Not My Tree

Look, Grandpa!  The tree’s broken!

The sweet seven-year-old, disheveled blonde hair flying into her eyes, spoke the momentous words without any idea of the turmoil they would bring.  Within seconds, she was standing on a stepladder pulling little green fruit from the branches she could reach.  I almost didn’t remember to warn her of the impending stomachache.  Almost.

I was the one who felt as if he had been punched in the stomach.

The tree will die.  It is inevitable.

I am sad.

It’s really not my tree.  It doesn’t change how I feel about it.

The Lovely Lady and I are returning to her roots.  For nearly seventy years, the old house and surrounding property have been part of her family, her parents having moved in the house within a few years of being married.

We’ve spent several months breathing new life into the house, with the property needing as much resuscitation as the building.  Days, we’ve spent clearing overgrowth and dead limbs, along with more than a few saplings which had poked their branches up where they weren’t wanted.

But the old apple tree, with its gnarled limbs and bowed trunk—looking for all the world like an ancient fellow bent by years of backbreaking work—the old apple tree was meant to stay forever.

Forty years ago, it was.  Four decades back, this summer, I first tasted the fruit from that tree.  Sitting at the table, long hair to my shoulders and skinny as one of the branches of the tree, I ate—gobbled down, really—the serving of apple crisp set before me by the Lovely Young Lady’s mother.

Before the meal was done, I asked for another serving, and then another.  Slightly tart, yet pleasingly sweet, the crunch of the crumbly crust almost a surprise as one chewed, it was a treat to be savored and assigned to the memory banks for a lifetime.

I expected a repeat performance later this summer when the little green apples—the ones the neighborhood deer herd can’t reach from their hind legs—have turned to shades of yellows and reds.

My granddaughter is right.  The tree is broken.  An errant wind, whipped up in a rainstorm a week or so ago, has twisted the gnarled, bowed trunk and opened a crack that, as an old friend used to say, you could sling a cat through.

I feel as if an old friend has been told he has mere weeks to live.  The thought of losing this old companion is more than I want to contemplate, but still, my mind mulls over the future.

That night, my daughter assures me, the children went to bed with nary a sign of a bellyache.  I’m the one who is sick to his stomach.

I suppose it’s laughable.  I could understand an uninvolved individual chortling at the idea.

It’s a ratty old tree!  Who cares if it dies?  Plant another one there.  Or—better yet—build a fire circle with a pit.  Parties are better than apple crisp any day!

It’s not even my tree.

Well, in a way, I suppose it is.  You might call it the family tree.

I know.  Puns aren’t universally loved.  I love them, though.

You see, the Lovely Lady can’t remember a day when that apple tree wasn’t there.  I don’t know if her dad planted it or not, but he certainly tended it for decades, ensuring it would bear fruit and be there for the foreseeable future.  In a way, you might say, it was his legacy.

A legacy.

Better than money or belongings, this thing left behind, this family tree, carries with it special powers.  I look at it and am carried back forty years to apple crisp and fresh applesauce, straight from the Foley Food Mill.  The Lovely Lady goes back another decade and remembers climbing the old tree with her siblings, each in their own quadrant, to pick and eat the not-so-sweet fruit to their heart’s content.

Years of family history have gone by, and the tree that is not mine has seen every minute of those years.

But, this I remember and take heart:  The legacy will not die with the old tree.

Memories live in our hearts.  Long after that old tree is gone, I will, in my mind, taste the delicious desserts made from its fruit.

The legacy left behind is so much more important than trees that perish in the storm or money that is soon exhausted in the marketplace.

I was grafted into her family tree decades ago; although once a stranger, I was never treated as anything but a son and brother.  Her legacy is mine, and vice versa.

Funny.  Suddenly, I’m thinking of that other family tree I’ve been grafted into.

You know the one I mean.

We’ve been grafted into God’s tree, to be a part of His family forever.  (Romans 11:17)

Wild, unproductive branches, we.

Once, we were.

No longer.  With roots that go deep, this tree’s legacy is ours forever.

Even though it was never our tree, to begin with.

What a gift!

How would we not carry on the legacy and share it freely?

Carry on His legacy. Share it freely. Click To Tweet

I’m still sad about the apple tree.  Perhaps, I’ll plant another one.

Future generations may need to taste that apple crisp again.

I know I can still taste it.

And, it’s still good.



The great use of life is to spend it for something that will outlast it.
(William James ~ American philosopher ~ 1842-1910)


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.
(Psalm 1:3 ~ KJV)




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

Jubal’s Tribe

Have you ever considered how music touches our souls?

The preacher sat toying with his coffee cup, now mostly empty.  When we first sat down an hour before, it had been filled to the rim with the hot, black elixir.  

We had talked of history and faith and friends, along with a sentence or two about the glory days of our youth.  As our time together inched toward its termination, the conversation turned toward the philosophical.

