Borrowing Words

I thought it was a book only nerds would ever use.  I’m not certain I have ever bought a copy of my own to this day.

Lamar Junior High School.  That’s where I first saw a copy of this mysterious book.  Usually, it was a small paperback, stacked on top of whatever miscellaneous textbooks the brainiacs were carrying, clamped tightly under the arm and against the body as they scooted down the drafty hallways.

I wasn’t a brainiac.

Roget’s Thesaurus.  

Oh.  A foreign language book.  I was already enrolled in a Spanish class and had no interest in taking up an additional language.

Except it wasn’t.  A foreign language book.  Still, it would take an awfully long time for me to care about what it really was.

And then, it would be years before I felt the need to consult such a volume.  Years before I actually understood the importance of what lay in the pages of the little publication.

It was all I could do to learn the English language.  Why would I need a book which gave me alternatives to perfectly good words?

My native language was quite difficult enough, thank you.  But then I think back.  I did learn another language.  Many of my friends were fluent in it long before I began to pick it up. 

It wasn’t spoken in my home.  How would I have come by it naturally?

I call the language crudish.  Today, I do.  Back then, I called it cool.  I do also seem to remember a friend who called it cursive, a term that some might think cute, but mostly, it’s just sad.

I know many who practice the language today.  Its usage is on the rise, even among the very young.  When I operated a music store, we would frequently have folks come in who spoke little else.  It’s popular nowadays on the street and in the department stores.

Some languages give you an air of mystery; some are romantic.  Some can make us sound more intelligent than we are; others seem almost comedic.

Crudish is one of those languages which seems to deduct points from the speaker’s intelligence quotient right in front of our eyes.  Or ears—whichever.

Regardless, during the years when I spoke that demeaning language, I found one very curious thing.

There were no words in that vocabulary with which I could describe my faith—my Savior—my God.

No words.

Some things are simply too high, too precious, for gutter language to even make a start in describing them.

Growing in my faith, the realization took root that crudish would never be a language I could use on my journey to becoming the man God needed me to be.

There are scriptures which could be quoted in support of my assumption.  Somehow though, we know without being told that some language is inappropriate to use as we come before the King of all that is.

I know many who are followers of Christ, as I am, yet still retain much of that language.  They respond differently when the words slip into conversation, from embarrassment to defiance.  I have no judgment to offer, simply my perspective.

I want to communicate clearly to the world around me.  I want there to be no uncertainty about what drives me and Who I follow.

That crude language has no words to explain those things.  None.

But, there is more.  Again and again, I find the words I have in my limited vocabulary to be inadequate to the task, as well.  

So, I use a thesaurus.  Really, I do. Nearly every day. 

I constantly seek new ways to express ancient truths.

If all of life is not a chasing after God, attempting to know Him better, we’ve squandered the days.

If each day is not spent in learning how to give a clear reason to those not yet in the chase, we’ve wasted the hours and minutes. (1 Peter 3:15)

There’s a quotation attributed (erroneously) to Francis of Assisi that tells us to preach the Gospel and if necessary, to use words.  It’s not a bad thing to make the point that we should live out our faith.  Not a bad thing at all.

However, words are how we communicate truth.  King David, a man never at loss for innovative ways to communicate the truth of God’s love and power—and glory—was clear in his prayer: I want the words coming out of my mouth, and even the feelings in my heart to be acceptable to You, God. (Psalm 19:14)

It’s not enough to feel it; the words must be said.

It's not enough to feel it; the words must be said. Click To Tweet

Yes, I use that nerd book.  Well, it’s not actually Mr. Roget’s thesaurus I use.  There are tools at our disposal today that junior high school kid I used to be never could have dreamed of.  But, just because I never dreamed of them back then doesn’t mean I can’t avail myself of them now.

I want to use whatever language communicates in no uncertain terms the hope, the anticipation, the joy that lie ahead.  Like young Timothy, I want to study, so I can gain my Creator’s approval.

In the process, I can’t help but become more like him.  The process is slow, painfully so, but certain.

Daily, He shows us in new and varied ways His love for us.  

How could we do any less, as we reflect His light to a world desperate for its brilliance?


What language shall I borrow to thank Thee, dearest friend,
For this Thy dying sorrow, Thy pity without end?
O make me Thine forever, and should I fainting be,
Lord, let me never, never outlive my love to Thee.
(from O Sacred Head, Now Wounded ~ Bernard of Clairvaux ~ French monk/theologian ~ 1090-1153)


Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.
(2 Timothy 2:15 ~ KJV)




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

But the Thorns!

What a beautiful tree!  It’s absolutely the perfect place to put a treehouse!

A few of us were spending the morning helping our friends move.  It wasn’t that big a deal—loading a U-Haul truck with furniture and boxes, along with a pickup truck or three—since we were only going a mile away.

Still, we welcomed a minute to stand in the cool shade of the stately tree and savor a long drink of cold water.  It had been a morning filled with laughter and joviality as we labored together, but hard work in the sunshine seems to be a recipe for sweat and thirst.  We stood under the branches of the flourishing tree and were refreshed—by the water and the shade.

Looking up, I noticed the configuration of the sturdy branches where they joined the massive trunk.  The branches all came out of the trunk at something close to a right angle before sweeping upward, where they spread out to the leafy extremity of the tree’s crown.

Ah!  At sixty years old, I would be stretching credulity to claim the title of tree climber, but in a past life, I would have been up that tree in a minute.

Perfection!  What a magnificent tree!

The children quite obviously shared my opinion; one of the taller boys was already giving the younger ones a leg up onto the lower limbs.  Within moments, the branches were teeming with youngsters above our heads.

What a delight!  What I wouldn’t give to have such a tree in my yard for my grandchildren to experience.  Why, if it were in my yard, I might give it a shot myself—when the neighbors weren’t around to see my foolishness, of course.

And, the possibilities for a tree house!  Although, it seems such dreams may actually be governed by building codes and city ordinances in this bureaucratic age in which we live.

Still.  A tree house!

What a perfect tree!

