God Didn’t Make Little Green Apples

The apple tree is gone. Really.

Personal photo

Or, as the Munchkin coroner read from the death certificate of the wicked witch: …not only merely dead but really most sincerely dead.

I know you’ll be as sad as Dorothy was. It is just an apple tree, after all. Other trees were destroyed in the storm that blew through recently, some of much more import than my sad little apple tree. Century-old oaks, stately scarlet maples, huge sweet gums, all destroyed by the same careless gale that blasted past us as if none of it would matter in a year or so anyway.

It will. To me, it will.

I’ve written of the old tree before. I intended to do it in myself last fall but thought better of it. The eleventh-hour reprieve did it little good. My last written thoughts on the matter left me with hope (read about it here). Now seemingly, it was merely wishful thinking.

An old friend came this afternoon and helped me cut up the broken-off trunk. Right down to the ground, we cut it. As we drove away from the house later, the Lovely Lady suggested it was almost as if it had never been there.

I’ve walked around this evening with words in my head. I know they’re not true, but that doesn’t get them out of my head.

Personal photo

God didn’t make little green apples.

The words are part of a song written in the nineteen-sixties, sung by a number of country music stars. I realize there’s a phrase that comes before the one rattling around in my head, but it doesn’t matter to me right now.

I’m unhappy; can you tell?

As I write these words, I realize something else is making me unhappy. Something I don’t want to talk about. I’d rather go on about the sad little apple tree, lying in the scrap pile, awaiting transport to its final resting place.

I’d rather talk about missing the fresh apple pie and the homemade applesauce. But clearly, that’s not what’s going to happen here, so I might as well move on.

I’ve struggled with it for two weeks. I know—I’ve wrestled with it before and will again. Many of my readers will understand.

Two weeks ago, I got word that he was gone. My friend, too young to be old, sat at home in his chair and went away. I’ll never see him again in this lifetime. I’ll never again hear one of his corny jokes; never sit and listen to him play his beautiful Martin acoustic guitar and sing of the Savior he loved.

While I was trying to come to grips with the sadness Jack’s passing has brought on, I was reminded of another young friend who died unexpectedly eight years ago this week. The reminder hit me harder than I thought possible. I miss the kid more today than the day he died. He too was a guitarist who loved playing music that turned his listener’s hearts to worship.

I want to hear the music again. 

Anything besides this little ditty going through my brain right now.

God didn’t make little green apples.

But, He did, you know. Every single one of them.

Our Creator conceived and produced those little things from the nothingness of eternity. From the dirt He made, he caused the trees and other vegetation to spring up, guaranteeing that they would perpetuate themselves through their seeds. (Genesis 1: 11, 12)

While creation remains, the apples will come again. Oh, the trees will outlive their season, but the fruit will never fail. Season follows season, harvest after planting, as He planned it. (Genesis 8:22)

And, wouldn’t you know it, the myth of death for those who know Christ is as false as the little ditty in my head. Eternal life belongs to all who believe in Him. (John 3:36)

My friends haven’t been carried off to any final resting place, even if their earthly packages were.

The music has never stopped, even if temporarily we don’t hear it. I’m confident the Heavenly Luthier builds a much better product than CF Martin ever constructed here. I may even get to play with them someday.

But no, I think I’ll sing in the choir with that red-headed lady who raised me.  We’ll sing as loudly as we can there, too—just like the last I sang with her.

God did make little green apples.

You can almost smell the blossoms from here.


Personal photo




© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2019. All Rights Reserved.










It Used To Be True

I dare you to prove me wrong.

Oh, wait. That’s not the way to begin a discussion, is it? Let me take a fresh run at it.

We had Mother’s Day dinner at my son’s house, the Lovely Lady and I. It was fabulous. Food, prepared by the men in the family (with assistance from the young ladies who aren’t moms). Conversation, provided by everyone involved—really—everyone. And love, spread thick by our Creator from whom all such good gifts are given.

Before heading into the house, I noticed the new trees. Beautiful and straight, they were. Willow-oak trees, destined to provide shade from the blast of the sun’s rays. Sturdy saplings, surrounded at the base by. . . rocks?

I mentioned them as we sat around the table. The rocks, I mean. My son, always the pragmatist, shrugged his shoulders and said, “It’s Arkansas. What did you expect?”

I thought about that for a moment. I was still trying to wrap my thoughts around a related event from just the day before.

In our own yard, a mile or so from my son’s, the maple tree we planted last spring is doomed because of a run-in with a rutting buck, so we purchased a nice Red Oak sapling as a replacement. 

I was worried as I prepared to plant the new tree in my yard. I do live in Arkansas, you know. Rocks grow faster than grass in some yards here.

And yet, optimistically, I told the Lovely Lady I wouldn’t need her help. I even suggested I mightn’t need the rock-breaker, that heavy solid-iron bar common to every area contractor’s and fence-builder’s arsenal. Armed only with a shovel, I headed out to mark the location for the new tree.

Imagine my amazement as the circumference was dug up without hearing the characteristic clang of rock on metal. I dug a circle over two feet in diameter and at least as deep without hitting a single rock. Not one.

Sometimes, what we think we know to be true isn’t true at all. 

But, I wonder. What if what we think we know to be true was once, but simply is no longer?

Not ten feet away from the hole I dug lie three or four large stones dislodged from the ground last week as I mowed. I know there are rocks under the ground. I do live in Arkansas, you know.

I’m thinking the prayer I muttered as I walked out to dig that hole had an effect. Possibly, my resolve to face the job with joy and expectation made a difference.

It’s possible.

I’m going to go out on a limb and say the ground had rocks under it before I started, but not when I stuck my shovel into it.

I dare you to prove me wrong.

You can’t, can you?

Here is what I know. There are rocks in Arkansas soil. I know that. I also know I dug this particular hole in Arkansas soil and hit not a single rock.

Okay, it’s a little silly, I know. I don’t really want to argue about it. 

The thoughts that have been roiling in my brain for a while, though—those we might argue about. They’re about a far deeper subject than just a hole in the ground.

I’m beginning to wonder about the impossible people in my life. You know the ones. They won’t ever change. Nothing can get through to them. It’s a complete waste of my time and emotions to even try.

