All Together Now. Lift!

The boy was determined.  He didn’t mean to argue.  He just meant to help his grandfather do what he had said he was going to do.

This one’s a little too big to get over the fence.  We’ll have to drag it out the gate, after all.  Hopefully, the dogs won’t get out while we do it.

The boy’s aging grandfather was only being pragmatic.  After all, the mulberry limb was twelve feet long and loaded with unripe mulberries.  There was no reason to strain anyone’s muscles when the gate was just ten feet away.

Why don’t we lift together and just see if we can get it over, Grandpa?

The question was never an argument; it was simply a trial balloon, floated through the air in hopes that the old man would agree to help share the load, rather than insist on opening the gate.

For some reason, opening the gate seemed like failure to the kid with the faux-mohawk adorning his head.

The old man smiled.  He’s never worn a mohawk, but in the mischievous eyes of the boy (and also in the lad’s thought processes) he sees so much of himself fifty years past.

He wonders how different life might have been if offering such helpful alternatives had been possible in similar situations when he was that age.

He grew up in a day when no meant no.  One didn’t argue, or even offer alternatives.

And, I don’t mean maybe!  The red-headed lady who raised him said it often enough.

But, it was also a day when you pulled your own weight.  Period.

No, thanks!  I can get this just fine.  You go on and do your own job.

Self-sufficiency.  Take care of your business.  I’ll deal with mine.

Okay, Grandpa?

He jerked slightly and, looking toward the source of the words, saw the grinning boy lifting the end of the long branch already.  The boy’s older brother did his part in the center of the hefty limb, and Grandpa took a grip on the thickest section, lifting and hurling the whole affair over the tall chainlink fence with their help.

With their help.

Over the last few years, and especially in the last few weeks, I have come to realize, again and again, how much I need the assistance of others who care.  Many folks, none of whom were under any compulsion other than that of love, have helped me to lift the loads I couldn’t begin to carry myself.

The boy with the almost-mohawk is merely following the simple instructions the Apostle who loved to write letters gave to the good folks in the region of modern-day Turkey two thousand years ago.

He said, Share each other’s loads.  It’s how you fulfill Christ’s instructions. (Galatians 6:2-3)

The child, a sixth of my age, is learning to live by the words already.

Our creator designed us to function at our best when we perform in concert with each other.  He doesn’t need any one-man shows.

Elijah thought he was a one-man show and it nearly cost him his sanity.  God, speaking in His gentle whisper, suggested to him that wasn’t the way He worked.  No, my child, there are thousands more doing the same thing you are in the place I put them.  You’re not the only one—not even close.  (1 Kings 19: 12-18)

Somehow my mind needs pictures.  I read recently about direct drive motors, and it seems the perfect example. 

Direct drive motors.  None of us functions as one of those.   As the name intimates, direct drive needs nothing else to get the job done.  A power source and the motor.  That’s it.

We are not that.

Gearbox motors are a bit more complex, perhaps even a little less reliable.  Still, the Creator selected that technology when He determined how we, who are made in His own image, would interact with each other and the rest of His creation.

Gears, interacting with thousands, perhaps millions of other gears—teeth meshing with teeth, rotating in the exact place the Master Designer planned for each individual one of us.

Each gear is exactly as important as those it meshes with; not one could stop rotating without adversely affecting the movement of the whole.

No, we’re not merely cogs in a wheel.  We’re cogs in THE wheel.  Absolutely essential, every single one.  

A gear spinning by itself serves no purpose.  Sure, it’s pulling it own weight.

But, it’s going nowhere.  Fast.

A gear spinning by itself serves no purpose. It gets nowhere. Fast. Click To Tweet

We need each other.  

Just as I needed my grandsons today, we, on our journey, falter and fail without the interaction kindred spirits offer.

We help lift the load for others.

And, we allow them to help lift our load.

Funny.  That’s the way love works.

But, you already knew that, didn’t you?




He makes the whole body fit together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love.
(Ephesians 4:16 ~ NLT)


Doing nothing for others is the undoing of ourselves.
(Horace Mann ~ American educational reformer/politician ~ 1796-1859)




© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2017. All Rights Reserved.

Sidewalks to Nowhere

Well, that’s it.  We’ll head down to City Hall and pay our fine now.  After that, we’re done.  The new owner can move in tomorrow.

I grinned at the builder’s words, thinking he meant that fees still needed to be paid—for inspections or permits, possibly.  Then, looking into his serious eyes and noticing his chin shaking back and forth, I realized he was serious.

A fine?  Why would you have to pay a fine after building this beautiful new house?

With a wry chuckle, the man with the sun-bleached blonde hair explained.

Our little town, a forward-looking village of sixteen thousand residents, has a requirement in the building code which is intended to make all of the roadways friendly to pedestrians.  Every new home built must include a sidewalk across the front, the specifications of which may be found in the city code, and the cost of which may be passed on to the new homeowner.

It’s a good idea.  I like it.  Except . . .

Well? What’s the problem?

Why wouldn’t the man just have the forms prepared and lay a sidewalk at the same time the big truck backed up to dump the liquid concrete for the driveway?  Another hour or two; it would have taken no more.

