Basket Case

I had to take down all the old lights.  

It was weeks ago.  Since that time, every occasion upon which the light switches have been snapped to the on position has seen the lighting of a bare bulb hanging from the electrical box in the ceiling.

It’s not beautiful.

It is effective.  Light has filled the room each time, the fleeing shadows routed by their perpetual enemy.  There is illumination—in which to paint, to replace trim, to sweep up the dust.

It’s not a pretty light, though, the glare hurting the eyes and the bare bulb next to the ceiling drawing notice instantly to its spartan simplicity.

We make do.

Today though—today, I hung the old fixtures back up.  

Yes, you read that right.  The old fixtures.  

I wondered about that, too.  Weeks ago, when I pulled them down, I wondered aloud if they should be thrown in the bin, unwanted relics of years past.  It seemed they might be obsolete.  Better, more attractive lighting could be contrived, with the aid of a dollar or two and the local home store.

The Lovely Lady was certain.  The old fixtures would go back up.  Her confidence that they had many years of usefulness left wasn’t shared by her husband.  

I stared at the ugly pieces in my hands, ceramic mounts covered in multiple layers of chalky white ceiling paint.  The metal pieces were no better, the painters from years past having preferred to slap the paint-laden brush along them, rather than removing them from their boxes to protect the copper and chrome surfaces.

There was no hope.

I tried to talk the Lovely Lady out of her madness.  She would not be dissuaded.

I will admit, I put it down to her heritage, years of training in the art of salvaging and repurposing.  I assumed she simply wanted to save money.  (She has kept this old spendthrift solvent for nearly forty years now, you know.)

I repent. 

Today, I rehung the light fixtures.  If I hadn’t taken them down myself, I would have testified that the magical lady had replaced those ugly, worn-out pieces of ceramic, glass, and metal with new instruments of light-making.

The things of beauty I reinstalled today show no sign of fatigue, nor any of dilapidation.  They glisten and gleam, glass and brass shining even before the power begins to make the bulbs emit their energy.

I am undone.  

It is an argument I am happy to have lost.  (Don’t tell her I said that, or I’ll never be able to hold my head up near her again.)

The Lovely Lady knew those light fixtures.  They are the same devices which lit up the room in which she slept in a crib—the same ones which threw shadows against the wall as she and her sister played with dolls into the night—the same ones that cast their helpful light on her geometry homework and then her music as she practiced on the shiny silver flute.  

All those years ago, she knew them.  They are old friends that lit the night in her childhood.  It would have taken more than an unbelieving husband to convince her to part with them so summarily.

She knew.

I attached wires and tightened nuts and screws this afternoon, marveling at the change, the newness of the ancient things.  And, when all was prepared and the bulbs inserted, I flipped the wall switch.

Just like the first time it happened, seventy years ago, the shadows bolted for the corners and warm clear light flooded the newly painted walls.

And, the Master said,  “No one lights a lamp and then puts in under a basket, but it is placed at the highest place in the house so everyone is in the light.” (Matthew 5:15)

We are the light of the world.  

Wait!  What?

I gotta tell you, I’m in worse shape than those old fixtures were when they were removed weeks ago.  Dirty, crusty, and covered with layers of grime and paint, some of it put there by me, and some by others who didn’t like the look of me just hanging around.

I’m a mess.  And, then some.

I can just hear the conversation in heaven, can’t you?  You know, like in the days of Job.  

Satan has crept into the throne room and waited his turn.  His wheedling, shrill voice cracks the silence at last.

God, you know that old worn-out, dirty thing—that…that Paul Phillips thing?  He’s clearly not doing You any good.  How about you just dispose of him?  I’ll take him.  You know—one man’s trash, and all that?

And, then a strong, quiet voice speaks.  No, not the Father’s.  The Savior says the words.

He’s mine.  Bought and paid for, long ago.  The light of the world, that one is.  Mine.  There’s no trash here for you, you old deceiver.  Move on!

Who would know better the worth of the creature than the One who is Creator?

How would the One who stood and said, gazing at creation, new-made, “This is good,” ever stand and say, “Time to get rid of that trash?”

He knows us.  He knows what we’re made of. (Psalm 103:14)

He’s not afraid of a little dust.

Clean and shining, we stand before our Creator.  His light—shining in the world.  

In this place, that cannot, for long, stand the brilliance of His uncovered presence, we are His lamps to drive away the shadows.

Where once was nothing more than grunge, along with layers of gunk, we stand in His image, showing Him to the world.

Time to get out of the baskets.

For the Light of the World, we will be lights to the world.

For the Light of the World, we will be lights to the world. Click To Tweet

Beautiful light!


But hear my brethren in their darkling fright!
Hearten my lamp that it may shine abroad
Then will they cry-Lo, there is something bright!
Who kindled it if not the shining God? 
(From Let Your Light So Shine ~ George MacDonald ~ Scottish author/poet ~ 1824-1905



You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father.
(Matthew 5:14-16 ~ NLTHoly 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.

The Lawnmower You Gave Me

I’ve never used a riding mower before.  I never had a lawn big enough to need one.

For most of my life, since I was nine or ten, I’ve pushed a mower to get the grass to a manageable length.  Back and forth, step after plodding step.  Leaning forward, hands spread across the push handle, row follows row until the task is completed.

It has always been a hot, tedious chore.

I have always been careful to say so too, after each session.  The Lovely Lady usually has a cold drink ready for me when I’m done and she stands there smiling as I complain.

The yard I mow now is done with a riding mower.  I sit down to do the job.  No more do I take step after step while following the roaring lawn implement.  I let the clutch out and the machine carries itself (and me) back and forth across the expanse of green, chewing up and spitting out all that exceeds the height I want to see when I’m finished.