My guitar-playing friend was there, as well.  He, as was his habit, contributed to the direction of our discussion with a short narrative about a man and his wife of many years who had sung together at a recent music event the storyteller had headlined.

The thing is, the lady has Alzheimer’s.  She doesn’t know her husband anymore, nor is she able to comprehend even simple questions or enter into conversation.  But, she sang.  

She sang.

It’s not the first story told about music and how it is so deeply ingrained in our very being.  Many others have their own anecdotes, family lore which lightens the darkness of sad periods in their memories.  I have my own. too. 

The last time I visited with the red-headed lady who raised me—my mom—before she left this life, she didn’t know me.  Told me I was no good.  Ordered me out of her house.

But, when I sat beside her in church that morning and held my hymnal in front of her, she nearly pulled it out of my hand as she tugged at it.  And, she sang.

She sang.

Tears came to my eyes as I visited with my friends that morning, just a week or so ago.  The three of us sat on the sidewalk at the cafe, conversations abuzz all around and cars passing by on the busy downtown street; all I heard was my Mama’s voice singing praise to her Creator.

Why does music touch our souls?

How is it that the words and melodies are written indelibly on our hearts when all else has gone dark?

From the depths of our being, when neither voices nor photos, nor even faces can bring familiar, well-worn paths and fellow-travelers back to mind, the introductory notes of an old hymn—or even a folk song or ballad—stir the synapses of the mostly unresponsive brain to recall the words and tune faultlessly.

Even my father-in-law, in the last years of his life almost completely unresponsive, would sit beside his wife as she played the piano, and his once strong voice would ring out the tenor part as if he had no impediment whatsoever.

Why does music touch our souls?

I attempted to interject my thoughts on the effect music has on our emotions, the right sequence of notes drawing tears in appropriate places during the course of a movie, or even the use of certain types of music to inspire courage and fidelity on the battlefield.

The preacher dismissed that as simply emotions, not actually the heart.  I, not sure I agreed, ceded him the point, since it was clear that any argument would have been merely subjective, without any possibility of claiming definitive proof.

Perhaps that’s a discussion for another day.  I’m not fully convinced.  I’ll have to think on that awhile longer.  

For today though, the question still demands an answer.  Why does music touch the soul—or heart, if you prefer—and leave its mark stamped thereon?

Jabal had a brother, whose name was Jubal.  He was the father of all who play the harp and pipe. (Genesis 4:21)

Jubilation and jubilees had arrived.  Seven generations after Adam, the gift of music began to be ingrained in the human spirit.  The birds in the trees no longer had any advantage over humanity, save that they could fly.  

Henceforth, the human spirit would be moved, not only by words and emotions, but by music.  Notes and chords, strung together and played or sung, would make their way inexorably and irretrievably into the hearts of men.

For those of us who hold a worldview shaped by Scripture, music would have the purpose of drawing men to God and glorifying Him.  The Word is full of evidence.  Read Psalm 95:1, Ephesians 5:19, 2 Chronicles 5:13, to only begin.

Scripture’s pages are full of the act of making music.  Across the ages, hearts were drawn irresistibly to God in song.

What a gift!

The weekend after that coffee morning with my friends, I stood in the Sunday morning worship service where the Lovely Lady and I fellowship and, once again, the point was made as clear as a mountain spring to me.

Although, I am often privileged to be part of the worship team on-stage, on this day I stood in the midst of the main group on the floor level.  My mind, as is too often the case, was on the more practical issues of my life—work, finances (or the lack thereof), uncertainties of the future—rather than focused on worship.

There was nothing spectacular about the music.  Nothing.

And yet, as I stood and sang, as I had been taught to do early in life by that red-headed lady I spoke of earlier, the eyes of my soul were drawn irresistibly to higher things.  

The God of all the universe has come to live within us.  To walk with us.  To put eternity in our hearts.

My voice broke.  As the tears flowed, my voice fell silent.

My heart did not. 

I wonder if He hears the song in our hearts when our voices fail us.

I wonder if He hears the song in our hearts when our voices fail us. Click To Tweet

I wonder.

Music touches our souls because the God who is Love knew we would need to be reminded.  Often.

What a gift!  The gift that soothes, that inspires, that makes the heart to soar.




Musick has Charms to sooth a savage Breast,
To soften Rocks, or bend a knotted Oak.
(William Congreve ~ English playwright ~ 1670-1729)



Sing a new song to the Lord,
    for he has done wonderful deeds.
His right hand has won a mighty victory;
    his holy arm has shown his saving power!
The Lord has announced his victory
    and has revealed his righteousness to every nation!
He has remembered his promise to love and be faithful to Israel.
    The ends of the earth have seen the victory of our God.
Shout to the Lord, all the earth;

    break out in praise and sing for joy!
Sing your praise to the Lord with the harp,

    with the harp and melodious song,
with trumpets and the sound of the ram’s horn.