We all know them. Some of us are them. Impossible people will always be impossible.

And yet…

And yet, we’re reminded that while we focus on the outward appearance, God sees into the heart of the person. (1 Samuel 16:7)

But, He doesn’t see our potential; He sees what His love and power can do to make that heart new. Everything old—everything—will go away completely. 

New. He makes us new. (2 Corinthians 5:17)

New. God makes us new. Click To Tweet

I said impossible, didn’t I? 

That must have been wrong. 

But, it isn’t. Our Creator is the one who calls things that never were as if they are. (Romans 4:17)

I really don’t know if He changes the rocky Arkansas ground to rich, black dirt, but I do know He changes the black, dead hearts of men to living, loving vessels of His grace.

I know that.

And I still dare you to prove me wrong. 

But I’d rather you prove me right.



Will power does not change men. Time does not change men. Christ does.
(Henry Drummond ~ Scottish evangelist/biologist ~ 1851-1897)




© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2019. All Rights Reserved.


Shining Through

I’ve lived with her for over forty years and, still, she gets me into trouble. I’m sure I would never fall for these traps if it weren’t for her. Well—almost never.

It all started innocently enough.

“I need to pick up a few books at the used-book store, dear. Would you go with me?”

She knows the answer to that question. I can’t say no to a chance to expand the library. Especially at bargain prices. We went.

I found books. Many of them weren’t at bargain prices. I’m lamenting most the book of children’s poetry with hand-colored prints. It could have been mine for only a hundred twenty-five dollars.

I settled for a smaller volume that set me back only four. Four dollars for a book over a century old. There was no extra charge for the yellowed paper on which it was printed. None for the musty odor that emanates from the turning pages, either. A bargain. Really.

But you’re still wondering how she got me into trouble, aren’t you? Clearly, the cost of the little poetry book wasn’t the issue.

It’s just that I wasn’t paying attention and didn’t see the trap until it was too late. Caught! Sucked in like the tiny ants ambling past the doodle-bug pits in the dirt under the carport of my childhood home.

They never intended to go into those pits, either.

Okay. It’s just that the snack-cake bargain outlet is right next to the used-book shop. Thirty strides away from where I parked the pickup. Maybe fewer. I know it was close enough to smell the honey-buns. And, the Swiss cake rolls.

I haven’t yet been able to do the math required to determine how many miles I’ll need to ride on my bicycle. In truth, I’m barely starting to add up the calories I’ve ingested. Tomorrow.

But now you understand how it was that I came to be sitting that evening under the old table lamp, reading the little volume of poems, coffee cup in hand. There may also have been a honey-bun close by (or was it an oatmeal cream pie?).

I read poem followed by poem; after some, affirming the wisdom of my purchase and, after others, bemoaning the pricey volume that remained sitting on the shelf at the book shop. Still, for four dollars, it wasn’t a complete disappointment.

After half an hour of sitting—well, flopping really—I don’t sit while I read. Anyway, after half an hour. . .You know, I still remember the red-headed lady who raised me—years ago—sternly reminding me to get my feet off her coffee table. That was only moments before she shouted at me to get my feet off her wall. That’s right. Turned upside down, heels dirtying the wallpaper, I would read for hour after hour. As a child. I can’t read that way any longer. (You know—blood rushing to head, stiff joints, and everything else that comes with age.) Now, I simply scooch down in the easy chair, just far enough to get my feet on the chair facing me. It just feels right.

I never realized how low this position put me in relation to the lamp beside my chair. There never has been a reason to notice it. There certainly was this night.

After half an hour of sitting (I knew I’d get here finally!), as I turned a page, a shadowy image appeared momentarily behind the print. As the page laid back against the others, the image disappeared. I searched for it, but couldn’t find it again.

Thinking I must have imagined it, I continued reading the old volume. But, moments later, as I flipped another page, the image was back.

What was going on? Did I buy a haunted book? What was this strange image?

I separated the pages, holding a single one up to the light. There it was! Along with the skeleton-like lines that showed in the old laid paper, a watermark was clearly visible. A circle of leaves on stems, curled around the poet’s initials.

On every page held up to the light, I can see the same watermark. Somehow, I feel better about my purchase now. A watermark simply informs the interested party of who had made the paper, a modern-day signature of the artisan, if you will. I made this!

We don’t see watermarked paper much anymore. Not the real thing, anyway. I bet if the shop had known about it, they would have charged six, maybe even eight, dollars for the little volume! Or, maybe not.

Funny, isn’t it? Something most people would never see makes the book more valuable to me.

As I write, I begin to wonder if I’ve lost the interest of my readers. It is, after all, a discussion of things of antiquity, meaning nothing to most who will read these words. Perhaps something a little more up-to-date might help.

Those of my readers who live in the United States see watermarks in use almost every day. The purchase of a container of milk or a loaf of bread will suffice. Put your groceries on the counter and reach into your pocket as the cashier tells you the total. Smiling, you draw out a twenty-dollar bill and think nothing of the nice lady holding the bill up to the light to— that’s right! —verify the presence of the watermark. All modern U.S. bills over one dollar have them. Many overseas currencies use watermarks, as well.

It matters who printed the paper and put the watermark there. It matters a lot.

And then, I stop to think about the times we describe our future, the days and moments lying just ahead, as a blank page waiting to be written upon.

And suddenly, I wonder what sort of paper my life story is being written on.

I know what’s being written on the paper (and I’m not always happy about how it reads), but when my pages are held up to the light, what appears for all to see?

Is there an imprint on every page, and whose is it?

Is there an imprint on every page, and whose is it? Click To Tweet

Am I writing on paper that will last?

Some time ago, I noticed a fellow working in his garden, but he wasn’t plowing or planting. He was burying paper. Really. Burying paper. I stopped to express my puzzlement and he was happy to explain.

“I have lots of old business records and unimportant communication. The paper turns to dirt soon enough, so I bury it instead of sending it to the landfill.”

I’d like to write on better paper than that.

And, I’d like to see something far better than myself shining through when it’s all—the whole messy project—held up to the light. I believe He’ll do that. The words of the Teacher ring in my head almost daily: Let your light shine as you do good to men, and they’ll glorify God who is in heaven. (Matthew 5:16)

I want His mark on my life’s story. You?

