A Voice in the Night

There is a physical realm, and there is a spiritual realm. What is impossible in the former is sometimes completely possible in the latter. That is because each realm is governed by a completely different set of laws. Most people live their entire lives under the influence of physical laws with little or no thought about what goes on beyond the veil. But sometimes a normal person has an experience where the division between those realms is blurred and something physical crosses over and does what would otherwise be impossible.

This is a true story of just such an event. And the reason that I know beyond any doubt that it is true is because it happened to the most normal person I know…me.

I am quite passionate about working with the homeless, so for the past six years I have spent one day a week teaching, counseling and working alongside the homeless at an amazing facility here in Joplin, Missouri called Watered Gardens Gospel Rescue Mission.

A few of the great workers in the recycling center. Soon we will move from this 700 square foot room into a new 7000 square foot facility!

Finding value in what others no longer want is also a passion of mine, and one of the many ways that manifests itself is through recycling. About four years ago I began working on an idea that would combine the two. I wanted to create the ultimate win-win; something that would benefit the homeless, the ministry, the environment, local businesses, and individuals. It took about two years to get it going, and since day one it has grown…and grown…and grown. The model didn’t just “work”, it met a serious need in our community.  So much so that we didn’t dare advertise it or we would be inundated with the broken appliances, old computers, rusting lawnmowers and other recyclable goods that were cluttering the homes and businesses in our area.

It was just a few weeks ago on a Monday (July 30th to be precise) and I was working at Watered Gardens in the WorthShop (where the homeless and less fortunate work to earn food, a bed for the night, or even furniture for their new home). I love organizing, and by the time I get there each week, there is no shortage of that to be done.

Weaving among the workers, I was sorting totes of miscellaneous items and grouping various metals and circuit boards, when I heard an odd thud behind me. I turned around and noticed a commotion but couldn’t see what was going on. Moving closer to two of the worktables, I looked over them and saw the source. Mandy* was thrashing around on the floor, in the midst of a grand mal seizure.

The first thing I did was make sure my son was not in the room. A seizure can be quite an intense sight.

As her boyfriend Brad tried to keep her from injuring herself, she jerked and flailed with immense force, breaking the metal leg of a table in half with a single kick. Various liquids used in the copper purifying process slid down the broken table and spilled everywhere. Staff and workers frantically tried to get the table moved and the mess cleaned up. All the while Brad sat with Mandy, cradling her head, trying to hold her still.

“Come back to me, baby. Come back to me, baby.” he kept saying, gently kissing her on her forehead.

I walked closer to the table separating us and began doing the only thing I knew to do in such a situation…pray. I didn’t simply ask God to make the seizure stop, because I had a sense that this might not be the result of strictly medical issues. If you have spent a lot of time with those who have used a lot of hardcore drugs, especially crystal meth, you know (because once they trust you, they will tell you) that meth opens a doorway to the spiritual realm. They come face to face with creatures most people prefer to believe do not exist.

As she writhed around on the floor for one minute, then another, then another, some of the subjects I have studied guided my prayers. God is omniscient. He knows your thoughts better than you do. But demons possess no such power. So for your prayers to directly have an effect, they have to hear them. It doesn’t have to be loud, it just has to be uttered. And even though none of the people around me knew I was praying, if my sense was right, then they could.

Multiple staff members were now keeping a perimeter around her, someone brought in a cool wet rag, and Brad still held her. “Come back to me baby. I love you. Come back”. And Mandy just kept seizing.

Her eyes remained closed and she hadn’t been conscious of anything, when all of the sudden she used all of her power to arch her back, look behind her and lock eyes with me. She held my gaze, then shot out her hand towards me like she was drowning. Her eyes were more desperate than any I had ever seen, and she looked like she was being dragged down to hell, reaching out for me to save her.

For a few moments she reached, our eyes still locked, then she collapsed and the seizure renewed. Her eyes clinched, and her hands looked like gnarled claws. I just kept praying.

After another minute or two, the seizure gradually subsided, but she was still not with us. Now she was finally still, even though she was unnaturally rigid. Brad gradually started lifting her into a sitting position. Then she opened her eyes.

Mandy didn’t hug her boyfriend. She didn’t even acknowledge all of the people standing around her. Mandy didn’t speak. The second her eyes opened, they began scanning the room. She turned and looked behind her, and again her eyes locked with mine.

Both of her hands shot out, and I reached out mine. She gripped it tightly.

“Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!” she repeated with tears streaming down her face.

