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.

 

The Critical Connection between Optimism and Entrepreneurship

If you are currently pursuing an entrepreneurial endeavor and are not optimistic about its outcome, please allow me, as your grossly underpaid business adviser to give you some advice. Don’t do it!

“Well thanks a lot for the encouraging words, Mr. Free Business Adviser Oh, and by the way….you’re fired!”

Not so fast, Mrs. Pessimistic Entrepreneur! Give me a chance to explain, and hopefullyHalf Fool even convert you from the Dark Side to the Light.

“Anyone with an entrepreneurial spirit is…an optimist at heart. The desire to start a business, in and of itself, is optimistic. It’s a belief that you can do something to improve your situation and make a positive change in the world.” Ara and Nick, the authors of “The Lemonade Stand” believe that optimism is so critical for an entrepreneur that they make it the first of 13 principles explored in the book.

Your perspective and attitude as you build a new business will be one of the greatest determinants of its success. It is often the enthusiasm and amazing determination of a business founder that inspires the first few customers to take a chance and pay for his or her services. If that spark is lacking when you approach people, don’t expect them to believe in something that you don’t.

So if you do have pessimistic tendencies, does that mean that you are doomed to be a business failure?! I, with all of the authority of a free business adviser, can confidently assure you that you are not.

Here are a few steps you can take to start improving your attitude and perspective:

1.  Consume the good stuff!

Captain Optimism
Your attitude affects far more than your business life. It even affects your late night superhero battles that nobody knows about.

This is not a plea to encourage you to start drinking expensive wine. If you are going to change how you think, you have to change what you hear and read. You can start by replacing your gansta’ rap (gangsters are cocky NOT optimistic) with great podcasts from very successful (and yes, optimistic) entrepreneurs.

I daily consume the wisdom of the EntreLeadership podcast, The Brian Buffini Show, The Ken Coleman Show, and others. I can do it when I’m driving or working outside, so it takes no time away from other projects.They are a lot of fun, allow me to learn from amazing businessmen and women, and I get a lot of great book recommendations. If you want some from me, feel free to ask. I always have a book with me, so any time I have to wait, I get to read.

2.  Put on a pair of “entrepreneur shades”
Have you ever presented a great idea to someone and all they did was tell you all of the

Persol
Just imagine that the word “Entrepreneur” is neatly placed on the side. My wife does my graphics and she ain’t here. I tried, but it looked pathetic. No, I’m not being pessimistic!

obstacles and reasons your idea won’t work? Don’t be that guy! Every business idea encounters obstacles. But instead of viewing those as road blocks, with your new fancy sunglasses, you will see them as detours. And with each detour, you have the opportunity to make improvements in your business.

I recently helped a homeless shelter start a recycling facility. Initially I wanted to start with electronics, but after one meeting with an expert in the industry, I knew it would cost a fortune and take a really long time. There are so many regulations and certifications needed! But rather than getting discouraged, I set that idea on a mental shelf, and pursued a far more simple type of recycling to start with.

And the electronics recycling? We now do that too. All of those “obstacles” were wiped away with a single signature, when a major electronics recycling company saw what we were doing, loved it, and allowed us to partner with them. See how this works? No obstacles, just opportunities.

3.  Trade in some of your “downers” for “uppers”
“Birds of a feather flock together,” your mom said. My mom said it too, and even though

Red Blue Pill
The attitude you have each day is ultimately your choice. The more you choose one, the more natural it will become.

it drove us nuts, they were right. Based on that, if you need a change of attitude, you might need a change of friends as well.

Start by finding someone who people love to be around and asking them out to lunch. An optimistic entrepreneur would be ideal. Then you can improve your perspective AND learn. (If you live near Joplin, Missouri, I like Tropical Smoothie Cafe, Red Onion Espressoria, and Chick Fil-A, in that order. 😉  )

The more positive influences you add in your life, the more optimistic you are going to become. And if you want to use your gifts and passions to change your family, your community, or even the world, YOU have to truly believe you can or you will never give it everything you’ve got.

 

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. 😉

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’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!

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.

Tuesday Morning with a Prostitute – A True Story of Pain, Redemption and Thanksgiving*

Warning: this post may contain triggers for sexual abuse survivors.

You don’t expect a casual conversation to result in a call to the FBI. But there’s a first time for everything.

When I volunteer at Watered Gardens, I never know who is going to walk through the door.  If I know them, they are typically moving forward in their life, have established better habits and are off of the street, like Linda. She’s a very kind black lady who spent years on hardcore drugs but has been clean for a long time.