I stood there on the side of the little cul-de-sac, looking around the neighborhood, and I laughed out loud.

It is an old neighborhood.  The little craftsman bungalow just finished next door is almost certain to be the last house ever built on the street.  The last one.

Not one of the other houses has a sidewalk in front of it.  They never will.

There is no need.  In this neighborhood, folks walk across lawns to the house next door, or three doors over, leaning over fences to talk with anyone sitting on a patio, or in their garden, or trimming the shrubbery.

If they’re going farther, they cross the pavement at long angles, perhaps even walking down the middle of the street.  Nobody will run them down.  The turnaround is just a few feet up ahead; why would anyone be going that fast?

He’s going to pay a fine of two thousand five hundred dollars.

Rules are rules.

One complies or they pay the price.

I don’t understand.  A segment of sidewalk must be laid in a neighborhood which will never have other segments of sidewalk to join it.

By itself, a sidewalk to nowhere will lie unused.  It will still require care.  Weeds will eventually grow in the expansion cracks filled with dirt that no schoolchild returning home will ever kick out.  If the homeowner doesn’t run a trimmer religiously along both edges, the lawn will inevitably cover it.

In the end, it will lie, cracked and useless, for all the world to laugh at the folly which required its construction in the first place.

The builder will pay the fine.

We don’t believe in sidewalks to nowhere.  We wouldn’t think of making useless rules that are ultimately costly and purposeless.

No one I know would ever make someone pay the price for not complying with the book of rules.

Or, would we?

Adamant, that’s what the city inspector will be.  Unmovable.  Unyielding.

Set in stone.  It’s what adamant means.  Like a diamond, harder than anything around it.

Adamant.  Too often, it’s what we are.

Unmovable. Unyielding. Too often it's what we are. Click To Tweet

It’s why we still build sidewalks to nowhere.

The Stone we should be building on, the one the other builders and their inspectors rejected?  (Matthew 21:42)

Turns out, He’s made of love—flexible, movable love.

Love that bends over backward to reach out to its neighbors.  In ways the rule makers and enforcers can’t possibly understand, love reaches every time.

Every time.

And, He wants us to be the same.

It’s the law we live under, the law of love. (Romans 13:8)

It’s time to stop building sidewalks to nowhere.  Even the old builder knows that.

Love reaches.

Every time.

Sometimes it pays the price first.

Love reaches. Every time. Sometimes it pays the price first. Click To Tweet



“Yes,” said Jesus, “what sorrow also awaits you experts in religious law! For you crush people with unbearable religious demands, and you never lift a finger to ease the burden.”
(Luke 11:46 ~ NLT)


He’s a real nowhere man,
sitting in his nowhere land;
Making all his nowhere plans
For nobody.
(Nowhere Man~ McCartney/Lennon ~ British singer/songwriters)




© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2017. All Rights Reserved.

Before I Sleep

“Don’t worry, Mr. Phillips.  You’ll be asleep through the whole process.”

I think she meant it to be reassuring.  No, I’m sure she did.

I’m not all that reassured.

I like being awake.  I’ve spent most of my life being awake.  I remember things that have happened when I’m awake better than otherwise.

I don’t sleep much—a habit the man who’s doing the procedure in a day or two says I need to break.  Come to think of it, that may be what he’s trying to help me with by having me sleep while he works.  He’s going to give me a jump-start on breaking the habit of not sleeping.

It’s a habit I’ve cultivated over a lifetime, one I don’t wish to have meddled with.

A few years ago, my young son-in-law sat at the dinner table one day and voiced his complaint.  The month-old baby in my daughter’s arms was the object of the young father’s concern.

“He just won’t go to sleep.  It’s like he’s afraid he’ll miss something while he’s out.”

All of us gathered at the table chuckled sympathetically, but the words rattled around in my head and hit a little closer to home than he intended.

I don’t want to miss anything!

I don’t.

Oh—in a day or two, I’ll lie down and let them put the IV into my arm and I’ll sleep.  I really don’t think I need to be awake while that nice man runs a probe through my arteries.  I actually believe that may be one of the few things I’d like to miss.

But the rest of it?  The conversations, the mealtimes, the concerts, the bike rides, the hugs, the tears, the singing, the soccer games, the shopping trips, the weddings, the funerals, and all the other events that make up a lifetime?

Those I don’t want to sleep through.

It’s time to be awake.

I remember sitting in the pew as a boy and singing at the top of my lungs (I always did) as the song leader swung his arm in that familiar 4 beat pattern.

Work, for the night is coming,
When man’s work is o’er.

It’s a great hymn, reminding us that we need to be up and doing while we have time.  The figurative night is the end of our life.

But, I have a problem.

I don’t know about you, but it seems to me it’s pretty dark in the world now.  The shades of night are all about us.

Is it time to sleep yet?

Shades of night are all about us. Is it time to sleep yet? Click To Tweet

In what we once called the Dark Ages, people gathered together in walled cities for protection against each other, closing the gates to any who were outside.  Inside lay safety.