The teenaged young man who had lifted up the younger kids was still standing nearby as I expressed my admiration.  Even though he is just moving into the house, he had done his homework regarding the majestic tree.

Yes.  This tree is a sweetgum.  So are those next door.

He tossed the words out carelessly, as if they weren’t nearly the sternest denunciation he could make of the ancient giant.  Perhaps—in fairness—to him they weren’t.

What a shame.  How unfortunate that some uneducated homeowner had planted such an unsuitable specimen right in the middle of his front yard.

I looked around in the leafy ends of the branches.  Sure enough, hanging down, I spotted them.  Those spiny seed pods!  Horrible things!

I wouldn’t have that tree in my front yard!  Not for anything!

You’re laughing at me, aren’t you?  Go ahead.  Laugh all you want.  I hate cleaning up those spiny things.  They drop off the tree in the fall and the yard will be full of them.

Did you know, the sweetgum tree is often and vociferously named by homeowners as one of the worst trees to have in your yard?  It’s all because of those spiny seed pods, gumballs, some folks call them, which might even be dangerous.  They roll underneath your shoe and make you twist your ankle.  They hurt your head if you happen to be under the tree when one falls. And, don’t even think about going barefoot in the yard where one of those horrible trees is growing.

You’re still laughing.  You should be.

Moments before, I declared the tree perfect.  That’s right.  Perfect.  

As in, every good gift and every perfect gift is a gift from above, coming down to us from God, the Father of Lights. (James 1:17)

And now?  If it were gift-wrapped and planted in my front yard, I’d turn up my nose at the horrible thing.

Silly, isn’t it?  The tree is magnificent, with spreading limbs and foliage providing wonderful shade, growing straight up to heavens, fifty or sixty feet above my head.  Yet, here I stand, repenting of my admiration for it because of a little seed pod an inch and a half in diameter.

I think they call this incongruous.  It certainly demonstrates a lack of perspective on my part.

It seems to be a common trait for humanity.  My mind jumps to examples of our fickle approval or disapproval of other people and situations.  Yours will too, given a moment or two of introspection.

Perhaps, there is even one which hits very close to home, maybe even painfully so.  I know I have too many of my own.

And, even though I’m glad for the company in my foolishness, I’m disappointed in myself—and us.  I’m even more than a little embarrassed.

How is it we stand face to face with amazing blessings which we recognize clearly but, having noticed the tiniest of flaws, can see nothing else?

And soon, the imperfection becomes an annoyance.  As the annoyance grows, our sense of being blessed diminishes.

Before long, we have exchanged our blessings for curses, our joys for anger, our gifts for punishments.

It’s impossible to be grateful when one is critical of the gift they’ve been given. 

It's impossible to be grateful when one is critical of the gift. Click To Tweet

He gives good gifts.  They are gifts which bring joy.  They are gifts which build character.  Sometimes, both at the same time.

Our old friend, Job, understood it when He answered his wife, who wanted him to curse God for the disasters which had destroyed the life he once had known.

Does it seem right to accept good from God and not the hardships also?  That’s foolishness!  (Job 2:10)

I understand.  A spiny seed pod on a beautiful tree is not the same as having your entire family wiped out and losing all your wealth.  Still, the principle applies.

God is for us.  

He intends good.  For us.  

He does good.  For us.

If He is for us, what do the inconveniences matter?  

If He is for us, we can abide the testing, the hard spots.  

The apostle, for whom I am named, said he considered these passing hardships as not worth comparing to the glorious expectation of what will one day be ours.  (Romans 8:18)

I’m with him.  At least, I want to be.  

One day—on that day—all of the things we complained and griped about here will seem as a hazy fog blown away by the morning breezes.  Gone in an instant, leaving no proof that they ever existed.

He gives good gifts.  Good. 

And, we are forever grateful.

I’d still keep the rake handy for the spiny seed pods, though.


I beg your pardon.  I never promised you a rose garden.
Along with the sunshine, there’s got to be a little rain sometime.
(from Rose Garden ~ Joe South ~ © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC ~ All rights reserved.)


But Job replied, “You talk like a foolish woman. Should we accept only good things from the hand of God and never anything bad?” So in all this, Job said nothing wrong.
(Job 2:10 ~ 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.

Out There, He Walks

It’s not like I carry treats in my pocket.  But, you never would have known it, the way the rotund black lab kept her head against my leg as I walked.

She always has done that—kept her head against my leg when she walks beside me.  It’s just that she’s never done it while I was mowing the yard.

Every pass—every step of the way.  Back and forth we went, the black dog and I, almost as if I had her on a leash.

She could have left any time she wanted.  The only thing keeping her there was her fear.  And her trust.

It’s funny I should mention fear and trust together like that, isn’t it?

Perhaps, we should go back a few steps, before the terrified—and trusting—canine began to stroll with me on my accustomed pattern through the grass.

The August rains have arrived within the last week or two.  I love these times.  The summer, mild as it has been, has taken its toll on the verdant vegetation here in the foothills of the Ozark Mountains.

The trees have begun to shed extraneous leaves.  The grass, still mostly green, had grown a little crunchy underfoot.  Another week or so of the summertime heat, and it would have been brown.

Brown is not a happy color.

But, the August rains have come.  Unpredictable—even for the folks who make a living predicting them—they arrive, unannounced except for the occasional rumble of thunder across the hills.

Still, the property is for sale and it must look as presentable as possible at all times.  When one is dodging rain storms and still needing to mow the grass, you tend to slip the task in between showers and pray for the rain to hold off a few more moments.

I had completed the front yard and, looking up at the darkening sky, determined that I would have just enough time to complete the task in the fenced back yard.  The rolling thunder in the distance gave warning, but I was confident.

Most folks who have pets will understand the dilemma my best friends found themselves in.  Thunder means it’s time to head for the fraidy-hole under the storage shed.

But. . .  The man who feeds us!  He’s in the backyard.  We must be with him.  

But. . .  The big booming noise in the sky! Something is going to fall on us any minute now!  We have to stay here!