I walked around the table and helped her boyfriend gently lift her still rigid body into a chair, and I stood there with my hand on her shoulder.

“I’m so sorry! I’m so sorry!” she said to everyone around her, visibly embarrassed about the scene she had caused. Mandy then lifted her head and gazed to the heavens and as she wept said, “God, I’m so sorry! I’m so sorry!” For the next two minutes I held my hand on her shoulder and Mandy, with eyes lifted, confessed one sin after another, interspersed with cries of “God, please forgive me! Please forgive me!”

When she had said what she needed to, Mandy looked back at us, the tears stopped, and she put her hand on mine. She still couldn’t walk, so I helped Brad support her and take her to another room where she could sit in peace. We got her into a chair and I quietly left the room.

I worked by myself for the next hour, quiet and pensive, trying to figure out how to process the previous 15 minutes. I knew something out of the ordinary had occurred, I just had no idea what. Whatever it was, it obviously hadn’t affected any of the other people in the room. They were all back at their tasks. As I continued to search for an explanation, I resolved myself to the fact that I would most likely never get one. Fortunately, I was wrong.

The next Monday I was working in the WorthShop again and walked out into the hall and Mandy walked by. She looked…different. She came up to me with a big smile on her face and gave me a hug. She had never hugged me before. I asked her how she was doing and again she smiled.

“I’m doing great! I feel good. And I’ve been keeping my system clean,” she said giving me a wink.

“You look like you’re doing good!” I said. “I’ve been praying for you.”

“Thank you.”

We started to walk away and I stopped. I just had to know. Again, I honestly didn’t expect to learn anything about what happened the previous Monday. We rarely get to see behind the veil, and I didn’t expect to get that chance now.

“Mandy…may I ask you a question?”

“Sure,” she said.

“Why did you look for me as soon as you came out of your seizure and thank me?”

Her eyes turned serious.

“Nothing like that has ever happened to me before. I really thought I was going to die. Then I could hear the words of your prayer. I could hear them clear as day. I grabbed onto them, then I started praying with you. I took hold of them and that was what pulled me back. It was a miracle. Thank you.”

I looked to my left, where my 9 year-old son Thatcher was standing, and he looked up at me with wide eyes. I had been praying so silently that I couldn’t even hear my words; but someone in the midst of a seizure could hear every word.

I gave her another hug and we went our separate ways.

I have seen Mandy every week since then and she keeps improving. The last time I saw her she had started back on her medications and felt better than she had in a long time.

Most of our lives we work hard, trying to be a blessing to others, hoping we can truly make a difference. If that sounds like you, may I tell you something? Don’t stop. You may never get to see the results of your acts of kindness, or the answers to many of your prayers, but you ARE making a difference. I promise you. Your kind deeds performed on this side of the veil aren’t limited by physical laws. Love, kindness, and prayers, in the spiritual realm can accomplish more than you and I are physically capable of, and every once in a while, God takes your simple act and does the impossible.

 

*Out of respect, I changed the names of those involved.

 

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The Shotgun or Sniper Rifle: Scattered vs. Focused

Are you going in a million directions every day, or are you laser-focused? It’s most likely the former, because unless you have deliberately gone through a process of focusing your life, our default mode is disorganized.

Essentialism Energy

However, there there is a step-by-step process for transforming your life from the image on the left to the image on the right. In Essentialism by Greg McKeown, he takes you through the following steps and covers much more:

1.  How to choose the things that are most important in your life

Essentialism Book

2.  How to say “No” to the things that are not the best use of your time

3.  How to decide where you can have the greatest impact

4. How to execute in that area

Don’t let other people make decisions for you. Take the time to choose what is most important in your life and start moving in that direction!

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’s 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!

 

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!

Embracing the Incomplete

I wouldn’t have even started this blog if I hadn’t come to terms with the fact that this blog might never consist of anything more than three partially written posts that aren’t properly edited. Instead of going for the “all or nothing” approach, I’m taking the “something is better than nothing” mindset. It is transitioning from the former to the latter approach that greatly improved my dental hygiene, introducing me to the wonderful world of flossing, albeit quite gradually. I need to remember that this strategy works for me and apply it to other areas of my life. So for now, I’m quite pleased to apply it to the world of writing.

I think that is sufficient for my first post. I wanted to at least make sure my introduction came to a proper close. As for further posts, I offer no guarantees…either that they will come to a proper close, or that there will even be further posts. And one day, I might adjust the appearance of my page to something other than the default, but we’ll see. Let’s not get too ambitious.