Fear’s Toothless Bite

I was 4 years into a relationship with a wonderful young lady; but she wasn’t meant to be my wonderful young lady. I had an ulcer to prove it…literally.

The source of the ulcer was a complete mystery. I had gone from being perfectly healthy coffeeto experiencing constant pain and not even being able to take a sip of coffee. (I’m sorry. I should have warned you that this was going to get ugly.) The doctors couldn’t figure it out and prescription medications had zero effect.

It ended up taking a three-and-a-half hour flight south of the border to unveil the cause.

I wasn’t even looking forward to this trip, but it had been booked for months and my brother Allen and our friend Adam were going, so backing out wasn’t an option. Little did I know how magical the waters of the Caribbean could be.

A quick aerial leap over the Gulf of Mexico and I went from avoiding milk to being able to comfortably enjoy Mexico’s most famous indigenous bar time beverage. That was the moment I came to understand how devastating stress could be. I also realized how good it could be at building so gradually that you have no idea how stressed you truly are. We are the proverbial frog and stress can heat up so gradually that by the time we come to our senses we are taking a shot of tequila south of the border, wondering where in the world that brutal ulcer went.

It seems odd, but I had no clue my relationship was having that effect on me. But now I knew. And just in case I needed additional evidence, the day before we returned home my unpleasant reminder returned with a vengeance. I was miserable physically and psychologically. And it was completely and totally my fault.

“Once your fear of continuing on as you are is greater than the fear of making the change, then you will do what you need to do,” a very wise friend named Peter Buckland counseled.

Unfortunately the fear of continuing on wasn’t enough for me. I needed three heaping scoops of fear topped with a giant mound of whipped ulcer and the cherry was the fact that I couldn’t even drink coffee!

Around this time a prayer kept coming to my mind. Perhaps it was through my talks with Peter that the thought originated. I’m not sure. But writing about it now, I think it reveals how permanent I believed my decision to end that relationship would be. I felt like it would be the end of all romantic relationships in my life. There would be no second chance. I had been given a relationship with an amazing person and if I broke it off there would never, ever be a Mrs. Phillips.

Here was, in essence, my prayer: “Lord, if you give me another chance, I will pursue the woman you reveal to me, and no matter how much fear I feel during that process, I will act in spite of it. I will act as if I am fearless.”

I wasn’t bargaining with God. It was more like I had come to terms with the ugly fact that fear can keep you from opening a door to a much better life, and that you might never get a chance to go through that door again. I couldn’t bear the thought of a feeling ruining my life or making it less than it could be. It wasn’t a bargain, it was a resolution. I was done letting fear push me around. I was done with fear. Period.

That decision changed my life.

Honeymoon
Your greatest accomplishments will occur on the other side of your fears, and that’s where I found this pretty lady. Her name’s Nicole. ūüėČ

But right then, I was right where fear wanted me. I was a wreck AND willing to stay a wreck because getting out of the wreck would make me wrecked-er…more wrecked?…whatever! See how stupid it seems from a distance? Absurd, isn’t it.

Why don’t you tell me how many decisions in your life right now are being dictated by fear. It’s way more than you want to admit, I guarantee it. How stupid do those fears feel? Your “wrecks” are completely different than mine was aren’t they. Right….

Take one of your fears (you can start with one of the smallest) and in your mind transfer the whole scenario surrounding that fear to a friend you know well. Vividly imagine them explaining it to you. Now tell me how that fear looks. Did it just shift from being very justifiable way closer to the absurd? What would you advise your friend to do in that situation?

Now you know what you should do.

Dog attackYou get to choose the role fear plays in your life. Fear can’t actually¬†do anything to you at all! It is all bark and no bite. It is simply a vague idea that things won’t go in a way that you prefer if you take a particular course of action. And by the time you reach the point where you are willing to kick fear in the teeth, you realize it never had any in the first place. My fear told me I wouldn’t get another chance, and I was dumb enough to believe it.

The point is, fear lies. Fear lies a lot. The things we fear almost never come to pass.

Fear’s real power and influence comes in its ability to alter the course of your life in a negative way. And the more you yield to that fear, the stronger it gets. It feeds on your submission, just like an addiction. And that, my friends, is wonderful news.

It’s wonderful news because you can stop letting it dictate your decisions right now. You might feel fear, but you can still look at your situation and make a decision that flies in the face of it. Just like a junior high bully, fear backs down when you stand up to it. Stand up to it enough and it pretty much leaves you alone. Fear eventually figures out that you won’t put up with it. Besides, there are plenty of easier targets around.

Easter
12 years in and 2 kids later, and I wouldn’t change a thing!

Fear told me to stay put in my misery and if I didn’t my future would be a disaster; but now I have a beautiful wife and Saturday, May 11th was our 12th anniversary. We even have two kids who are 7 and 9, so it’s getting pretty serious! And that prayer I told you about earlier…well it ended up being pretty necessary in order to land Nicole. She wasn’t exactly an “easy catch” as they say. I felt fears, but my decisions weren’t based on them. I learned to act in spite of fear.

I have since applied that same mindset to the other areas of my life. “And what about fear?” you ask. Well, fear’s moved on to the next guy.