The need to be with their master won out.  Covered with dust, they emerged from their hiding place to greet me.  I took a moment to play with them, but soon returned to the chore of knocking down the crabgrass and weeds threatening to turn my backyard into a habitat which might soon have to be protected by the EPA. 

We’re sorry, Mr. Phillips.  You’ll need to move.  We’ve discovered a colony of red-and-green spotted toads in your grass.  No.  They can’t be relocated.  You’ll have to go.

So I mowed.  And, the chubby black lab, who is one of the most vocal dogs that’s ever owned me, stayed with me every step of the way, whimpering and whining all the while.

She is terrified of storms.  Terrified.

But, she trusts me.  She knows she is safe when I’m around.  On that day, terror was all around, but she knew where safety lay.

She walked, nose glued to my thigh, every step I took.  Every lap around the perimeter—every row I mowed down and back—she followed, snout to leg.

The big, brave alpha-male stood aloof, watching her actions.  Clearly, he wasn’t going to lower himself to such a place, groveling at my side.  But, when I stopped for a moment to reassure the timid girl, his bravado dissolved like sugar in water and he was by my side in a matter of seconds, looking for his dose of reassurance.

I laugh as I watch the memory in my mind unfold again.  But then again, my heart sees, in the memory, a picture of myself and the smile is wiped from my face.

Why do we hide from the storms in our life?  What makes us retreat to our safe places—our fraidy-holes—to get out of the wind’s grasp and the crashing fury of the world’s turmoil?

Why do we hide?

He’s not hiding from the storm.

He's not hiding from the storm. He never has. Click To Tweet

He never has.  Never.

In the storm, as steadfast as He has ever been, He works.  Promises are fulfilled, His plans unaltered.

He walks in the storm.  Still.

Not in spite of the storm.  In it.  On it.

I’ve been hiding.  For a long time.

I don’t like the sound of that thunder.  

Earlier this evening, as I practiced with the worship team at the church where we fellowship, I was already considering the words I would write tonight.  

Preoccupied, I was surprised to see these words on the page before me as I sang:

Your sovereign hand will be my guide
Where feet may fail and fear surrounds me.

Out there, the storm is raging, absolutely raging.  Out there, the lightning flashes and the thunder booms.

It is where He is.  And, we get to walk beside him.

Leaning against Him.  Fear overcome by trust.

Out there, He walks.

Why are we still hiding?


Your grace abounds in deepest waters
Your sovereign hand will be my guide
Where feet may fail and fear surrounds me
You’ve never failed and You won’t start now.

So I will call upon Your name
And keep my eyes above the waves
When oceans rise, my soul will rest in Your embrace
For I am Yours and You are mine.
(from Oceans (Where Feet May Fail) ~ Crocker, Houston, Ligthelm ~ © Capitol Music Group ~ All rights reserved.)


Don’t be afraid, for I am with you.
    Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you.
    I will hold you up with my victorious right hand.
(Isaiah 41:10 ~ 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.

Stolen Glory

Bill was a horn player.  A really good horn player.

I was then—as I am now—a merely adequate horn player.  From the first, I chased Bill.  It was all I could do to stay anywhere close to him in the never-ending struggle for the coveted first chair.

First chair got all the solos.  They were the de facto leader of the section.  First chair had the respect of Mr. Olson.  I had never had the respect of any teacher—or, so it seemed to me.  

I wanted to be first chair.

Challenges were how one moved up to that coveted position.  Literally, a challenge, issued in writing and handed to Mr. Olson, our band director, would result in the event which decided if one could take over the seat we all aspired to.  

The challenger picked the piece to be played and named the day, at least a week hence.  On the day of the challenge, both players would sit facing Mr. Olson and he would listen to each in turn.  

Accuracy, rhythm, and musicality were all essential.  Points were added or subtracted, depending on the skill or lack thereof in any one of these areas.

I issued my challenge and practiced.  Really.  I practiced.  Then the fateful day came.  I played my piece, then Bill played it.  Mr. Olson tabulated in his notebook, a funny smile on his face.

I won the challenge!  First chair was mine!  The joy!  The elation!

The bragging!  The ragging!  I laid it on thick and made sure Bill felt it.

But, there was one thing I hadn’t taken into consideration.  Anyone can challenge.  If you lose, you may challenge immediately for the next week.  

He did.  I practiced.  He practiced.  

I beat him again.

Mr. Olson was almost incredulous.  He knew who the better player was.  He knew.  

Bill challenged again.  Only once more was needed.  

As I said, Bill was a really good horn player.  I was never more than an adequate player, who happened to have a couple of good outings.

First chair was never mine again.  It had, truth to tell, never really been mine in the first place.  I could never have kept the coveted seat as long as Bill was there.  It was his chair until the day we both graduated from school.

Ah, but the glory had been mine for a short time!

I wrote last night.  Awful stuff.

Hundreds of words about a solar eclipse and millions of folks who traveled miles for a two-minute experience.  It turned into a diatribe about vanity and disproportion.

I disposed of the whole miserable affair.  Entirely.  

Sometimes it happens.  Words written with good intentions and from solid reasoning jumble themselves together in cumbersome logic which discourages the soul.

Souls don’t need discouragement.

Eclipses, for all the hoopla and emotional hype, are about tiny bodies (relatively speaking) covering the illumination—and stealing the glory—of those huge, life-giving stars shining in the universe.

Periodically, we see a news story about another vain, but craven, human being who has claimed to be a war hero.  Acquiring the accoutrements of a courageous soldier, or sailor, or airman, they repeat fictionalized accounts of their activities in a war in which they never dared to serve.

We call it stolen valor.  Essentially, they play the part of the moon to the sun during an eclipse.  

Simply because they happen to be close to their audience (and the real heroes are not, at that moment), they appear important and are able to steal the valor of the men and women who really earned the glory.  But, just like the short-lived eclipse we observed the other day, it is a surety that their fraudulent glory will pass astonishingly quickly and they will stand, exposed to all the world for the liars they are.  A surety.

I was reminded the other day that the celestial event we observed was actually, strictly speaking, a transit—the passing of an object, insignificant in scope, over the face of another, larger and essential, object.