Sooner or later, we’ll all be held up to the light.

Through all the scribbles and strike-throughs, the illegible script written when we had too little sleep and not enough coffee, what shines through matters more than anything we could ever write ourselves.

Quality paper. Clearly marked.

Definitely worth more than four dollars.



God does give us more than we can handle. Not maliciously, but intentionally, in love, that His glory may be displayed, that we may have no doubt of who is in control, that people may see His grace and faithfulness shining through our lives.
(Katie Davis ~ American author/missionary)


But on the judgment day, fire will reveal what kind of work each builder has done. The fire will show if a person’s work has any value. If the work survives, that builder will receive a reward. But if the work is burned up, the builder will suffer great loss. The builder will be saved, but like someone barely escaping through a wall of flames.
(1 Corinthians 3:13-15 ~ NLT ~ New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission. All rights reserved.)



© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2019. All Rights Reserved.


A Day For A Hero

(Today’s post is a repeat of an earlier article.  I haven’t changed my mind.)


Scott was cool.  Well, to this one-time band geek he was.  The big offensive back was six feet tall and all muscle.  He was no slouch on the football field either.  I was sure he was going to be a star running back.

But, that was before.

I was there when it happened.  Not that I had any part in the event.

Okay.  To be honest, I didn’t even know what was going on.  I just knew something bad had happened.

Scott dated a girl in the band, so occasionally he and a few of his football buddies would come to our marching practices at the stadium. They would sit in the stands and yell encouragement once in a while.  We could tell they were having a good time, but most of us had no idea how good.

That all came to an end one Tuesday evening.  We heard the next day about how it had shaken out.

Photo by Mica Asato from Pexels

What we hadn’t been able to tell from our disadvantaged perspective down on the playing field was that the fellows kept up their high spirits in the stands with just that–spirits.  Each Tuesday evening, one of the guys would find someone to get him a carton of beer since he was underage.  He would distribute the bottles to the guys before they ascended to their seats in the bleachers.  Then they would spend the next couple of hours joking and cheering—and sipping.

It seems that finally somebody on the staff figured out what was happening and alerted the school administration.  On that fateful Tuesday evening, the boys were unaware a trap was about to be sprung.  However, just moments before the head football coach started up the steps to where they were, one of the jocks figured out something was up.

What would they do?

Scott made a quick decision.  He would be the martyr—the hero.

“Quick guys!  Shove your bottles under my seat.  Then move away from me before they can get up here.”

They protested, but only weakly.  Within seconds, the preparations were completed, and Steve was by himself in the stands, evidence galore to be found under his seat.

He was finished as a football player.  Shamed and kicked off the team, he would never play offensive back again.

The other boys?

They played football that Friday night.  They played football every other Friday night of football season as long as they were in school.

All because one guy had taken the brunt of their punishment. One guy had accepted responsibility for their contraband.

The school was abuzz the next day and for several after that.  It wasn’t fair!  They all should have been punished!  Scott was the good guy here, but he was paying the price!  Where was the justice?

Students protested to teachers and administration alike, but it was for naught.  The rules were clear and he had broken them.  Under-age drinking on school grounds—there would be no reversal of the decision.

Scott was a hero.

Or, was he?

It is Good Friday once again.  Today is a day to consider heroes.


It is a day to consider The Hero.

Today, we commemorate the Cool Guy who took the beer bottles for every person in the world and claimed them as His own.

Right about now, I’m guessing there are some readers who are offended.

More than a few of you are unhappy I described the Savior as a cool guy–as if many who followed Him didn’t do so because they saw Him as what we would today call cool.

Some of you who wouldn’t touch a drop of alcohol if you were dying of thirst are offended I’ve equated your sins with that filthy stuff.

Others, who regularly quaff the liquid are offended because you think I’ve equated your sins with the refreshing drink.

Even though both assumptions are wrong, I will admit I’m almost hopeful that you are offended.

I am offended.

I am offended that The Hero had to take the penalty for my wrongdoing.  We’re not talking about being kicked off the team here.  My wrongdoing had a slightly more weighty penalty attached.

The penalty for my sins was death.

I am offended that I so lightly regard the Heroic act—accomplished on this day nearly two thousand years ago–that I return to my beer bottles again and again.

As Peter, one of our Hero’s followers (who himself faded into the crowd to avoid punishment) later reminded us, like a pig who has been cleaned up, we return to the filth of the wallow.

Is that offensive enough for you?

Try this on then–Like a dog, I come back to eat my own vomit.  Yes, also Peter’s words. (2 Peter 2:22)

Are you offended by the crudeness?

Are you offended by the crudeness? Click To Tweet

Will you, just for a moment, think of where the real offense was–and is?

God made a perfect place for us to live and we rejected Him.  Again and again, He offered ways of escape.

It was no surprise to Him, but again and again, the human race laughed in His face.

And then, in the fullness of time, at just exactly the right moment, He sent His own Son, the Hero of Heaven, to be born.

The Hero walked with us.  He taught us.  He loved and healed us.

And we repaid Him by shoving our beer bottles under His chair and slinking out into the night.

We were so crude as to spit on Him, and taunt Him, and beat Him.

We left Him to face the bitter end—the penalty for our evil ways.

Alone.  Naked.  Beaten. Bleeding.

And, in spite of the offense, and the crudeness, and the rejection, He never wavered in resolve.

He would take the offense to the grave.

Our offense.

Mine.  Yours.

Scott was a nice guy.  A loyal friend, even.  But, never a hero.

You see, if you count the beer bottles under his chair and then count the buddies who skulked away from him, you will come up with one extra.  Count them again.

You’ll see that I’m right.  One extra.

One that belonged to Scott.

Scott simply got what was coming to him.  He didn’t pay the price for anyone else’s wrongdoing, only his own.

Not a single one of the sins piled under that horrible, offensive cross on that Friday so many years ago belonged to the Hero who hung on it, bleeding and beaten.

They are too numerous to be counted.  I know.  I’ve contributed too many of my own.  Perhaps you have, too.

But, the fact still remains.  Not one was His own.

Not.  One.

