No More Mr. Nice Guy

“You realize you’re a legend in this town, don’t you?”

I think I may have snorted. I didn’t mean to. The thirty-something rocker was paying me a compliment. And, he was dead serious.

“I mean it. Whenever anybody I know needs something for their guitar, they don’t say, I’m going to the music store; they say, I’m going to see Paul.”

I’m pretty sure I didn’t snort this time. Still, I stared at the young man with a dumb look on my face as I tried to think of something brilliant to say.

You know, it’s hard to say just the right thing when someone compliments you like that. I always look for ways to deflect the praise—usually mumbling something that sounds grateful while at the same time denying any special merit.

The man in front of me today wasn’t having it. He charged into the subject, laying out personal praise mixed with a story or two he had heard. He had evidence and was going to be heard.

I was kind, even though embarrassed, and let him talk for a few moments more. fish-1059268_640Then, I closed the conversation with a lame comment about big fishes in little ponds, and waved him out the front door cheerfully.

What a disaster!

Why is it so hard to tell the truth to people like that? I know the words to stop the flow of praise and compliments. Cold.

I should say them.

I said them yesterday. He forced me to. The guitar player—you know—the one who was wandering through the streets of New Orleans in one of my recent tales.

We had been bemoaning the habits of certain customers and also discussing the merits of certain practices in the business world. He is in management at a local retail business, so he understands the dynamic of customer relations, too.

Offhandedly, I suggested that he already knew the reason I treat my customers the way I do. I merely said it to prove a point and move on in the conversation to fun things. He wasn’t taking the bait.

Why do you treat them the way you do?” The mischievous grin on his face had just enough stubborn around the edges that I knew I would have to give an answer.


I said the words—the same words I should have said today—and he just nodded his head and smiled.

It’s not my gig. God is the one I represent. I follow His Son. How could it be any different?

And yet, today I had the opportunity to say those same words and I stuttered and nodded.

I want to be remembered as a nice guy.

The thing is, I’m not a nice guy.

On my own, I gripe and I complain; I nag and I fuss; I insist on my way and I say nasty things about people behind their backs.

So what I really want is for people to believe the lie that I’m a nice guy. Because, on my own, that’s all it is. A lie.

But, I’m not on my own. I haven’t been for a long time.

The truth of the matter is, God works in me both to want what He wants and to do it. (Philippians 2:13)

He’s the Nice Guy.

Not me.

The Apostle who was also known as The Rock, suggested to his readers that they always should be ready to give an answer for the faith living inside of them. (1 Peter 3:15)

You know, nice guys don’t steal.

And yet, I am a thief.

When I keep the glory that belongs to the One who lives within me, I steal from Him. When I lay claim to the brilliant planning it takes to run a successful business, I steal from the Giver of all good gifts.

Every single good thing comes from Him. (James 1:17)

Every single one.

He’s the Nice Guy. He’s the Gift-Giver—the Truth-Teller—the Master-Mind behind this outfit.

It’s not my gig.

My friend was right. I need to say the words. I intend to, again and again.

Tomorrow is another day. Another chance to do things right.

Grace is an astounding gift!

I might even introduce a few people to the real Nice Guy.

How hard can this be?




Every rascal is not a thief, but every thief is a rascal.
(Aristotle ~ Greek philosopher ~ 384 BC-322 BC)



…for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world.
(Philippians 2:13-15 ~ ESV)






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

Perhaps, More Than a Dream

Winslow_Homer_-_RowboatRow, row, row your boat
Gently down the stream.
Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily,
Life is but a dream.

I was once again contemplating the idea of eternity tonight when suddenly, I became aware the notes of this song were wafting through the air in my office.

I had to laugh.

Already, I see the heads nodding.

No, not in agreement with the humor I found in the juxtaposition of the old folk song alongside thoughts of eternity.  Heads are nodding in the realization that it has finally happened.  The idiot has finally snapped.  Gone over the edge completely.

Why would one be contemplating eternity?

And, what in the world is funny about hearing a children’s song while contemplating such a peculiar subject?

Perhaps, we’ll consider just one thought at a time, okay?

I was an odd child, I will admit.  At a very young age, I struggled internally with big ideas, while the everyday things went unnoticed.  Perhaps all of us did, but I really can’t speak for anyone else.  I know eternity was one concept with which I wrestled many times.

I would sit in church and sing the words of that last verse of John Newton’s Amazing Grace and I would be AWOL for the rest of the church service–lost deep in thought.

…Ten thousand years, bright shining as the sun…We’ve no less days…than when we’ve first begun.

How does that not mess with a kid’s head?

The idea of eternity terrified me.  No, not the idea of Hell or Heaven—just the thought of a period of time that went on and on without ever ending.

To a child of seven or eight, the concept was as foreign as having all the ice cream you could ever consume and no one ever making you stop eating it.

Everything came to an end.

Church services ended with Amen.  Cowboy movies ended with the hero riding off into the sunset.  Trips in the car ended with us pulling up to Grandma’s house and piling out of the old station wagon.  The school year ended with all the kids walking out and throwing their papers in the wind to cover the playground.

Everything came to an end.  Everything.

I never thought to talk about it with a grown-up.  This was too big, too–I don’t know–sacred.  You didn’t talk about such things; you just grappled with them until you could move on. I think eventually, I just decided if the grown-ups in my life could face that terrifying endless and timeless uncertainty, so could I.

Besides, Jesus would be there.  I wanted to be where He was.

As an adult, I still want to be there.