I like the sound of that.  A transit.

It describes our lives in this present world, does it not?  The moving of a tiny, seemingly insignificant object across a huge, bigger than life one.

We, who strive to walk in the way, follow the orbit set before us in our transit.  It is not our place to attempt to be anything but what we are.

The way of Christ’s kingdom is that those who are small, the servants, will one day be large.  Two of His disciples found that out with embarrassing clarity, as they lobbied on one occasion for positions of importance.  (Mark 10:43-45)

But for today, we follow the path set out—small and hardly noticeable among the others who transit this earth.  We serve, that the Creator of all that is may be seen distinctly.

It is not for us to get in the way.  It is not for us to fill the view of any person.

It is not for us to get in the way. It is not for us to fill the view of any person. Click To Tweet

Still, our way is not the way of the world.  

Make a splash!  Be noticed. Front and center!

But the Teacher told His followers not to take the most important seat, because they would almost certainly be moved to the foot of the table. (Luke 14:8-10)

We humans have such an inflated sense of our worth, even in our damaged condition claiming attention not due to us. 

When I say, we humans, I mean me.  I wave my hands and get in the faces of those about me, intent on gaining their respect and admiration.

When I do that, I take away from the glory due to God and rob Him of the joy that should be His when the right time is come for me to be in that position of honor.

Our transit of this earth is a path colored with joy and tinted with pain.  

But for all that, we reflect the light of the Savior, lending light for the journey to those on the same path and pointing the way for others who will come.

The Light shines brightly on us.

Our turn.



Don’t accept your dog’s admiration as conclusive evidence that you are wonderful.
(Ann Landers ~ Pseudonym for two American advice columnists ~ ca. 1943-1999)


Let someone else praise you, not your own mouth—
    a stranger, not your own lips.
(Proverbs 27:2 ~ 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.


There’s a black spot in the middle of the dining room floor.

It stays.

The burn mark embedded in the number 2 common oak hardwood floor is part of family lore now.  It’s not a dramatic story; the details don’t really warm the heart.  

Still, the memories have been woven into our history now.  

We’re keeping the history.  And the memories.

It was close to fifteen years ago that the Lovely Lady’s mom said goodbye to her sweetie as she rode away with her sister for a women’s meeting early one morning.

Her sweetie, the white-haired man who taught me all he knew of operating a music store, sat at the table in the kitchen with a cup of instant coffee between his gnarled hands.  It was a morning like any other.  

Only it wasn’t.

A couple of hours later, my mother-in-law and her sister pulled back into the driveway, almost immediately noticing that smoke was wafting out around the front door.  My mother-in-law suffered with crippling rheumatoid arthritis, so her sister rushed into the house.  A moment later, she came out coughing and sputtering with my father-in-law in tow.

Always the frugal pair, my in-laws had a wood stove in the living room to supplement the central heating unit.  The stove put out enough heat to allow them to turn the thermostat down a few degrees and save a significant amount on their utility bills.

The old man had been tending the fire when an ember fell to the hardwood floor just beside the fire-resistant mat under the stove.  For some reason, instead of picking it up with the tongs, he simply allowed it to sit there and ignite the floor into flame.  When the Lovely Lady’s aunt burst in the front door, he was sitting in a chair right beside the fire, oblivious to the danger he was in.

I said it wasn’t a spectacular story.  I even said it wasn’t one to warm the heart.  It is certainly neither of those.

The little campfire on the floor was the beginning of a long goodbye for his family (myself included) and the man we loved. Within months, even though he lived a few more years, he was gone, locked in his own world—oblivious to ours.  

Today, we look at the black spot lying there and we always laugh as we recall the event.  Then a funny thing happens.  The room falls silent, each of us lost in memories.  

They are different for every one of us, I’m sure.  Fun.  Sad.  Happy.  Serious.  All of them momentarily bringing to life once again the character—the father—the grandfather.

I only bring up the burned spot because we’re in the process of refinishing the old hardwood floor.  Now would be the time to sand down that black stain in the middle of the expanse of oak.  My brother-in-law asked me the other day about it.  I told him the same thing I wrote at the beginning of this little essay.

It stays.

I want to remember the character who was my father-in-law.  But somehow, the longer I write, the more I realize there is something else about that floor that reminds me more of who he was than the black mark marring it.

Number two common oak.  It’s not a choice most folks would make for their living/dining room floor.  

Clear oak is what you want.  With straight, even grain in long boards several feet in length, the consistency of color and appearance is superior.  Each piece looks like the one next to it and takes the stain and finish uniformly.

Number two common oak, on the other hand, comes in planks about two feet in length and in varying grains and colors, as well as having a few knot holes and even a worm hole or two.  Dark planks sit side by side with white ones.  You might find a few with clear, straight grain, but it’s more likely you’ll see the whirl of tight knots here and a filled hole over there.

Over hundreds of square feet, not one board is like another there.

The catalogs suggest you might want a number two common oak floor if you want the floor to demonstrate character.

Oh, this floor is filled with characters!

Somehow, in my mind’s eye, I see God laying the floor of His Church.

What a sight to behold!  It’s not, as some would have you believe, all of one color and consistency.  Not at all.

God’s Church—not a building, but a people—is full of character, and full of characters.  Exactly as He designed it to be, the colors and personalities as different as can be.  Idiosyncrasies are the rule rather than the exception.

What a beautiful sight!  The colors blend and complement each other, the grains and imperfections showing the grace and mercy of their Creator.

Side by side, interlocked together,  our strength and character evident to all, we work toward a common goal.  All of humankind should have the opportunity to be a part of this wonderful mosaic.

Side by side, interlocked together, we work toward a common goal. Click To Tweet 

The Savior Himself said it so clearly:  They’ll know you are my followers by your love for each other.  (John 13:35)

And yet, it doesn’t seem to be working like that, does it?  

Scraped and scuffed, with water spills hither and yon, the old floor doesn’t present such a beautiful picture to a world that looks on.