It is a day to consider The Hero.



God pardons like a mother, who kisses the offense into everlasting forgiveness.
(Henry Ward Beecher ~ Congregationalist clergyman ~ 1813-1887)


For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die.  But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.
(Romans 5:7.8 ~ NASB)




© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2019. All Rights Reserved.

Chocolate Fried Memories

“Grandpa, these are perfect!”

They’re not. The little half-circle pies have imperfection written all over them, from the re-rolled pastry dough right down to the non-symmetrical pleats on the edges. The gooey chocolate filling is nothing more than cocoa, sugar, and butter—mixed in an indeterminate ratio.

Still, the young lady sitting beside me with a grin spread across her face isn’t wrong.

This is perfect.

It is.

The kids have been bugging the Lovely Lady and me for weeks.

“Are we ever going to have chocolate fried pies again?”

On the designated afternoon, they entered the house boisterously, every one of them anxious to help, either with mixing and rolling out dough, or filling and sealing up the little pockets.  Their mama made sure the finished product was done to a golden brown.

Pie in hand, I sit at the table with my children and grandchildren, but my thoughts are far away—fifty-some years and eight hundred miles away, if you must know.

The smile on my face then might have been just as big as the one plastered there now. The setting was certainly different. The family of seven was crammed into a beat-up mobile home with barely room for three or four. There was no nice artwork on the walls, no beautiful dishes in a hutch, no antique secretary in the corner. But, there was family. And there was love.

And, anything with chocolate in it was bound to be good!

Eagerly, the five kids awaited the result of the last hour’s labor. Oh, it hadn’t been that much labor for them, but they had helped—a little.

Mom and Dad mixed and blended, rolled and folded, and the result was going to be every bit as spectacular as those my grandchildren experienced just the other day. We were never disappointed with the little half-round pies that landed on our Mel-mac plates. Fried pie-crust, perfectly browned (even if one or two did get a little overdone), filled with gooey, chocolaty filling.

“More, please!”

With the same words we shouted all those years ago, I become aware that another round of the little desserts is needed—yes, needed. One doesn’t normally think of sweets as necessary, but these small pieces of family history are as important as any ancient dish in the cupboard, or painting on the wall, could be. 

It’s only flour and water mixed with shortening, and chocolate and sugar blended with butter. There is nothing to invoke the image of gourmet food here. Pennies were spent for each serving. Pennies. And yet, the value to me (and, I hope, to them) is more than that of any pricey restaurant I’ve ever been foolish enough to walk into.

Children need to know they’re part of the story. In the stories we tell and help them experience, they need to be able to connect the dots and know that the lines lead to them. The things we experienced as children, things our parents experienced, and their parents before them, need to be a part of their lives.

We don’t lecture them with the stories; we live them together—and then re-live them again.

Thirty years ago, I asked my father where the recipe was for the chocolate fried pies.

“Recipe? There is none. A little cocoa powder, a little more sugar. Maybe some butter to hold it together. I don’t know. Mix it together, tasting as you go. You’ll know when you get it right.”

Mix it together, tasting as you go. You'll know when you get it right. Click To Tweet

We made them for our children, long since moved into adulthood. They too, asked for more, please.

I guess we got the recipe right.

Tell your children the stories. Make the recipes. Play catch. Hike. Fish. Go to the library. Take long rides down the country lanes. You know what you love to do with them.

Do it. With them.

And, as you go, tell them the stories. Sing the songs. Laugh. Cry. But, let them know they’re part of a story. Let them know they’re part of The Story.

Each one of us is part of this wonderful ongoing adventure. Don’t let them think otherwise. Don’t let that smart-phone in your pocket get in the way. Don’t believe that a made-up story on a screen or in a printed book is more important than the story they, and you, are part of.

The folks at the church where the Lovely Lady and I fellowship asked me a few weeks ago if I could speak one recent Sunday morning. As I prepared, thinking about how our lives and stories are intertwined, I realized something. The folks back in Bible times didn’t have to be reminded they were part of the story. They grew up with the stories. They could read the genealogies and point to their great-grandparents, to their aunts and uncles, and know they were part of the story. The dots were already connected.

Still, the way it happens today, many centuries removed from those days, is much the same. Moses it was who reminded them with these words:

Teach my words to your children, when you sit at home, when you walk down the street. Talk about them when you go to bed at night, and then again, when you get up in the morning. (Deuteronomy 11:19)

Tell the stories. Illustrate them. Act them out. Sing them. Our children deserve our best efforts. Boring facts and meaningless figures won’t cut it.

What’s that?

Where’s the recipe?

There is none. A pinch of humor added to some history, held together with a lot of love.  Or, is it a pinch of history added to some love, held together with a lot of humor?   I don’t know.  Mix it together, tasting as you go.

You’ll know when you get it right.

The eyes light up, the smile spreads, and the voices all ask for—well, you know what they ask for, don’t you?

More please.

Family history.  Faith’s journey.  It’s all part of the story.

Connecting the dots. And, eating chocolate fried pies while we do it.

Who knew making memories would taste so good?

This is perfect!




And did they tell you stories ’bout the saints of old
Stories about their faith
They say stories like that make a boy grow bold
Stories like that make a man walk straight

And I really may just grow up
And be like you someday.
(from Boy Like Me, Man Like You ~ Rich Mullins/David Strasser ~ lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group, Capitol Christian Music Group)


© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2019. All Rights Reserved.


Still Blaming The Dog

It’s the dog’s fault.

They were the first words I muttered to the optician as I approached her work station earlier this week.  I was wearing an old pair of wire-rimmed glasses from the last decade—or was it the last century?—as I pulled the stainless steel and fabric chair out from beneath the mirrored desk.

The dog’s fault.  You would have thought I was an abashed student in sixth grade slouching in front of the entire class, rubbing the toe of my Converse sneaker across the linoleum tile floor.

Why no, Mrs. Dunham; I don’t have my English paper.  It was all ready to bring this morning but my dog ate it.

In truth, I don’t think I ever used that excuse for missing homework, but you can bet, if the homework was missing, it wasn’t my fault.  Ever.

Not my fault!

My glasses were broken.  Just a few months ago, the optometrist had handed me the prescription for my glasses while telling me he didn’t think I needed to have it filled.

