Please Don’t Dog Ear The Pages

“Oh, yeah.  Tell him I’d like to have a new copy of Watership Down.  I can’t read the one I have now.”

My son, kind man that he is, wants to buy his father a gift for Christmas, even though I’ve said many times that I need nothing.  The Lovely Lady knows better and sends him ideas by text—secretly, she thinks.

We were riding toward home this evening, after a trip to a neighboring town, and my brain jumped to the thought.  As I usually do, I spoke without considering the consequences.

Well, I guess they will not be, strictly speaking, consequences. However, the Lovely Lady now has a new aberration to consider in her husband’s character, thanks to my premature announcement.  (I’m not sure it’s well-advised to give her too many of these points of oddness to think about at one time.)

She probably didn’t expect me to see the eye-roll that preceded her next question.  I suppose I didn’t really see it as much as I felt it.

What’s wrong with the copy on the bookshelf?  It looks perfectly legible to me.

She knew the answer.  She just wanted to hear it from me.

I fell in love with the story many years ago, back when I was young and full of dreams.  I still enjoy reading through it, now that I’m old and full of dreams.  The only problem is, I gave away my old, worn paperback copy back a ways. 

I thought I wouldn’t need it anymore.

We had been in a favorite book shop one afternoon, looking for bargains, when I saw it.  No, I saw IT.

IT was a beautiful hardback, with the dust jacket intact—paper, covered with clear plastic—and crisp, clean pages.  The price, written inside the back cover in pencil was exorbitant, ten times what I would normally pay for a good hardback—fifty times what I’d pay for a decent paperback.

We couldn’t afford it. 

We bought it anyway.

We walked out of the little book store with a near-mint First American Edition of the book.  I would never need to thumb through that old, tattered paperback again.  Never.

The truth of the matter is, I’ve never read the beautiful hardback.  Never.

I never will.  The book’s value is in its rarity, its exclusivity, its pristine condition.

The thing is, when I read, I live.  I eat.  Chocolate and grease stains attest to the fact.  I drink coffee or juice—suitable evidence can be provided.

I carry my books out to the bench in the back yard and, if interrupted rigorously enough, lay them down to scratch the ears of my dogs or play a game of fetch with them. 

I’ve always been told books are your friends, meaning I should handle them with kid gloves, but I don’t treat my friends that way.  I live life with them. 

I leave my mark on them and they leave their mark on me. 

Not so with this hardback.  It may be the worst fifty dollars I ever spent.  I can’t read it, nor can I sell it.  You don’t sell your friends  (unless your name is Judas).

She understands me, the Lovely Lady.  She just likes to make sure I know that, once in a while.

I think she sent a message to our son as we rode.  I don’t know for sure.  My mind was far away.  Even farther away than Watership Down.

Have you ever wondered?  Many do.  I can’t understand how one wouldn’t.

Why did the Savior of the world have to come like this?  Why a baby, born in a stable?  Why did smelly shepherds have to come, and weird foreigners have to follow a strange star?

Why did He live, wandering the land of His birth, homeless and un-celebrated? 

Why did He die a criminal’s death, hanging in shame on a crude cross of wood?

I would have had Him come as a triumphant conqueror, dressed in white and ruling from His palace, far above the smells and cries and demands of the filthy, backward people who walked the roads and worked in the marketplace.

I would have had. . .


He came to be a friend to sinners, didn’t He?   

Like any friend, He would leave His mark on us.

And, we would leave our mark on Him.

He would leave His mark on us and we would leave our mark on Him. Click To Tweet

No pristine first edition, He.  Our very own volume, well-worn and dog-eared, to learn from firsthand.

The Word became flesh.  Living with us. (John 1:14)

His life an open book, one might say.

Maybe it’s time to read the book again.

I hope no one will mind if I dog ear a page or two.



I wonder as I wander, out under the sky,
How Jesus the Savior did come for to die
For poor ornery people like you and like I;
I wonder as I wander, out under the sky.
(I Wonder As I Wander ~ John Jacob Niles ~ © 1945 by G. Schirmer, Inc. All rights reserved.  Used by permission.)




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


She sits and stabs the needle through the material, first down and out of sight, then right back up beside the spot it disappeared.  For hours, she does this.

Intricacy.  Detail.  Painstaking industry.  All are parts of what go into the task—the unmitigated drudgery—that is counted cross stitch.

For a few moments tonight, we discussed philosophy.  The Lovely Lady doesn’t discuss philosophy—or politics.  But tonight, I trapped her.  For just a moment or two, I had her talking about why.

It’s a big subject—Why.

I’ve been reading a two-hundred-year-old book.  What I mean is, the author penned the words two hundred years ago.  The actual volume in my hand is only one century old.

Washington Irving, he of Rip Van Winkle fame, suggests in his Sketch Book (ca. 1819) that writing books is a futile endeavor.  The sacrifice of a lifetime for authors, only to slide the fruit of their labors onto an “inch of dusty shelf…and in another age be lost even to remembrance.”