    Make a joyful symphony before the Lord, the King!
Let the sea and everything in it shout his praise!

    Let the earth and all living things join in.
(Psalm 98: 1-7 ~ NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.



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

Never Satisfied

I wish I knew how it happened.  Maybe I’m just too competitive.  Someday, I’ll learn.

Nearing the end of a bicycle ride today, I noticed an athletically-built young man on his bike some distance ahead of me.  Going the same direction as I, but with the interval between us lessening steadily, it appeared I would be ahead of him fairly soon.

He rounded a curve in the road and glanced back to see me a couple hundred feet behind.  Immediately, he stood up on his pedals and began to pump away, swinging the bike wildly from side to side with his muscular grip on the handlebars. 

It was hard to misinterpret his intent.  There was no way this old man was going to pass him!

Oh, man!  Challenge accepted!

I didn’t stand up.  I didn’t throw the bicycle from side to side.  I simply spun the pedals faster, exerting myself where I had been on autopilot a moment before.  As I reached a higher speed, I flipped the right-hand brake lever (also the shifter) to the side and the derailleur on the back wheel dropped the chain over one sprocket, sending more of my expended energy to the wheel propelling the lightweight machine of metal and rubber.

Within a quarter mile, I had overtaken the young man and, acting the part of the gracious winner (merely acting, mind you), greeted him in passing, only to hear his backdoor criticism of my feat.

“That’s an awesome bike, man!”

I sputtered out a comment about it being a great day for a ride and pedaled on past.  He turned a corner moments later and was lost from the view of my little rearview mirror.

I pedaled on at the same speed for awhile, but slowed gradually as the short, odd interaction took over my mind.

He’s not wrong.

It is a wonderful bicycle.  

It’s a lot more bicycle than a rider like myself deserves.  It was offered to me for a very reasonable price by an old friend just over a year ago.  Since the Lord had recently blessed me with an extra sum of money earned playing my horn, I had the wherewithal to afford it and I purchased it.

I understand how nice the bike is.  That’s not my problem.

The thing is, the bicycle didn’t overtake the fellow on the road today.

I did.

Lest you think I’m getting a size or two too large for my lycra shorts, let me assure you I understand very clearly my limitations as a cyclist.

I’m not that good a rider.

But, here is what I know, mostly from long periods of time spent doing just the opposite:  If one rides regularly, one develops the ability to ride faster and farther.

You have to ride your bike.

A month ago, the young athlete would have pulled away from me easily, showing up this old man on his awesome bike.

That beautiful bicycle sitting in the storage barn could never have passed anyone by itself.  And, ridden by a cyclist on the road for his first outing in a year, the result would certainly have been a losing effort.

As often happens, while my mind was still chewing on the remnants of this earlier event, a seemingly unrelated activity later in the day gave me something new to contemplate.

I was glancing at my smartphone, and decided it was past time to clear out the notes reminding me I need to pick up eight-penny finishing nails (the 8d nails are in the pine window jamb already), or that I couldn’t forget to buy a new battery for my truck’s key fob (I did that six months ago). There were lots more, but most are just as mundane—and outdated—as these, so I won’t bore you with a recitation of them all.

One note caught my attention as I flipped past though, so I quickly scrolled back up to it.  It was a little blurb I wrote months ago, thinking about who-knows-what? at the time.

Be content with what you have, but never with where you are.

Somehow tonight, the words jumped off the screen at me.  I’ll delete those other notes later.  This is important stuff!

The apostle who once was called Saul made the statement.  Well, he actually made two different statements, but both are rolled up in this one.

Thanking his friends for sending a gift to him, the letter-writing apostle hastened to let them know he had no problem functioning with whatever God provided.  I have learned, in whatever condition I find myself—with that, to be content. (Philippians 4:11)

Earlier in the same letter, he had encouraged them to keep moving—leaving the past and its accomplishments behind—to the goal, never staying in the same place. (Philippians 3:12-14)

The two statements stand, seemingly in opposition to each other.  When combined though, they form a principle with the capability of radically changing the way we live our lives.

Be content. 

Never be satisfied.

It messes with the brain a bit, doesn’t it?

Be content with what you have, but never with where you are.


I have a very nice French horn which sits in its case on my floor.  Well sure, I have the horn, but why didn’t our Creator make me a prodigy so I could play it effortlessly and flawlessly (and even earn money for more nice cycling equipment)?

I wonder.  I have the horn.  Perhaps, I could practice and then possibly, I might someday be able to play it adequately.

Some may wish they could execute beautiful counted cross stitch projects, having needle and thread already in their possession, but lacking the ability and the training to immediately achieve their dream.  I wonder if such a person might start by sewing buttons on shirtsleeves and then see what comes next.

If I gaze longingly out toward the storage barn, remembering the awesome bicycle out there, but wishing for the strength and understanding to operate such a conveyance, I’ll never have more than that bicycle—sitting idle in storage.