 

And Heaven Moves

When you tell a friend who is going through a hard time that your “thought and prayers” are with them, you mean it. But some would say that your attempt to bring comfort amounts to empty words. I have a friend who would strongly disagree with those skeptics. He and I went through the Dale Carnegie Professional Training program together, and with tears in his eyes, and a shaky voice, he finally made it through this story.

His name is Terry.

Terry’s eyes shoot open! By the time he regains consciousness, he realizes that he is Scared in bedsitting up in bed. He’s not just sitting up, but his heart is also pounding in his chest. His breathing is short and quick.

What’s going on?!

He looks around the room and his eyes settle on the blue numbers on his digital clock on the nightstand. It’s 2:33 am.

Somethings wrong.

He doesn’t know how he knows. But he knows. Something is very wrong. But what? How would I even know?…

Ben! It’s Ben! Something’s happened to my son! What can I do?! I don’t even know where he is!

(PRAY.)

The word wasn’t audible, but it might as well have been. There was authority behind it, and it wasn’t a request. It was a command.

Terry threw his covers off, jumped out of his bed and fell to his knees. Then he opened his mouth and said the first words that would come to any loving father’s mind.

“Dear God! Please…please, protect my son.”

(Exactly one minute and thirty seconds earlier.)

Dark windy roadsBen is exhausted as he drives home after working the late shift.

Too much drama. Not enough pay. He thinks as he continues on, trying desperately to stay awake for the 25 minute commute.

His eyes start to droop as he navigates the dark windy roads of Northwest Arkansas.

BAM! He hears a sudden noise and opens his eyes! But it’s too late.

The right side of his car goes off of the steep shoulder and his wheels are turned sharply to the left. The axle holding the right front wheel bends as that tire takes the impact of the rocky ground and sends the mid-sized car flipping down the side of Highway 16.

Ben doesn’t notice the deafening crashing sounds, or the shattering glass that sends tiny shards into his arms and face. He is completely unaware of everything until

I can’t breathe!

He can barely move, but he does his best to groggily asses the situation. The car is upside down. His head and some of his upper body are outside of the car, but the rest is in some weird, twisted position around the steering wheel and dashboard. As the blood starts to fill his right eye, he makes one feeble effort to free himself and absolutely nothing moves. All he feels is the pain.

That’s when he realizes how desperate his situation is. The mangled car has pinned him to the ground and is crushing his chest. To be able to breathe, he would have to lift the entire weight of the car. His lungs slowly start to ache.

(75 miles away at that very moment.)

“Dear God! Please…please, protect my son…….” and the tears and groans of a loving father Dad Prayingbegin to flow.

Just as Ben is starting to lose consciousness he hears a faint sound. As it gets closer, he realizes that it sounds like someone walking on gravel. It seems like a dream, but it keeps getting closer. His will to hang on gets a boost when he sees a shoe less than a foot away from his head.

The steps stop, then he senses the person stooping down. His hand brushes Ben’s shoulder as he grips the edge of the twisted car.

The metal creaks loudly and tiny pieces of glass start falling like jagged drops of rain as the side of the 3,400 pound Camry is lifted completely off of the ground.

Inhale!

The oxygen burns as it enters his lungs and for a few moments he doesn’t notice the pain as the euphoria of being able to breathe sweeps over him.

As his breathing starts to slow, the pain returns. He doesn’t even try to locate the source because it feels like it’s coming from everywhere, and it is more pain than he has ever felt in his entire life.

As if his very welcome guest could sense his panic, he speaks.

“You’re going to be okay, Ben. Just don’t move.”

The words are confident….calm…loving…

A wave of peace flows over Ben as he drifts off into oblivion.

Emergency VehiclesHe opens his eyes when he hears the scream of sirens and all he can see is emergency lights flashing all around him. As his eyes adjust, he looks around him and thankfully takes a breath when he sees the same shoes right next to his head. He then looks at his chest where the car was crushing him. He takes a deep breath and winces as pain shoots through his ribs. Then he notices the car, still suspended 6 inches above his broken and bruised body.

How long have I been here?! he wonders to himself.

About thirty minutes. But you’ll be out soon.

Ben tries to move to see the man’s face, but he is leaning over and it is blocked by the car. As his clarity of thought starts to return, it occurs to him how crazy this all is.

“Sir, what is your….”

The emergency personnel quickly surround Ben, checking his vitals, telling him not to move. Soon the Jaws of Life come out and within minutes, Ben is on a stretcher being wheeled towards the waiting ambulance.

“Where is the man who helped me?” Ben asks, immediately realizing there is no way the EMT heart him over all of the noise.

“The man! Where is he?!”

The closest paramedic hears him. “Who’s that, son?”

“The one who helped me. I couldn’t breathe. He lifted the car.” His thoughts are still a little jumbled.

“He sure did, son!”

“Who is he?!”

“We don’t know. None of us have ever seen him before.”

“Well…where did he go?!” Ben asks, desperate to thank the man who kept him from suffocating.

“I’m not sure, son. He just started walking that way,” he said and pointed.

Right before they load him into the ambulance, Ben looks off in the direction the man isDark road pointing and sees a nothing but a dark, windy road. He squints and strains his eyes until they hurt, and when he is totally convinced that there is absolutely nobody else on that deserted Arkansas road, he slowly turns his eyes towards the heavens.

 

Render Your Customers Speechless, and They Won’t Stop Talking About You!

