He had tears in his eyes.

I thought about that for many of the eight hundred and fifty miles it took to make the journey from my childhood home to the place which has been home to me for all of the forty years since that day. 

Exactly forty years ago today, I arrived in this little town.  One of my old friends jogged my memory of what day it was as we reminisced together one recent evening. 

The first day of winter in 1976 saw me packing every possession I owned in the little yellow Chevy and leaving my home in south Texas to make the one day journey north.  To what, I had no idea.

He had tears in his eyes.

The man I can’t say I ever really knew as a child, even though I had spent nineteen years living in the same house with him.  The man who had taught me so much about forgiveness and grace, but from whom I never heard the words, I’m sorry.  The man who was unmoved by the maudlin; untouched by the mushy emotion of human drama, was crying as he said goodbye to me.

I don’t remember ever seeing tears in his eyes before.  I’m sure now that he had cried in that time, but he was never one to show emotion to his children.  He disciplined and rewarded us; he taught and rebuked us; he provided all the necessities and encouraged us to be self-sufficient.  We saw the different facets of what a father did, but he did it without undue emotion and effusiveness.

Yet, he was crying as I pulled out of the driveway.  To say it was a moving experience (with absolutely no pun intended) would be a drastic understatement.

I don’t recall what he said as we parted.  I don’t remember if he gave me any money or last minute advice on life.  But, whenever I think about leaving home, I remember the tears in the eyes of the man whom I had always counted on to be rock solid.

Big boys don’t cry. 

I reminded myself as I pulled away from the house.  It didn’t work.

They do—and I did.

It was the best going away present a man could give his son.  In retrospect, I wish he had been able to do that earlier in my life, so I could have started learning the lesson I’m still absorbing.

There is no shame in showing your feelings. None. 

God designed us to feel emotions.

A lot of pain could be averted if we would simply allow the people we love to know how deeply we feel for them.  Words are good, but the emotions which spring from our hearts and move us to tears—or joy—or even fear, teach and reassure so much more than mere words.

I realized on that day, a significant date in my journey to manhood, that real men aren’t afraid to cry.

There have been a lot of other firsts in the forty years since that day for me.  First marriage (okay—the only one).  First child.  First snowstorm.  First time I was fired (I keep telling myself it wasn’t a real job anyway).  First day in business.  First car wreck (the other car was parked).  First time a policeman drew his gun on me (last time too, I hope).  The list could go on and on.

Some of the firsts have been monumental, some coincidental.  Not many have been more eye-opening than on that day thirty-five years ago, when for the first time, I saw my Dad cry over me.

This week we celebrate the leaving home of another Son.

This was no heading out without purpose, no going where circumstances took him.  This Son left His home to perform a specific task.

His Father knew, as the child left to go on His journey, that it would end badly (from a father’s perspective).  He also knew the journey and its end would achieve an amazing victory, a history-changing paradigm shift.  So He stood by and let His Son go.

Did God cry when His Son left home? Click To Tweet

Did He cry?  I don’t know.

I like to think He did.  Still, I don’t know.

I do know His heart was moved with Fatherly pride as the boy grew into a man (Matthew 3:17) and that in the pain of loss He couldn’t watch as the inevitable end came (what father could?), but turned away.  (Mark 15:34)

I really don’t know if God cries the way we experience it.

I do know He cares about us more than any physical father ever has—that He wants us to be with Him in the worst way. 

That’s what Christmas is about.

The manger, the shepherds, the wise men and the star?  They’re just incidental. 

The Baby came for one purpose.  To die.  For me and for you. 

I’m thinking if God does cry, it might be because some of us choose to remain separated from Him.  Grace is ours for the taking because of the Son who left His home that day so many years ago. 

My journey from home, forty years ago, is of no consequence in the grand scheme of the universe—my father’s tears of little moment in history. 

But, the reminder of both for me at this season, points dramatically to the real reason for our celebration. 

I’ll draw my loved ones close.  I’ll embrace some whom I don’t know, but who need to feel His love. 

I even might, as I contemplate a Father’s love, shed a tear or two of my own.

I am, after all, a big boy. 

And, big boys certainly do cry.



You keep track of all my sorrows.
    You have collected all my tears in your bottle.
    You have recorded each one in your book.
(Psalm 56:8 ~ NLT)


A little girl once asked, “Mommy does God cry?”
“Don’t be silly, God can’t cry, baby,” her mother replied.

“But what about when He looks down from Heaven above
And sees all the people who need His love?

And what about when He looks down and sees
The playground kids fall and scrape their knees?