It takes time and dedication to be able to use His gifts properly.  

And somehow, when we commit ourselves to moving forward, He seems to give better gifts with which to make the journey.

Be content with what you have, but never with where you are. Click To Tweet

It’s time to take what He’s blessed us with and move in the direction He points us.

Towards Him.

Closer to home.

It is an awesome bike.

Time to get in the race.




Our battered suitcases were piled on the sidewalk again; we had longer ways to go. But no matter, the road is life.
(On the Road ~ Jack Kerouac ~ American novelist ~1922-1969)





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

Not Going Back

She was so kind to write the note.  She gets it.  I’m always happy when I know folks really pay attention to what I’ve written.

The problem is, I think she may have come to the wrong conclusion.  It’s not her fault.

I wrote about Joseph and his unhappiness in Egypt, expressing my hope that at some point before my demise, I can learn to respond to new situations appropriately.

Her note complimented the article and then, with only three words, sent shivers down my back.

Welcome to Egypt.

My brain has been working on that statement all day.  Twenty miles, I rode my bicycle with a friend, and, in spite of good conversation as we rode, the question occupied my thoughts.

Am I in Egypt?  

Later, I mowed and trimmed my entire yard and, with only a moments rest, as I groused at the black lab who thought it appropriate to lick my face when I bent down (defenseless) to attend to an untied shoe, my poor brain labored with its problem nearly as hard as my body did with the obvious task at hand.

But by now, well past bedtime for most normal folks, I’m certain I have the answer.  Positive.

I’m not in Egypt.

I’m not.

Do you know that months before I was moved—against my will (and not quietly)—out of the my previous situation, I knew God had other plans for me?  I did.  Absolutely knew it.

I wrote about it, several times.

Crossing bridges. (Another Bridge, March 29, 2016) 

Doing a new thing. (New Things, February 29, 2016)

You may read about it for yourself.  It’s all there in the archives.

Oh, the arrogance.

I knew it.  I just wasn’t having any of it. 

Sometimes, our Creator has a way of moving us, when we’ve decided the place we are is just fine, thank you.

It’s sort of like the Children of Israel in the book of Exodus, when they thought they might like to stay in slavery.  You know, because it wasn’t all that bad.  

All their memories were of Egypt.  Not one of them had ever set foot in the Promised Land.

They would move, though.  When they were moved—against their will (and not quietly)—out of Egypt.

Out of Egypt.

If anything I’ve written over the last few months has led you to believe that I’m disappointed with where I am, I want to apologize.

It’s just that where I was was comfortable.  And safe.

And just like the complainers in the desert (and even like Lot’s wife before them) I’m looking before me at this unfamiliar and dangerous landscape over the bridge which has just been crossed, and yet, I’m still gazing back at the comfortable and safe place I’ve just vacated.  

I’ve stayed here too long—looking back.

Even now, He’s making paths in the wilderness ahead.

Even now, He’s making paths in the wilderness ahead. Click To Tweet

He’s filling the rivers in the dry wasteland before me with water.

Cool, clear water.

I don’t want to go back to Egypt.

Home lies ahead, not behind.

I’m going forward.

So thank you, my old friend, for the welcome.  But, I’ll pass.  I’m going the other direction.

Out of Egypt.

Going home.



The desert shatters the soul’s arrogance and leaves body and soul crying out in thirst and hunger. In the desert we trust God or die.
(Dan B Allender ~ American Christian therapist)


For I am about to do something new.
    See, I have already begun! Do you not see it?
I will make a pathway through the wilderness.
    I will create rivers in the dry wasteland.
(Isaiah 43:19 ~ NLT)
(Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. All rights reserved.)



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

Drowning Fish

This is not what I was made to do.

I have said the words more times in the last weeks than ever before.  One might almost think I’m unhappy.

One would be right.  Some of the time.

I’m a communicator.  A people person.  I use words.  It’s how I survived in the retail market for nearly forty years.

That was then.

Today, I hung a kitchen cabinet door.  Three times.  The same one—three times.

I’m not good with cabinet doors.  Or sheetrock.  Or wall trim.

The red-headed woman who raised me had an apt simile for such a situation.  She usually did.

He’s like a fish out of water.

It’s nothing to joke about.  A fish out of water is terminal.  It will die.

I don’t think I will die from my attempts at home remodeling.  If you could be a spider in the corner though, you’d think someone was dying.

My griping and grousing are vocal and vehement.  I call myself names.  I call the materials I’m working with names.

I even bring God into the conversation, accusing Him and questioning His wisdom in trusting me with this task.

It does feel as if I’m drowning and can’t get enough air.  With sweat running down my back and face, I do the task once, twice, and a third time—all with the same result.

Do you ever feel as if you're drowning and can't get enough air? Click To Tweet

Drowning.  In frustration—and impatience.  But, mostly in self-pity.