What could be better?  Like day and night, the two methods are.  Or, are they?

Somehow, she still gets the same complaint from me at the end of the afternoon.

It’s a hot, tedious chore.  And yes.  I tell her so.

…and that seat just beats me up as it throws me from side to side over the uneven ground…

She smiles and hands me my cold water.

As I think about it, the red-headed lady who hands me my water is replaced—in my inner sight, that is—by another red-headed lady I loved—the red-headed lady who raised me.

She just looks up from her crocheting as she sits in her rocker and reminds me that I’ve always complained.  Always.

You’d complain if they hung you with a new rope.

I didn’t ask.  Sometimes, it’s just better to work things out on your own.  Maybe it had something to do with that other thing she always said about ropes.

Give you enough rope and you’ll hang yourself.

Nope.  No help there, either.

In time, though, I think I’ve worked out the new rope saying.  Simply put, it means we complain about the most absurd things at the most inappropriate moments.  It’s an absurd statement meant to point a spotlight at an absurd action.

The red-headed lady (the one who raised me) was right.  I do complain about ridiculous things when, in fact, they are the very things for which I should be grateful.

Leftovers again? Again?

Why are they coming to visit tonight?

I just bought gasoline for this thing last week!

If I have leftovers, I have plenty to eat.  More than plenty.  

When they come to visit again, be it friends, or grandchildren, or even the in-laws, I have companionship—a wondrous gift ill-suited for disdain of any sort. 

If I need to purchase gasoline again, I have had need of a vehicle and am blessed to have access to one—a luxury most in this world do not have.

I’m not preaching.  I’m not.  

Still, I am ashamed of myself, but I think I’m not alone.

It is some comfort to not be the only one.  Really, I think if I didn’t complain, then I might be the only one.  From the beginning, humans have complained.

The woman you gave me…the complaint Adam made, implying that if God had only had better sense than to burden him with Eve, everything could have continued as it was. (Genesis 3:12)

We’ve complained ever since.

The Children of Israel in the desert did it, again and again.  Moses did, too.  

Elijah hid in the mountains after an astounding victory and trotted out his accomplishments while complaining that He hadn’t been treated very well.  

Jonah preached a better sermon than Billy Graham could ever hope for, with appropriate accompanying results, yet he complained that God allowed the repentant sinners to live.

It wasn’t only the men.  Sarah suggested Abraham should take her servant as a surrogate mother, but then complained about the result of that relationship—so much so that her dutiful husband drove the child and his mother into the desert to die.

Martha complained that her sister was a slacker, leaving her to do all the important work.

I’m not the only one.  But, here’s the thing.  

I don’t want to be one at all.

Besides the infamous squeaky wheel, I see no lasting benefit to complaining.

It’s not what I want to be remembered for.  And, that’s just what the Apostle, my namesake, reminded the good folk at Philippi of—that they were the focus of their generation’s scrutiny.

Everything—every single thing—you do should be done without complaining or grumbling. Live exemplary lives, with nothing to criticize.  You are in full sight of the world, blazing like stars in the sky as you walk daily in the middle of sin-filled and perverse communities. (Philippians 2:14-15)

It’s not just complaining about the inconveniences of life he’s talking about, although given the nature of the creature, that seems likely enough. 

Implied is the directive that we shouldn’t mutter against the folks around us, both followers of Christ and non-believers.


Complaining is proof of an ungrateful heart.  It is evidence of an unforgiving spirit.  

In short, it shows a heart unchanged by grace and love.

Complaining shows a heart unchanged by grace and love. Click To Tweet

My heart.  Ungrateful.  Unforgiving.


I would not have it so.

I want to shine.  Like a star on the horizon, I want to blaze clearly and distinctly.

I think I’ll start by thanking the Lovely Lady for the cold water.  Perhaps the ride on the mower wasn’t as rough as all that, either.

All good gifts come from above.

It’s hard to complain when I’m saying thank you.



I personally believe we developed language because of our deep inner need to complain.
(Jane Wagner ~ American writer/director)


Let everyone see that you are considerate in all you do. Remember, the Lord is coming soon.
Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done.
(Philippians 4:5,6 ~ 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.

The Journey

I suppose not everyone is in a hurry in the world now.  Still, it certainly seems they are.

I’ve noticed it for a few years, but I think it’s worse today than ever before.  Most places, anyway.  Retail stores, internet websites, food establishments, banks—everywhere one looks, the world caters to folks speeding through life.

But, for just a few moments today—just a few—I found a slowing down place.

Our old friends met at the local steak house again this evening, annoying the waitstaff as we sat at the table long after the dishes had been cleared away, and troubling other diners nearby as we laughed loudly and told stories of family, life, and faith. 

Ah, friendship, that shares in the joys, and hardships, and triumphs of life.  Here, life slows to a crawl and time waits, if only for a few moments.

But even in this blessed pause, I felt the encroachment of hurry and impatience, at least momentarily.

Describing a trip out west they had recently taken, one of the couples suggested we should, if we ever had the chance, travel Interstate 70 through Colorado into Utah.  They both described the route in words that made us understand the breathtaking beauty of the towering Rocky Mountains which it traverses.  

But there, among the description of the beauties of creation, was the statement that reminded me of the harried pace of our lives.

And, when you reach Utah, the speed limit on the highway is eighty miles per hour.

It is, arguably, one of the most beautiful drives in our vast country, through some of the most picturesque vistas imaginable, and yet, folks drive through it as fast as they possibly can.

I stop to think about it for a moment, but everything has gone all white—and green.

