meant when He said to come away.

Perhaps it is not a physical place He calls us to.  Perhaps, His rest also comes in the middle of the busy marketplace, in the traffic jam on the freeway, in the heat of a disagreement with a colleague, or spouse, or parent.

Perhaps the quiet place is not a room we can manipulate into a restful locale, with comfy chairs and soft music,  but it is a place where He still calms the storms and asks us to trust Him.

Tonight, in this quiet place, I’m saying with that dear soul who needed His help all those years ago, “Lord I trust You.  You’re going to have to fix the part of me that doesn’t.” 

Like His friends who thought they were going down in the storm, I trust Himquietingthestorm enough to shake Him awake and believe He can still quiet the wind and waves.

If He will, I’m certain that He can.

It’s enough.

Time to rest.





Rest, and be thankful.
(William Wordsworth ~ English poet ~ 1770-1850)


For thus said the Lord GOD, the Holy One of Israel, “In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.”
(Isaiah 30:15 ~ ESV)





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

Jangling Bells

Forty years.  Gone in a moment’s time.


The door of the music store opened with a jangle of bells, the ones hanging from the knob, and I looked up from printing orders to see who it was.  The face looking back at me smiled broadly and instantly the years disappeared.

No, it hasn’t been forty years since I saw the face, but it was forty years ago that I began a new job with the man as my supervisor.  I would learn more in that single fleeting year than in many long ones that came after it.

His lovely wife was at his side on this day and we stood and talked as old friends will.  The present time flew by, but our conversation carried us back several decades as we told old stories and laughed about events nearly forgotten in the tumultuous progression of years since. 

It was sheer pleasure.

As we spoke, he remembered how long we have actually known each other and our conversation went back, far beyond the forty years, to the first time he laid eyes on me. 

The young family had walked into the old brick church—a dark-haired man and his red-headed wife, both about thirty years old.  Trying unsuccessfully to be unobtrusive, four urchins—well, three noisy boys and their silent, shy sister—trailed their parents.  Oh.  There was one more, a baby—a big baby—held in the arms of the red-headed lady.

Yep.  I was the baby.  This man, the one who would seventeen years later teach me a number of life skills, has known me since I was that young.

And still, he likes me enough to stop by on his nearly 1,500 mile trip and spend an hour or two just reminiscing and catching up.  Oh, the stories he could tell if he wanted to.  Perhaps he has forgotten them.  Let’s hope so.

As we spoke, I realized how our lives have been tied together.  As a preschooler, I remember his father used to wave broadly at us each day as he passed our trailer house in his Tom’s Peanuts truck on the way to restock vending machines at the country club.  Once in awhile, he would toss out a package or two of peanuts to us, standing barefoot at the edge of the road, and we’d marvel at how the wealthy man could be so generous.  Later, father and mother both would be my Sunday-school teachers, and his aunt would play the piano while his uncle waved his arms, leading us in singing the old hymns.  

In a thousand ways, it seems we grew up together, even though he is twelve years older than I.  We have certainly grown old together, although the miles have gotten in the way a bit.

Old friends are the best.

But, I wonder . . .

My old friends and I had begun to say our goodbyes, when the door of the music store opened again, the bells jangling as they did before.  Two men wandered in, faces smiling broadly. 

They are friends I have met in my adult life.  It has only been in recent years that I would even call them friends, knowing them before that merely as acquaintances.  But, friends they are.

I introduced them, my old friends and new.  For a moment, I felt the strange feeling of witnessing two worlds colliding.  A meeting of folks with one thing in common: me.  Then my old friend began telling my new friends a story and we were all just friends, neither new nor old.

I went that night and sank down into a comfortable chair at the local coffee-shop.  With coffee cup in hand I would listen to one of my new friends play his guitar and sing a few songs. 

It was sheer pleasure.