I have come to realize though, eternity is not only on the other side of that door we don’t want to talk about.

Eternity doesn’t begin with death.  It didn’t even begin with our entry into this world at birth.

Funny thing–if I had known it back then, my mind might have been boggled even more than it was.  The reality is, eternity works both ways–both backward and forward.  How’s that for an enigma?

We live smack-dab in the middle of eternity!  We’re not waiting for it.  We’re not looking forward to it.

Eternity is now!

I’m not a kid anymore.

Today, I look to the future and I want to be sure I’ve done everything I can do with this little piece of eternity I’ve been given to work with, here in this place and time.

I’ll relocate to another neighborhood for the next part of it.  But, right here–right now–I have things that must be accomplished before this part of the eternal timetable moves on and I am no longer able to do what needs to be done.

In some ways, I feel like Alice’s White Rabbit as he rushes about, terrified that he is late and will miss the very important date.  Eternity is passing at a frighteningly rapid pace.

Those were the thoughts in my mind tonight as the little bit of doggerel we began our conversation with made its way into my consciousness. Talk about a dichotomy!

Life is but a dream.

The old children’s song lulls us to sleep, convincing us our lot in life is nothing more than a summer afternoon’s outing on the quiet stream.  All work together, rowing in cadence with those around, and everything will come out just fine.

It almost seems apropos that the song is a round, the endless cycle sung repeatedly by all the voices, each one carrying on the hypnotic mantra, urging the boat’s occupants to move gently.

Don’t rock the boat!  Don’t, for heaven’s sake, attempt to go upstream!

Happy, Happy, Happy!

I can just hear Phil Robertson’s (of Duck Dynasty) voice, calling out the words to keep the natives calm.

Life is but a dream?

Okay, perhaps I wasn’t really amused.  It wasn’t funny ha-ha, just wildly inappropriate that the two ideas should occupy my brain at the same time.

I have noted recently that a number of my friends are attempting to slow down the pace of their lives.  Don’t worry, be happy, say their notes.  Jettison the things that stress you; do only the things which make you feel good; friends who make demands on you aren’t really friends, so dump them.

How can we live the dream when rude people keep waking us up?

But, you see–that’s just the trouble with dreams.  You always wake up.  Reality intrudes.  They end.  Just like everything in that seven year old’s world a lifetime ago.

Life isn’t a dream.

I’m kind of happy to know that it isn’t. I want to row upstream.  I want to blaze paths where the placid stream doesn’t flow.  And, eternity won’t wait; it just keeps moving through our lives, as it has for everyone else in all of recorded history.

Eternity won't wait. Time to wake up and get busy! Click To Tweet

Time to wake up and get busy!

I’ll take eternity, thanks.



As if you could kill time without wounding eternity!
(Henry David Thoreau ~ American philosopher/author ~ 1817-1862)


Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time.  He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end.
(Ecclesiastes 3:11 ~ NLT)





© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2013. All Rights Reserved.

Storm Warnings

If the thunder comes, I’ll have to sleep in Mama’s bed.

The girl says the words matter-of-factly, without an inkling that they might possibly cause laughter.  Her grandpa, with an effort, does not disappoint, realizing the little sweetie is merely stating the truth as she knows it.

Any child knows that Mama’s bed is a safer place to be than his or her own unprotected expanse of mattress.  And yet…  And yet…

And yet the boy, just a couple of years older, made certain to assure me he would not be seeking shelter in the safe haven of Mom’s bed.  The bravado is comical in its own way, but I hold my laughter in, not wanting to hurt feelings.

lightning-378069_640The storm warnings are out tonight.  Tornadoes, say the weathermen.  Strong winds.  Hail.

Take cover, they tell us.

Accordingly, some friends are spending the night in storm shelters, some in their bathrooms.

I will not fault them.  It’s hard not to be afraid when the experts we trust say we should be.

A friend shared a little saying the other day.  I don’t remember all of it, but I recall the core thought:

Fear is a lie.

I don’t disagree.  But sometimes—even often—it feels more like the truth.

When the wind is ripping limbs off trees overhead, when the rain is blowing sideways and debris is careering crazily across highways, when hail is pounding rooftops, terror seems a reasonable response.

Mom’s bed may not be safe enough.

The bathroom may not be secure.

The storm cellar doesn’t seem quite as impervious as it once did.

In spite of it all, I like thunderstorms.  The power, the beauty, the replenishment of the earth, all these and more inspire admiration.

Don’t get me wrong.  I understand there is danger.  I pray for those who don’t have adequate shelter.  I feel empathy for folks (and a certain little girl) who are terrified by the potential for loss of life and property.

In truth, I realize that none of God’s creation is safe.  All of it has the potential to wreak havoc on our lifestyle.  

I also realize that all of His creation is fantastic!  The mountains, the forests, the rivers, the sea—all are beautiful, dangerous evidences of His sustaining and yes, frightening, power.

I wonder though, on what or whom do we depend for safety?  

The easy answer is that we put our trust in God.  Even the psalmist said the words; When I am afraid, I put my trust in You. (Psalm 56:3

You’re scratching your head, aren’t you?

Did he just say, “the easy answer”?

I did.  It’s on the tip of our tongues.  We may even claim that God is our very first recourse, every time we are afraid.

It’s an admirable thing.  

He wants us to call on Him.  One of the saddest moments I think of in our Savior’s ministry (beside His trial and death) is the moment when He looked over the beloved city, Jerusalem, and lamented their steadfast refusal to accept His protection. (Matthew 23:27)

But, what if we were willing to give our fears to Him, instead of insisting He save us from the object of our fears?  