In my mind, the Lovely Young Lady, red hair flying in the wind, and her skinny husband are cruising in the newly-painted old 1955 Chevy through the Ozark Mountains of southern Missouri.  The Alpine White two-door sedan motors smoothly through the green-covered hillsides, purring right along.

Slowly.  Really slowly.

It is the first road trip the old car has made in many years, indeed, the first road trip the young couple has ever made in it.  They are in no hurry.  None at all.

It was thirty-five years ago, but the memories are still so very distinct.

At no time on that long weekend did the beautiful old car top fifty miles per hour, and scarcely did we exceed even forty-five. We took our time, admiring the scenery along the road, stopping when we wanted, driving on when we were ready.

I remember sitting with our backs to a rocky bluff, on the footpath up above a noisy river, watching the fishermen below casting their fly lures, the weighted lines catching the sunlight and undulating in the air as they were flipped forward and back again and again.

Time seemed to stand still.

On that memorable weekend, all those years ago, we drove on nothing but back roads, never once entering the ramp to a freeway or divided highway.

But life moves on and we do, as well.  And, while we move, time seems to speed up, encouraging us to do the same.  

We listen and acquiesce.

On a recent outing to a town nearby, as we came off of one divided highway we had traveled at high speeds and approached the intersection of another, she reminded me of the tendency for traffic to jam up at the traffic light.

I know.  I’m turning onto the back road up ahead so we can avoid all that and still make good time.

Once, we took the back roads so we could take our time.  Today, we use them as shortcuts to get there more quickly.

I’d like to have more of those slow-down trips and fewer of the hurry-up ones.

And indeed, there are still days when we take the back roads, not to avoid the traffic, but simply to enjoy the drive.

 There are days we take the back roads, not to avoid traffic, but just to enjoy the journey. Click To Tweet

The Preacher suggested we would be better off if we did it more often when he said that eagerness without comprehension is pointless and hurry produces inferior results. (Proverbs 19:2)

Mr. Franklin said it more succinctly a few thousand years later.  Haste makes Waste.

There are things we should hurry to:

The aid of someone in need.

The side of one who is overcome with grief.

The assistance of a brother or sister who is losing sight of the prize.

But, all of life is not to be lived in a frenzy to get to the destination.  Rather we bless and are blessed along the way, as we take time to enjoy our Creator and our fellow man.

We bless and are blessed along the way. Click To Tweet

Eighty miles per hour is too fast to take in the astounding wonders all around us.

It’s time to ride the back roads again for a little while.

The journey is worthwhile.  There is great beauty along the way.

The destination is still out there.  Up ahead.




It is easier to shout “stop” than to do it.
(from The Two Towers ~ J.R.R. Tolkien)


But if we look forward to something we don’t yet have, we must wait patiently and confidently.
(Romans 8:25 ~ NLTHoly 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.


The girl-woman is becoming.

She is sure—but not all that sure—of what she knows.  A teenager, she sees a world that is too horrible to be lived in, but knows unequivocably that she will live in it (and wouldn’t miss it for anything).

And so, she is becoming.

Becoming is hard work.  Confidence and confusion coexist side by side.  Brilliant inspiration and murky misunderstanding vie constantly for the upper hand.

The child is giving way to the woman as choices are made, options are considered, and future pathways determined.

I used to think this was the norm.  Children become adults and the process of becoming is complete.  We make our choices and live with them.  And, die with them.

It’s not the way becoming works.

You see, this old man is becoming, as well. 

Sixty years have passed and the choices I have made and the roads I’ve taken are challenged nearly every day of my walk through this world—the world too horrible to live in, yet too precious to miss.

I was moved—even sad—as we talked, the girl-woman and I.  She made a statement to which I objected completely.

I’m pretty sure God is mad at me.

It seemed to me the words were largely a response to the horrible world in which she finds herself growing up.  I wanted to hug her tight and assure her it wasn’t true.

My intellect knows it’s not true.  My heart does also. And yet, since that evening, each time my mind goes to the words, my eyes fill with tears. 

The tears are for her.  No, not only for her.  

The tears are also for me.

I said I know it’s not true.  I do.

That doesn’t stop the questions.  It doesn’t keep me from wondering why life isn’t going the way I thought it would.  It doesn’t quiet the voice inside that wants to scream in frustration at every delay and inferred no from God.

I’m pretty sure God is mad at me.

But He’s not.

He’s not.

Without us making a move to please Him, He declared openly His great love for us by giving His only Son to die in our place. (Romans 5:8)

Does that seem like the act of someone who is enraged?  It’s not the way I treat folks when I’m angry at them.

His perfect love leaves no room for fear. (1 John 4:18)

My fears for the future, my fears for my family, my fears for the physical needs that are still waiting to be provided for—all of these fears and more—simply prove that I’ve not yet fully experienced the love of a Creator who can’t bear for His creation to be separated from Him and wants nothing but good for us.

And so, I am becoming.  

We are becoming.

God, who began this good work in our hearts, has promised to continue the work until the day we reach the finish line. (Philippians 1:6)

For all the starts and stops, the detours and the delays, the becoming has never stopped.

As we come, we become.  The meaning is essentially the same.  We are moving from one state of being into another.  Coming to His grace and becoming the men and women He is making us into.

The God who invites us to come, is causing us to become.

The God who invites us to come, is causing us to become. Click To Tweet

The God who is not mad at us gives us grace and mercy for the journey.  He gives us companions, both young and old, to walk beside us.

Becoming together.

As we walk hand in hand.



‘It doesn’t happen all at once,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.’
(from The Velveteen Rabbit ~ Margery Williams ~ Author ~ 1881-1994)


The Spirit and the bride say, “Come.” Let anyone who hears this say, “Come.” Let anyone who is thirsty come. Let anyone who desires drink freely from the water of life.
(Revelation 22:17 ~ NLTHoly 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.