You know, the process I’m going through with the old floor in this house is one of the most violent and disturbing tasks I have done while remodeling.  The sander beats the old varnish off, whump, whump, whump, as I shove it back and forth across the floor, shaking the whole room.  Again and again, changing from the roughest, open grit to the fine, polishing surface, the old machine does violence to the wood beneath.

It seems as if the process would destroy any beauty—even any usefulness remaining in the old wood.  

And yet, the day will come when the new stain is applied and then the new finish, the liquid soothing away all memory of the hurt.  The floor will once again be made beautiful, its usefulness guaranteed for another generation or more.

I wonder if we complain overmuch at the touch of our Maker’s tools, the cleansing of the dirt and filth.  His heavy-handedness is only for our good, His short-lived discipline—for the long-term joy in His service.

Number two common.

I’m satisfied with the title.  I rather like some of the characters around me.  They don’t all look like me, don’t all talk like me, and certainly don’t all think like me.

It’s beautiful.  Even that big black spot over there, a reminder of former foolishness and loved ones, now absent.  




To all who mourn in Israel,
    he will give a crown of beauty for ashes,
a joyous blessing instead of mourning,
    festive praise instead of despair.
In their righteousness, they will be like great oaks
    that the Lord has planted for his own glory.
(Isaiah 61:3 ~ NLT ~ Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. All rights reserved.) 


The Almighty must have loved the common people; He made so many of them.
(attributed to Abraham Lincoln ~ U.S. President ~ 1809-1865)








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


It was on a recent trip to the local home center I noticed the new signage at the local chicken processing plant.

Wet Ingredients Facility.


The Lovely Lady and I were in complete agreement that it didn’t seem a very appetizing description.  We are determined never to partake of the products the factory will be generating.


And, given that the facility is the latest pet food production site for the company, it is to be hoped we can live by our commitment.

Somehow, within minutes, my mind went back to a conversation I had nearly forty years ago with the Lovely Lady’s father.  It was on one of our many excursions out into the countryside to deliver a piano to a customer.

The ancient white-haired man (all humans over sixty were ancient to me then—not anymore) and I had ridden a few miles down the chip-and-seal country road, enjoying the beautiful Ozark Mountain foothills.  Suddenly, the old man twisted the steering wheel of the old Dodge van violently to the right and within seconds, we were creaking and rattling over the bumps and potholes of the rocky stone and dirt lane.  

After a mile or so of bouncing along, I noticed the collapsing cement block walls of the old place coming up on the left-hand side as we approached.  Wrinkling up his nose, he yelled over the racket.

That’s where the old rendering plant used to be!

The circumstances weren’t conducive to conversation, but I had to know.

Rendering plant?  What’s that?

He explained as we rode on.  You wouldn’t know it, but it had been one of the first truly green industries around.  Meat processing plants, farmers, grocery stores—all of them brought their unusable animal parts, dead by natural or unnatural means, and left them with the rendering plant to turn into useful products.

The rendering plants turned out tallow for candles, or soaps, and even pet foods.  Tons of valueless, nasty garbage—turned into consumable (and profitable) products.

It was recycling at its best.  Or perhaps, at its worst.

Oh.  The stench!  When the wind was from the east, it hung over the whole town.  You could hardly breathe.

And with that, there was an explanation for the nose-wrinkling.  I laughed, imagining the malodorous atmosphere, many years past the time the smelly old factory had closed down and been abandoned.

Beneficial processes aren’t always pleasant.  They’re not.

Sometimes, for trash to become treasure, repulsive stages must be endured.

I’m happy the rendering plant is defunct; I’m just as happy the new wet ingredients facility has state-of-the-art equipment to keep me from smelling said wet ingredients, along with whatever else happens to go into that particular mix.

But, I’m curious now.  My brain, wandering a little and (odd how it works like this) wondering a lot, wants to know if this rendering thing has anything to do with the words spoken centuries ago by the Teacher, as he was examined by those who detested Him.

Holding the Roman coin in His hand, He made it clear to all who were listening that the image on it was indeed, Caesar’s and instructed them to render unto Caesar that which was his.  Three of the apostles included the event in their Gospels.  Three.

This must be important stuff.

Men have argued through the ages since about taxation and its relevance to followers of God and His Son.  They always will.  

They also miss the point.

The words that followed His instruction about Caesar bear more—much more—consideration.

Render unto God that which is God’s.

The coins were stamped by the hundreds of thousands and dispersed to every corner of the Empire.  For all that, they still belonged to the Empire.

The evidence was the image stamped upon them.  They were Caesar’s—no one else’s.

I wonder.  Do you suppose anyone listening missed the importance of the comparison?  I don’t think they did.

The spies from His enemies were all experts in the Law.  They knew—absolutely knew—the significance of the words.

Render to God. . .

Where is God’s image stamped?

It’s not a difficult question.  There is but one answer.

It is stamped on every single human being ever born.  Every one.  It always has been.  It always will be.

We are made in His image. (Genesis 1:27)

I understand how taxes would be paid to Caesar.  But, how does one render what is due to God?

Jesus Himself answered the question, although the answer had already been given centuries before He sat with them and said the words.  Love God with everything you have.  Heart.  Soul.  Mind.  Strength. (Mark 12:29-30)

The apostle, for whom I am named, said it more than once.  Every knee will bow and every tongue will declare—to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2: 10-11)  

And, before that: I beg you to yield yourselves to God.  Do that, and He will render you into a new person completely. (Romans 12: 1-2)

And, what of the odor from the process?  

That’s going to be a problem, right?

Not so much.  Somehow, in the process of rendering back, the byproduct is a sweet aroma. 

As perfume rising to the heavens is the return of the gift to the Giver.

As perfume rising to the heavens is the return of the gift to the Giver. Click To Tweet

The process may seem painful at times.  It may appear to be to our disadvantage, temporarily.

The day is coming when we will see the complete result of the rendering.

Changed in a moment’s time. 

Rendered to Him at last.

The chief end of man is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.


Until then, I trust the air around is pleasantly scented.

It’s the aroma of a soul in process.

You’ll let me know, won’t you?