I sat listening, but also pondering the mystery of friendship.  Perhaps I should have paid more attention to the music, but I knew my friend would take care of his part.  He’s an old pro.  I was too overwhelmed just then with the realization of what it means for a man to have friends, both old and new.

Did I say friendship was a mystery?  So it is, but more than that, it is a gift.  And, not just any gift, like a tie on Father’s Day, or even a new toy on Christmas. 

Friendship is one of the greatest gifts entrusted to us by a loving Father who gives only good gifts.  I wonder that we don’t treasure it more.  I lament that we don’t care for it better, allowing it to lie untended for years while the weeds of neglect take it over.

The Creator thought it important enough that He cultivated an intimate friendship with man in the garden, walking with him in the cool of the day.  His Son selected twelve who would spend their years with him, walking and eating, and learning from Him.  Others, He would grow close to as well—Mary, Martha, along with their brother Lazarus.

The red-headed lady who carried me into that church fifty-seven years ago taught me the principle, her words coming in the form of a platitude (that doesn’t make it any less relevant).

If you want to have friends, you have to be a friend.

I’m not all that good a friend.  I am thankful for folks who have overlooked that and have been a friend to me anyway.  I’m trying to do better.

Old friends.  New friends. 

They’re basically the same, with new friends eventually becoming old friends.  I’m not sure when the transition is made, but I sat with people the other evening who I distinctly remember being new friends not all that long ago (if you can call nearly forty years not all that long).  Definitely old friends now.

You know, I don’t really have anything I want to teach tonight. 

I just needed to remind myself that sometimes a gift is given when we least expect it.  I need to remember to be grateful to the Giver and to show my gratitude in the way I care for His gifts.

New becomes old, gaining value as it ages.  More like a fine musical instrument, I think, than the drink with which it is usually compared.  The wine is consumed and gone so soon, but a fine guitar or violin makes sweeter music the longer and more often it is played.


Care for them well, but utilize them often. 

Sweet music will come, probably just like the dulcet tones I heard that night in my comfortable chair at the coffee shop.

Or, perhaps more like the jangling of the bells as the door opens to welcome another one in.

Sweet music.



When all the world is old, lad,
And all the trees are brown;
And all the sport is stale, lad,
And all the wheels run down:
Creep home, and take your place there,
The spent and maim’d among:
God grant you find one face there
You loved when all was young.
(from The Old, Old Song ~ Charles Kingsley ~ English cleric/poet ~ 1819-1875)



Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up!
(Ecclesiastes 4:9,10 ~ ESV)




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

At the Edge

Do you know what fear looks like?

Of course, you do.

You’ve seen frightened children, so scared they don’t believe that even Mommy can save them from the monsters in the closet.  You’ve even seen fear exhibited again and again on the movie screen and on television, as actors open their eyes wide and let their mouths stand agape in terror at the appearance of some malevolent creature, extracted from the dark corners of a writer’s imagination.

I know all about that kind of fear, either the honest reaction from an innocent, untaught yet in the arts of deception, or the feigned emotion of a hardened pretender.

The fear I wonder about tonight is the fear all around us.  I’m wondering what the terror of disasters imagined, or the memory of catastrophes which really occurred in the past looks like.

Do you know?  Can you describe the face of fear—real fear?

I am coming to realize that I cannot, because I don’t know what it really looks like.  All the stereotypes of the looks of fear I know are false—or at least lacking in understanding.

On a recent day, a couple hiked along the ridge on a mountaintop.  The beauty of the morning was so real, you could almost have grasped it between your fingers.  Swallowtail butterflies flitted from blossom to blossom of the wildflowers beside the trail, along with a buzzing honey bee or two.  Every so often, a clumsy bumblebee would come humming by, intent on claiming his portion of the sweet nectar in the blossoms.

The air was cool and a gentle breeze carried the chant of songbirds, oft repeated and frequently elaborated upon, to their ears.  The deep greens of the leaves and the azure blue of the skies, which could be seen almost below their feet, were brilliant.