A Word in Your Ear

They really are some of my favorite times.  One might even call them sacred interludes.  But, right now I’m too busy.

I’m too busy. 

I know I’m not the only one who says the words.  But somehow, they must have seemed like a challenge to someone—somewhere.

And, into the flying wheels of my frantic activity with no time for interruptions, the Creator shoves a stick between the spokes, bringing the entire juggernaut to a jarring stop.

The stick, He calls family.

It is, arguably, the most important institution there is.  At least in the order of appearance in the Biblical history of mankind, it is the very first relationship between humans the Creator saw fit to address.  The very first.

I’ve written before that the words attributed to God, it is not good for man to be alone, were not only about Adam, but also about every person who would be born thereafter.  Family was His solution.  (Genesis 2:18)

It still is.

But, when I have deadlines and goals in mind, I can’t be bothered.

I need to finish this! 

Stress builds and disappointment looms.  Interruptions are—well—interruptions.

“We’re having a family dinner.  Yes.  It’s already been scheduled.  They’re all going to be there.”

The dreaded stick slipped into the wheel spokes.

After I picked myself up (sudden stops aren’t all that comfortable), we headed to the dinner.  I did, however, pack my attitude along just in case, not having lost that in the commotion.

The attitude went with me, but it didn’t come home.  Somewhere along the way, I lost track of it.

I think it happened at about the time we asked the blessing on the massive piles of food that awaited.  Standing around in a circle, we joined, first our hearts and then our blended voices, in praise to a Creator who knew we needed to have food to live and family to thrive.

The food is gone.  The family is not.

May I share what I learned—in that blessed space called family—after I lost the attitude I had clung to as I was shoved through the back door?

It had little to do with the children screaming and having fights with pool noodles as they cavorted in the water, and even less to do with their entry into the house dripping said water on the floor.  The shooing out by aunts, uncles, and grandparents was of little consequence in the lesson—not of no consequence, mind you, just not the most important component.

It had even less to do with the reminder that any description of meat which is preceded by the word habanero should be given a wide berth by aging grandfathers with digestion issues.  Still, that most assuredly is one lesson from the evening I will remember for a long time to come!

No, the real truth driven home by the interactions of the evening has occupied my mind for most of the hours since then.

The Lovely Lady and her siblings sat at a table, along with a few additional onlookers, as they went through family treasures.  Jewelry, knick-knacks, and photographs were the subjects of their attention.

At times, the level of conversation was as quiet as a single voice reading an entry in a journal from seventy years ago.  But, as the cache began to spread around the table, the volume level increased markedly.  Individuals spoke with the person sitting next to them, and others called excitedly across the old table, itself a lovely relic from the family’s past, to exclaim about some memory from long ago.

Near one end of the old table sat two delightful onlookers, both of them past the four-score mark in years themselves.  The ladies smiled and nodded at the parts of the conversation which were aimed at them, but as the volume level increased, I could see they were understanding less and less of what was being said.

It’s not an uncommon problem for older folk, but I’m beginning to realize it’s not all that unusual for younger ones, either.  Perhaps, not in the same sense, but the problem remains, all the same.

When all about us is incessant commotion, we have difficulty deciding what is essential and what is just tongues wagging.

When all about us is incessant commotion, we have difficulty deciding what is essential. Click To Tweet

I’m living in a noisy place right now, the yammering of the necessary overwhelming the still voice of the fundamental.

Perhaps, I’m not the only one who is swept away in the current of must-finish, while the peaceful eddy of life-abundant goes unnoticed in our passing.

I watched, on that night of discovery, as one of the older duo leaned near to the other and suggested that, since she was having difficulty hearing in the din, the other lady should speak directly into her good ear.


This is why I needed to be here on this night.  Well, besides the pulled pork and home-made ice cream.

Not over the din and the pandemonium of the world does our Creator speak to us, but in our ear, as old friends who share secrets together.

He won’t stand amid the commotion of the marketplace and shout at us, but He beckons us to come near.  Then quietly, and with perfect diction, He shares His heart into ours.

Quietly, and with perfect diction, He shares His heart into ours. Click To Tweet

In my frenetic activity and the noise of life, I forget to turn my ear to hear His voice.

I forget.

Do you hear Him now?

Maybe, it’s time to lean in and let Him speak in your ear.

He waits for us to turn a listening ear to Him.

Still.  Today.

He waits.

I’m turning His way again.




Quietly, He comes,
Not on wings of storm, nor yet on backs of thundering steeds.
Quietly, He comes
By invitation, whispering truth—a breeze ‘cross the reeds.
(Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. Copyright © 2017. All Rights Reserved.)


My son, give attention to my words;
Incline your ear to my sayings.
(Proverbs 4:20 ~ NASB ~ Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation)


The Lord came and stood there, calling as at the other times, “Samuel! Samuel!”
Then Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”
(1 Samuel 3:10 ~ NIV ~ Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.®  All rights reserved worldwide.





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

Finishing the Job

The Lovely Lady isn’t talking to me.  

No, it’s not for the reason you might suspect.  She’s not upset—not with me anyway.

I am frustrated.  I have been for weeks.  Tasks which have been set before me have been tackled with purpose and intent.  As uncomfortable as I am with those tasks, I want to complete them.

Wanting to is not the same as doing.

Trying is not the same as succeeding.

For a variety of reasons, I have been forced to move from several of the tasks to other ones before the first jobs were completed.  It doesn’t set well in my spirit.

Today, I spent a few hours measuring and visualizing a solution while considering a task I never wanted to begin in the first place.  