And yet. . .

And yet, I am not a man drowning in water deep, nor a fish tossed up on the river bank to flop until, gasping for the water rushing through my gills from which to draw the filtered oxygen my body demands, I finally lie still forever.

I am not drowning.  I am in an uncomfortable situation—one in which I’ve never found myself before.

But, it’s not the first time.

And, I’m not the only one.

The King of Creation sometimes lets us know we’ve become too comfortable, too complacent.

It’s a good thing.

I keep telling myself that.  It’s a good thing.

I wish I could have remembered it earlier today.

I wonder if Joseph, he of the many-hued robe, was any better, day-to-day, in remembering that God only wanted good for him.

I imagine he wasn’t—day after tedious day.

I want him not to have been any better.  It would make me feel less guilty, anyway.

I want Joseph to have muttered under his breath when he was forced to be a house slave in Egypt. I want him to have defended himself, at least in a whisper, when accused of acts he would never have committed. I want him to have screamed at God as he sat, forgotten and betrayed in that horrible dungeon.

It would be easier to look at my own face in the mirror if those things were true.  At least, it seems so to me tonight.

But then, griping and muttering past, I want, like Joseph, to understand God had a plan all along.

I also want—in the end—to have made the right choices, even when it felt as if those very decisions were what was making life an unfamiliar maze, one in which there was so little air that it felt suffocation was seconds away.

And, gasping for air, I finally want to trust a God I cannot see with the things I hold in my hands and the future I can just make out in the distance ahead.

I will go back tomorrow and take that cabinet door back down, only to put it back up again.

I will hear, over the dissenting voices in my head, the quiet tones of my father, quoting those familiar words from the heart of Jeremiah, the crying man.

I know the plans I’ve made for you, says your Creator.  They are for great good—for your benefit and not for your harm.  There is hope.  There is a future to which you should look with anticipation.  (Jeremiah 29:11)

And, whether Joseph did or not, I will probably yell some more.  I may even shout at God in my frustration and anger.

He can take it.

He knows (and remembers clearly) how we were formed.  He knows that we came from dirt.  (Psalm 103:14)

And still, He seeks to shape us into something better, something more refined.

And still, He seeks to shape us into something better. Click To Tweet

While we gasp for breath in a new environment, He is breathing new life into us.

It’s time to do the new thing He has put in front of me.

Perhaps, there is more for me to do.

Breathe deep.

Keep moving.

The future lies just ahead.




They did what soldiers always did.  They improvised.
(Geoffrey Norman ~ American writer/editor)


Alive without breath;
as cold as death;
never thirsting, ever drinking;
clad in mail, never clinking.
Drowns on dry land,
thinks an island
is a mountain;
thinks a fountain
is a puff of air.
(from The Hobbit ~ J.R.R. Tolkien ~ Ballantine Books, New York. Copyright 1937, 1938, 1966.)





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

No Good Deed

I never saw the cat.

Its teeth, now—those, I felt.  They were sunk into my calf, just above the ankle.  For about half a second before the pain registered, I remember hearing the sound of an angry (or was it terrified?) mama of the feline species.

It wasn’t enough warning.  

There was going to be blood.  I just knew it.

No good deed goes unpunished.

The adage has been in popular usage for a number of years now.  I find myself saying it now and then, not as absolute fact, but simply to explain the unhappy events which seem to occur even as I happen to be on my best behavior. 

I was helping move a dresser out of my daughter’s house.  Her husband and I had carried the unwieldy thing down a flight of stairs and wound our way through the dining room and then the living room.

I walked backward the entire time.  I don’t really mind going backward if the end result is to make progress in a positive direction.

The problem with walking backward is that one is dependent on other folk to sound a warning if you are about to do something foolish—like step on the sweet little mama cat who is rushing to get out of the way of that monster piece of furniture and the two humans on either end of it.

I was simply trying to be helpful.  It didn’t stop the sharp little teeth of the frightened feline from piercing my skin.

No good deed. . .

It’s not true, you know.

The cat bite was not payment for my good deed.  It was nothing more than a natural event.  I stepped on the cat’s foot and it did the only thing it knew to do.

It wasn’t her fault.  Nor mine.

I have heard the discussion innumerable times.  God is testing me. 

Possibly.  Possibly not.

There are passages in the Word which speak of that process.  I may be forgetting some, but it seems that, overall, God uses the tests which come along, but doesn’t necessarily cause them.

I especially like the words we find in the book of James.  They state the case simply.  More importantly, they give me hope.  

Really.  Hope.

I used to be discouraged because I have never thought it a joyful occasion when I was in dire straits.  I felt guilty and somewhat like a failure.

The reality is we’re told to consider it an opportunity for great joy.  The joy comes in persevering.  It comes in standing firm and then making our way out on the other side of the trial.  The finished product will be just that—finished and complete.  (James 1:2-4)

Joy comes with the finished product! Click To Tweet

Joy comes with the finished product!  But, here’s the thing:  We have to stick with doing the good things that have been put before us.