You don’t need new glasses at all right now.  Keep the prescription, though.  You know—just in case.

This is just in case.  I played fetch with the big black lab last week, hurling the chunk of wood to the fence again and again.  The big guy never tires of the game.  Not before I do, anyway.

This day, he had dropped the stick to the ground in front of me.  I bent over him to pick it up at exactly the instant he chose to jump up and playfully lick me.


The top of his big flat skull smacked my glasses frame, jamming it against my left eye.  I yelped and grabbed my falling glasses, feeling the frame give as I caught them.

Broken!  Stupid Tip!

Hand over my eye, I turned to scold the tenderhearted fellow.  I opened my mouth to shout, but thought better of it.  He was just being a dog—still a big puppy despite his advancing age. 

I’m the one who should have known better.  He always jumps when I’m near.  I’ve finally convinced him not to put his huge muddy feet on me, but still he jumps constantly.  If my face is bent over him when he jumps, it’s not his fault.

I know that.  My fault. 

Still, the excuse is easy.

The optician laughed as she fitted the temple pieces over my ears.  She gets paid, no matter whose fault it is.

And, we all know whose fault it is, don’t we?

And, we all know whose fault it is, don't we? Click To Tweet

Why is it so hard to admit when we’re wrong? 

Why must we find a scapegoat? 

What’s so hard about taking responsibility?

I know I’m a hard-headed slow learner—okay, not as hard-headed as the dog, but you get the picture—who has to learn lessons again and again, but I also have a very short memory.  Really short.

Moments after I sat at the optician’s table, I sat, horn on lap and new glasses on my face, in an afternoon orchestra rehearsal.  One of the youngsters nearby said something about my new eye-wear.

They are good looking, aren’t they?  I think they’re a nice gray color. The Lovely Lady says they’re more blue.  (Don’t tell her they say “blue” right on the frames.  We still need to discuss this a bit more.)

Imagine my surprise when I heard the words come from my mouth. 

Yeah, I’m glad I decided to get them.  I’ve needed new glasses for awhile.

Oh.  So now I’m going to take responsibility?  A few minutes ago it was the dog’s fault. 

You know, this isn’t going at all in the manner I envisioned it.  I was going to draw your attention to the way we humans refuse to take responsibility.  Then, I was going to quote some Bible verses at you to drive home the reality of how prideful we are. 

It was going to be a beautiful sermon—I mean—lessonA beautiful lesson.

I never expected to be the one who needed the Bible verses.  I certainly didn’t expect to be the one who needed to break Leroy Jethro Gibbs’ Rule Number Six.  You know, the one about never apologizing, because it’s a sign of weakness.

In retrospect, I think perhaps you should know that the dog ate my first draft of this article.  That’s the reason it’s not going the way I wanted.  I hope you’ll give me more time to finish it.

The dog did it. 



Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.
(1 Corinthians 10:12 ~ NKJV ~Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.)


The man who complains about the way the ball bounces is likely to be the one who dropped it.
(Lou Holtz ~ American football coach/motivational speaker)



© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2019. All Rights Reserved.

While We Wait

Anticlimactic. That’s what they call it, I think.

The bomb is going to explode. Terror grips the characters in the action movie. There is no way out! They’ll all surely be blown to bits. The camera fades to the timer counting down the seconds: 11, 10, 9, 8, 7. . . The distraught secretary screams and covers her face with her hands.


The hero flips a switch on the side of the bomb’s casing and the countdown stops. Within seconds, the plot has moved on, as if the minutes of terror and horrible certainty had never happened.


It was. For the last several weeks, I’ve been waiting for the bomb to explode. Today, a sweet young nurse flipped the switch to stop the timer. Well, actually she clicked send on the email I received right after getting out of bed this morning.

“Your CT scan is normal.”

It’s done. Over. Time to move on.

Or, as Andy Dufresne said in the movie, Shawshank Redemption, “It all comes down to a simple choice, really. Get busy living or get busy dying.”


Can we talk about this for a minute?  I’m pretty certain I’m not the only one who’s been here—here just past the anticlimactic point, the place where we’re supposed to just pretend the last few weeks didn’t happen. 

They happened. I felt them. I did the things I was supposed to do; said the things I was supposed to say. And, all the time I had my face in my hands while I screamed.  Figuratively—the face in hands thing, anyway. Literally—for the screaming thing, if you count on the inside.

Did I say all the time

That’s not quite right. It was like that for a while. Even before I heeded the signs and called the doctor, I was hunkered down, imagining the end game, wondering what I would do should the worst come to pass. 

But a week ago, as I was in the middle of saying the right words to my lunch companion—the right words, mind you, a light came on. Sitting there in the Thai restaurant, with my adult son, I said the words.

“I’m not afraid to die. I’m not. I know what’s next. But, I really don’t want people to be left behind, people who need me.”

Nice, huh?

What I heard in that moment, not from my son but in my head, was the voice of my father saying the words to me several years ago. He was talking about himself at the time.

“No one is indispensable. God can have anyone do what I’m doing now.”

And, from somewhere else, in the back of my brain, I almost thought I heard God Himself laugh. Not an unkind laugh, but the kind of laugh you hear from a father when you’ve been a little foolish and naive. Gently, the words come to mind:

Before you were born—before even a day of your life had been lived—your days on earth were numbered and recorded.  Not a moment will be left out. (Psalm 139:16)

I’m not that important. I’m not. And no, I’m not putting myself down, not trying to be self-deprecating. I’m simply stating a fact.

I’m not important enough to make God change the days, the hours, the minutes that have been set in my account. My times are completely in His hands.

So, I’ve decided I’m waiting for Him.

I’ve decided I’m waiting for God. Click To Tweet

The what-ifs and the if-onlys don’t change the reality of life one whit. The brain and the mouth run on ahead of the events, sometimes with disastrous consequences to our spirit.

Fear paralyzes and turns our focus inside out. 

But, if we will wait on our God, He will see us to safety.

Fear paralyzes and turns our focus inside out. But, if we will wait on our God, He will see us to safety. Click To Tweet

Just like His people at the Red Sea, He tells us to stand still and watch His rescue take place.  (Exodus 14:13)

In His time. At His place.