What I really mean is I stood in one place and, staring at the impossible mess, racked my brain to come up with a way out of the predicament I find myself in.  Dinnertime interrupted the aggravation—which only made me more aggravated.

I came home, having accomplished not a single task.  Not one.

I said she’s not talking to me.  She just knows I need a little space.  I’m not much for consoling platitudes.  They only frustrate me more.  She knows that.

She knows me.

I like that she knows me. 

Later this evening, I needed to retrieve something I had left at the site of my earlier frustration, so I told her I would be right back, explaining what I was doing.  

It would take a little longer than that.

As I walked in the door, the frustration of the day landed on me again like an unbearable weight on my chest.  It was hard for me to breathe for a moment.  But, as I walked back where the item I needed was stored, I noticed another task I had left undone days ago.

A thought hit me.  Why not just finish that little project?  I had been putting it off for days, feeling guilty every time I walked past, but never stopping to complete the work.

Tonight, I picked up the necessary tools and I finished one task.  Just one.

I walked out of there with my head held high.  When I got home, the Lovely Lady talked to me.

She talked to me.

I like that she knows me.

I read her part of a poem, one I remember from my childhood days.  You’ve likely heard it before.  A single verse from Longfellow’s The Village Blacksmith:

   Onward through life he goes;
Each morning sees some task begun,
   Each evening sees it close;
Something attempted, something done,
   Has earned a night’s repose.

My voice cracked as I read the words.  It does that.  More and more, these days.

It was only a small thing I completed.  

No.  It was a very small thing.  

It doesn’t matter.  I needed to feel the success of completion—of working at something that mattered, and finishing it.

I have often felt that way about life itself—about living my faith.  I need to do something that matters.  More than that, I need to complete the job.

Perhaps I won’t finish it today, as Mr. Longfellow’s blacksmith did.  But still, the goal is not to start a plethora of tasks.  The goal is to finish what’s been begun, be it one enterprise or a dozen.

I want to be able to say with the Apostle who wrote so many letters, that I have fought a good fight and have completed the race.  (2 Timothy 4:7)

It will only be true through perseverance.  It will only be true if the race is run in His strength and not my own.  

I lose interest when the going gets hard.  Zeal turns to disappointment; the heat of good intentions cools until there is barely a spark of dedication.

But, He knows me.

My frustrations, my sadness, my disappointments, He knows all of them.  And, in all of them, He never wavers in His faithfulness.  

I waver.  I gripe.  I lash out.

There is no limit to His persistent love. Click To Tweet

But, there is no limit to His persistent love.  His mercies have no end.  Really.  In His faithfulness, His mercies are renewed every morning.  (Lamentations 3:22, 23)

Every morning.

Just when I need them to face the new day, with its frustrations and its challenges.  Mercies.

I like that He knows me.

I’ve got more tasks to complete.  

I think I’ll see what I can finish today.

I might even start something new.


My therapist told me the way to achieve true inner peace is to finish what I start.  So far today, I have finished two bags of M&Ms and a chocolate cake.  I feel better already.
(Dave Barry ~ American author/humorist)


Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people.  Remember that the Lord will give you an inheritance as your reward, and that the Master you are serving is Christ.
(Colossians 3:23,24 ~ 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.

Mirror Image

Some things just mess with my brain.  I’m not the only one.


I know.  It’s a foolish name, but it is what we call them.  We want to see pictures, so friends snap photos of themselves, often while looking in a mirror.

One begins to wish there weren’t so many mirrors in bathrooms.  I can’t help it.  It’s my first reaction when I see the photographs.

The second is more enigmatic to me.  I can’t quite put my finger on it, but there is always something that bothers me about the selfies taken in the mirror.

Things aren’t quite as they should be.  Men’s shirt pockets are on the right-hand side.  Belts are threaded through the loops the wrong direction.  Oh!  And most folks are holding their phones in their left hand, but I know most folks are right-handed.

It’s all backward.  Mirror images are oriented in a flipped position.  Sure, the person still looks like him/herself, but the little niggling details irritate me.

But, truth be told, I didn’t invite you to sit down and read about my pet peeves.  There are more important issues to deal with here.

But, I do want to talk about mirror images.

Certain tasks—essential ones—have to be accomplished using mirror images.  I know it seems strange, but it is a fact.

Just the other day, my patient brother-in-law spent some time explaining it to me—one of those tasks.  I hope he’s not disappointed by what I have to say here.

The Lovely Lady has completed the painting job she began a few weeks ago.  The new ceiling in the living/dining room area has several coats of bright white paint.  The walls are covered in a beautiful contrasting color.  But, right up in the corner where the two come together at a ninety degree (or a close approximation of it) angle, we need to tack up a crown molding.

I say we.  I mean I.  I need to tack up a crown molding.

It’s very simple, Paul.  You take the measurements and then cut the trim pieces.  Upside down.  You have to put them in the saw upside down to get the cut and the angle right.  

On inside corners, the long end is the bottom, so it’s the top end when you put it in the saw.  It’s really easy.  You’ll have no problem.  Just flip it upside down.  Oh.  And, don’t forget to angle your saw in the opposite direction.

I haven’t cut a single piece.  I may not cut a single piece.

A couple of days ago, while I was looking for excuses not to start that particular job, I conveniently remembered a plumbing job I needed to do under the kitchen sink.

Ah.  Here is something I can do.  What can be hard about screwing a shut-off valve onto the end of a threaded pipe?

Remember.  Righty-tighty—lefty-loosey.  It’s so simple!

There would be more to it on this day.

When I worked on the plumbing originally, we had no plans for a dishwasher, so I needed two shut-offs—one hot and one cold.  This job would require adding another hot water shut-off for the newly arrived dishwasher.  No sweat.  Add a tee and attach two shut-offs.