His words started the why bother wheels into motion for me.  What is the use of writing?  Why would I ever want to publish a book, much less a single essay?

With those heavy thoughts running rampant in my head, I baited the Lovely Lady.  She is a fan of mine—perhaps the only one—and has been gently nudging me toward publishing a book of my material.

“I’m rethinking this book idea.”

She listened to my words with disbelief.  Then, for a few moments, she did what she doesn’t do; she discussed philosophy with me—the philosophy of useless deeds.

It didn’t take long.  After a little give and take, she looked down at her lap and, shaking her handwork in my direction, finished the discussion.

“Why do you think I do this?  Some things you do simply for the joy of doing them.  If writing doesn’t give you joy, then stop.”

With that, she went back to the tiny stitches again, the needle moving like clockwork, first one way and then the other.

The red-headed lady has a point.  But, there is more to it, isn’t there?

I think about the can of worms she has just opened.  She sits for hour after hour of what should be her leisure time, and she turns thread and cloth into art.  Sometimes, she uses a different needle and turns yarn into blankets—or shawls—or scarves.

Hours, she invests into each item.

She gives them away.  Every single one.

Suddenly, in my memory, I am standing in a large plot of plowed dirt watching an old man with a hoe.  He is making a small furrow in the dark, damp soil.  Reaching into a pocket, he pulls out some tiny black particles, dropping them into the furrow before pulling the dirt right back over them.  Tamping them down a little, he smiles and nods as he reaches the end of the row.

2014-04-21 08.44.08Hours, the old man spent in that garden.  My father-in-law loved the garden.  I guess I should say he loved working in the garden.  It was true of him even as a little boy.

He loved thinking about working in the garden.  In the middle of the winter, he was poring through seed catalogs, scheming about how he could change the layout next year to include this certain green bean, or that special cabbage type.

As I let the thoughts float in my head, memory mixed with present realities, a truth comes to mind—one I have never considered.

The old man and the Lovely Lady love the same thing.  They love planting seeds.  Their joy is not in the crop (though they desire that it become reality), but simply in the promise of the seed.

Sowers.  That’s what they are.  I suppose the bad pun of suggesting the lady is a sew-er would be inexcusable, so we’ll just stick with sower, shall we?

Well, one might say, the old man certainly is that, but how is it true of the Lovely Lady?

It’s easy to see.  She spends her hours in preparing the blankets, the scarves, the shawls, and then she buries them in the ground.  Well, not literally, but certainly figuratively.  She gives them away and her part in their journey is done.  What happens next depends on the recipient.

The joy of the sower is in the anticipation.  Anticipation of growth, of longevity, of usefulness.  He or she is not responsible to ensure these happen, but simply to give them an opportunity.

And with that, I realize that our Creator, benevolent Provider we know Him to be, puts in our hands the things He wishes us to sow.

Music, art, communication, mechanical ability, wealth—all of these and more, He invites us to sow.  

We sow, not for the harvest we will reap, but simply for the joy of doing what He has made us to do.  

He tells us to work industriously at whatever we put our hand to—not for our own reward or to reap the harvest for ourselves, but in His name and for His glory. (Colossians 3:17)

I can’t skip over the hard truths, along with the pleasant ones, though.  The seeds don’t always take root.  They often meet misfortunes along the way.

It is hard not to take it personally when that happens.  

When you see an item over which you labored long hours selling in a garage sale for a few cents, it’s easy to lose heart.  I’ve stood with the Lovely Lady in flea markets, as she sadly fingers the work of others, now languishing in a strange place, awaiting some stranger who will see the beauty and appreciate the love that went into its creation.

I wonder; do you suppose the One who sows His love and grace in our hearts, stands and weeps as He sees how far astray we’ve gone?  It is what we are wont to do with His gifts, devaluing them and disregarding the Giver.

Still, He plants and cultivates—and sows again.  

I will be a sower.  It is my calling.

It is our calling.

It’s a difficult undertaking.  We want the compensation.  We want the glory.  We want the fame.

He calls us to sing songs that never make the top lists—or any list at all.  He calls us to invest in others with no chance of a profit for ourselves.  He calls us to cook meals that others will eat—and perhaps complain about.

He calls us to write books that will sit on the shelf awaiting that one person who will open the aging tome and be changed forever—even if it doesn’t happen until we’ve been gone a year, or a hundred years.

He calls us to give cups of cool water—even if we’re the ones who are thirsty.

The joy is in doing what He has put in our hands and hearts to do.  

The beauty is in giving the gift.  

The reward is in obedience.

Seeds are made to be planted.

It’s time to work in the garden.




My point is this: The person who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the person who sows generously will also reap generously.
(2 Corinthians 9:6 ~ NET)


Such is the amount of this boasted immortality.  A mere temporary rumor, a local sound; like the tone of that bell which has tolled among these towers, filling the ear for a moment, lingering transiently in echo, and then passing away like a thing that was not!
(from The Sketch Book ~ Washington Irving ~ American author ~ 1783-1859) 




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