Standing at the Gate

He did it with a smile on his face.  I saw it happen.

We were waiting for the nice lady at the bank to make a copy for us.  I can’t help it; I watch people.  So, while we waited, I watched.

I watched him lock himself and his dad in the vault.

Just to be clear, it wasn’t the big door—you know, the thick slab made of concrete-filled steel and secured with a time-lock.  This was what they call the day gate—a lighter affair, made with open metal rails that can be seen through.

Even so, I watched the little guy, all of three or four years old, swing the barrier back and forth a time or two.  It moved smoothly and noiselessly, so his dad, engrossed in his own activity inside, had no idea of what was happening.

The lad swung it and let go, reaching quickly to hold it and flip it back.  Looking up at me, he smiled.  There was no forethought or malicious intent in his face, simply the joy of being a child and a moment to entertain himself.

He swung it again, reaching for the edge, but missing.  I held my breath, hoping he’d catch it before it reached the end of its arc.  He didn’t.


The little fellow gave a tug at the door, but it stayed put.  He didn’t.  With one last sheepish grin, and an almost pleading look at me, he turned and dashed back into the room where his dad was still taking care of the task he had come to do.

The nice lady came back to our table and my attention was diverted from the scenario in the vault.  Even so, as she talked, it nagged at my consciousness.

I never heard a sound.  Still, moments later, I knew something was amiss.  I turned around and, there at the metal gate, saw the boy and his father standing.  This time, the pleading eyes were in the father’s face.  He didn’t say a word, but shrugged his shoulders and grinned—that same sheepish grin I had seen on the boy’s face earlier.

I suggested to the nice lady that she might want to let them out of the vault and she gasped, rushing to get the key and open the gate.

Not a single word passed between the man and me.  He needed help. I did what was in my power.  It wasn’t much.

Still, I haven’t been able to get the picture out of my mind.  The man, standing behind the gate, waiting for freedom.  In my memory, I see nothing but bars—that, and his face behind those bars.

Almost. . .Well—almost as if he were in prison.

I know it’s a stretch, but I can’t help but wonder if there are bars that lock me in, again and again.  Then again, what if the bars actually lock me out, too?

Prison isn’t only being locked in and held against my will.  Sometimes, prison is a place of my own making—the freedom of going where I want and doing what I have chosen.

Bondage can look a lot like freedom to us, if we’re not careful.  The little boy swinging the gate in fun found that out.

I’ve locked myself in more times than I care to count.

Just tonight, I read an email and slid home the bolt on the prison of fear.  Tomorrow may bring an unhappy encounter, so I  entered the cell tonight willingly, muttering to myself as I pulled the gate shut behind me.

The fear of what tomorrow may bring is a barren cell, fraught with pain and distress.  And yet, I may lie sleepless in this dreadful place the entire night.

A conversation with someone earlier today brought about the opportunity of making personal comparisons.  Without a thought, I acknowledged my superiority and in doing so, firmly latched myself into the prison of pride and arrogance.

The incarceration of the prideful may seem to be, at worst, a low-security lock-up.  But, like most hardened criminals, we return again and again, never reformed, to hear the gate click behind us as we fall into the habit of a lifetime.

There are so many prison doors.  Greed.  Gluttony.  Bigotry.  Selfishness.  Lust.  The list stretches as far as the cells in the cell block above.

Sometimes, it seems that others close the doors for us, just like the little boy in the bank.  It matters not.  The lock snaps closed and we are trapped once more.

I’ve spent enough time locked in those cells.  Maybe that’s true for more than just me.

I remember that there is One who holds the key to every door.  Every single one.

Isaiah, the one who seemed to see Him clearly through all the centuries that lay between, said the words first.  He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the prisoner—to open the locked gates behind which they await freedom.  (Isaiah 61:1)

Jesus used the same words to describe Himself.

He is the Key Holder—the Opener of Doors.

He is the Key Holder—the Opener of Doors. Click To Tweet 

Locks, prison doors, barred gates—they mean nothing to Him.

I’m ready for better things.  Easier than the lady at the bank opening that gate, the prison doors will swing wide.

Time to walk free.



What a fool am I, thus to lie in a stinking dungeon, when I may as well walk at liberty? I have a key in my bosom called Promise that will (I am persuaded) open any lock in Doubting Castle.
(from Pilgrim’s Progress ~ John Bunyan ~ 1628-1688)


The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me,
Because He has anointed Me
To preach the gospel to the poor;
He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted,
To proclaim liberty to the captives
And recovery of sight to the blind,
To set at liberty those who are oppressed.
(Luke 4:18 ~ NKJV ~ Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.)





© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2018. All Rights Reserved.