I had turned the water off at the meter out near the street and had reconfigured the tee and valves.  Now all that was left was to check for leaks.  It was a perfect job for the Lovely Lady.  Our son had stopped by to check on our progress, but he wasn’t dressed for under-the-sink.  His part would be to keep an open line with me on his cell phone—just in case.

Just put your head under here, Dear.  Watch those two valves and the pipe near the new tee and see if they leak.  If you see any drips, have him (pointing to our son) tell me immediately.  Oh.  Make sure you look to see where it’s leaking before I turn the water back off.

Contingency plans in place and cell phone in hand, I went out to turn on the water supply.  It didn’t take long.

Dad!  There’s a lot of water coming out!

I stayed calm.

Make sure she knows where it’s coming from.  I have to know where it needs to be tightened.

There was no hesitation on his part.

No.  It’s a lot, Dad!  Really.  A lot.  She knows where it’s coming from!

I turned the water supply back off.

The Lovely Lady was soaked.  Really wet.  And, not all that happy.

I had left one of the shut-off valves completely open.  Turned on all the way.  In the contained space of the cabinet, the stream ricocheted off the wall it was aimed at and splattered everything under there.  She was under there.

How could such a thing happen?  I followed the righty-tighty, lefty-loosey rule.  I did.

I had, from my place near the new tee just installed, reached along to the end of the pipe, nearly a foot on and turned the shut-off to the right to close it.

How could that not have been clos. . .Oh!  I was reaching from the underside of the valve!  To the right from underneath the valve would have been left if I had been in the correct position looking from the top side.

I had turned the valve open all the way myself.  She was soaked and I was to blame.

Mirror image.

Later, that problem rectified, and a few other minor drips eliminated, I finished up by plumbing the drains on the new sink, too.  It was time to test it all out.

I turned on the cold water tap.  Voila!  Water rushed out and down the drain.  There was not a single drip!

But, as I reached over to turn off the tap, I realized something odd was going on.  The water—the cold water—was hot.  Really hot.

Backward.  I had them backward.

No, not the feeds to the sink.  I had actually extended the cold water line to go to the dishwasher.  It only needs a hot water line.  It won’t work with cold water at all.

When I had planned the day’s project, I had access to the back of the bathroom wall, so carefully  I selected the line I was to extend from there.  Everyone knows the hot water is on the left of the faucet.  I picked the one on the left and added the tee and additional shut-off valve to that one.

Mirror image.

It wasn’t a great day.  I might as well have been tacking up crown molding.


The apostle, my namesake, knew about mirror images.  He said life now is just like trying to see with a bad mirror.  Now, he says, we see dimly through the mirror, the details jumbled and sometimes confusing.

Boy, do I get that!  I turn one way when I should turn another.  I flip the switch on the right when I needed the one on the left.

I wonder if I’m the only one?

Oh but, the day is coming!  Twenty-twenty vision!  We’ll see everything exactly as it is.  We’ll see our Savior and know His perfect plan.

One day.

No more will we live life through the looking glass.  No more hot when we wanted cold.  No more confusion, no more wondering.

On the day we get up and take that short journey around to the other side, the side on which He’s waiting for us, it will come sharply into focus.

He sees it all clearly, right now.  He’ll show us the way if we’re willing to listen.

He sees it all clearly, right now. He'll show us the way. Right now. Click To Tweet

Too often, I think I know all the facts.  Too often, I take situations into my own hands.

But, I’m learning the things I want aren’t always what He has planned.  I’m even realizing the things I’ve come to think of as His blessings are sometimes simply chains that keep me from what He really wants for me.

I don’t do that well with mirror images.

It’s time to surrender the job to the Master Craftsman.

I’m ready.  Perhaps, the Lovely Lady will appreciate the change, too.  It might be drier for her on the other side.

It’s His mirror.

I want to see through His eyes.



Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.
(1 Corinthians 13:12 ~ NLTHoly Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation.  All rights reserved.)


I’ve looked at life from both sides now 
From win and lose and still somehow 
It’s life’s illusions I recall
I really don’t know life at all.
(Both Sides Now ~ Joni Mitchell ~ Canadian singer/songwriter ~ © 1967 Gandalf Publishing Co ~ All rights reserved)





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

Where is the Queue?

Sunday night late—the stoop seems as good a place as any to ponder.
Big things, I always choose.  Tonight, all I see is the moon, and it is big enough.
Full, bright, and orange it was when earlier I stood with my love, taken with wonder.
Now murky and circled with clouds, it only warns of rain to come in the soon dawning day.  Monday with rain.

How does the joy and wonder turn so suddenly to foreboding?
Where does the elation go when I am overcome with dread?
It is not only the moon and not only the night that bring the sudden turnaround.
Still.  The questions remain.
How so suddenly changed?
Where can I go to retrieve the joy?
Where is the queue to reclaim peace for my soul?

I wrote the words a year ago.  They were never meant to share.  Not with anyone.

Two nights ago, he called me—the man who is the rock.  No, really.  The Rock of Gibraltar.  Or, so I have believed.

His close friends, two of them, have died in the last week.  Another, even closer to him, is in the terrifying uncertainty of awaiting the doctor’s report.

He is shaken.  Shaken.

We talked for some time and agreed on this certainty at the end of the conversation: We know the Peace-giver.  In our prayers and gratitude, He gives His peace that we cannot understand.

The Prince of Peace gives Himself.  

The Prince of Peace gives Himself. Click To Tweet

His words, fear not, are not meant as a command to be followed religiously, in fear of offense.  They are the assurance of a loving parent—a promise of safety, of wholeness, of perfect rest.  

They are words to comfort and not to condemn.