Surprised girl

I like to be organized….very organized, in fact. I also like to help others do the same. I have undertaken multi-month long organizational projects for clients that would make most people’s head explode. From storage areas in massive mansions to piles and piles of architectural prints at a lavish estate, to me it is actually fun.

This desire to be organized has led me to the study of the best minds in personal productivity and goal setting. From the classic Brian Tracy, to the amazing book “Getting Things Done” by David Allen and the person who received the award as “The Most Organized Man in America”, Dr. Alex Lackey. In fact, it was a line by Dr. Lackey saying that you need “one list, one planner, one place” that led me to search for the perfect planner.

I researched, read reviews, read comparisons, and finally…oh yes finally…I found it. And it has changed my life. I would not be writing this if I hadn’t purchased it, literally. It’s called “The Simple Elephant” and it contains everything I was wanting in a planner, and yet it is still “simple”. It doesn’t take me much time to examine and set goals, plan and prioritize my day, be encouraged by my progress, and pray for my “business challenger’s” own goals. (Charles, our phone meetings are golden!)

Since that little blue book is now such a beloved part of my daily routine, I want it to stay

Simple Elephant
The Simple Elephant is available at Amazon as well, where it is the #1 best selling planner! It might just be the best $20 you ever spend. Here it is: goo.gl/wDgkcY

in pristine condition, so I wanted a slip case. I went to their website, but didn’t see one. So I decided to contact the company. If I wanted one, surely I am not alone.

I sent a message through their website (https://papercode.me/) describing how their product has helped me tremendously, how much I enjoy it, and asking if they offered a slipcase for The Simple Elephant planner.

This is the part of my story that brings me to the first point in how to blow your customer’s minds and turn them into raving fans. It is this:

1. Do Something Completely Unexpected

Frankly what I expected was to be mildly disappointed. But the response I received blew my mind! Allow me to share an excerpt:

…the slip case is such a great suggestion.¬† I’ll definitely keep it in mind for future developments.

Since I absolutely ADORE my customers, especially the ones who reach out to me РI would like to purchase you a slip case.  Any slip case you can find that works for you, just send me the link and consider it my gift to you.
Hope to hear back from you!
At your service,
Jen
Owner, Papercode
I honestly couldn’t believe it! I was the first person up in the house and couldn’t wait for Nicole to get out of bed so I could tell her about it. It had such an impact on me that I am spending some of my very precious R&R time on a Sunday afternoon writing about it, when I could be outside riding horses, swimming, or continuing work on the kids’ “tree mansion” as Nicole calls it.
When you do business, take some time to think about something your client would never see coming that would bless his or her socks off!
2. Turn a Negative into a Positive
Nice Bill
THIS is a bill with Nicole’s magic touch applied to it!

Nobody likes getting a bill in the mail….right?! Wrong. Most people don’t, granted. But when you do business with Nicole and me, you might just change your tune. My wife possesses a certain skill set that allows her to turn an annoying bill into a jaw-dropping work of art.

Your script may look like you wrote it with your toes, as mine does. But you can still do something unique, using your imagination.
One of Nicole’s Tootlepip aprons got shipped to China, when it was supposed to go to Canada. Oops! We didn’t give it a second thought. We shipped another one immediately. Weeks later, we got the original back, and the customer was so thrilled with our handling of the situation that he purchased more aprons! (See how this works!)

3. Transform the Mundane into Magnificent

Apron
This Valentine’s Day present would have definitely been missed!
Typically when a package arrives, it has a packing slip. If the company is more thoughtful, you might get a note thanking you for your purchase. But in the Phillips companies, we LOVE people and therefore LOVE and greatly appreciate our customers. But more importantly, we want them to FEEL loved and appreciated.
I will let a recent customer tell you about it.
“Nicole, I received the pen and I couldn’t not write you to say this, that the card you sent me is so beautiful and well made, it is the nicest card I have ever received in the whole of my life.”
She even took multiple pictures of it and included them with the message. I can guarantee you she has shown others that card. And you know what? She can’t do that without telling others about our business. Pretty sweet, huh. It’s also a lot of fun!
Thank You Card
I just asked, and Nicole said it took her about 3 minutes to create this personalized card. Well worth it!

Apply this principle in your own way and in your own industry and see what it does to your business. Send out birthday cards to your customers, or a gift card to her favorite restaurant. How about a book? I love sending people books! Your customers will turn into a new team of marketers on your behalf.

Making money is definitely an essential part of business, but I believe that business can and should be so much more. It is about one human being serving another human being well and improving their lives. Applying these principles will not only blow your customers’ minds, but it will also fill you with joy and energy, allowing you to do business far more passionately. And passion, my friends, is very contagious!

(Have you ever blown your customers’ minds? If so, how?! We’d love to hear it!)

Circuit Boards and Tropical Storms

Last Monday I would have chain-smoked all day long…if I were a smoker. It was so intense and I was so distracted that I kept doing stupid stuff, like walking out of my gym (which requires a key card to get in) without my keys. I had to bang on the door until someone heard it and let me back in. My wife, Nicole, had a very similar day. Hers probably got downright dangerous, because being an artist, she’s typically pretty scatterbrained. (Don’t you dare tell her I said that!)