He will use the testing to make us into the men and women He wants us to be.

But, in the midst of disaster, we have to keep slogging on through.

Whether blood is running down our ankle or not, we keep carrying the burden.

Whether he is grateful or demanding, we help our neighbor.

Even if it means our livelihood or friendships, we stand on the side of truth and justice.

He knows me.  When I have been tested, I’ll come through as pure gold.

No, not this scribe.  I’m not ready to make that claim.  Yet.  

Job was, though.  (Job 23:10)

Talk about no good deed going unpunished!  That man knew the length, width, and depth of testing.  And still, he was determined.  He would follow his God.  

To the death he would follow Him, if need be.

And, come through with flying colors.  Shining as gold.

I have been discouraged a good bit recently.  The insignificant cat-nipping event aside, I have been wondering—both to myself in the dim and quiet hours, and aloud to others in the light of day—if the result will be worth the cost.  I know many who are in similar situations.

Discouragement and exhaustion are the detours frequented by those on the journey who are soon to fail in their missions.  

Discouragement and exhaustion are detours, frequented by those soon to fail in their missions. Click To Tweet

Encourage each other while it is still daylight.  (Hebrews 3:13)

While the blood is yet streaming from the bites, and the sweat is dripping from the foreheads, we help others along their journey.  We must.

The truth is that no good deed goes unseen and unrewarded.

Not one.

It’s not an adage.

It’s a promise.

Whether we’re walking backwards, with no way to see the path before us, or running at breakneck speed toward the finish line, we keep moving.

That way.  

Toward home.



God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them.
(Hebrews 6:10 ~ NIV)*


He had not yet learned that if you do one good deed your reward usually is to do another and harder and better one.
( C.S. Lewis ~ British author/theologian ~ 1898-1963)


*Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.


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

Cool Water

The whole time I hacked at those stubborn stumps, the only thing I could think of was getting a drink of water.

Cool, clear water.

I stood out in the early summer sun again today, swinging that mattock.  One would think the pain from the blister I just tore the top off would give me something else to think about.  

One would be wrong.

The sweat poured from my forehead burning my eyes, all the while, soaking my clothes.  I gasped for breath from the exertion.  Water was all I needed.

Cool, clear water.

At my age, I can’t keep swinging the heavy tool over my head incessantly.  I stopped, again and again, leaning on the wooden handle and thinking about the two black labs over at their water dish, lapping up water to quench their thirst as if the liquid would never run out.

Lucky dogs.

Finally!  The last piece of wood was dug out of the ground and I threw down the heavy double-edged tool and headed into the house.  

My hand—with the raw blister oozing blood—throbbed painfully, but, do you think I looked for salve and an adhesive bandage the moment I came through the door?

I did not!

Water!  Nothing was more important to me in that instant.

Cool, clear water. 

I gulped it down, that life-giving elixir, pure and clean.

Ahhh!  I’ve never tasted anything better.  


But, there was something else I was going to write about when I sat down tonight.  What was it?

Oh yes.  I’ve got it!

Cowboy music.  That was it.

Some of you knew I was going to talk about it.  You’ve either reached a certain age when you can remember the Sons of the Pioneers, with Roy Rogers among their ranks, harmonizing sweetly on the song close to eighty years ago.  Or perhaps like me, your Dad sang it while working in the hot sun of South Texas or whatever place under the hot sun you hail from.

Cool Water.  Cool, clear water.

I hummed it while I stood and sweated in the sun myself today.  It is a song about a man and his faithful mule, Dan, who wander through the desert day after day, looking for nothing more than the next drink of water.  Full of warnings of false hope (mirages) and prayers to God above for relief, it’s a cautionary tale about wise choices and the drudgery of life when days and nights of hoping and praying turn into more days and nights of hoping and praying.

I don’t usually find much inspiration in cowboy songs.  This one makes me think.

All day I’ve faced the barren waste
Without the taste of water, cool water
Old Dan and I with throats burned dry
And souls that cry for water, cool, clear water.

Keep a-movin’, Dan, don’t you listen to him, Dan
He’s a devil not a man
And he spreads the burning sand with water
Dan can you see that big green tree
Where the water’s runnin’ free
And it’s waiting there for you and me?*

The Teacher said if we have open hands and will share cups of cold water with those in need, we’ll be rewarded.  (Matthew 10:42)

On a recent afternoon, our soon-to-be-neighbors demonstrated that generosity, offering bottles of water to our grandchildren, along with the Lovely Lady and me, as we worked raking a section of our new yard which had been neglected for many years.  It was a kind thing to do.

I believe the Teacher.  They will be rewarded.

But, I wonder if He had more in mind than the simple physical act of handing water to those who are thirsty.