And, as children are wont to do, we forget.  We do.  

And, like a Father, He reminds again.  And again.  

His words are fresh every time.  His arms of protection cover—every time.

Peace.  I am leaving it with you.  Not the kind of peace the world offers, brokered by the powerful and ensured by weapons and threats.  No, my peace is a gift to hold in your heart, where no man and no circumstance can plunder it.  (John 14:27)

Where anger rules, peace dissolves.  Where terror dwells, peace cannot live.  Where worry spreads, peace is no more.

Does it mean our hearts will never be touched by these things?  By no means.

Fear may pass through, anger may swell up, anxiety may worm its way in.

But His peace reigns.  Just as Peter, when we begin to sink beneath the waves, we remember who rules those waves.  

As we walk through the valley of the shadow, we recall who waits for us over there.

You know—over there.  Where our home—our real home—is being made ready for us.

Here is the queue to reclaim peace—in exactly the same place it was the last time.

We’re next in line.  Every time.





God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there.  There is no such thing.
(C.S. Lewis ~ British theologian/author ~ 1898-1963)



And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.
(Philippians 4:7 ~ KJV)




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


Treasure in the Dumpster

I usually punch the snooze button on my alarm once—maybe twice. Okay.  Three times.

Not today.

The noises outside my second-story window had been going for awhile.  You know how sounds creep into your slumber, disturbing your dreams, especially in the moments just before the alarm begins to sound.

 As I reached for the alarm button, a clatter from the dumpster reached my ear.  

I got up.

I stood at my upstairs bedroom window and watched the shirtless man for some time.  The dumpster had been almost full—or so I had thought.

He had stirred through the entire container, moving the larger items from the top to the bottom and around the sides.  By the time I was aware of his presence, he was standing on the bottom of the dumpster, just like Moses in the middle of the Red Sea, with the mountains of debris piled up on either side.

Items (my trash!) he wanted to keep were carefully balanced around the edges of the steel container.

I decided I wouldn’t interfere with the man’s treasure hunt.  I hadn’t wanted the items.  Why should I keep him from taking whatever he thought he could use or profit from?

Treasures from trash.  

The concept hasn’t left my head all day.

Trash.  Treasures.

It’s nothing new.  We don’t even have to say the entire maxim and most will finish the thought.  One man’s trash. . .

One man’s trash is another man’s treasure. 

The underlying premise is that one is no better than the other. 

I have no intention of demeaning the homeless man foraging in my dumpster.  He is doing what he knows to do to provide for himself.

Additionally, I have no desire to point a finger at any person, comparing them to others for the reader to make a judgment of character.

It’s just that I know something of dumpster diving.  

I don’t know quite how to put it.  Well, yes, I do.  It won’t make some people happy. 

The truth is like that.

I know two things about looking for treasures in the trash bin:

1.  Even if useful items may sometimes be found in the trash, most of the time, there’s nothing but trash to be found.

2.  If one digs for treasures in the trash long enough, eventually that person begins to forget that it’s trash they’re digging through.  

It will most likely become evident soon—if it hasn’t already occurred to the reader—that I’m not really that concerned with dumpsters and the practice of digging through the ubiquitous receptacles.

There are some who spend their lives dredging through the garbage.  Their lives and hearts are filled with the stench.

And still, they dive in.

A friend, many years ago, regaled me with the story of his sister-in-law and her experience at the local casino.  

The first time—the very first time—she entered the casino, against her better judgment and at the urging of her friends, she won a large sum of money while gambling.  

Willingly, eagerly, she returned to the gaudy, glitzy place again and again, certain she would find treasure once more at its tables.  She never did.  Even if she had, the losses could never have been surpassed by her gains.

There was never treasure to be found there—never more than false promises and empty hopes.

Still trash.

As to the second point, I can’t help but think of the Tolkien character of Gollum in The Lord of the Rings.  He had lived in the dark and stinking places of the world for so long that when he, starving and weak, was offered the delicate cake of the elves’ lembas, he choked on it and called it ashes.


As I write this, in the wee hours of the night, the sun will be rising soon on another Independence Day in the United States.  I’m saddened by what I see in the hearts of many in our country, even in my little town, and I have to wonder, what do we have to celebrate this July 4th?  

We, and I include most folks I know—Christians and otherwise, liberals and conservatives, politically active and indifferent—seem to revel in the trash pile.  We delight in all that is negative and hateful, dredging it up again and again, in whatever form we find it in the garbage container, only to throw it in the faces of our used-to-be friends and acquaintances.

It almost seems we believe this is how we were meant to live.

It wasn’t.

It isn’t.

In our interactions with others, we must—absolutely must—rise above the garbage and restore community.  If we don’t, our country is lost, I fear.

And yet, there is an even more essential element to this conversation.

The Teacher,  imploring His followers to set their affections on more important things, warned against the garbage.  

Where the source of your treasure is located, your heart by nature will turn to.  (Matthew 6:21)

If we do things the way we’ve always done them, the result will always be the same.  

Every time.

Soon after that astounding Day of Pentecost, the disciples Peter and John were going to the temple to worship.  A lame man sat there, in the place he had sat every day for as long as he could remember.  It was all he knew, this detestable begging for his living.  And yet, as the two men passed him, he looked at them, expecting nothing more than a few pennies to extend his unhappy misery an hour or two more.

Peter looked at him and said, “It’s time you stopped dumpster diving.”

Well, that’s not really what he said.  What he told the lame man was that they had no money.  I assume the disappointed man would have turned his eyes toward the next party approaching.  Well? He wasn’t going to get what he needed here.  Why shouldn’t he?