Or how about Aunt Jane who can’t have baby girls or boys?
Or what about the poor kids who get no Christmas toys?

Maybe God would cry if He lived with my friend Tommy.
Whose daddy beats and bruises him and his mommy.

Or maybe if He looked down and saw people being killed,
I think He’d surely have eyes that are tear-filled.

But I think most of all, Mommy, what would have made God cry,
Is when He looked down at the cross and watched His baby die.”

The mother stood in silence as her eyes filled with tears,
For she knew her little girl was wise beyond her years.

Staring into deep blue eyes, the mother found courage to say,
“Yes baby girl, I think God looks down and cries every day.”





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

Listening to Linus

It’s almost impossible for the words and thoughts to come together when the well has run dry.

The statement comes from the preacher’s mouth, weariness in his eyes.  It is a reality he knows in his heart.  He does.  He just buried his wife’s father.  There is more—for him, an avalanche of trials.  He knows.

I nod my head in agreement.  I too, have felt it.  The drought.  Pain—and sorrow—and loss—all have drained the well dry.

No joy.  No words.  No voice.


And yet, I hear another voice in my mind tonight.  Strangely, it is the voice of a cartoon character.  

Linus, the blanket-hugging friend of Charlie Brown, has taken center stage and called for the lights.  Simply and clearly, he quotes the Christmas story from Luke 2 (verses 8-14), and walks offstage to tell Charlie Brown that’s what Christmas is all about.

Good tidings of great joy.  To all people.

I’m part of all people.  My preacher friend is too.  Probably, you are as well.  Okay, not probably.  You are.

All means all.

I’ve said it before:  There is joy in the journey.

It’s the kind of thing you say when things are going well.  The kind of thing one writes about when the heart is full.

And still, I promise that it is ever the truth, and I reiterate it even tonight.  

In the middle of the darkest night, with the path in front barely lit to see the next step, I affirm that joy accompanies us in the dark.

Even when the well seems dry, the voice mute, joy endures.

Great joy.

Even when the well seems dry, the voice mute, joy endures. Great joy. Click To Tweet

The Baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger was in for a rough ride.  For years, there wouldn’t be much joy to be found, either for Him or for all people.

It didn’t make the proclamation of the angels a lie.

Oh, there were moments of triumph.  He would teach the teachers; miracles would be performed, storms quieted.  Crippled folks would walk and blind men see.  There were brilliant moments of joy along the way to astounding darkness.

Funny.  The only way to the great joy that would be to all people was through the worst thing that could happen.

For the great joy that was set before Him, he endured even the shame of the cursed crucifixion. (Hebrews 12:2)

We follow Him.  It’s what we claim, isn’t it?

Great joy lies on that road—the road of following.  Sadness, too.  Perhaps even, a good bit of disappointment.  

Mostly though, joy.

And, in the end—all joy.  

Great joy.

Still, we follow.



Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.
(John 7:38 ~ NIV)


Sure on this shining night
Of star made shadows round,
Kindness must watch for me
This side the ground.
The late year lies down the north.
All is healed, all is health.
High summer holds the earth.
Hearts all whole.
Sure on this shining night I weep for wonder wand’ring far
Of shadows on the stars.
(Sure on this Shining Night ~ James Agee ~ American novelist/poet ~ 1909-1955)




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


It is a moment to be committed to memory—a moment filled with sight and sound—a moment to be returned to again and again.

The sound part of the memory, I can explain well enough.  I am a musician and understand melody and harmony, attacks and cutoffs, crescendos and decrescendos.  

I know how the members of musical groups interact with each other, listening—adjusting—blending.  It takes all the skill of most seasoned musicians to simply begin and end a piece at the same time, with reasonable rhythmic similarity in between.

But, the tears coursing down my cheeks are not to be explained so cavalierly.  The quietness that has fallen over the audience has nothing to do with the knowledge of tone and timbre, or with intonation.

But, I haven’t given much to go by, have I?  Possibly a paragraph or two of explanation will help.

For the last thirty-five years, give or take a year or two, I have sat at Christmastime in the beautiful old cathedral, with its oak panels and stained glass.  It has changed a lot in the last thirty-five years.  

So have I.

Candlelight Service.  It’s what they call it.  A plain brown wrapper that hides a treasure waiting to be uncovered, nearly every time.  I’ve been privileged to have a small part in the service for most of the years I’ve been there.

Tonight, after my small part was complete, I sat in the creaky old pew and waited for the whole thing to be over.