Religious factions disparaged each other from the safety of their fortresses. Petty kings and rulers did the same from theirs.

Outside, chaos ruled.  Fear was the law of the land.  Those with power took whatever they wanted.  The common man survived, but only just.

Somehow today, it seems dark to me again.  Nighttime, one might say.

Still, it’s not time for sleep yet.  Now is the time to be up and doing.

In the dark.

We’re not home yet.

It’s time to shake off the sleep.  Time to drink another cup of coffee or splash cold water on the face.

Whatever it takes.

Perhaps, Mr. Frost said it better than I can.  If it comes to that, I’m sure he did.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,

And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep. *

I’m still awake.

I want to keep my promises.





This is all the more urgent, for you know how late it is; time is running out. Wake up, for our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is almost gone; the day of salvation will soon be here. So remove your dark deeds like dirty clothes, and put on the shining armor of right living.
(Romans 13:11-12 ~ NLT)



*(from Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening ~ Robert Frost)



© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2017. All Rights Reserved

The Ladder

Let’s just put in a new window.

She had a point.  The old single-hung window was pathetic, the lower pane broken, with a piece of plywood covering the missing glass.   The combination of dirty, scratched glass and the not-so-efficient plywood patch made it seem that the natural light outside had to squeeze its way in, rather than streaming in from the sky, as one would expect.  The paint on the window frame is peeling and it is easy to see that water has been leaking onto the wood for years.  Perhaps it really is finished.

One might have thought that—before today.

Today, I made what seemed like fifteen trips up a ladder with the sole intent of proving the old window still had some life left in it.  Fifteen trips up to a window twelve feet off the ground.  Fifteen trips back down.

I carried tools up to remove the old glass, tools to clean out the old glazing compound and glazier’s points, tools to scrape peeling paint, and even a tool to make sure the window won’t keep sliding open on its own.  I brought broken panes down.  I carried new panes up.

In between, I stood near the top of the ladder and labored.

Tomorrow, I’ll make a few more trips up and down.

The window is going to be fine.  Really.  The building contractor working on the new house next door to my old one looked over at it this afternoon and told me so.  He says it’s looking great.

The window is going to be fine.

I’m not so sure about me.  The old legs are shaky tonight.  Muscles ache and I have a slight cramp in the arch of my foot, where it rested on the rung—when it wasn’t climbing up or down the rest of the rungs.

I had a different scenario in mind when I insisted we save the old window.  It involved one trip up the ladder.  It involved one trip down the ladder.

No one wants to cover ground they’ve already covered.  Like Longfellow’s blacksmith, we want to see something attempted and something done.  Just like that—all on the same day.

Try.  Do.  Wipe your hands.

Tomorrow, I’ll go up the ladder again.  And very possibly, the next day, I’ll go up the ladder again.

And, in that realization, I see before me the analogy of my existence these days.

Each morning finds me in the same valley, looking up at the job I know must be done.  The mountain must be climbed, tasks will be attempted, but it seems certain the goal won’t be reached.

Weary and frustrated, I’ll slide down the mountainside one more time, only to tackle it again tomorrow.  The words Mr. Shakespeare put into the mouth of Macbeth centuries ago make their way even now into my own: Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow.

Hmmm.  One might get the idea I’m discouraged.  Perhaps, even angry.  

I have been.  Both of them.

As I did today when I descended the ladder for the last time, I have looked up and have seen, not the progress which has been made, but the great amount of the task yet to be accomplished.  

Standing on the ground, looking up this afternoon, even after hearing my contractor friend praise my attempts, it was easy to wonder why I even considered reviving that old window.

What an astonishing waste of time!  How do I justify the effort and expense?

And yet…

As I put away the tools and my ladder, a thought hit me.  They do that, you know.

I wonder what it looks like from inside the room?

Wearily, but with just a hint of anticipation, I clomped up the rough staircase inside.

I won’t say I was awestruck.  I wasn’t.  Still, as I stepped off the top step into the room, the difference was surprising.  Light, from the sunny Spring sky, filled the room.  All the dingy impediment of the old panes was a thing of memory.  

Now, we’re getting somewhere!

Sometimes, all it takes is to look at the thing from a different perspective.  We’ve been looking at it from the same side for so long, we can’t see how close we are to reaching the goal.

Tomorrow will be another day.  The journey still beckons, in all of its unromantic tedium.

I’ll climb the ladder again.  And again.

It’s how the light gets inside.

Climb the ladder again tomorrow. It's how the light gets in. Click To Tweet



Toiling, rejoicing, sorrowing,
Onward through life he goes;
Each morning sees some task begin,
Each evening sees it close
Something attempted, something done,
Has earned a night’s repose.
(from The Village Blacksmith ~ Henry Wadsworth Longfellow ~ American poet ~ 1807-1882)


Patient endurance is what you need now, so that you will continue to do God’s will. Then you will receive all that he has promised.
“For in just a little while,

the Coming One will come and not delay.
And my righteous ones will live by faith…”
(Hebrews 10: 36-38 ~ NLT)



© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2017. All Rights Reserved.