What if we simply trusted Him in the storm? 

In it.

The Teacher’s followers, in that storied storm on the lake, believed they were showing faith in Him when they woke Him up to voice their fears.  

Do you remember what He did?

He rebuked the wind and the waves.  He scolded them.  And then, turning to His followers, He did the same to them.  (Mark 4: 35-41)

Have you no faith?

For so long, I have not understood.  Certainly, they had faith!  Why would they have awakened Him if they didn’t believe He could do something about the storm?  Wasn’t that faith?

It’s the kind of faith I have.

The storms of life require a command from Him.  Peace!  Be still!

That is what I believe—or, at least what I have believed.

And, as I write, in my mind’s eye I see the little girl running to her Mama’s bed in the midst of the storm.

Ha!  Do you know what she is going to do there?

Will she insist that Mama quiet the storm?  Will she quiver and quake until the last lightning flash and the last rumble of thunder is past?  No.  She will sleep.

She will sleep.


Why didn’t the Disciples think of that?  Why didn’t they lie down on the deck beside Him and sleep?

More to the point—why don’t I?

What safer place could one want?

How much more protection could you ever have?

Safe.  In the arms of Jesus.

The storm is passed.  

For tonight.

The little girl sleeps in her Mama’s bed.

Childlike faith.




 I’ve anchored my soul in the Haven of Rest;
I’ll sail the wide seas no more.
The tempest may sweep o’er the wild stormy deep;
In Jesus I’m safe ever more.
(Haven of Rest ~ H L Gilmour ~ American choirmaster/poet ~ 1836-1920)


The waters are rising, but so am I. I am not going under, but over.
(Catherine Booth ~ Co-founder of the Salvation Army ~ 1829-1890)




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


Hunting Cats Don’t Purr

He doesn’t hate cats.  He never has.

It’s just that my Dad thought cats should earn their keep.  In an environment rich in prey for the furry felines, he expected them to do what God created them to do.

We didn’t feed the cats a lot.  

They did their jobs.

cat-220490_640Many hours were spent in my childhood, watching the sneaky critters hunt mice and lizards around the various buildings on the property.  Stealthily and patiently, they would wait for just the right moment.  Any error in  calculation would result in missing the kill.  Hunger was the result.  

They became quite skilled at their task.  

Even the most elusive of prey can be caught.  

On several occasions, I would notice the cat giving up after waiting for a long period of time, only to return the next day or week.  Nothing escaped them forever.

A few times, they were even lucky enough to find the nest of a cottontail rabbit.  The fat little bunnies were no match for the cunning hunters.  We were always unhappy to see the result of these forays.

But we were never as sad as the lady of the house was when she found the feathers of her beloved songbirds scattered in the yard, the result of some stealthy, sneaky kitty’s hunt.  A slink—a crouch—a spring in the air, and the deed was done.  I think she would have rather fed the cats daily than have the sweet songs of those winged creatures fall silent.

Nevertheless, I also remember the times when we set the feast out for the brood of feline hunters.  Scraps from the table, perhaps the leftover from one of our fishing trips, would find their way out to the porch on saucers.  

The purring kitties would devour the meal in seconds, with heads raised immediately to see if more was forthcoming.  When it wasn’t, the cats would wander away to lie in the shade, still purring, those plump mounds where their hungry bellies had been now gorged with the bounty.

Funny thing.  The next day they would return to the place they had been fed, in hopes that the generosity would be repeated.  When it wasn’t, they slunk away disappointed.  Usually, after the second day with no repetition in the feeding, they would return to their usual activities, once more catching mice and other prey.

It wasn’t a bad system.  My father believed that things should work the way God designed them to.  Cats are hunters.  

Some may think it cruel to have let them fend for themselves.  In this day and age, we pamper our pets, providing beds and central heat/air for them.  Offering them gourmet meals, we wouldn’t think of making them hunt.  

Dad believed them capable, and they proved themselves to be all that and more.  Not one ever starved.

But beyond the discussion of our treatment of pets, I have to wonder:  Do things actually work the way God created them to?

There is a deeper truth to be found here.  We may have to hunt for it a little while.

It may take some skill.  

Truth is so elusive at times.

Why is it that sometimes we have to struggle so hard to find it?  I have questions—questions for which I need answers—but they are nowhere to be found.

Years, I have sought the answers in some cases.  It is true that many have been revealed.  

But many more, I still seek for.  

And perhaps, that is the deeper truth we can learn from the feline creatures.

The hunt for truth, God’s truth, is a lifelong quest.  Wisdom and knowledge, of who He is and what He desires of us, depend on it.

Our relationships depend on finding it.

Why then is it so hard to find sometimes?  There are seasons when I feel I’m wandering in a desert, with nothing to be found.  There is no truth, no direction, no comfort to be seen anywhere.


But, I remember the words of the Teacher, the one who wandered in the desert Himself, hungry and thirsty:

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.  They will be filled. (Matthew 5:6)

In the desert, we can still find His truth.  The water He provides still quenches thirst, even if it does have to be wrung from the cactus plant.

I remember too, that He has plans to bless us, and not plans to harm.  He wants to train us for a future, and a hope.  If we seek Him with everything within us, He promises—promises—to be found. (Jeremiah 29:11-13)

There will be time for rejoicing later.  The day is coming!  

Until then, we hunt.  We seek.  We examine.

It is enough.