It’s been a rough year.  I’m having a hard time accepting changes I didn’t ask for.  I had a plan, yet things aren’t working out quite as I had envisioned.  Well, now that I think of it, not at all as I had envisioned.

I’m not much in the mood to get in the Christmas spirit.  So, I’m waiting for it all to be over instead.  I know I’ll get my wish.  Another few weeks and I’ll be home free.  Right?

The choir, led by a man I love and respect, a man who after thirty years is leading for his last time this Christmas, has just finished a very nice rendition of What Wondrous Love.  It was very nice.

Something is happening, though.  The man leaves his podium to stand near the piano and a young fellow is assisting a feeble-looking woman up the steps to the stage.  This is different.

As the octogenarian lady alights the podium, it is easy to see that she is anything but feeble.  Her stance behind the music stand makes it clear that she is in her element; the attention of the young folks in the risers is riveted on her face and hands.

She holds no baton.  She needs none.  From the first quiet notes of the piano, that much is evident.

The First Noel.  

Most in the audience have heard the carol a thousand times.  Maybe more.  I will admit, this arrangement is beautiful.

Most of the time, when I listen to this choir, I watch the musicians as they sing.  Forty or fifty college students—some of them music majors, others following various fields of study—have worked hard to prepare for this event.  They deserve the attention.

And yet, all I can see now is the lady on the podium.  As it turns out, it is all the young people in the risers see, too.  They will not take their eyes off of her for the next four minutes.

For my part, from the first notes the tears flood, literally flood, my eyes.  Still, the lady fills my sight.  Her hands, gnarled and aged, are beautiful in their communication of her wishes.  A tiny wave this way and the sopranos are singing the melody.  A little wiggle of her fingers and the volume drops as if someone has turned a knob on a stereo.  Then she motions to the whole group and the beautiful sound fills the great cathedral.

Suddenly, in an insight that does nothing to help my tears abate, I understand.  Taking nothing away from the abilities of the young singers, I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that the musician here is the ancient conductor standing in front of them.  They are simply the instruments upon which she plays.

Every note—every whisper of a sound—comes at the whim of her direction.  And these young singers understand that and give her exactly what she wants.

The result is nothing short of breath-taking.  Literally.  Breath-taking.

As the last notes die down in the cathedral, it seems to me that even the candles burning in the aisles momentarily flicker as the bated breath of nearly a thousand listeners is exhaled in the same instant.

What a sacred moment.

I’m not just talking about the music.  That was indeed, nothing short of astonishing.

But, God speaks through His handiwork and His servants.  If our eyes are open and our ears prepared to hear, He speaks.  To us, He speaks.

If our eyes are open and our ears prepared to hear, He speaks. To us, He speaks. Click To Tweet

I want to say more.

I don’t think I need to tonight.

It’s time for us to follow the Conductor.

What astonishing music He wants to make.






And do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as  instruments of righteousness to God.  
(Romans 6:13 ~ NASB)


A great work of art is made out of a combination of obedience and liberty.
(Nadia Boulanger ~ French conductor ~ 1887-1979)






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


The young voices sing in tight harmony, the air surrounding us almost trembling with astonishment at the beauty of their song.  We in the pews are in agreement with the atmosphere; to a person it seems, holding our breaths, not wanting to miss a note or a chord.

The carol began as a common Christmas song—with familiar words and melody—but it has become much more than that.  The young artists, led by that genius with a stick in his hand, started with the simple familiar tune and turned it into a symphony, a masterpiece of beautiful music and brilliant poetry.

Quietly, scarcely louder than a whisper, the voices draw us upward until, with more volume than seems possible from those young throats and greater skill than seems imaginable from musicians so inexperienced, we are overcome with wonder and with awe.

We who sit in the hard seats and listen have been carried far beyond the restraints of our time and circumstances.  For a moment which seemed an eternity, our spirits soared with the melodies and harmonies that have drawn us into the very presence of the King of Christmas.

It has always been so for me.  This music has power—power to soothe the spirit—power to move the soul—power to draw the heart from its deepest, darkest hiding place and lay it open before the Creator of all the Universe.

I know it is not the same for all.  My life has been full of music from the day I was born, until now in my waning years.  Many have had different experiences and have also lived joyfully.  I freely admit it.

Still—music moves me.

Can I go a step further and tell you what else moves me?

Just as much as the music.

It may come as a shock to the reader.  It did to me.

You see, I sit in the beautiful cathedral and am moved to tears by nothing more than sound in the air—that and the Spirit of God—and somehow, it feels natural and right.