Waiting is hard. Not knowing is hard. But, when we run ahead, we fall at the side of the road, immobilized by weakness and fear.

I’m finally learning that in the waiting, I can trust Him. Even if the result from the tests had been different today, the real outcome would still be the same.  Exactly as He planned.

When we wait on Him, our strength for the journey is renewed. Like an eagle soaring on the thermal currents above the mountains, we will gather strength as we fly. We’ll run without losing strength, and walk tirelessly. (Isaiah 40:31)

When we wait.

Waiting is hard.

Ah, but His rescue is spectacular.

Absolutely spectacular.



My voice You shall hear in the morning, O Lord;
In the morning I will direct it to You,
And I will look up.
(Psalm 5:3 ~ NKJV ~ New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.)



© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2019. All Rights Reserved.


It’s possible I may have forgotten a detail or two.  It was, after all, forty years ago the young man told me the tale.  You’ll forgive me if I embellish the spots that have grown fuzzy, won’t you?  I know the young man will.

The two men, college boys—both of them, needed a change of pace.  Classes had grown tedious, the assignments overwhelming, and they just weren’t feeling it.  One of them—which, it doesn’t matter—suggested a hunting trip into the Ozark National Forest, just ten miles away.

Neither of the young men was an outdoorsman.  The one who told me the story had shot a twenty-two caliber rifle at camp.  I remember the time he shot the maintenance man at the local nursing home in the foot with a BB gun, but I think that was the extent of his hunting experience.

I never really knew the other fellow, beyond a nodding acquaintance, so let’s just assume his capabilities were about the same as the first one.

Having borrowed a couple of rifles, the two tenderfoots headed into the forest one early-winter afternoon with the intent of bringing home a big buck.  The white-tail deer are plentiful around these parts, so it didn’t seem too far-fetched an idea.  That was before.

Before they lost the trail.  Before it got dark.

Before it got cold.

They wandered this way and that. Kicking through brambles, up and down the rock-littered hillside the fellows plodded. They backtracked and then circled around again.  Finally, after yelling awhile, they gave up and decided that, rather than risk becoming even more lost, they would have to spend the night in the woods on the side of the hill.  It was dark, you know.

But, it was cold, too.  They sat shivering and then, a germ of an idea hit one of them.  There were fallen leaves from the maples and oaks all around.  Couldn’t they heap them up and crawl under them to keep warm?

I did say it was just a germ of an idea, didn’t I?

It didn’t help much, but at least the wind wasn’t as bitter under the leaves.  They settled down to await daylight, ten hours away.  Not half an hour passed and they heard a sound.  Startling, it was, all the way out here along the trail.

A car horn!  Right next to where they lay.  Twenty feet—not much more.

They were only twenty feet from the road!  Twenty feet!

Hopelessly lost.  When they could almost have reached out and touched the gravel road.

They got in the warm car their concerned friend was driving and, relieved and not a little embarrassed, rode back to their college dorm.  Can you imagine the feeling—the joy?


What a wonderful word.  Found. 

A lifetime of blessing, tied up in one word, one syllable.

I sat with my love one night recently and watched—again—a movie we had seen several years ago.  August Rush.  It’s a retelling of the old Dickens classic, Oliver Twist, but with music.  Guitar music.  Violin music.  Ethereal music drifting in the ether.

Unrealistic and unbelievable.  Tears flowed all the way through.  I mean, they did from at least one set of eyes.

The movie’s villain, a character you almost want to love, takes kids off the streets of the big city and makes them work for him.  In return, they receive protection, food, and a bed.

He asks the movie’s protagonist, a musical prodigy who doesn’t know who or where his parents are, the question that has stuck in my mind since I first viewed the movie.

“What do you want to be in the world? I mean the whole world. What do you want to be? Close your eyes and think about that.”

There is no hesitation, no fumbling for a description of fantastic scenarios, no mention of fame, or wealth.  One word.  One syllable.



How sweet the sound.

On a recent Sunday, I found myself sitting in the Emergency Room of a hospital in a nearby town with a friend.  The call had come just as I arrived at the church and it was only natural that I would give our dear friend a ride for the treatment she needed.  It’s what we do for our friends.  All she had to do was ask.

She apologized for putting me out.  She wasn’t.  Putting me out at all, I mean.  It was my pleasure to help.

You have friends like that, don’t you?  A phone call—a message—the beckoning of a single finger, and they are moving mountains to help.  I know several, and love them all.  With them, I always belong.  Always.

But, what if?  What if you knew no one who would help?  What if choices you had made, paths you had taken, had left you alone?


I left the hospital a few hours later after my friend had been admitted.  Someone else had come to sit with her for a while, so I was headed home for Sunday dinner with my family.

Meatloaf.  Butternut squash.  Apple crisp.

The small lady carrying a big bag caught me in the parking lot, just as I stepped up onto the running board of my pickup truck.

“Please, sir.  Can you help me? The people who were supposed to pick me up from the Emergency Room left me here, stranded.  Can you give me a ride home?”

It was several miles away.  Through traffic.  The opposite direction from where I needed to go.  My family was waiting.  My dinner was getting cold.

I gave her a ride. Climbing in, she thanked me and gave her pronouncement on the human race, based on her missing ride.

“People are always unreliable.”

She fell asleep before she could tell me where she was going.  I woke her up and got a general direction before she nodded off again.  At first, I was afraid she was fainting and suggested taking her back to the hospital, which she vociferously rejected.  As I drove on, it became apparent the problem was drugs.  Whether they came from the Doctor at the emergency room (as she claimed) or not, I don’t know.

Annie Mae got home on Sunday.  After a few tries, we found the destination.  It was actually a convenience store in her neighborhood, but it was where she wanted out.  She had a few dollars in her hand to buy a sandwich or, more likely, beef jerky—since that was what she said she wanted.

She had a couple of other things, too.

She had the name of Jesus in her ears.  I’m not an evangelist.  I didn’t explain the Four Spiritual Laws to her.  I’ve tried that with folks who were impaired before.  It’s not appropriate in those moments.  But, she’ll remember that Jesus loves her.