All we could do is think and pray for my family in Houston, as hour by hour, the water

Flooded Street
Water in their street (which does not normally flood) was waste deep.

crept closer to their house. That morning we had offered to rush down with the truck and our largest enclosed trailer, but within a couple of hours they were completely inaccessible and we would have probably ended up being one more stranded vehicle on a flooded highway. So, from 9 and a half hours away, we waited, worried and prayed.

As I was leaving the house that evening for Cub Scouts with our son, Thatcher, Nicole showed me a picture taken from my parent’s front porch of a rescue boat driving down their street to take a pregnant lady to safety. Looking down at the ground, I could clearly see the water line. It was six feet from their front door. And the rain just kept falling.

I can’t remember a day when I prayed that much, but I’m pretty ashamed of myself. Why? Because I allowed my prayers to be limited by what I thought was possible. “Lord, please keep the water out of their house and keep them safe.”

“Oh, ye of little faith.” Yep, that was me.

The next morning, as soon as I woke up I texted my mom.

“Mom, what is the water level?!” My heart was racing as I waited for her response, fearing the worst.

“All of the water is gone!” she said.

Dry Street
Even though it rained off and on all night, by morning it was all gone. When I asked my mom how that happened, she said, “I have no idea! To me it was a miracle.”

“All of the water is gone!” I hollered upstairs to Nicole and the kids as my eyes teared up. She sent me a picture, and the same street that had a boat in it last night did not even have a puddle.

“Thank you so much, Lord.” I thought to myself repeatedly. I sure wish I had prayed for all of the water to miraculously disappear. But I just didn’t think it was possible. In retrospect, this reminded me of a powerful principle I live by….typically. Here it is:

In any given situation or pursuit, first decide what is ideal with a deliberate disregard for what is or is not possible. Once you decide what that is, go for it! If you are doggedly persistent, you will watch as paths form around obstacles that before seemed completely insurmountable.

The first meeting I had when pursuing the idea of a recycling facility for Watered Gardens Gospel Rescue Mission (which would provide work for the homeless and funding for the ministry) was with a lady who had worked for the government in the recycling industry for almost 20 years. She has been an invaluable resource along the way. My initial objective was to focus on electronics recycling, but as she listed government regulation after government regulation related to that industry, my heart fell. It would cost a fortune and take ages!

I left the meeting despondent, but as in similar circumstances with other businesses I have started, I don’t give up. I simply re-route. In my mind, I have a set of shelves (I literally see them when I do this) and I took electronics recycling in my hand as if it was an object, and set it on the shelf. If something gets put on the shelf, it means that it is a good idea, but the timing is not right.

We did get the recycling facility going via a far less complicated and expensive

Worthshop Gang
This is just some of the people who are put to work on a daily basis in the recycling facility.

road. I then decided to take electronics recycling off the shelf and see if its time had come.

I made a call to my local recycling expert to find the most reputable electronics recycling company in our region.

“That would be ESCO,” Mary Anne said. “They are based out of Rogers, Arkansas. The owner is really nice and honest and I bet they would be willing to answer your questions.”

The day after I talked to the receptionist at ESCO, a great guy named Adam gave me a call. I told him what we were doing and said I was wanting to learn more about the world of electronics recycling.

Adam
This is Adam from ESCO, giving Gregg and me a lesson in the sorting process of e-recycling.

He volunteered to come to Joplin and while here, gave us some basic instructions, then extended an invitation for  my good friend Gregg (who runs the Worth Shop where this takes place, and my fellow co-conspirator throughout this process) and me to tour their facility.

I was pretty excited about the tour, but more excited about the possibilities. When I was alone, I would think and allow my mind to dwell on the ideal. I didn’t waste a thought on what was likely, what obstacles there were, or what was possible. To put it another way, I allowed myself to DREAM.

When we arrived at their facility, it was enormous! We had to sign an NDA (non-disclosure agreement) to tour their 275,000 square foot facility. I’d love to tell you all about it, but, well…the NDA had me give them a picture of Nicole, so I’m pretty sure she would go missing if I did. ūüėČ

At the end of the tour, he took us into the conference room and the three of us sat down. It was obvious he had something on his mind.

“We do not deal with individuals,” Adam said. “When we receive and send shipments, it is by the semi-load. Our biggest client is WalMart, and we do not have time for small accounts.”

I was not sure where he was going with this, but it wasn’t looking good.

“But I have been talking with the owner, and we LOVE what you guys are doing at Watered Gardens! What can we do to help you succeed?”

This is exactly the possibility I had considered. No, this was the exact possibility that I had allowed myself to dream. And I knew EXACTLY what to ask for.

“If there is any way that we can be legally placed under your umbrella of legitimacy, along with all of your certifications, accreditation, etc., that would be ideal. That would allow us to confidently approach businesses and the community, so they will know that their computers and electronics will be properly handled,” I explained.

“We will draw up the legal paperwork and send it to you,” Adam responded, as if it wasn’t a big deal at all. But to us, it was HUGE!

Printer
This sweet young lady is breaking down a printer received from The City of Diamond, MO. Even though she ended up covered in ink, she kept on going because she was having a blast!

Two weeks later, the paperwork arrived, and with the time it took to write one’s name, every single obstacle that made opening a legitimate electronics recycling facility impossible was decimated.

Since then, we have picked up computers from a Fortune 500 company, small businesses, and even, get this…government agencies.