Give of your best to the Master;
Give Him first place in your heart;
Give Him first place in your service;
Consecrate every part.
Give, and to you will be given;
God His beloved Son gave;
Gratefully seeking to serve Him,
Give Him the best that you have.
(from Give of Your Best to the Master ~ Howard Grose ~ American author/poet ~ 1851-1939)


Now he uses us to spread the knowledge of Christ everywhere, like a sweet perfume.
(2 Corinthians 2:14b ~ 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.

If It Ain’t Broke

The girls were visiting and the piano needed attention.  Funny how that happens.

Months—absolutely months— can go by without a word to me about making repairs to the old thing, but let the girls come to visit and it’s time to see to what ails it.

I’ve done this many times before.

The G below Middle C is acting up!  Not many songs in our repertoire can be played without that G.

She says the words and I know exactly what must be done.  Not that anyone else cares besides me, but the jack flange has come loose from the wippen and the hammer isn’t returning quickly enough to its original position to be ready for the next repetition of the note.

It just needs a little spot of glue.

Applied to exactly the right place.

It’s always the jack flange.  Always.

The old piano is a hundred and thirty-eight years old.  It, perhaps, has earned a rest from its labors by now.  Still, in between these little crises, beautiful music can be heard spilling from the exquisite burled walnut case of the ancient instrument.

But, the girls. . .

I get my tools and take the front off of the piano one more time.

Why, one might ask, do I continue to repair one jack flange at a time (or two, if I’ve waited long enough for a second one to let go, as was the case this time), instead of taking the plunge and re-gluing every single flange?  All eighty-eight of them.

Ah.  There’s the rub.

They’re not all loose.  Yet.

One would assume the glue, nearly one hundred forty-years old, made from the hide of dead animals, would have deteriorated to the point that every joint would pop loose at the slightest touch.

It would be a wrong assumption.

The glue, for the most part, still holds the entire contrivance together admirably.  For the most part.

To remove all the flanges would involve infinite patience and time-consuming labor.  There would certainly be broken parts if they were forced apart.  

The old adhesive, brittle though it may be, still holds tightly enough and yet, ready to pop loose at whatever precise moment the molecules in the mixture break down.

An attempt to repair the entire piano would be disastrous.  And, foolish.

The smart piano technician waits until a repair is necessary to effect the remedy.

Or, in the everyday vernacular, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

I’m not sure how smart I am, but I know gluing a loose flange is much easier than repairing a broken one.  Especially one I’ve broken myself.

I left all the tightly glued flanges alone and removed only the two troublemakers.  Applying a spot of glue to the point of contact between the jack and the wippen, I matched the two parts together in precisely the same position they have held for the last century and just over a third.

They may hold for another century or more.

Time will tell.

You know, I’ve wondered why our Creator, omniscient and omnipotent as He is, wouldn’t notice all the problems we weak folk are going to have before they happen and simply take care of them for us.

All of us.  All at once.

But, He doesn’t, does He?  He leaves those of us who will fail right in among those who will carry on.  And, we break and fail.  Again and again.

We break and fail. Again and again. Click To Tweet

He knows exactly what needs to be done—exactly which part needs repair.

Every time, His touch—His love—mends the hurts and restores the errant parts of the Body.  Often, the restored members are stronger than they once were.

And, while the individual parts are getting the attention they need, the rest of the Body continues to function around its brokenness, making music for a listening world.

Beautiful music.  From flawed, broken, and repaired pieces of the whole.

From flawed, broken, and restored people, He makes beautiful music. Click To Tweet

The music is sweeter for it.

He uses broken flanges.  And, hammers.  And, center pins.  And, back checks.  And, dampers.  And. . .well, you get the point.  Even if you don’t recognize any of the parts, you get the point.

When it’s broken, He fixes it. (Jeremiah 30:17)

We make beautiful music together, don’t we?  For all of our brokenness and distress, the music is heavenly.

It was when the girls sang, too.




The world breaks everyone, and afterward, some are strong at the broken places.
(Ernest Hemingway ~ American author ~ 1899-1961)


Dear brothers and sisters, if another believer is overcome by some sin, you who are Godly should gently and humbly help that person back onto the right path. And be careful not to fall into the same temptation yourself. Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ.
(Galatians 6: 1,2 ~ 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.

Not Home Anymore

It’s not really our home, you know.

I said the words jokingly—actually, only half jokingly—to a guest in our house the other day.

The visitor was visibly surprised.  We’ve lived in the house for a decade and a half, filling the walls with artwork we’ve chosen to fit our taste, and the bookcases with volumes to feed our souls.

The walls still seem to echo with the voices of our grandchildren and college students around the table.  If I listen carefully, I can almost hear the Lovely Lady’s mother’s musical laugh, her idiosyncrasies and stories far outlasting her years on this earth.

The Doxology still rings in the air, sung by voices young and old scattered around the little dining room.  And, before the strains of that beautiful old hymn of praise die down, one may be able to make out the joyful carols sung so many times over the years inside these thick brick walls. 

Many whom we love have crossed the threshold of this wonderful old house while we’ve resided here, a better home than I ever imagined it would be.  The welcome here was always warm, the food delicious, the fellowship all one could ask for.

That was then. 

Home is the place where even the host feels welcome, the retreat where the world is left behind at the door, even if only for a little while.

And God said to Paul and his Lovely Lady, leave behind this beautiful and welcoming home, along with the music store, your vocation and place of ministry for the last thirty years, and go to a place I will show you.  But, not yet.

But, not yet.

Am I comparing my circumstances to Abraham’s?  Really?  I tell you, there have been times over the last few months when I would have told you he had it easy compared to me.

All Abraham had to do was to obey and walk.  God showed him the rest.  Under the great oak tree at Shechem, God waved an arm around and declared that everything he saw was his.  Home.

I hope there is little need for me to reassure the reader I have no illusions about my importance in the grand scheme.  I’m well aware of the part Father Abraham had yet to play in the history of mankind.  

I understand the great faith it took for Abram to leave his family and country and travel, not knowing where he would end up.  I only make the comparison because this Hero of faith had merely to take one step after another until the Lord told him to stop.