Before you get depressed about the desert, I wonder if I can remind you of something?

The same God who designed us to hunt in the desert also leads us by the still waters and prepares a feast for us. (Psalm 23)

The same God who sends us to wait in the wilderness sometimes simply puts the saucer down on the floor and calls out, “Here Kitty, Kitty.”

Taste it!  Taste it and find that the Lord is good. (Psalm 34:8)

Full is good.

Is that purring I hear?




Where I found truth, there I found my God, who is the truth itself.
(Augustine of Hippo ~ Early Christian theologian ~ 354-430)  



O God, thou art my God; early will I seek thee: my soul thirsteth for thee, my flesh longeth for thee in a dry and thirsty land, where no water is; To see thy power and thy glory, so as I have seen thee in the sanctuary.
(Psalm 63:1-2 ~ KJV)




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

Tools of the Trade

He had watched the sun come up from his vantage point on the western bank of the rolling river, the Mighty Mississippi, while listening to the dulcet tones of the old trumpet player.

With tears still in his eyes, he turned away to wander back into Jackson Square, just as the city of New Orleans was waking.  The restaurants were busy, the coffee shops crowded, but he hadn’t come to eat.

For two hours or more, he wandered the streets, finding exactly what he was seeking.  He had forced himself out of bed while it was still dark just so he could listen to the street musicians.

And listen, he did.

neworleansbuskerNo slouch of a guitar player himself, he was anxious to sample the varied fare this aged city had to offer.  There was no disappointment in the search.

At first.

From street corners and even in the alleys, the city is full of people with their talents on display.  Many do it for the love of their craft, others simply to have enough to fill their stomachs.

The seeker stopped for a few moments at one corner to listen to the two women playing classical music, a departure from the normal street fare in this city of jazz and blues.  Speaking for a moment with another man standing nearby, he learned that both were music professors in nearby universities.

He even dropped a dollar or two in the open violin case and moved on.  Most of the musicians he listened to were not as well educated, but he avers that all were just as talented.

Except one.

The street-worn fellow had a good quality guitar sitting on his lap.  The ancient Guild six-string might have seen better days, but it was a fine instrument.

Still, he never played a single chord.

Our friend wondered why this was so and walked a bit nearer to the bench the aging man was occupying.  It did seem to him that the fellow was old, but he really is not sure.  Living on the streets will age a person long before his time.  He might have been as young as thirty or as old as sixty.  It was hard to tell.

As he drew near, though, the tourist saw the problem.  While there should have been six, the old acoustic guitar had only three metal strings stretched out along the length of the fingerboard.  Even those were old and corroded.

The other street musicians had played for whatever money the passersby would toss in their hats or cases, but this fellow had a different tack.   

“Say, could you give me the money to buy a set of strings?”

Our friend almost fell for the scam.  After all, what was five or six dollars?  Give the old guy enough to buy a set of strings so he could earn a living–how could that go wrong?

Then he had an idea.

“I saw a music store up the block a ways.  How about you and I go and we’ll get a set put on your guitar?  I’ll pay whatever it costs.”

The old guy wasn’t amused.  That was the last thing he wanted.   

“No.  I’ll just take the money for the strings.”  

The tourist talked with him for just a minute more.  It didn’t take a genius to figure out what the money would be used for.  There was never to be a new set of strings on the guitar.  It would never play a song on that street corner–ever.

The fellow with the guitar knew how to make money with his guitar, he just couldn’t play it.

The superbly crafted instrument, with the potential for making sweet music lifting the spirit to the heavens, or bringing tears to the eyes of hardened men who listened, was nothing but a prop for an act.  If it had strings on it, he couldn’t make a dime with it.

He wasn’t a musician at all, just a man with a scam—a fraud—to be perpetrated on any unsuspecting tourist who came by.

Our friend moved on, disappointed.

I listen to the story and my mind wanders.

I remember the fellow to whom I gave a ride one day, not long ago.  I drove him twenty miles out of my way and handed him all the cash I had in my pocket.  He told me he would use it to purchase a bus ticket to make it home to his wife and kids, who were hundreds of miles away.

Two days later, as he wandered past my music store, it was a shock to realize that I had been played.

Then there was that other fellow I loaned money to, just until he got paid from his new job.  The job was a lie.  So was the payback.

The stories, just like the street musician with his guitar, are merely the tools of the trade, designed to achieve a purpose, but never to become reality.

Just as quickly, my mind shifts gears again, and I wonder how many folks I have conned, in much the same way—people who have poured resources into my life, with the promise that changes would be made, never to see or hear a result.

How am I any different from the old fellow down in the French Quarter, with his beautiful guitar which never will make music?

Still, I show up time after time, with habits which need to be broken, sins which need to be repented of, steps which never seem to be taken.   

And, no music is ever heard.

How about it?  Got a few broken strings yourself?

Have there been promises made of changes to come, with nary a hint of actual rehabilitation?  Do you come and sit on the same street corner every day, or perhaps every week, with the same broken strings; always with the promise to show up with a playable instrument the next time?

I’m guessing that if we look deep inside, we’ll all find the broken promises, the scams, the assurances which we don’t seem to ever quite fulfill.  Like the man on the street corner, we have figured out how to make the system work for us, always thinking that we’ll make it right–someday.

Personally, I’m wondering if it’s about time for a new set of strings to be taken down from the wall.

There will be a good bit of grime to be cleaned away before they can be installed, but the basic instrument was made well.  I’m confident that when the job is done, there will be some excellent music heard.