Don’t waste your time, my friend, worrying about what is possible. Let your mind go to that place where your heart comes alive; where there is no limit to what you can accomplish. Let yourself DREAM! And then pursue that dream with everything you have.

She Said Yes! How to Properly Propose to a Princess

The phone was ringing, and my heart was pounding! I was about to ask Dr. Sherrod permission to propose to his daughter. I was pretty sure he liked me, but how much?! Well,..I was about to find out.

If you know me at all, you know how it went. We have now been married ten years and have two beautiful kids. And instead of a card, I wanted to officially tell the story of our engagement. I knew I was only going to do this once, so I wanted to do it right. I wanted her to have a story to remember for the rest of her life, and hopefully I succeeded. I’ll let you be the judge.

Copy of 100_1110I told her what to pack for a weekend trip, but other than that, she had no clue what we were doing or where we were going. We got in the car and I handed her a manila envelope. She opened it, and on page one, there were directions. Where to? It didn’t say.

We started heading north, and after about 30 minutes, Nicole was pretty confident that we were heading to the Kansas City area. She was correct (as she often still is) and a couple of hours later, we pulled up at the Kansas City Zoo. Nicole LOVES animals, as evidenced by all of them on our property, and has always loved going to the zoo. So for the next few hours on that beautiful fall day, we enjoyed practically having the zoo to ourselves. It felt like I had reserved it just for us, because there was nobody there, and we had a blast!

After walking several miles and enjoying some quality time with a kangaroo, a herdEngagement Night 024 of sheep and an orangutan, we were ready to head out. We got in the car, Nicole pulled out the manila envelope, and turned to page two, and thirty minutes later we pulled up at The Intercontinental Hotel in The Plaza, our favorite outdoor shopping area in Kansas City.

After a few pictures, we got checked in and went up to our room, where we each had our own bed. You might call me old-fashioned, but I only plan on doing the marriage thing once, so I aimed to do it right the first time. It took me thirty two years to find this amazing woman, and I was willing to do anything, or not do anything, to make sure our marriage would last.

A little context here: I had been planning this for at least a month. From the selection of the hotel, restaurant, activities, to talking with the managers of each location to properly orchestrate everything. Timing was critical! If anything was out of place, it would blow the whole surprise. That’s why I was SO glad that I answered our door when someone came a’knockin’.

100_1111I saw who it was and immediately pushed them back, stepped outside and shut the door! It was the concierge with a silver platter full of decorative chocolate covered strawberries…that was supposed to arrive after we had left for dinner! I quickly made that clear and stepped back in. “It was the wrong number…room number,” I said, and probably sighed a little too loud.

We had time for a nap, then started getting ready for dinner. I had advised her to dress nicely, and she did! She was stunning! And I was starting to get nervous. I tried not to seem too preoccupied as I continued to work on the most important speech of my life.

Before we walked out of our room, I made sure that I had the ring safely tucked into my inside jacket pocket. I just hoped she didn’t notice the bulge!

They brought us the car, we got in, and Nicole pulled out the manila envelope yet again. She turned to page three, and we drove for about 25 minutes and pulled up at what is now called¬†Rosso, Hotel Sorella Country Club Plaza‚Äôs restaurant. It’s one of them fancy restaurants what’s on top of a sky scraper and spins around real slow so you can look around.

I can still vividly remember that ride in the elevator. I was painfully aware of the ring case in my jacket, and just knew she had noticed it. And if she had noticed it, but not said anything, that’s because she knew what I was going to do in an hour and didn’t want to spoil it. And if she didn’t want to spoil it, then that meant she was going to say yes! Or maybe she wouldn’t!! I didn’t know, and I was going crazy!

Dinner was kind of a blur. I can’t remember anything¬†I ate at all. I was looking for the manager, with whom I had spoken many times on the phone, but had no idea what he looked like. “I have to use the restroom,” I said about 30 minutes in. I got up, made sure Nicole wasn’t watching, and started looking for him. When I found him, we went back over the plan, and somewhat reluctantly, I handed him the box with the¬†engagement ring.

I went back to our table, sat down, and tried to act normal for the next 45 minutes. She never said, “Brian, you sure do look like you’re going to throw up,” or anything like that, so I must have succeeded.

Then it was time to order dessert. I selected one, and she another. Then I waited. My heart was pounding, and I knew that what happened next would have an enormous impact on the rest of my life. Then I saw him.

Our waiter approached and time slowed. He walked up with a silver covered platter and I made my move. I got out of my chair, got down on one knee, and the waiter lifted the cover off of the tray. I grabbed the box, looked Nicole in the eyes, and began the speech I had rehearsed countless times in my mind.

cropped-engagement-night-049-1.jpg“Nicole Chandler Phillips, the last year has been the best year of my life…..and I want to spend the rest of my life with you. Nicole, will you marry me?”

Her hands were over her mouth in surprise and she teared up. She said “Yes!” and the entire restaurant burst into applause! I put the ring on her finger, stood up, maybe teared up a little myself, and kissed her.

The manager then took us to a private seating area, and provided special desserts on the house. It gave us time to talk about what had just taken place, and enjoy each other’s company. I then learned happily that she had no idea that I was going to propose, but sure was glad that I did.