A pilgrim no more, he would be home.  Home.

But, I’m sure many can identify with this unsettled feeling I have deep down when I look around me in this old house.  It’s not my home anymore.  Oh, my name (and the Lovely Lady’s) is on the title, but my home is somewhere else.

Or, it would be if I could leave here.  There are still a number of things that have to happen before I walk out the door for the last time.

So, I keep walking back in every evening.  I keep sleeping in (what will be) someone else’s bedroom.  I work in an office that will never truly be mine again.

I’ve got one foot firmly planted in the present, and the other poised to take the next step—to a different place entirely.

It should be time to close one chapter and move to the next.  Only, I keep reading the last paragraph again and again.

I don’t write these words to get sympathy.  Not at all.  I do wonder though, if anyone else can identify with how I’m feeling.


This unsettled feeling—this impatience and restlessness—I wonder, did our Savior ever feel it?

Earth was never His home.  He left His home to live here temporarily, before returning to His rightful home.  (Philippians 2:6-8)

He wasn’t welcome, didn’t get settled in.  He came to His people and they didn’t accept Him.  (John 1:11)  

He didn’t even have a place he wanted to call His own.  The birds and animals had homes, but the Son of Man didn’t even have a place to lay His head.  (Matthew 8:20)

He didn’t settle in.  He never got comfortable.  He was Creator of all that is and there was no place here for Him to call home.

The task for which He came still lay ahead of Him.  And, after that—home.  

Really.  Home.

And, after that—home. Really. Home. Click To Tweet

I’m realizing something, these days as I miss the home that was and look forward to the home that will be.  I’m realizing I’ll never really be settled-in there either.  It may be the place I reside for the rest of my life—or not.  Regardless, it won’t really be home, either.

Just as now, when I gaze across the bridge to the next place, in my heart, I’ll someday be looking across the river to that place, my last and final destination and feel the need to go home.

I may even wonder, as I do now, why I have to wait—why I have to keep one foot in the present and have the other ready to take that step into eternity.

For right now, I’d settle for simply taking the next step.

Just one will do.

For a start.

Leaving home—to go home.


And then it happens all at once and unexpectedly. That is how things happen, I suppose. You pack your bags and find yourself walking yourself home.
(Shannon L Alder ~ American author)


Abraham was confidently looking forward to a city with eternal foundations, a city designed and built by God.
(Hebrews 11:10 ~ 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.

Summer is Passing

Church was full this morning.  Everyone sat a little closer together.  Everyone sang a little louder.  There were more hugs, and more laughter afterward.

It all makes me a little sad.

That didn’t come out right.  Maybe, I should explain.  

The church is full because the teachers and professors are returning from their summer travels, their mission trips, their expeditions to expand horizons in their own minds so they can do the same for their students.

Hmmm.  I seem to be making it worse instead of better.  

I want to be very clear.  I like the teachers and professors.  I really do.  It’s just that if they’re coming back, the students can’t be far behind.

Oh.  That’s no better either, is it?  

I love the students coming back, too.  Really, I do.  They fill the place with life and joy—optimism, even.

Let me give this one more shot, okay?

Their return (both teachers and students) means summer is almost over.  Even the weather this week belies the calendar.  Temperate days and cool nights have descended and rain has come back.

Oh, I know the summer weather will return with a vengeance.  It always does in late August and September.

But, the thought is planted in my head and I can’t shake it.  Summer is passing; already it’s nearly past.

And somehow, I feel like Alice’s White Rabbit clutching a pocket watch and muttering, “Oh dear!  Oh dear!  I shall be too late.”

I never did find out exactly what the nervous hare was worried about being tardy for, but still, I can’t help thinking I haven’t accomplished everything I should have.

I mentioned it to the Lovely Lady a few days ago and she reminded me of all we’ve done this summer.  I listened to her list and I had to smile.  We covered some ground—we did.  But, I wanted to do more.

I suppose it will always be that way.  A man’s reach should exceed his grasp, as Mr. Browning explained so well.  But, I fall short so often.

I wanted to do more—and better.

I think of all the time wasted believing it couldn’t be done.  You know—it.  Whatever the new thing in front of me was.

I’ve never done this before.  What if I mess it up?

I stood underneath the new ceiling fan with my son-in-law this afternoon and I had to laugh.  He was bemoaning the fact that he has no confidence in working with electrical wiring.  If he did, he would have a fan hanging from his ceiling as quickly as you could say downdraft.

I did.  I laughed.

Man, electricity is easy!  That over there—that’s what frightens me silly.  

I jabbed a finger at the kitchen floor I am currently trying to cover with vinyl tile.

I’m not exaggerating, nor am I bragging.  We purchased the materials for the job weeks ago.  I stood for hours staring at the bare sub-floor before I could bring myself to even open the first box of tile.

Hanging the ceiling fan took half an hour.  Less.

Yeah, but that stuff won’t kill you.  The electricity could.

I laugh at his logic.  He is right.

I like being in control.  I enjoy doing things which make me look good to the folks around me.  The problem is God doesn’t always give me assignments with which I’m comfortable.

When I want to stand in front of folks and speak of things with which I’m familiar, He tells me to climb under the house and repair the plumbing.

When I would rather repair a guitar with buzzing strings, He assigns me to pray with the man who’s just lost his wife of sixty years.

We waste a lot of time wishing He’d give us something else to do.  I know I do.

I spend my breath—the breath He put in my lungs—attempting to convince Him I could be so much more use to Him doing the same things I’ve always done.

Moses said, What if they don’t listen to me?  And God replied, Who do you think determines if people listen?  Or see?  Or speak?  I will give you the tools!  Just go!  (Exodus 4:10-13)

Here we are again at the small end of the year.  The hours of daylight are getting shorter.  

And still, I stand and argue my case.

How much time I’ve wasted.

Is there still time?  Yes.  With Sam Gamgee’s old dad, I’ve said it many times—where there’s life, there’s hope.

It’s just time to quit stalling.