It’s just the process of cleaning and stretching, then cutting and tuning that I’m not real sure of.

It all sounds a bit painful.

Ah well, I know the Maker of the music, the Master Luthier.

I’m thinking the final result will be worth it all.

His work never fails to produce gorgeous music.  Maybe it’s time to put my hat down on the street.

Why don’t you come too?

We might make some great music together!




Down in the human heart, crushed by the tempter,
Feelings lie buried that grace can restore;
Touched by a loving heart, wakened by kindness,
Chords that were broken will vibrate once more.
(from Rescue The Perishing ~ Fannie Crosby ~ American hymn writer ~ 1820-1915)

During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.
(George Orwell ~ English novelist ~ 1903-1950)

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



I think I first heard the insult from one of my brothers.  He didn’t make it up himself.

Maybe you’ve heard it, too.

“Well, I. . .”

“That’s a deep subject—for such a shallow mind.”

It was funny the first twenty times. Eventually, I learned to start my sentences without the mention of the water source.

I thought about it again today when my young friend interrupted my monologue about some things I’ve been pondering recently.

“Those are some big thoughts you’ve been having, Paul.”

In my head, I immediately finished the idea for him.  

. . .for such a tiny brain.

He didn’t say the words and probably didn’t even think them, but still—I couldn’t help but wonder.  The red headed lady who raised me used to say it differently.

“You’re getting a little too big for your britches, Bub.”

It’s a funny thing, though.  I remember her buying me bigger pants when I outgrew the ones I was wearing.  Same thing with shoes, and shirts.

She didn’t want me to stay a small person.  From her diminutive height of five feet and four inches she looked up to her taller sons, two of us eventually reaching six feet, with pride.

She never wanted anything else but for us to grow.  She never wanted anything less than for us to reach further.

Parents are like that, you know.

Somehow, much of society wants nothing more than to pull us back into the teeming mass of the everyday.

Don’t get above your roots!

Remember where you came from!

Time and time again, the crowd pulls us down and reminds us that we need to fit in—to conform.

Ah, but I remember being in crowds with my Dad.  When you’re a kid, crowds are a pain.  You can’t see anything—can’t get anywhere.

stack-1230254_640But, with Dad, all I had to do was ask and, within seconds I was sitting on his shoulders, above the crowd.  No more looking through legs and around fat torsos.  No more stumbling and being shoved.

Parents are like that, you know.

But the day comes when the child is too big to sit on shoulders, too heavy to be carried through the crowd.  By then, they’ve learned to stand on their own feet and to see far ahead of the crowd.  One would hope anyway.

I encouraged and aided my own son to adulthood and then, stood aside and bragged.  Well, not exactly bragged.  But, I still remember the first time a co-worker of his praised his abilities and his work ethic.  

Ha!  The first time?  I remember the last time it happened, just a day past.

Parents are like that, you know.

And a voice came from heaven, telling them, “This is my only Son.  I am exceedingly pleased with Him.”  (Matthew 1:5)  

Evidently, there is another Father who wants His children to excel.

He gives us the tools to do just that—lifting us when we can’t see, carrying us when we can’t walk, encouraging us as we gain strength and wisdom.

Parents are like that, you know.

One has to wonder:  Why is it we seem to be satisfied, all too often, with the norm?  

Why do we stay a part of the crowd, when we have the advantages we’ve been given?

Why are we afraid to grow?  Why are we afraid to excel?  Why are we afraid to stand tall?

I wonder.  Surely I’m not the only one with big ideas (rattling around in a tiny brain).

Perhaps, it’s time we started acting on the big ideas.

It seems likely that we’ve stood on the edge of the dream for too long.  I think I hear a voice, almost like that of Aslan the Lion in the Chronicles of Narnia, calling us further up and further in.

Still encouraging.  Still calling.

Parents are like that, you know.



He turned swiftly round, crouched lower, lashed himself with his tail and shot away like a golden arrow.
“Come further in!  Come further up!” he shouted over his shoulder.

(from The Last Battle ~ C.S. Lewis ~ English theologian/author ~ 1898-1963)


Now look here, gal, you’d better be yourself
And leave that other stuff on the shelf
You’re country, baby
That’s plain to see

Don’t get above your raisin’
Stay down to earth with me
(Don’t Get Above Your Raising ~ Flatt/Scruggs ~ American Songwriters)





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

Training Session

I’m going out for a training session.

I called out the words to the Lovely Lady as I headed for the door again.  She chuckled and reminded me to start my tracking program.  It was a reminder that the training session is actually just this old man going out in a vain attempt to fend off the years.  

The reality is that she may need to know where I am so the ambulance can be directed to the pick-up spot accurately.  I frowned playfully, but I started the program on my smart-phone before I began to trot down the road.

I had just finished the first mile of my three-mile run when I saw them.

QuarterstaffThe gladiators.

They come to the municipal park every Tuesday evening, weather permitting.  Using padded quarter-staffs and blunt wooden swords, along with a few other weapons I couldn’t name, they spar and they dance.

There is instruction.  There is competition.

I almost always hear at least one exclamation of dismay as I run past; one warrior has tapped another in a vital part of his anatomy, bringing the bout to a rapid halt.

I confess I often find myself snickering as I pass these modern day jousters each week.  It is hard to imagine a circumstance in which the skills they are honing so determinedly will be useful.  

There is not much call for swordplay in the workplace these days.

Odd, isn’t it–how we make judgments about people based on their hobbies and leisure time pursuits?  