And somehow, I think she knows that, for just a few moments on Sunday afternoon, she was found.

Understand.  This isn’t about me.  Not at all about me.  I fit right in with Annie Mae’s description of humanity in general.

I am unreliable. I am.

But if we, who have been shown immeasurable kindness, will not show small kindnesses to our neighbors, be they close friends or be they street people, can we truly claim to be followers of Christ?

If we, who have been shown immeasurable kindness, will not show small kindnesses to our neighbors, can we truly claim to be followers of Christ? Click To Tweet

We, once hopelessly lost, but now found—is it not an obligation that we help those who have strayed from the way (or perhaps never been on it) to realize that being found is as simple as asking?

I wonder.  Are we the unreliable ones?

Is it time for us to ride down a country road or two and honk the horn to let people know just how close they are to being found?

The Teacher, in one of His parables, reminded His followers that they should search the main roads and the alleys, too, giving them every reason to come and sit at the table.  (Luke 14:23)

I’m ready to drive around for a while.  But, do you suppose I could finish my meatloaf first?

After that, who wants shotgun?




Amazing Grace, How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost, but now am found;
Twas blind, but now I see.
(from Amazing Grace ~ John Newton ~ 1725-1807)
So Jesus told them this story: “If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them gets lost, what will he do? Won’t he leave the ninety-nine others in the wilderness and go to search for the one that is lost until he finds it? And when he has found it, he will joyfully carry it home on his shoulders. When he arrives, he will call together his friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep.’
(Luke 15:3-6 ~ NLT ~ Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.



Amazing Grace ~ David Phelps and family ~ a cappella



© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2019. All Rights Reserved.

Not Lightly

It’s one of the reasons I can’t always listen to music while I write. You’d think I would have to have music. It soothes the savage breast, they say. It washes away the layers of dust from the day’s travels.

It does those things. It does. But, it also shanghais the words on the page, rearranging them and forming ideas I never intended to lay out in cohesive concepts. Before I know it, I’ve ended up in a completely different locale than where I was headed when I began the journey.

I sat in front of a screen recently, clicking the keys as fast as my fumbling fingers would allow, and listened to a CD from one of my favorite singers. The CD has a handwritten title, scribbled right on the disc with a Sharpie, reminiscent of what we once did with what we called mix tapes.

Only, it wasn’t. Not anything like what we used to make.

The voice coming from the little computer speakers was a familiar one, that of a friend. She knows how to write a song. And, how to sing one.

Friends. Recently, my mind has been wandering more and more to the people in my life. It does that, you know.

My mind, I mean. Wandering.

I’ve written before of the great gift we’ve been given in those we can call by the name friend. I don’t repent the words.

On the night I’m thinking about, my mind was on other things, but the song she sang hijacked my train of thought. Held it at gunpoint, forcing a new direction.

I, like most men, have a one-track mind (one that can only focus on one thing at a time), so hijack is the right word to use here. And, as the train gathered momentum down the new track, the clacking keys of my keyboard fell silent.

One line. As I write, it’s all I remember from the song. It’s enough.

“You will not pass lightly through my years.”

I can’t write the words without feeling the presence of many people. The memories come non-stop. Some, I don’t want to consider beyond the first glimmer of recognition. Others, I hold tight and savor, reliving cherished moments again and again, like a CD on repeat.

Our lives, from earliest interactions, have been shaped by the people in them. Family, teachers, friends, bullies, attackers, employers, pastors, neighbors—people who have walked through our journey—and left footprints there.

Some have stayed and walked beside us for miles and miles. Others have only appeared and then disappeared, leaving barely a trace in our lives at all.

A few merely stay long enough to inflict intense pain—pain which will last for as long as we are on the journey.

And others, even fewer in number, stay to help ease the pain which has been left behind. These, we turn to over and over.

Gifts they are, from a loving Father above.

All of them. Gifts.

Wait. All of them?

Are the ones who inflict pain gifts, as well as the ones who ease it?

This is getting a little uncomfortable, isn’t it?

The words hit way too close to home for me, as well. Perhaps, I shouldn’t camp out on this for very long. I’ll just say this and move on:

God uses whatever tools He chooses to make us into the mature followers He needs.

God uses whatever tools He chooses to make us into the mature followers He needs. Click To Tweet

Perhaps the words of Joseph, speaking to his murderous, jealous brothers, say it best: You meant to harm me beyond belief. God always intended that great good would come of it. (Genesis 50:20)

And Jesus laid out the expectation clearly: Love the haters. Bless them when they curse you. Pray for the hurtful. Give to the thief who steals from you. God did it. Follow His lead. (Luke 6:27-36)

Well. That standard’s not too high, is it?

Here’s the thing. I really want someone to say the words about me someday.

You did not pass lightly through my years. 

I don’t want to be the fellow who made a cameo appearance, never making a difference to the scene whatsoever.

Friends make a difference. They make a lasting impression. A good one.

What we call the Golden Rule didn’t come from some do-gooder making up slogans. It came from the One who, walking through the lives of humanity, has left a clearer footprint than anyone else ever could.

Don’t treat people the way they deserve; treat them the way you’d like to be treated. (Matthew 7:12)

I don’t know about you, but my standard for how I think I should be treated is fairly high.

No. Higher than that.

Really. Higher.

So, my standard for how I treat my fellow travelers—every one of them—must be just as high. And still higher.

And someday, if the words do fall from someone else’s lips about me, those words about not passing lightly, I hope they know the reason.

It’s not because of the way I want to be treated. That’s not the why of our treatment of others, only the how.

The why is that we love, simply because He loved us. (1 John 4:19)

When we travel through the lives of others, passing (lightly or otherwise) with love, we leave behind the sweet aroma of the One we follow. (2 Corinthians 2:14b)

It’s better than the stench I know I’ve left more often than I care to discuss here. A lot better.

On we walk. Friends helping friends on the way home.



Leaving footprints that point the way to a Savior.

Not lightly.



We leave traces of ourselves wherever we go, on whatever we touch.
(Lewis Thomas ~ American physician/scientist/writer ~ 1913-1993)


I have friends in overalls whose friendship I would not swap for the favor of the kings of the world.
(Thomas A Edison ~ American inventor ~ 1847-1931)


Click below to listen to the song I mentioned in the article:

“Forever Friends” by Nancy Jesser-Halsey


© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2019. All Rights Reserved.