Or, as we used to say in those ball games we played in empty fields at the end of days full of activity:

Get a move on!  The light’s going!

With the thought that summer might be running out comes a renewed urgency.  Not much time now.  Falling leaves are just around the corner.  Hot cocoa and all things pumpkin flavored.

To everything, there is a season.

I want to use the breath He gave me for the purposes He intended it for.  Today.

Use the breath He gave for His purposes. Do it today. Click To Tweet

What’s that in your hand?

It’s time to use it.  You might want to get a move on.

The light’s going.



We are not as strong as we think we are.
We are frail, we are fearfully and wonderfully made.
And, with these our hells and our heavens
So few inches apart,
We must be awfully small 

And not as strong as we think we are.
(Rich Mullins ~ American singer/songwriter ~ 1955-1997)


Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest.
(Ecclesiastes 9:10 ~ KJV)




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

Sometimes, I Like Surprises

The Lovely Lady saw it first.  She usually does.

Look!  A surprise lily!

By and large, it is not the season in our part of the country for brilliant blossoms on plants, the bountiful spring rains having mostly deserted us in this sweltering summertime heat.  The ground is parched and crunchy—the latter being the sound the vegetation makes underfoot when one takes a shortcut through the yard.

But, sure enough, right near the driveway, where once there was a flower garden, the bare stem towers above the crunchy grass, gorgeous purple blooms standing proudly on top.

It is properly called a lycoris.  We just call them surprise lilies, when we don’t call them naked ladies, the latter a description, not of anything risqué, but of the way the stem shoots up from the ground bare of any leaves whatsoever.

Every year they surprise me, although I can’t think why.  Well, perhaps a reason or two will occur to me in time, but by now you’d think I’d simply mark my calendar.  Late July and early August—like clockwork, you might say—the various-colored trumpets poke their heads out.  Every year.

I would have told you it couldn’t happen this year.

Besides the dried up vegetation from the heat of the last few weeks and the lack of precipitation, which should have been enough to discourage their appearance, I did my part to guarantee this particular stand of lilies would never surprise me or anyone else, ever again.

I said they grew from the spot where once a garden grew.  Twenty years ago the flower garden held a prominent place in that yard.  It was tended by my father-in-law, who kept the encroaching weeds and volunteer trees— pin oaks, maples, and sweetgum, to name a sampling—from taking root where the roses and lilies resided.

Over the intervening years, the garden had become a tangled mess of weeds, vines, and trees, so we mowed them down.  Not only that, the volunteer trees were lopped off at ground level to make it possible to keep them under control for the foreseeable future.  

The flower garden was erased from the face of the earth.  Literally.  We thought.

To further ensure that the sneaky lilies never popped up unexpectedly again, although that wasn’t my express motivation, this past spring I spent hours with a mattock chopping out roots and stumps.  The ground around was pulverized—torn up like a war zone.  

No surprise lilies this year! 

Boy, was I in for a surprise!

The exclamation was no sooner out of the Lovely Lady’s mouth than I headed over to see this miracle for myself.  True, no more than a solitary array of blooms was visible, but I’ll wager tomorrow there will be three.

Out of the parched ground, covered in crunchy grass and weeds, the beauty from the hand of the Creator stands, proudly exclaiming its victory. 

Victory over me.  Well, victory over my doubt, anyway.

When all is dark and hopeless, light creeps in and taps us on the shoulder.

When all is dark and hopeless, light creeps in and taps us on the shoulder. Click To Tweet


I’m remembering a road trip many years ago through the Gila National Forest in New Mexico.  With the Lovely Lady and our youngsters, we had taken the scenic route after visiting Carlsbad Caverns on our trip west.  I had hoped to be off of the winding two-lane road before dark, but we had lollygagged along for too many miles, as we admired and exclaimed about the beauty of creation.

With foreboding thoughts, I watched the hot summer sun dip toward the western horizon.  We’d never reach the interstate highway before dark.  Never.

Sure enough.  We dipped into a valley as the sun dropped down on the western edge of the mountains.  Dark.

Then, we started up the other side of the valley.  I had no hope of seeing the sun again.  Still, there it was—shining brightly—until we dropped down into another valley.

Each time we topped the next incline, the sun was there as if it had been in view all along. Broad daylight.  

Every time we started down into another valley, it disappeared completely from view.  Darkness surrounded us, just like night time.

Finally, we came onto a sort of plateau, up on top.  In daylight, we saw the marking for the interstate highway up ahead.  In daylight—still—we turned onto the four-lane and drove off into the sunset.

It was a surprise every time the sun appeared again, a pleasant one.  I had been convinced we were staying in the dark for the rest of the curvy, two-lane road.  Every time, I was convinced.  I was wrong.

I like surprises.  That kind of surprise, anyway.

But, here’s the thing.  In very much the same way as I know the lilies in the front yard will pop up at the same time next year, I knew the sun was still there.  I knew it.  

Why was it such a surprise when the light shone on us again?

We let our dread overshadow the hope, the reality we know to be true.

We let our dread overshadow the hope, the reality we know to be true. Click To Tweet

Time and again, we descend into the darkness, believing we’ll never rise above it, ever again.

Can I make you a promise?  It’s not me standing behind the promise, but the Creator of all that is.

We who once lived in darkness are assured that the light—His light—will shine upon us. (Isaiah 9:2)  It is a certainty.

He is our sun as well as our protection from danger and is giving us every good thing constantly. (Psalm 84:11)

Why so surprised?

It’s almost as if we’ve come to expect darkness and gloom.  

But, in the darkest night, with the storm raging, His light guides and He gives peace.  Still.  

With a word, He calms the storms.  Still.

He who was before time began hasn’t lost any of His power.  He still holds all of creation together.  (Colossians 1:17)

Right down to those surprise lilies.

Right down to surprising us with light—precisely when we need it.

I like surprises.





Sometimes a light surprises
The Christian while he sings;
It is the Lord, who rises
With healing in His wings:
When comforts are declining,
He grants the soul again
A season of clear shining,
to cheer it after rain.
(William Cowper ~ English poet ~ 1731-1800)




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