We have no silver, nor do we have any gold.  Here’s the thing:  What we do have, we’re going to give to you.  Get up.  Walk with us into the temple to worship.  (Acts 3:6)

You know, there’s no treasure in any dumpster worth more than what God offers every single one of us.

His Grace and mercy will lift us out of whatever garbage receptacle we’ve been digging through to find our worth.

His love reaches down right where we’re searching, whether ankle deep or neck deep in refuse.

He sets us in higher places.

He sets us in higher places. Click To Tweet


It’s time to stop hoarding trash that looks like treasure to us.

It’s time to begin storing away the real thing.

In a place it will be safe.

In a place where we’ll be safe.

It’s time.



I lived through the garbage.  I might as well dine on caviar.
(Beverly Sills ~ American opera singer ~ 1929-2007)


Why spend your money on food that does not give you strength?
    Why pay for food that does you no good?
Listen to me, and you will eat what is good.
    You will enjoy the finest food.

“My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the Lord.
    “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine.
For just as the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so my ways are higher than your ways
    and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.
(Isaiah 55:2, 8-9 ~ NLT)




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


She had stored the instrument in an attic.

Attics are hot.  

I know.  I spent most of an hour in one today.

Sweat poured from my face and body—almost as if I were melting—while I completed my task.  When I finally crawled out, filthy and soaked through, from the sweltering darkness I wanted nothing else but to escape outside to the relative coolness of the mid-eighty degree afternoon temperatures.

Attics are hot.

As I sat and drank down a cold bottle of water, my mind, as it tends to do, brought back the picture of the old lady, who has long since left this life.  Thirty years ago, she wandered into my music store, carrying the large container that looked almost like a suitcase.

Her head shook up and down as she spoke in a squeaky voice.

“I’ve been holding on to this for a long time, but it won’t play anymore.  Can you fix it?”

I opened the huge case and lifted out the ancient accordion.  As I shifted it to sit on the countertop in front of me, there was a clatter from the interior of the instrument.

That wasn’t good.

The lady had left the squeeze-box with a friend she trusted for safe-keeping and the friend thought it would be safest in his attic.

Attics are hot.

All the reeds—the part of the accordion that air blows through to make the sound you can hear—are held in with beeswax.  That’s all—beeswax.

You do know what happens to wax when it gets hot, right?.  You know, like when you light a candle?  

Sure, you do.  It liquefies.

Every single reed had fallen out of place and into a huge pile inside the center of the instrument.  It wouldn’t make a sound.  Well, except for the jangle of loose reeds bumping against each other, it wouldn’t make a sound.

Useless.  Absolutely useless.

Somehow, the remembrance of the experience—one that eventually had a happy ending, with a repair being effected and the instrument being saved for the lady—the remembrance brings to mind another story of great heat and complete failure.  

The mind does run on, doesn’t it?

I have always loved to read.  In my childhood, I was especially drawn to myths and fantasies, a juvenile escape, I suppose, from the hard and sometimes unhappy realities of life.

One of my favorite myths, probably a favorite because I have always dreamed of what it would be like to fly, was the story of Icarus.  In Greek mythology, Icarus and his father were imprisoned on an island, but escaped by flying away on wings they fashioned from feathers and wax.

Icarus ignored his father’s warnings and, trusting the make-shift wings too much, flew higher and higher until the sun melted the wax, causing the feathers to fall off.  He fell into the ocean below and drowned.

Both stories reminded me that good intentions—and even solid planning—don’t always work out the way we expect.

As I sat outside today, nearly back to normal, I realized words were running through my head—either the result of the strange line of thought or, perhaps, the cause of it.  It’s hard to tell sometimes.

We’ve wanted to be trusty and true, but the feathers fell from our wings.

A week ago, a friend shared the song.  I had never heard it before.  The words hit hard as I listened, and moved me as much as any I’ve heard in recent memory.  I found myself agreeing with the artist throughout.

Even though it’s not a Christian song, its truth is still profound.

I want to be dependable, to act as one who has proven, time after time, to be trustworthy.

I want to be trusty.  

I do.

But, again and again, I do the thing which shows the disaster I really am.

Flapping for all I’m worth, my feathers have all melted away and I’m going down.  Again.

The Apostle, my namesake, tells us he had the same problem, as well.  The things I say I want to do, I don’t seem to be able to accomplish.  The acts I want to avoid at all costs—those are the ones I find myself performing.  (Romans 7:15)

Somehow, the heat is always on.  Somehow, our feathers never will stay put.

And, the harder we try, the more the notes won’t sound.

Some would say we’re trying too hard.

I just say, we’re trying.  And, we can never succeed in the strength we have.  Never.

The problem is not that we're trying too hard, it's that we're trying at all. Click To Tweet

Every attempt we ever make at being trusty on our own will ultimately end in failure.  Every one.

We fly, only when He gives us wings to do so.  We make music because He puts the reeds into place.

He saved us, not because of our own righteousness, but because of His unending mercy.  By the washing and renewing of His Spirit, we are His.  (Titus 3:5)

Even when the heat is on, our faces dripping with perspiration and lungs filling with the filth of this world, we are His, saved by His Grace.

Time to fly.

Fly high.

The only One who is Trusty and True has us.

We just have to come.

We’ve wanted to be trusty and true
But feathers fell from our wings
And we’ve wanted to be worthy of you
But weather rained on our dreams.

And if all that you are
Is not all you desire,
Then, come.
(from Trusty and True ~ Damien George Rice ~ Copyright © 2014 Warner/Chappell Music, Inc.)



So I advise you to buy gold from me—gold that has been purified by fire. Then you will be rich. Also buy white garments from me so you will not be shamed by your nakedness, and ointment for your eyes so you will be able to see.
(Revelation 3:18 ~ 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.