What would one need fear up on that mountaintop?

The trail led to a lookout point, an outcropping of boulders solidly set upon the side of the ridge.  They stood beside each other and marveled at creation and also at a Creator who could imagine such a place and then speak it into existence.  Just then though, something caught the eye of the man.

Fifty or sixty feet to the north of the lookout upon which they stood, a promontory jutted out, the sheer fall below it dropping down many feet to the valley floor.

It was an invitation not to be ignored.

faceoffear“Stay here,” he suggested to the woman.  “I’ll go out there and you can take my picture.”

She wasn’t happy about it, but agreed to be his photographer, waiting patiently as he made his way over to the point.  There was no trail to it but, slipping and sliding a little here, creeping down a boulder there, and in between steps, keeping an eye out for snakes, he eventually arrived at the destination.

Feet spread far apart, he stood atop the pile of rocks with hands on hips and arms akimbo, looking for all the world as if he had just discovered a new land.  In that stance, he waited to ensure that photographic proof existed of his courage and daring.  She snapped the picture.

It’s not possible to see his face in the photograph.  It doesn’t matter.  He is smiling.


With a quick glance down to the bottom of the chasm before him, he turned and climbed back to the marked trail, laughing as he rejoined his lovely wife.  He shrugged off her repeated objection to his foolish insistence of making the risky tramp out onto the rocks.  He was proud of himself.


Until that night.  In the dark, he closed his eyes to sleep, falling instead to his death again and again in the visions that filled his mind.  Behind closed eyelids he could see nothing but the edge of the abyss, and the ground coming up to meet him as he tumbled through the air.


He was terrified.  No, not just as he lay sleepless in his bed.  He had been terrified as he slid and stepped clumsily to the edge of the precipice in the light of day.

Standing arrogantly and smiling, his spirit was, in truth, melting into jelly inside of him.

The face of fear smiles.  It smiles.

I wonder then—what about the other emotions we feel so deeply?  What does sadness look like?  Or depression?

I stood and talked with a woman today about her two-year long bout with depression, still ongoing.  I have seen her often in the last two years, but never had an inkling—not an inkling.

Sickness, abuse, stress at work, cruelty of friends—all have surrounded her spirit and informed her very soul that she is of little worth and that nothing will ever change.

Still she smiles and jests, the facial expression and jokes a thin covering over a festering wound that will one day destroy her and those around her.

The face of depression doesn’t just mope, doesn’t only frown—it also smiles broadly.

Is it any wonder we think we are alone?  If fear smiles and depression tells jokes, surely pain shows a false face to the world as well.  The hurts of a lifetime are penned up behind the facade of impenetrability.  And, we believe we are alone in this world.

Surely no one feels as badly as I.  Certainly no normal person deals with my pain, my sadness, my fears.  How easy it is to believe the lie which deception tells.

I sat with friends tonight and admitted for the first time my fear of the edge, of the heights above which I stood on that recent excursion onto the mountain.  As we talked I found, to my surprise, that I was not alone in that fear, even in that small group of people.

The magnitude of the truth hits me where I live tonight.

How many smiling faces I see every day are hiding terror?  How many happy-go-lucky folks are concealing their deep sadness behind the jocularity?  How much pain have I missed in folks with whom I shake hands and exchange light-hearted greetings daily?

Do you suppose ten percent of the people I see are hiding feelings such as these?  Thirty percent?  Fifty?

It’s time for us to stop lying to each other.  Time for us to stop hiding behind faces frozen into smiles and laughs which tell a different story than the truth of what lies within.  Time for fear and sadness and pain to be brought to the light of day.

Jesus stood at the pinnacle of the temple looking down and the tempter told Him not to be afraid of falling from that great height.  He stood at the tomb of His close friend and wept tears of sadness.  He knew the pains of the heart—friends who abandoned Him and a people who refused to listen, and the pain of physical torture—yet He conquered both.