A Glimpse of Glory

I’m a glutton for punishment. I think that’s the phrase the red-headed lady who raised me would have used.

“Tell me; what happened with that huge bill for the helicopter ride?”

Back a ways, I had seen my friend, the guitar player, in his workplace and he didn’t look well. He didn’t look well at all. But, he had been happy to tell the story. He loves a good story as much as do I, well or not.

The heart attack had been shocking in its intensity and the rapidity with which it incapacitated him. He and his wife were on vacation, over a thousand miles from home. The paramedics, stationed right across the street from their motel, had had him at the local hospital within minutes. The doctor on duty looked over his vitals and shook his head.

“We’re not equipped to do the procedure you need done. Looks like you’re taking a helicopter ride.”

The day he had told me about the new stents in his arteries and the unexpected ‘copter ride, was the day after the envelope had arrived. I wondered if the envelope wasn’t a good part of why he didn’t look so good.

“My insurance company says it won’t pay for the air-evac bill, Paul. I tell you, I stood there stunned when I saw the amount printed on that statement! Thirty-one thousand dollars!

I didn’t know what to say. All I could think about was what a debt of that magnitude would do to my own meager resources. The very idea was staggering. And so, not knowing what to say, I punted.

You know. Punted.

“Man, I’m sorry! I’ll be praying for that with you!”

He smiled. “Oh. God’s got this. I’m already sure of it.”

I agreed with him that God did, indeed, have it and headed for home. And, I did what I said I would do. I prayed as I felt sorry for him having to pay that huge bill.

That was back around Thanksgiving. I sat and drank coffee with him not long after that, but there were others at the table so I kept my mouth shut.

I wasn’t that smart today.

When I asked him about the bill, he just stood silently in front of me and the Lovely Lady for a moment, a slow smile moving across his face. We knew another story was coming.

“Well Paul, the biggest heathen in the world told me one day a few weeks ago that there was no way God would have provided that helicopter if He wasn’t intending to pay for it. He said that He was either Almighty God, or He wasn’t. The biggest heathen in the world.”

We batted that around for a little while, but I noticed the smile was still stretching his face, so I nudged him forward in his story. He wanted to talk about Christmas Eve. As is true many places in the States, Christmas Eve is one of the busiest days of the season in the retail business where he works.

The day before, he had worked until midnight. That day—Christmas Eve—he came in at seven in the morning and worked until after four in the afternoon. He was exhausted. Exhausted and angry. The threat of financial disaster still hung over him. And, there was a line a mile long—people waiting to be checked out. They weren’t all happy, either.

“All I knew was, I hated everybody I worked with, I hated every person coming in the door, and I hated every person walking out. Most of all, I hated that job. When I finally got in my car to go home, I sat behind the wheel and asked God—out loud—why He was making me work in that place. I asked it again and again, all the way home.”

He paused in the midst of his hyperbole, looking back and forth from me to the Lovely Lady with that silly grin spread across his features.

“You know where this is going, don’t you?” he queried.

I could guess, but I wasn’t going to spoil his story.

“I stopped at the box, pulled out the mail, and found another one of those envelopes. Only, this time, the amount due was a little smaller. Well, a lot smaller.”

I wouldn’t have thought it possible, but I’m pretty sure the smile got a little bigger.

Six hundred dollars! That’s all they were asking for his part. Somehow the company he works for had either paid or negotiated down the amount to only two percent of the original thirty-one thousand dollars he had owed just days before.

Talk about joy! And, relief!

“It was almost as if I heard God say it. ‘That’s why I have you working there. You said it yourself. I’ve got this!'”

He went inside the house and found his wife, stressed and tired, overcome with exhaustion herself from preparations for holiday family events. Without a word, he handed her the statement. Within seconds, the tears were flowing.

As he told the story, tears filled my own eyes. Joy. Well. . . Mostly joy. I’ll admit it. Something was bothering me.

Why am I still surprised? I’m not just surprised—I’m amazed! Why is that?

I grew up singing about the cattle He owns on a thousand hills. I assured my tiny children their Heavenly Father cared for them and provided all our needs. I’ve seen the miracles of provision with my own eyes, again and again.

The biggest heathen in the world believed it more than I did. Really.

Do you suppose He’s disappointed with me? With us?

When we don’t quite believe that He can do that again, does He shake His head in disgust?

David, the psalmist didn’t think so. He suggested that God deals with us as a father with his children. He understands what makes us tick. He knows we’re only made from dirt. How would the Artist not know His own work? (Psalm 103:13-14)

He is not surprised when we fall on the road, lying there in self-pity and diminishing faith. Again and again, He helps us up and sets us on the way anew—trudging, walking, or running on our way home.

Again and again, He helps us up and sets us on the way anew—trudging, walking, or running on our way home. Click To Tweet

But then, there are times—those amazing moments—when He sweeps aside the curtain and gives us a glimpse of the glorious work of art He is creating from the little dabs of joy and pain, the patient stippling of profound friendship, and the broad washes of intense loss.

For the barest of moments, our eyes widen and our breath catches as we see—really see—Him at work. And, for that wisp of time, we catch a gleam, the tiniest glimmer, of what heaven will be.

And then, almost like waking from a dream, the moment is past. Dimly, as through a translucent window, we—again—barely make out what will be. (1 Corinthians 13:12)

It would be a mistake on our part to imagine our Creator sees us in the same way—dimly, incompletely—at any time. From before time began, He knew the direction of our steps, our highs, our lows. And, He knows the plans He has for us. He knows them. (Jeremiah 29:11)

His plans are for our good. And, never to harm us.

So, on we walk. Sunshine. Shadow.

Peering through the haze.

Trusting the God who can pay for the ride.



Let me revel in this one thought: before God made the heavens and the earth, He set His love upon me.
(Charles Spurgeon ~ English pastor/author ~ 1834-1892)


The way of the righteous is like the first gleam of dawn,
   which shines ever brighter until the full light of day.
(Proverbs 4:18 ~ NLT ~ Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.




© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2019. All Rights Reserved.