We arrived back at our hotel room, and this time the concierge had gotten it right. 100_1099Actually, he exceeded my expectations, most likely because of his earlier visit. There were not just beautiful chocolate covered strawberries, there was champagne, and it looked like a dozen rose bushes had exploded. There were rose petals everywhere!

We talked for quite a while and drank some champagne. Then we went to bed and I slept in the clouds.

And after being married ten years, I have never looked back.

I love you, babe. Happy 10th Anniversary!

 

What to do When it Breaks: A Lesson from the First Moon Landing

When you aim for the moon, you intend to make it; because you’re not likely apollo-11to get a second chance.

Neil Armstrong knew he was risking his life on the Apollo 11, but he was willing to take that risk. America had set its goal, the entire world was watching, and there was no turning back.

With so much new technology traveling at speeds up to 24,200 miles per hour, they were anticipating some challenges. But NASA wanted to be as prepared as humanly possible when those issues arose.

Discussing his historical flight to the moon, Neil Armstrong explained that NASA had assembled on site or waiting by the phone the individuals who had designed and built every single significant part of the Apollo 11. That way if something went wrong, they could get answers immediately.

NASA understood a powerful principle: if you want to know how to fix something when it breaks, you talk to the person who designed it in the first place.

This doesn’t just apply to machines and electronics, however. It also applies to you and me; and we’re all just a little bit broken.

“God made us: invented us as a man invents an engine. A car is made to run frustrated-mechanicon petrol, and it would not run properly on anything else. Now God designed the human machine to run on Himself,” C. S. Lewis wrote in Mere Christianity.

Have you ever heard¬†someone say, “To heck with my car maintenance manual! I bet they’re just trying to keep me from driving really fast! Oil is expensive, and I don’t have any; but I have plenty of maple syrup. The two look almost the same, and besides, what do they know?!”

When it comes to the basics in life, our common sense typically prevails and we consult the manual when something goes wrong with one of our¬† machines. So why don’t we consult the manual written by our Designer when we want to know how to live our lives to the fullest, fix a relationship, or put things back together after everything has fallen apart?

It’s never too late to change that, though. The Manual is sitting right there on your bookshelf, night stand or end table. It might be a bit dusty, but never mind that. Pick it up, blow off the dust, and marvel at how your Designer knows exactly how to deal with what’s broken in your life.

 

 

 

Grumpy? It Might be Time for a New Job

It is my theory that a man’s grumpiness is largely related to how much he dreads his job.

grumpy-cat
I’ve always wanted to use a cat picture for something!

I have tested this theory on many people. When I find out someone has recently landed a job they love, I make a point to ask his or her spouse if they are less grumpy in the evenings. Every single time, the answer has been, “You know…he is!”

Unfortunately, I did not learn about this from a lecture, or read a Malcolm Gladwell book that referenced a study called “Nocturnal Grumpiness and its Direct or Inverse Causal Relationship to Occupational Contentedness”. No…I learned about it by trying to understand why I, a person who has lived most of my life extremely happy, was becoming a “grumpy not-even-old-yet man”.

As adults in the workplace, most of our time is spent, well…in the workplace. If we look forward to it, then the evenings can often be enjoyed. But if we dread it, it will gradually take a toll on us. In the back of our minds will linger the thought of the unpleasant day that is dawning with the sun. If the dread of work is new, it is pretty easy to spot. But if we have lived with it for a long time, the actual source of our psychological discomfort becomes vague and is replaced with a general grumpiness.

There is a reason the Nazis would have people in the concentration camps spend all day digging a trench, and spend the next day filling it back in; then start the next day doing the same exact thing. It was completely purposeless, and it aided in psychologically destroying those performing the work.

The reason is simple: we were all specifically designed to fulfill a purpose. And not just that, we were designed to fulfill a purpose that is truly significant, and unique to who we, as individuals, are.

I could quote books, articles, the Scriptures, etc., to back up the findings of my very un-scientific research. But we all intuitively know this to be true. Look back over the past few years and think of times when something you did brought you a sense of fulfillment, or even joy.  If you examine those times more closely, I would wager that you will discover some underlying purpose to that work that really meant something to you.

Identify that purpose and you will get a glimpse into your unique makeup; and with that, the start of your criteria when looking for your new occupation.

Life can be very rich, but all of that richness can be taken from us when we spend much of our time grumpy. And even though you probably can’t step into a purposeful and fulfilling job tomorrow, you can start the journey today.

Happy trails!

A Mother’s Love: A Tribute

As parents, we have the great and grave responsibility to speak to the very

My Mom, who is called Nanny CeeCee by our kids (it's one of those mispronunciation deals that stuck) loving on Thatcher
My Mom, who is called Nanny CeeCee by our kids (it’s one of those mispronunciations that stuck) loving on Thatcher at Fort Morgan, AL

core of our children’s being and tell them what they are worth. Whether we speak truthfully or falsely, they will most likely take that belief about themselves to the grave.

Also as parents (especially the father, but not strictly so) we become the model of what our children will initially believe God is like; and only naturally from there, are a big catalyst in the equation of whether our children ever acknowledge a belief in God or not. Who wants to believe in a God who is unreliable, untrustworthy, inconsistent, angry, unloving or a jerk? Not me, thanks.