We’re not alone.  Even if no one in the world is ever honest enough to admit their fellowship in our condition, we have a Savior who walked where we walk, and who felt the things we feel.  He hasn’t forgotten who we are, nor has He lost His ability to touch us where we live.

And, He has given us the ability to help each other.  Even the empathy we feel for others comes from His great love for us.

It all starts with the truth of who we are.  Facades will have to tumble before changes are made.  Truth doesn’t imprison us, nor allow us to stay in that state.

We will know the truth, and freedom will be ours.





Love takes off masks that we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within.
(James Baldwin ~ American writer ~ 1924-1987)



Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another.
(Ephesians 4:25 ~ ESV)




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


How are the mighty fallen, and the weapons of war perished.  *


C’mon!  I know a shortcut!

They are words never to heed—their source, a person never to follow.  We should have known better, but the boy was confident.

We followed him.

The trip through the fields was disastrous, scratches from the abandoned barbed wire lying alongside the dirt path being the least of our problems.  We foundered in the plowed field which appeared—to our surprise, but we still weren’t finished with our misfortunes.

I think we’ll find the road over this way. C’mon!

Why did we continue to trail after the ignorant kid?  Hadn’t he proved himself untrustworthy enough already?

We followed him.

The plowed field gave way to a mowed yard, enormous in size.  Scratches on our ankles notwithstanding, we began to relax.  This was more like it!  Surely the boy knew what he was doing now.

The loud woof! was our first indication that he most assuredly did not.  The singular warning was joined by a second voice—equally fierce—and we saw them.  Headed for our little group of bicycle riders, the two German shepherds had only one objective in mind:  They were going to taste the flesh of at least one of those riders.

We understood their motives clearly, and scattered at breakneck speed in all directions.  As fast as we could pedal our rusty old machines, we headed for what we believed to be the front of the property and a road.

No one was following the know-it-all kid now.

None of us made it out completely unscathed, but I’m happy to recall that the vicious dogs didn’t sink their teeth into a single one of us.  Face scraped by tree branches and arms bleeding from the thorns of the bougainvillea bush I rode through, I was never so happy to see a dirt road in my life.  All of us pedaled furiously off down the lane, wasting no time with congratulations on our escape.

CyclingWe did, when we reached safety, have a few choice words for our guide—he with his arrogance and smug self-confidence.

We never let him forget the event.

We also never followed him anywhere again.  Never.

A child’s tale, one might suggest.  They would be right.

They would also miss the broader truth of the story.

The Book tells of a nation which put its trust in a man.  An arrogant man.  A smug man.  The first king of the little nation, chosen not for his wisdom, nor his concern for those under his care, but selected because he was attractive.  He was popular.  He was strong.

Saul trusted in himself.  He worshipped God in his own way. 

God wanted something different.

When Saul died fighting a disastrous war, his successor, King David declared the words you read above, as you first began.  The fallen mighty,  the perished weapons of war, were the vain king and his son. 

The faith of the people was in a mirage, a passing dream. 

Like the boys in the children’s tale, the nation followed a path laid out by a leader who had no inkling of where the road led.  Its end was disastrous.

Although it is not my intention, I know there are many who will see parallels to the leadership of our nation today.  It was not purposeful on my part, but indeed, some principles never change.

I have to wonder though—looking just a little closer to home—if we can see parallels in our own lives, parallels we are better equipped to deal with.  We all know people who fit the description of both the know-it-all kid and the errant king.

Funny.  I sometimes see that kid in the mirror.  No, I don’t mean I was the actual leader of that catastrophe, years ago; I mean I do the same thing in my own life still.  Today.

Take a look in your own mirror; you might just see a hint of the kid or the king yourself.

Further on in the volume, the Book recounts another Saul, who in his early years was a man not unlike his namesake.  Later on, a changed Paul would remind his congregation, apparently folks just like the kid and the king—and himself—that when they thought they had it all straight in their heads they should be very careful.