I don’t want to discount that act—not at all.  There was a day when our Savior desperately could have used such an offer.  He had fasted and prayed.  In the desert.  Forty days, he had gone without food.  We’re not told that He was thirsty, but we do know He was desperately hungry.

The tempter showed Him a mirage and gave Him permission to eat.  Offers of safety and of glory followed, but the devil could give Jesus none of those things.  Like a magician’s tricks, not one of the things he offered was real. (Matthew 4:1-11)

Unlike old Dan the mule, the Teacher knew a mirage when He saw one.

We should offer the cold water.  But what about when it’s the “soul that cries for cool, clear water”?

What if the soul cries out?  What then?

What if the soul cries out? What then? Click To Tweet

When Jesus sat at Jacob’s well in Samaria, he first gave the woman who came the opportunity to be the one who offered a cup of cool water.  But, He knew something more was needed. (John 4:4-15)

Her soul was thirsty, needing cool, clear water.

He gave it to her.  Water, so her soul would never be thirsty again.

I’m going to keep the bottles of water ready to share with other thirsty travelers.  But, I’ve got a dipper handy beside that other, ever-flowing spring bubbling up inside, too.

It’s no mirage.

The water’s running free, and it’s waiting there for you and me.

Cool, clear water.



When you drink the water, remember the spring.
(Chinese proverb)


Jesus replied, “Anyone who drinks this water will soon become thirsty again. But those who drink the water I give will never be thirsty again. It becomes a fresh, bubbling spring within them, giving them eternal life.”
(John 4:13,14 ~ NLT)


*(from Cool Water ~ © Songwriters Guild of America ~ Dan Nolan ~ American singer/songwriter ~ 1908-1980 )



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

Nothing Up My Sleeves

I still remember that evening, decades ago though it was.

My first magic show.  Words will never do the memory justice.

In the parking lot of the local Sears store, the stage stood, ready to snare the attention of any passing urchin with its bright spotlights and mysterious contraptions.

I was snared.  Captivated even.

Rabbits and doves out of a hat.  Handkerchiefs out of the mouth.  Water in cups which turned into confetti when tossed on the onlookers.  A beautiful woman sawed in half.

With mouth agape and eyes glued on the flashy showman,  I didn’t miss a move.

I thought.

I wanted to be a magician.  Nothing else mattered.  Forgotten was the determination to be a fireman, followed closely by the idea that a doctor’s life might be more rewarding.  I would be a magician.

Dad had an old magic kit in the garage and, immediately, I dug it out to began practicing for my life’s vocation.

Voracious reader that I was, I couldn’t wait to check out a volume or three at the local library on the mysterious art.

I wasn’t prepared for the disappointment.

It took no time at all to learn everything I needed to know about magic and magicians.

Magic was all trickery and deception.  All of it.

The men who practiced it?  Con men.  Charlatans.

Lies and sleight-of-hand.  Nothing more.

I wanted to do amazing acts and see magic (the real thing!) happen. There is no such thing.  Magic is all misdirection and props hidden up the sleeves.

What an unhappy let down!  And, what a disillusioned young boy!


I’m older now.  Much older.

With the apostle who shares my name, I want to believe when I became a man, I put away childish things. (1 Corinthians 13:11)

For many years, I thought I had.

Now, I’m not so sure.

I saw the quote the other day, a phrase from a song by a popular vocalist.  As an aging man, realizing the years left in my earthly journey are fewer than those I’ve already traveled, it seemed an encouraging thought—for a moment or two.

I’d like to think the best of me is still hiding up my sleeve.*

I want that to be true.

Problem is, I’ve never had anything good up my sleeve at all.  I’m sure of it.  And yet, I have been practicing for many years.

All I’ve got is trickery and deception.

And, I’m terrified—absolutely certain the day will come when the facade will be pulled down to reveal the emptiness behind the curtain.

There’s nothing up my sleeves.  Nothing.

All the self-help books a man can check out from the library do no good, either.  It’s still lies and sleight-of-hand.

Just like the magic.

But, there is the one Book.  I’ve been doing some reading in that.

The Teacher, the one some thought was doing parlor tricks,  made clear to His followers there was only one way they could do good.

Live your life in Me and there will be much for them to see.  But apart from Me, you’ll have nothing—nothing at all.  (John 15:5)

There may yet be spectacular deeds done. It will be His doing. His alone. Click To Tweet

There may yet be spectacular deeds done.  The best could be just around the corner.

It will not be something to applaud me for.  There will be no adulation from the crowd for me.

Every good gift—every single one—and every excellent gift come from above, given by the Father of Lights.  (James 1:7)

I am content with that.

There’s still nothing up my sleeves.

There never was.