Introducing the Phillips family
Introducing the Phillips family: (left to right) Chandler, Louise, Brian (me), Thatcher, my brother Allen, Jimmie and my wife Nicole

But on the flip side, when you have a mother and a father who have always made you feel loved, even when you screwed up and were in a lot of trouble, and you read that “God is your heavenly Father”, you think “Wow! He must be an all right guy! Hard to believe He can live up to what I got here, but I’ll at least give Him a chance.”

I have two parents who meet the above description, but in honor of Mother’s Day, I will focus on my mom, Louise B. Phillips.

“Unconditional love” is an amazingly powerful force, and if you are the fortunate recipient of it, it is almost certainly demonstrated by either your parents or God. In it are peace, security, strength and confidence and I do not know of anyone who has manifested it more powerfully that my mom.

Such love is literally divine, having its source in the One who unconditionally loves us. It practically radiates off of her. It covers my brother Allen and me, but from there extends far beyond most people’s “conditional like” if I may coin a phrase. As Christians we are to love the unlovable, which is really hard. She does that. And everyone she knows would attest to it.

In high school, I observed an interesting phenomenon. On occasion, a very average looking guy would have a stunning girlfriend. I eventually made sense of it and realized that it happens on one of two occasions: either the guy has a lot of money, or he has a very healthy self-esteem. The love of our parents is the single greatest source of our self-esteem. It does not come from being told that we are good at something even when we are not. It comes from being loved when we (who know just how flawed we are) do not think  we are worthy of that love.

I am and always have been the recipient of such love from my mom and it has affected everything in my life. I definitely married up (way up, you might say), have had a sense of security that has allowed me to take great risks in my faith, business and relationships, and hopefully have been able to show others a fraction of that same love I have always witnessed first-hand. Most of all, I hope that our two kids, Thatcher and Chandler, grow up with that same sense of always being loved and thereby feeling lovable.

My mom Louise and our daughter, Chandler Louise Phillips
My mom Louise and our daughter, Chandler Louise Phillips

In this life when people want to truly honor someone else, just about the most significant manifestation of that desire is to name a child after that person. If you saved someone’s life, you may have received that rare honor. I’m still working on it myself. My mom has three beautiful young girls named after her. That’s right…three. So not only will her love that she has always shown Allen and me be passed down, but also her name and her wonderful life story along with it.

To a Mom who blesses absolutely everyone she encounters; to a Mom who gives the unlovable a divine sense of worth; to a Mom who has always loved the dickens out of me; and to a Mom who deserves more than I could ever give…

Happy Mother’s Day!

I love you, Mom.

Brian

An Apron, a Sketch, and Everything in Between

“Everyone to whom much was given….” (Luke 12:48)*

What sets you apart from everyone else?

My wife Nicole is ridiculously talented artistically. And whereas most artists’ talents are

Nicole Drawing
I can’t even write words so people can read them, and Nicole can draw people…PEOPLE!!

restricted to one or two mediums, Nicole’s abilities know no bounds. In fact, she loves finding something that is completely new to her and figuring out how to do it.

We all possess something that no one else does. It is a big part of what makes us unique. Whatever that gift is, whether it is a physical possession, a talent that is exceptional, or a personality characteristic that makes us stand out, we basically have two options of what we can do with it.

The first option is that we can use that gift to set us apart from others as someone to be admired or envied. When we do this, odds are, we will have a few people who we call “friends”. They will tend to be others with some exceptional gift (perhaps similar to ours, but not necessarily so) and our common bond will be our exceptionalism.

This approach isolates and creates a context from which the “gifted” look down on the plebeians as people who possess less value. One great risk of taking this route is that the second your “gift” is gone, those you once thought were friends will immediately cast you out among the commoners you looked down upon. That means that at the very moment you need your “friends” the most, they will completely abandon you.

Apron
Nicole’s line of luxury aprons ended up all over the world. This is from a photo shoot in Canada. Oh, and she designed the first aprons before she even knew how to sew.

Then there is a second option. Rather than using that with which you were blessed to bolster your personal image, you instead use it primarily as a means of blessing others. One is not likely to reach this conclusion from outside of a Judaeo Christian worldview which teaches that “Every good and perfect gift comes from above….” (James 1:17)¬† From that perspective, we have been entrusted with our gifts and since the ultimate source is God, we have no right to feel arrogant about it.

This approach, you will quickly find, produces some amazing results.

People who live like this are magnetic. They

Pirate Decor
Did I mention that she does parties? Yep, even pirate ones.

bring people together and something more akin to community takes place, rather than the isolation created by Option A. Secondly, and perhaps even more amazing than the first, you will discover that you actually get more enjoyment out of your gift when you allow others to enjoy it with you. There is a reason we try so hard to teach our children to share when they are young, and that is because it is genuinely Good.When you do Good things with your gifts, is it any surprise that Good things happen?

Nicole could very easily use her gifts to look down on others as less talented than she is, because quite frankly almost everyone is less artistically talented than she is. But the thing is, she doesn’t. Instead of viewing life through the prism of her gifts, she views her gifts through the prism of her Christian life. As a result, her gifts give her an amazing opportunity to bless others in her own unique way.

Easter Egg Table
And sometimes Nicole just goes all out so a bunch of kids will have a day they will never forget.

And bless she does!

How can you use your unique gifts to be a blessing to others?

 

 

*This is merely one application of this verse, and I first thought of the principle then the verse, rather than reaching the principle from the verse via exegesis.