Don’t think because you are standing now, you can’t fall down.

I’m standing.  For now.

Perhaps, we should stand together.

We could help each other.

I promise.  No shortcuts.



The highest and most lofty trees have the most reason to dread the thunder.
(Charles Rollin ~ French historian/educator ~ 1661-1741)


There is a way which seems right to man, but it’s end is the way of death.
(Proverbs 16:25 ~ NASB)


*  (II Samuel 1: 27 ~ KJV)



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

No Such Word

Actions speak louder than words.

I want that to be true.  I want all the caring deeds which were accomplished today to make more of a difference in the world than all the angry, ugly words which were spoken and written.

I want friends to not be angry with their friends who happen to see things differently in at least one aspect of our corporate life.  I want all the stupid, thoughtless statements that have been made in the last week to matter less than a lifetime of doing the things friends do.  I want friends to remember the visits, the meals shared, the work accomplished together, more than any hurtful words that ever came out of that same friend’s mouth.

I fear it will not be so.

I have always believed the original thought above was true.  In the world in which we used to live, it was.  Few men or women put their thoughts into words and fewer wrote those words down to be a record used against them for all of their days.  We talked face to face.  We argued; we discussed; we shook our fingers under each other’s noses.

And then, when we parted, as friends, we shook hands and promised to do it again someday.

Today, we argue with little snippets of written information.  No one listens, no one considers carefully the other’s point of view–we just regurgitate our talking points.  If we need reinforcements, we copy and paste a link to an article a professional writer crafted carefully–for a handsome price.

And we call that communication?

In a time such as this, when our world is abuzz with the latest idiocy from Washington, many have crowded the most popular social website to put in their two cents’ worth.  I wonder, at the end of the day, do we believe we have accomplished anything?

I believe the most unanimity has been achieved recently in the answer to one question on that website.  It is a question asked by the computer program and not by any participant in the discussion.


Even my spell check program doesn’t think it is a real word, underscoring it with an angry red line.  Yet right now it is a verb, an action word if you will, which has been agreed to by untold number of indignant people who think they know now who that person really is, and they no longer like him or her.  Not because of anything the person has done, but because of words they repeated in the heat of a long-distance argument.

I have almost clicked that button recently myself.  I am sick of the constant barrage of opinions, based on other opinions, based on–well, you get the idea.  More than once, I have been poised to unfriend someone I know and care about, simply because of their hurtful or thoughtless words.

I will not.

I spent a little time a few moments ago, going through my list of friends on that social website.  There is not one–not one–I wish to cut off from contact with me; not one with whom I wish to part company.

Do I wish they would stop leaking their arrogant and spiteful words all over my computer screen?  

Of course, I do!  

Do I think those words which are being spoken in a time of stress and social upheaval are the sum of who that person is?  

Not at all!

A friend, with whom I have a normal relationship–normal meaning that we usually speak face to face–walked into my store recently and we discussed much of what is happening in our culture today.

No.  We argued about it.  

I raised my voice and spoke my mind.  He raised his voice and gave me a piece of his.  I shook my finger at him and he held up his hand in protest.  Half an hour later, as he headed out the door to get back to work, we shook hands, and he promised that he would be back.  We’ll argue again.

I’m looking forward to it.

We have been friends for over thirty years.  I know who he is.  I’ve watched him raise his children and love his wife, and I’ve watched him touch people’s lives.  

So, we have a difference of opinion now and then.  What of it?  What idiot throws away a lifetime relationship because of a few words that hang in the wind and then are gone?

The more I think about it, the more I’m coming down on the same side as my spell checker. There is no such word as unfriend.  If it’s all the same to you, I believe I’ll be keeping all of you around, thanks.

I hope you feel the same way.



It is one of the blessings of old friends that you can afford to be stupid with them.
(Ralph Waldo Emerson ~ American philosopher/writer ~ 1803-1882)


Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.
(1 Peter 4:8 ~ NIV)



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