I have seen those young men–sometimes a young lady or two–seriously attempting to perfect their craft, and I have relegated them to the file I keep in my head labeled insignificant and irrelevant.

I repent.

Tonight, as I ran past that gathering of young people, I realized that they had also noticed me in my nightly rounds.  

They too, had relegated me to a category in their heads.  To my chagrin, they would make that category clear to me on this beautiful, cool evening.

I observed, upon my approach to the grassy area where the group was tussling, a couple of young men, about twenty years old or so, who broke away from the onlookers.  They ran on a tangent toward the path upon which I was running.  

As they started out, one of the young men demonstrated his athletic prowess by running up a tree that was beside his route and flipping over backwards, landing effortlessly on his feet.  Almost without missing a step, he and his companion continued on at a rate of speed which put them on the exercise path directly in front of me.  

Then they did something odd.

Slowing down a little, each of them moved to his own side of the path.  Given the speed at which I was approaching, I had no choice except to either slow down or move into the gap between them.  

I wasn’t slowing down.

As I moved between the two young men, they sped up again to keep pace with me.  The fellow on my left spoke first.

“How far have you run tonight?”

I answered him a little warily, still telling the truth—that I had just completed the first mile of the few I intended to run before stopping.

The other young man jumped in.  “Wow!  You’re still going pretty fast for having already done a mile.”

We bantered back and forth about running speeds and races to be run.  Soon we were almost out of the park.  

The fellow on my right dropped back all of the sudden.

“I’m done,” he gasped and, holding his side, walked back the other way.

The other boy, who would follow him fairly quickly, had one more thing to say.

“We just wanted to give you a little encouragement tonight.  Have a great run!

I hardly had time to thank him before he too, had turned and begun walking back toward the milling crowd of present-day knights errant, now several hundred yards behind us in the park.

I do.  I repent.

I am ashamed.  And, encouraged.  

I had seen them, sort of.  They also saw me, but with keener sight.  

The young men in the park noticed an old man running through on his daily quests to depose the black knight of old age from his steed. 

The old man, for his part, simply glanced their way, sniffed pompously, and dismissed them completely.

Those young men though—they had looked on a kindred spirit who needed help keeping his resolve and his confidence in place.  Unselfishly, they took the initiative to meet his needs.

I have nothing else to say.

Their generosity has left me speechless.

Cups of cool water, shared under the heat of the withering sun, couldn’t have been more timely—or more welcome.

You know, don’t you, that repentance requires one to turn away from wrongdoing and go in the other direction?

Change is coming.

It must.




Therefore, encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.
(I Thessalonians 5:11 ~ NIV)


Our chief want is someone who will inspire us to be what we know we could be.
(Ralph Waldo Emerson ~ American essayist/poet ~ 1803-1882)




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


She sits and stabs the needle through the material, first down and out of sight, then right back up beside the spot it disappeared.  For hours, she does this.

Intricacy.  Detail.  Painstaking industry.  All are parts of what go into the task—the unmitigated drudgery—that is counted cross stitch.

For a few moments tonight, we discussed philosophy.  The Lovely Lady doesn’t discuss philosophy—or politics.  But tonight, I trapped her.  For just a moment or two, I had her talking about why.

It’s a big subject—Why.

I’ve been reading a two-hundred-year-old book.  What I mean is, the author penned the words two hundred years ago.  The actual volume in my hand is only one century old.

Washington Irving, he of Rip Van Winkle fame, suggests in his Sketch Book (ca. 1819) that writing books is a futile endeavor.  The sacrifice of a lifetime for authors, only to slide the fruit of their labors onto an “inch of dusty shelf…and in another age be lost even to remembrance.”

His words started the why bother wheels into motion for me.  What is the use of writing?  Why would I ever want to publish a book, much less a single essay?

With those heavy thoughts running rampant in my head, I baited the Lovely Lady.  She is a fan of mine—perhaps the only one—and has been gently nudging me toward publishing a book of my material.

“I’m rethinking this book idea.”

She listened to my words with disbelief.  Then, for a few moments, she did what she doesn’t do; she discussed philosophy with me—the philosophy of useless deeds.

It didn’t take long.  After a little give and take, she looked down at her lap and, shaking her handwork in my direction, finished the discussion.

“Why do you think I do this?  Some things you do simply for the joy of doing them.  If writing doesn’t give you joy, then stop.”

With that, she went back to the tiny stitches again, the needle moving like clockwork, first one way and then the other.

The red-headed lady has a point.  But, there is more to it, isn’t there?

I think about the can of worms she has just opened.  She sits for hour after hour of what should be her leisure time, and she turns thread and cloth into art.  Sometimes, she uses a different needle and turns yarn into blankets—or shawls—or scarves.

Hours, she invests into each item.

She gives them away.  Every single one.

Suddenly, in my memory, I am standing in a large plot of plowed dirt watching an old man with a hoe.  He is making a small furrow in the dark, damp soil.  Reaching into a pocket, he pulls out some tiny black particles, dropping them into the furrow before pulling the dirt right back over them.  Tamping them down a little, he smiles and nods as he reaches the end of the row.

2014-04-21 08.44.08Hours, the old man spent in that garden.  My father-in-law loved the garden.  I guess I should say he loved working in the garden.  It was true of him even as a little boy.

He loved thinking about working in the garden.  In the middle of the winter, he was poring through seed catalogs, scheming about how he could change the layout next year to include this certain green bean, or that special cabbage type.