But just this week, in my place of business, I was also moved to tears. . .

The old man had been in before.  He had The Look.  You know, that look in his eyes—almost empty, but a little wild, a little confused, and perhaps even, dangerous.  He shuffled in, shoulders slumped, a defeated shell of a man, without hope.

He is homeless, or nearly so.  Drifting from one relative to another, living under the stars when the weather permits, he calls no place home, but any place he lies down his bedroom.

He had a guitar to sell.  I’ve told his story before.  Well, not his, but the same basic story anyway.  No money, no food, the urge to find funds has led him to my door.  The guitar would feed him for a few days anyway.

Or, so he thought.

I didn’t want his guitar.

It is damaged and worn now.  It was not much better when it was new.  If I had bought it, the guitar-shaped-object would have found a semi-permanent home in my back room, a room which is already packed full by too many cheap, broken guitar-shaped-objects.

I didn’t want the guitar.  I told him so.

The wild eyes turned angry for a few seconds, and I worried that things might get ugly.  Then, he shrugged his shoulders and looking dejected, turned to go.

I wasn’t done, though.  I know, after years of sleepless nights and remorse-filled days, that it was not my place to turn him away without help.  I reached into my pocket and pulled out a couple of bills which I laid on the counter for him.  Immediately, the angry eyes were back and he waved away my offer disgustedly.

He didn’t want my hand-out.  He wanted to sell his guitar.

Quickly, I explained my dilemma.  Motioning with my arms at the guitars leaning against the back wall and the cases stacked in the aisles, I told him that I can’t—just can’t—acquire another guitar to repair.  Without disparaging his instrument, I made it clear.  I simply don’t need his guitar.

Again, I held out the money and begged—yes—I begged him to take it.  I suggested he could still sell the guitar to someone else who needs it.  For a moment, his demeanor brightened, as he saw a way to get more than he expected when he first came through my door.

Then another idea came to him.

“I’ll accept your gift.  But, I’m not going to sell this guitar.”  The old guy proudly gestured with the instrument.  “I know this guy who’s staying down by the tracks.  He says he plays, but he doesn’t have a guitar to use.  I’ll give this one to him.”

He reached a gnarled hand across the counter, first to take the gift I offered, and then again to grip mine in that ancient symbol of equality and respect, a handshake.

I looked into his eyes.

That’s funny.

They were as clear as a bell.  No anger.  No confusion.  No defeat.

Did I say they were clear?  I meant to say that they were clear except for the tears that welled up in the corners of each one.  As he let go of the firm grip he had on my hand, there were tears in my own eyes, as well.

He headed for the door.  I’m pretty sure he was taller than when he came in.  At least, his head was held up and the slump he had when he arrived was gone.

As he stepped outside, I heard his voice,  “God bless you, friend.”

I can’t explain it, but I felt chills.  Something like I felt when I listened to those young folks singing last night.

Something like it.

The apostle said that when we walk in love, our God smells a sweet aroma, as He did when His Son came for us.

When we walk in love, our God smells a sweet aroma Click To Tweet

This Christmas, as I worship in the beauty and opulence of the cathedral, with its stained glass windows and high ceilings, and all of it trimmed in oak, I’m going to remember that somewhere, out there in the cold and dirty world, a man plays a guitar.

The music inside might be prettier and more skilled.

I don’t know.

Somehow, I think the Savior of the world—the One who came as a baby on that first Christmas—I think He might consider the sound of that guitar playing down by the railroad tracks just a little sweeter.

Just a little.

A sweet aroma.



A song will outlive all sermons in the memory.
(Henry Giles ~ American minister/author ~ 1809-1882)


And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
(Ephesians 5:2 ~ ESV)




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

Of Advent—and Spit

Oh, that’s just gross!  Why do you guys have to do that on the floor?

It was about this time of year, a few years past.  

My little brass group had just finished practicing and were quickly moving our chairs and stands off the stage.  The choir had a rehearsal scheduled right after us and we wanted to be out of their way.  The young man speaking was one of several moving equipment back into the space we were vacating.

I looked at the floor, but saw nothing out of the ordinary.  Quizzically, I looked at the young man.

He gestured in a wide circle, indicating spots of liquid standing in close proximity to where the chairs had been moments ago.

“This—this—spit!  What is it with brass players?”

He shuddered once for effect and turned away without waiting for an answer.  The instrumentalists around me who had heard the exchange laughed, a condescending dismissal of the young vocalist’s squeamishness.

Yes.  I want to talk about spit.  