The Redbox Nudge

His name was David. I didn’t know it at the time, and truth be told I didn’t want to know it. I just wanted to grab a couple of energy drinks at the gas station and see if there were any new movies at Redbox that Nicole and I could watch over the weekend.

Homeless Man“Avoid eye contact” is kind of the rule of thumb with homeless people. If you don’t, he is likely to engage you, and that can get pretty uncomfortable.

There was a man sitting with his back against the window right next to the Redbox kiosk, and I intended to avoid him if possible. But sometimes, His plans are a little different than mine.

If you are married or have a significant other, then you are definitely familiar with the

Photo Call For Columbia Pictures' "Total Recall"
This guy definitely just got “nudged”. Awkward!

“elbow nudge”. For example, you’re talking to someone you know, but your spouse doesn’t, and there it is – nudge, nudge. Dangit! I forgot to introduce her!

You are talking to her parents and crack an inappropriate joke (I have of course never done this). Nudge-nudge!! This one borders on painful. You know exactly what’s going through her mind. “What the heck are you thinking?!”

You always know what the nudge means, based on the context in which you receive the nudge.

That’s how it often is when the Lord wants me to do something. I might be at a restaurant with Nicole and I look over at a family that has young kids. They are obviously not doing well financially and are sharing a couple of meals between all five of them. Nudge-nudge. “Cover their meal. And while you’re at it, throw in a Cookie Monster desert for each of the kids. Oh, and by the way, make sure the waiter doesn’t let them know who did it.”

I am at a toll booth. Nudge-nudge. “Pay for the next car. You don’t know who it is, but I do. It will be more encouraging to them than you can imagine.”

I am talking with someone I barely know and he is telling me about some challenging issues he is currently facing. Nudge-nudge. “You need to pray for this man…out loud.”

I don’t know. Sometimes praying for someone else, out loud, is pretty awkward. I’ll just pray for him when I get home.

Nudge-nudge-nudge.

Okay! Okay!

Well, there I was walking up to check out the Redbox movies and wouldn’t you know…nudge-nudge.

I tried to convince myself that it was the wind, or something else so I could ignore it.

Nudge-nudge-nudge.

Alright, I give!

I stopped resisting and simply said, “Hello. How are you?”

He paused and said he was doing okay. He didn’t ask for money, which I was anticipating. He just said he was trying to get moving on.

“Where do you want to go?” I asked.

He said he ultimately wanted to head towards Tulsa, but¬†mentioned¬†a McDonald’s next to a major truck stop on I-44. He figured that if he could get there, he could hitch a ride the rest of the way with a trucker.

Maybe you don’t know what it’s like to be “nudged” (or whatever you want to call it), but I know some people do. Either way, I knew what I was supposed to do. I am yet to regret obeying the nudge, but I have ignored it. Every time I ignore it, I wish I hadn’t.

“I’ll give you a ride.” I said, knowing it was a few miles out of my way.

He was very appreciative and climbed into the passenger seat of my Yukon. I don’t think I found a good movie and I can’t remember any cans of Monster rolling around in the back seat. However, I do remember him, and that’s a good sign of what was most important that evening.

We pulled out of the gas station, then took a right onto the on-ramp to I-44.

I love getting to know people and everybody likes to talk about themselves, so I simply asked him some questions. He talked about his transient life, the many places he’d been, and mentioned that he was a very good roofer…at least five times.

Homeless WomanWe neared the exit, went up the ramp and suddenly he said, “Slow down.” There was a girl on the side of the road holding a sign. David reached into his pocket and pulled out a huge wad of bills.

“Roll your window down, please.”

I did as I was asked and he handed her a few dollars.

“You don’t fly a sign unless things are really bad,” he said.

“Really bad?” I thought to myself. “You’re hanging out at a gas station, hoping to eventually hitch a ride to another state for no good reason. Everything in this world that you own you are currently wearing or it is in your pockets, and that’s not really bad?!”

I had been introduced to a homeless hierarchy of misfortune of which I was totally unaware, and I wasn’t sure what to do with it. David had been in the same situation as that young lady, so he could empathize with her while I was still attempting to intellectually understand her situation.

David and I were miles apart in our ability to relate to someone “flying a sign” and that fact revealed a principle to me that I have since taught to many others. Sometimes the very thing we view as our greatest weakness provides us with our greatest (and often most unique) strength.

Were you at some point homeless and destitute? You are in a better position than anyone else to help someone who is currently in that situation.

Have you overcome breast cancer? Thousands would benefit from everything you learned during those trying times.

Are you single and broke? Your faith is going to be tested, but you are also not tied down to any particular location. You possess a freedom and agility that someone who is married with two children and a mortgage does not have.

We see David in the Old Testament as defenseless and weak, standing there looking David and Goliathpathetic with no armor to protect him. His perceived weakness allowed him to wield his sling and with pinpoint accuracy kill a giant 4 times his size without getting a single scratch.

I dropped David off at McDonald’s, he said thank you and shook my hand. No request for anything material at all; just appreciation.

There is no doubt who fared better in my few minutes with David. He got a ride, but I got a lesson I will never forget. That is how things tend to work in God’s economy. We do something in obedience to Him and He does more with it than we could have imagined.

It kind of reminds me of a guy¬†who was willing to give up his lunch one hot afternoon….