As I let the thoughts float in my head, memory mixed with present realities, a truth comes to mind—one I have never considered.

The old man and the Lovely Lady love the same thing.  They love planting seeds.  Their joy is not in the crop (though they desire that it become reality), but simply in the promise of the seed.

Sowers.  That’s what they are.  I suppose the bad pun of suggesting the lady is a sew-er would be inexcusable, so we’ll just stick with sower, shall we?

Well, one might say, the old man certainly is that, but how is it true of the Lovely Lady?

It’s easy to see.  She spends her hours in preparing the blankets, the scarves, the shawls, and then she buries them in the ground.  Well, not literally, but certainly figuratively.  She gives them away and her part in their journey is done.  What happens next depends on the recipient.

The joy of the sower is in the anticipation.  Anticipation of growth, of longevity, of usefulness.  He or she is not responsible to ensure these happen, but simply to give them an opportunity.

And with that, I realize that our Creator, benevolent Provider we know Him to be, puts in our hands the things He wishes us to sow.

Music, art, communication, mechanical ability, wealth—all of these and more, He invites us to sow.  

We sow, not for the harvest we will reap, but simply for the joy of doing what He has made us to do.  

He tells us to work industriously at whatever we put our hand to—not for our own reward or to reap the harvest for ourselves, but in His name and for His glory. (Colossians 3:17)

I can’t skip over the hard truths, along with the pleasant ones, though.  The seeds don’t always take root.  They often meet misfortunes along the way.

It is hard not to take it personally when that happens.  

When you see an item over which you labored long hours selling in a garage sale for a few cents, it’s easy to lose heart.  I’ve stood with the Lovely Lady in flea markets, as she sadly fingers the work of others, now languishing in a strange place, awaiting some stranger who will see the beauty and appreciate the love that went into its creation.

I wonder; do you suppose the One who sows His love and grace in our hearts, stands and weeps as He sees how far astray we’ve gone?  It is what we are wont to do with His gifts, devaluing them and disregarding the Giver.

Still, He plants and cultivates—and sows again.  

I will be a sower.  It is my calling.

It is our calling.

It’s a difficult undertaking.  We want the compensation.  We want the glory.  We want the fame.

He calls us to sing songs that never make the top lists—or any list at all.  He calls us to invest in others with no chance of a profit for ourselves.  He calls us to cook meals that others will eat—and perhaps complain about.

He calls us to write books that will sit on the shelf awaiting that one person who will open the aging tome and be changed forever—even if it doesn’t happen until we’ve been gone a year, or a hundred years.

He calls us to give cups of cool water—even if we’re the ones who are thirsty.

The joy is in doing what He has put in our hands and hearts to do.  

The beauty is in giving the gift.  

The reward is in obedience.

Seeds are made to be planted.

It’s time to work in the garden.




My point is this: The person who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the person who sows generously will also reap generously.
(2 Corinthians 9:6 ~ NET)


Such is the amount of this boasted immortality.  A mere temporary rumor, a local sound; like the tone of that bell which has tolled among these towers, filling the ear for a moment, lingering transiently in echo, and then passing away like a thing that was not!
(from The Sketch Book ~ Washington Irving ~ American author ~ 1783-1859) 




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

Dead Trees and Broken Promises

The tree is dead.  Dead.

tree-54425_640To say I am unhappy would be truthful.  But, I think it goes even deeper than that.

I feel betrayed.

Twelve years ago, the Lovely Lady and I put a sapling in the ground.  We were careful to follow all the recommendations of the nursery from which we purchased the beautiful little promise of a tree.

Well?  That’s what it was—was it not?  

It was a promise of shady spaces and wind rustling through green leaves.  The promise of branches for grandchildren (not yet born) to climb upon in summertime and of brilliant purples of autumn splendor.

A promise—that’s what it was.

A broken promise.  Now.

Day after day I look out to see if anything has changed.  Every other plant in the neighborhood has burst out in green celebration of the new life Spring entices to accompany itself.  

Already, I’ve had to trim a foot of new growth from the hedge on the opposite end of the front yard, so rapid has been its exuberant development.

I’ve told you about the magnificent scarlet maple around the corner in the backyard and its fantastic enterprise of repopulating the world. Since its emissaries of choice, the spinning jennies floating on the spring breezes, have already done their part, the stately tree has simply covered itself in greenery and is content.

But, what of the twenty-foot-tall ash tree in the front yard?  

Nothing.  No buds.  No leaves.  


It’s dead.

As often as I walk past it, I break off a little twig and test for life.  The dead wood snaps like a match stick.  Every time.

There will be no shade this year.  Not long from now, if my grandson grabs a limb and pulls himself up onto it, as he did only last week, the limb will give way under his weight.

Broken limb.  Broken promise.

I feel betrayed.  Angry even.

I know, I know—it’s just a tree.  But, I’m not the first to feel this way.  Others have been angry at the loss of their shade, too.

Take Jonah, for instance.  He sat on the hillside, ready to watch a spectacle (though fairly certain it wouldn’t happen) and enjoyed the shade of the plant under which he rested.  When it shriveled the next day, he was angry.  (Jonah 4:6-8)

He wanted to die.  Angry at God for taking his shade, he begged to be allowed to die.

I’m not that mad, but the message of Jonah is starting to get through my thick skull anyway.  

There was never a promise made to me with regard to this tree.  The Creator of all we know allows us to enjoy His gifts.  And, sometimes He takes one away.