It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
(Galatians 2:20 ~ NLT)

I have seen the moment of my greatness flicker,
And I have seen the eternal Footman hold my coat, and snicker,
And in short, I was afraid.
(from The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock ~ T S Eliot ~ British Essayist ~ 1888-1965)



*from No Such Thing ~ John Mayer ~ American singer/songwriter




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

Grace Comes Quietly

I can’t remember when I’ve been more frustrated.

I like things to be done in a logical manner.  When rules are followed, all is right with the world.

Or, is it?

My morning—as truth be told, have many other mornings over the last couple of months—was spent in dealing with one single company.  The company promises to make life easier for me as the owner of a website.

The frustrating thing is, they aren’t.  Making life easier for me, that is.

From the beginning, the hoops have been held in front of me and I have dutifully jumped through them.  I like order and calm, you see.  My assumption, when this journey started, was that by jumping through the hoops, I would achieve the goal.  

Rules followed?  Goal achieved.  That’s the way it’s supposed to work.

The only thing jumping through the hoops has achieved in my case is the presentation of more hoops. Today, I would jump through what I believe to be the last hoop.  

Well, really, the last hoops. 

Muttering the entire time, I collected all the information the company required, and driving the well-traveled road to my bank, found a helpful young lady who was in possession of a legal stamp which proclaimed her to be a notary public.

I sat at her desk, proffering document after document to prove to the company that I am who I say I am.  She dutifully stamped the copies and, watching me sign the final affidavit required, asked me if I was sure I was done. 

I want to be done.  I wish this were the end of this particular journey.

I’m not convinced it is.  There will be more hoops to be jumped through—more rules with which to comply.

There always are.

While sitting at the nice young lady’s desk, I needed to separate a couple of pages of a document which were held together with a tiny staple.  I pulled it out with my fingernail.  She quietly mentioned that she had a staple remover, but I persisted in my quest without her help.

The tiny staple sat on her desk for a few seconds, only to find its way into my hand as I waited for her to make copies.  I bent it back into the shape it had been in the paper.  Then I bent it in half from that.  Fidgeting still, I bent it again.

By the time my visit to the bank was completed, the staple was just a dot of crumpled metal in my hands.  I would have thrown it away, but the trash can was behind the nice lady’s desk.  I didn’t reach past her to toss it in.

I carried the tiny thing out with me.  I could toss it into the dirt under a tree outside.

I didn’t.

Good people don’t throw trash on the ground.  I would toss it into the tray in my pickup.

I didn’t.

The same thought came to me as I considered the deed.  Someone would have to pick that up.

All the way home I held the tiny piece of metal between my fingers, its sharp ends and bent edges uncomfortable on my skin.  Not until I walked through my door and into the kitchen, did I release the minuscule dot from my hand into the trash can under the sink.

Even then, I wondered if it could have been put in the recycle bin.

I hear the words now.  

What a strange thing to write about!

What a stupid thing to do! 

What a ridiculous amount of energy wasted for nothing!


Did I forget to tell about the lady who followed me out the door?  I did, didn’t I?

I walked out the door of the bank, carrying my final (or not) hoop to be jumped through in one hand and the pesky little staple in the other.  Focused on the little inconveniences of the day, I didn’t realize that a lady carrying her young child was close behind me.

Yep.  I let the door close right in her face.  

And the Teacher said to the religious leaders gathered there, calling them blind guides: You strain the gnats out of your drink, and satisfied with the result, swallow a camel instead. (Matthew 23:24)

I left the lady and her child to deal with the door on their own.  I had more important things on my mind. 

I carried my little staple all the way home.  All the way.

Later this afternoon, as I sat at a traffic signal, I felt that old familiar surge of pride as I watched the driver of the car ahead toss the still-smoking filter end of a cigarette out on the pavement.

I’m better than that one!

No.  I’m not.

I’m not.

If I could (which I can’t) follow the law in every facet, save one—if I only mess up one tiny rule—I have still broken the law.  (James 2:10)

Two things I know about the law.  Two things.

One, it is not possible for me to jump through every hoop without getting something wrong.

Two,  pride and comparisons are always—without fail—the result of my little successes in keeping the rules.  When I succeed, I think I am better than those who fall short in the same attempt.

Did I say there were two things I knew?  I should have said there were three.  The third is the most important.

Grace trumps law.  Every time.

The nice lady at the bank offered me grace today.  Quietly she said the words.

I have a staple remover.

Such a simple offer.

I just needed to give up my claim to the tiny metal staple.

Grace comes quietly.


Grace comes quietly. Quietly. And, it waits for us to respond. Click To Tweet 

It waits for us to respond.

I think I don’t want to carry around the little staples anymore.

I’m not all that good at hoops either. 

Grace waits.

For us, it waits.


Grace puts its hand on the boasting mouth and shuts it once for all.
(Charles Haddon Spurgeon ~ English evangelist ~ 1834-1892)

Sin is no longer your master, for you no longer live under the requirements of the law. Instead, you live under the freedom of God’s grace.
(Romans 6:14 ~ NLT)

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