It’s a conversation I’ve been waiting to have for many years.

No one has ever wanted to discuss the matter with me.  I wonder why that is.

Perhaps, I should begin by explaining the liquid which is left on the stage when wind players complete their performances or rehearsals. The liquid is not spit.  

That’s right.  Not spit.

It’s merely condensation.  It’s what occurs when you blow warm, moist air into a cold metal tube.  Almost exactly what happens when you enter a cold automobile on a winter’s evening.  The windows fog up.  Do you call that moisture on the windshield spit?  Of course not.

So.  The irate young man was wrong.  Only condensation—not spit.

But still, I would like to talk about spit.

On a day in the music store not long ago, a mother stood with her brood of children, awaiting her turn at the checkout.  She looked down at the oldest of the four urchins and noticed a black mark on his cheek.

Without hesitation, she licked her thumb and rubbed his skin.  The black mark didn’t disappear, but it was less noticeable than before.  

The same couldn’t be said for the young man’s indignation.

“Did you just put spit on my face?”  He sputtered in his frustration.  “Why would you do that?”

The mother’s attempt at an explanation was only met with more disgust, and the young man stalked out to the parking lot to await his family in solitude.  He turned his face to glare back at the group as he exited.  The black mark was still there—smudged, but very much in evidence.

My mind goes back again.  

I remember hearing the story when I was a child, not much older than that indignant young man.  You may find it in the book of John in the Bible. (John 9)

The blind man stood, as he always had, waiting for something.  Something.  But, he didn’t know what it was he awaited.  

He had always been blind.  From the day he had arrived, squalling and screaming, light had never passed from his eyes to his brain.  Never.

He didn’t ask for anything.  He just waited.

The Teacher let His followers argue the existential questions for a moment or two.  Why?  Who?  How?  

They were the wrong questions.

Jesus had been sent to bring light to the world.  Here was His big opportunity.  

Time to impress with big words and ostentatious prayers.  He would wave His hands in the air and—Wait!  What is He doing?

He spit in the dirt.  

Spit.  In the dirt.

Then He mixed up some mud and, hands filled with the gross mixture, stood and slathered the slimy stuff on the blind man’s unseeing eyes.

“Did you just spit in my eyes?”

Duccio_di_Buoninsegna_-_Healing_of_the_Blind_ManThe words aren’t recorded, but one wonders.  Did the man hear the Teacher spit on the ground?  His ears, acutely trained to be his guide since he had no eyes, must have heard.  They must have detected the sound of dirt being mixed with the spit, and then recognized the rustle of robes, as the Master stood again.

Did he back away, putting his hand up to keep the ghastly stuff off of him?

No.  He stood, listening to the Man speak, giving His instructions.  He went, still blind, and washed the mud from his eyes.  

What an astounding result!  

Light, pure and clear, streamed through the once useless orbs.  Familiar voices spoke to him and, for the first time in his life, he put faces with the voices.  

He saw his home!  And his family!

Light shone in darkness—just not in the way anyone would ever have anticipated.

Spit.  What a gross thing!  

Why would Jesus have used spit, of all things?  

I have no answer.

I do know this.  We who believe are even now in the time of year we call Advent.  


Waiting for the Salvation of God to appear.

Just a warning.  It won’t be pretty.

Or sanitary.

Not even a little sanitary.

A baby will be born in a barn, among the filth and stench.  Dirty shepherds will come, not clean and freshly bathed, but straight from the dust and filth of caring for their livestock.  Stinking and crusted with grime.

The end of the story won’t be any more sanitary.  Bloody and sweat-covered, nailed to a cross of wood, He will die.

It won’t be pretty.  It won’t be romantic.  It won’t smell good, with aromatic candles fluttering in the breeze.

The little boy in my store didn’t understand that his mom wanted only for him to be clean.  All he saw was the spit.

I wonder.  We’re waiting.  

With the blind man, we’re waiting—for light.

It might not be as pretty as we’d like.  Perhaps not as dramatic, either.

A baby who is born in a barn can’t be all that powerful, can He?

His light comes softly, and in unexpected ways.

His light comes softly, and in unexpected ways. Click To Tweet

I think I’ll stand here and wait.  




We are not necessarily doubting that God will do the best for us; we are wondering how painful the best will turn out to be.
(C.S. Lewis ~ British theologian/novelist ~ 1898-1963)



…but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen,the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, so that no man may boast before God. But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption, so that, just as it is written, “Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord.”
(1 Corinthians 1:27-31 ~ NASB)




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