Bars Made of String

I was busy when he left the guitar.

“Give me a few weeks.  I’ll see if I can figure out what’s causing that vibration.”

He nodded, but he was frowning gloomily.  “It’s going to be bad.  Probably a loose brace.”

The gloomy clouds didn’t follow him out the door as I hoped they would, but simply hung in the air over that guitar case.  Or, so it seemed to me.

My few weeks passed.  Then a few more went by.  Every time I walked past the instruments waiting to be repaired, I could feel the gloom.

What if it’s a loose brace?

I shrugged off the gloom and continued on to other tasks.  Again and again, I ignored the guitar case sitting there.  

I didn’t open the case once.  Not once.

He came in last week.  “It’s been over two months.  Have you fixed my guitar?”

The gloomy clouds came to hang over my own head—the one I was shaking in embarrassment.  

“Sorry.  Give me another week.”

Out the door he went again.  I turned back to my work, worrying still.

What if it’s a loose brace?  It might even be broken.

The week has passed.  He called today.  The instrument must be ready to pick up tomorrow.  Tomorrow!

barsofstringTonight, the guitar lies on my work bench.  Dreading what I will find, I reach down to loosen the strings.  I can’t work inside the instrument until I get room to put my hands through the sound hole.  

Like bars of steel, the strings guard the entrance.  Perhaps I should just leave them alone.

What if it’s a loose brace?

Then a new thought strikes me.  What if it’s not?

What if it’s something really simple?  Easy to fix?

By now, I have loosened up the strings and, like a caged strong man in the movies, have spread them apart, bending them like—well—like string.  I insert my mirror and, shining a light on it, begin my inspection.  

Two months, I’ve waited.  And worried.

Five minutes—no, less than that—three minutes later, I have found the problem.  A broken string, fallen into the body of the guitar, has been trapped by the magnetic force of the electric pickup.  Trapped against the sound board which magnifies every sound ten-fold.

The tiny buzz-buzz-buzz of the metallic string against the spruce sounded for all the world like a disastrous structural failure.

I whisk away the one-inch piece of bronze and stainless steel, breathing a sigh of relief as I do.  Pulling my tools and my hand from the dungeon of my almost-failure, I let the bars—I mean, strings—spring back into place and I re-tune them.

Sitting on a nearby stool, I run my fingers over the strings, hitting a few familiar chords.  What an astounding result!  The tones radiating from the soundboard of the instrument are perfection itself.

Perfection.  And, I waited over two months to experience it.


What if?

Two months—wasted.

All of my life, I have worried about what is behind those doors I have never passed through.  All of my life.

Twelve years old.  I was with my family in southern Kansas visiting my great-aunt and uncle.  They had a farm in the gently rolling hills near the place my mother had grown up.  

Uncle Paul was old, but he hadn’t forgotten what it was like to be a kid.  While the old folks were visiting, he warned us to beware of snakes and sent us out to explore anywhere we wanted to wander.

That was how we came to be standing in front of the doorway into the hillside.  Anywhere we wanted, he had said.  This door looked interesting.  And scary.

“What if there are snakes?”  The shaky voice was mine.

My oldest brother laughed.  “What if there aren’t?”

His optimism notwithstanding, he was holding a stick in his hand as he pulled the door open.  We stayed well behind him, but eventually, we all trooped through the open entrance to the vegetable cellar.  It was not much more than a hollow in the side of the hill, excavated here and there to make room for shelves, upon which sat the bounty of my old relatives’ garden.  It would feed them through the winter.

There were no snakes.

I would never have known that on my own.  The door would have remained closed.  Funny.  Nearly fifty years on, I’m still afraid to open doors.

What’s behind the door in front of you right now?  Why aren’t you turning the knob instead of standing there, petrified?

If God brought you to the door, there is nothing behind it that has any power to doorway-521278_1280harm you.

He has given us the key to open every lock and will make provision for every obstacle we meet, once inside.  Just a note of warning—if you have to slip the lock with your credit card, He didn’t want you in there.  Some doors were never intended for us to open.

Too many times though, I have stood in front of a door to which He has given access and failed to go through it.  What if I fail?

We fail because we fear to try.  

Many more times than we meet insurmountable obstacles, we simply don’t attempt the deed at all.

Open the door!  

Go through it!

You might still want to carry that stick.



I will keep you and will make you…to open eyes that are blind,
to free captives from prison and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness.
(Isaiah 42: 6,7 ~ NIV)


There is freedom waiting for you,
On the breezes of the sky;
And you ask, “What if I fall?”
Oh but my darling, 
What if you fly?
(Erin Hanson ~ Australian poet)



© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2015. All Rights Reserved.