In my experience, when He takes away, He gives something better.  I don’t think there’s any promise of that, but it seems to be the way He works.

Often, I think we miss this message when we blame God for the loss of other things which are precious to us.  We forget that He is God.  We forget that He is looking at all of time and history as His plan unfolds.

Still, the losses hurt.  We wonder if we’ve been betrayed.  Anger rises.

But, the tree was never mine.  The things we have lost were always His.

There is a promise I remember about trees.  The promise, spoken beautifully by the psalmist in one of my favorite pieces of poetry, is clear.  (The entire Psalm will be found below, in the old English as I first heard it, years ago.)

The upright person, one who loves God and wants nothing or no one else, is going to be like a tree planted by the river, with roots going down deep into the fertile soil.  

No withered greenery here—no brittle limbs that snap under the fingers—no barren branches.  In every season, this tree will produce its prescribed crop.  Every time.

A promise, not of immense wealth, nor of fame and renown, but of faithfulness and a legacy.

I don’t have to remind you of the rest of the promise, do I?  The psalmist spent no more time on it than will I:

Reject Him and what little impact you have on your world will fade and disappear with a strong wind.

A sobering thought.  Both parts of the promise, I mean.  


I think I like the idea of trees with roots that go down deep.  

Maybe the next one I plant will be like that.  No promises.

But, that other tree?

Our Creator keeps His promises.

Green leaves.  Fruit, in season.  Bounty.

I like trees.




God writes the Gospel not in the Bible alone, but also on trees, and in the flowers and clouds and stars.
(Martin Luther ~ German theologian/reformer ~ 1483-1546)

Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful.
But his delight is in the law of the Lord; and in his law doth he meditate day and night.
And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.

The ungodly are not so: but are like the chaff which the wind driveth away.
Therefore the ungodly shall not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous.
For the Lord knoweth the way of the righteous: but the way of the ungodly shall perish.
(Psalm 1 ~ KJV)


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

When the Music Stops

 I can’t see you.

I was out on a run this evening when her message arrived.  Having nearly runner-728219_640completed the first mile of a gentle three-mile run, I was feeling pretty good.

The music in my headphones suddenly stopped and the harsh clang of the message indicator hammered my eardrums.  I glanced down at my phone, held tightly in the plastic-and-velcro carrier on my arm.  The Lovely Lady had words for me.

I stopped.  When she talks, I listen.  Well, most of the time, I listen.  Sometimes, I just appear to be listening.  Perhaps, we’ll leave that subject for another day.

She couldn’t see my progress along the route on which I was running.  The fitness program I use not only tells me how far and fast I’ve run, it sends a GPS signal to other interested parties, showing where I am.

She’s interested.  I’m only half-teasing when I say she needs to know where to send the ambulance.

But tonight, she couldn’t see me.

I  made a change or two to the phone while standing alongside the road, sending a message back right before trotting on my way.

“Can you see me now?”

It took a few moments for her negative reply to arrive, but I was already back to full speed, and didn’t want to stop again.  I sent a curt, almost insensitive message.

“I’m just going to keep running.  Sorry.”

The problem is fixed now, so there shouldn’t be a repeat of her trepidation the next time I head out to feed the fitness bug.  

She needs to see me.

I know the feeling.

There are days, a lot like today—no, just like today—when I stop in the midst of all the commotion and overpowering sense of futility, and say the words.  Sometimes, I say them right out loud—sometimes I shout them in the vacuum of my spirit.

Where are you, God?  In all of this—this pointless exertion—are You here?

I can’t see Him.

On top of the commotion, a longtime friend’s mother was laid to rest today; and a young lady, whose acquaintance I made a few years back when she attended the local university, sent news that her father passed away early this morning. Another friend is grieving the loss of her granddaughter, only a year old.

I can’t speak for them.  I simply know it is at times like these when I want most to know that God is near.  And it is, for some strange reason, at times like these when I can’t see Him.

I can’t see Him.

And the music, which is the joy of life, has stopped.  Either that, or I just can’t hear the sweet melodies and harmonies in my ears like I could before.  Regardless, the silence is unbearable.

Blind and deaf, I stand—wondering if I’ll ever see Him again—uncertain if the sweet music will ever begin again.

It’s funny.  If you stand in darkness and silence for awhile, the senses are sharpened.  

Even now, I can almost hear the whisper—if I try.

I will never leave you or forsake you. (Deuteronomy 31:6)

I won’t leave you as orphans.  The world won’t see me, but you will. (John 14:18-19)

Even when you walk through the valley of the shadow of death, nothing evil will touch you. (Psalm 23:4)

The longer we listen to the whisper of His voice, the easier it is to hear.  In the quiet, He speaks to our spirits.  

We only have to listen.

Still.  I want to see Him.

I’m remembering today that we’re not home yet.  Here, we see dimly.  

There?  Face to face.  Clearly.

On that day, with our loved ones (if they were His followers), we’ll see Him.

What a glorious thought!

We’ll see Him.

That’s funny.  I think I can hear music again, too.  You know, there’ll be music in that place, as well.  The thought brings joy.

I want to see Him.  He does give glimpses here at times.  Enough to give us courage.  And strength.

So, I’ll keep walking.

You too?

We could walk together.

I’d like that.



So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord.  So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him.
(2 Corinthians 5:6-9 ~ ESV)



Open our eyes Lord
We want to see Jesus,
To reach out and touch Him
And say that we love Him.
(from Open Our Eyes, Lord ~ Robert Cull ~ American pastor/songwriter) 




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