But sometimes a new person comes in. He or she might be a transient, in Joplin for a bit before they move on. Other days, I get to visit with someone who barely has one foot out of hell. Something, or rather Someone is trying to drag him into a new life, and that’s why he’s here. Today was one of those “other days”.

The statue "Mary Magdalene Crying"
The statue “Mary Magdalene Crying”

When Latasha walked in, I could instantly tell she was sassy. She exuded personality. She was friendly, had a big smile on her face, and loved to talk. For the next hour I was going to be privileged to get a glimpse into a life very similar to Mary Magdalene’s, I just didn’t know it yet.

After a few minutes of small talk, Latasha started telling me her story. She held nothing back.

One thing I’ve learned is that everybody has a “rock bottom”; a place in life that makes someone so uncomfortable that they finally make major changes. But it’s not the same for any two people. Latasha’s  rock bottom was the lowest I had ever witnessed; and she had hit it….hard. The amazing thing is that she lived to tell about it.

She was dropped off at Watered Gardens after detoxing at a facility a couple of hours away. She had checked in on her own. “You come here (to Watered Gardens) if you want to live,” she said. I could sense her determination to maintain a grasp on this different kind of life.

“What made you decide to leave?” I asked her.

“I could sense God pulling on me, and I was sick of living with my dope man. He made me watch nothing but porn and since I was always high, I was paranoid and wouldn’t go outside at all. I could barely bring myself to look out the window.”

A lot of people don’t realize that drugs like crystal meth literally open a door to the spiritual realm. Behind that door are the things that nightmares are made of.

She went on to describe the physical fights she would have with demonic forces when she was high. But when she wasn’t in that state, her “dope man” as she called him, wasn’t much better. In addition to pornography constantly streaming on the television, they fought all of the time. He was an active Satanist, a drug dealer and displayed all sorts of odd behaviors.

“He has computers all over the house! They’re wired up all strange and I can’t make sense out of it. He’s always switching out hard drives, too. He has like 75 of them!”

To Latasha, his actions weren’t something to make sense out of; they were just bizarre. But I was looking at the situation from a different perspective. I knew that there were only a few things sensitive enough to merit that type of behavior, and since his day job was laying tile, I knew he wasn’t dealing in top secret government documents. That left me with only one option that made sense.

“He produces child porn!” I said, as I tried to grasp just how evil this man was.

“What?!”

Latasha was shocked at what I said. But then I could see her start to think. She began remembering details that never made sense before.

“You’re right! That’s why he started telling me after I put my kids up for adoption that he was losing money on me.”

“He would get me stoned out of my mind, then he would disappear to this shed behind the house and lock himself in there for hours. He never would tell me what he was doing.”

“And then there were the screams…..”

She described times where she had heard the screams of children coming through the walls, but her intoxicated state and his dismissive comments made her push them to the back of her mind. But now, sober, out of his reach, and the recipient of a new life, she knew exactly what she had heard.

She shared more disturbing specifics, so I was pretty confident in my conclusion. Even if she wasn’t willing to do anything about her dope man, I was going to. I asked her some detailed questions about him and took notes, making sure I didn’t forget anything of importance.

She then started talking about her more distant past.

“My dad has always hated me. When I was two, he put me in the deep freeze. Later, when it became known that he had pointed a pistol at me and wanted to kill me, the state took me away. I spent the next 15 years in and out of foster care.”

This is my princess Chandler at her school Christmas program last night.
This is my princess Chandler at her school Christmas program last night.

Ministering to the broken is a constant reminder of just how blessed I have been. It also turns the phrase “There but for the grace of God, go I” into something far more than a cliche. Latasha’s father wanted to kill her. Mine helped coach my baseball team and took me fishing. Never for a second have I doubted my dad’s love for me. My daughter and she is three, and her name is Chandler. I call her my princess and tell her she is beautiful almost every day. Hearing about how her dad treated her made me sick to my stomach and furious at the same time.

Having no idea what being loved was like, in desperation, she reached out for a gross perversion of it and became a prostitute. My heart broke as I got a glimpse of what Jesus might have felt when the prostitute came and poured costly oil over his feet while others looked on in disgust. All they saw was her deplorable lifestyle. Jesus saw the pain….every bit of it; and loved her.

Latasha had recently experienced that same love, both from God Himself and the people at Watered Gardens That love saved her life. But more importantly, He saved her soul, and she could not stop thanking Jesus for it. Her desire to tell me her story was not to bring attention to herself. She was desperate to tell me what He had done in her life.

The last night with her dope man, things came to a brutal climax. Screams and curses filled the air. She grabbed a large butcher knife from the kitchen and held the tip firmly against her stomach.

As his hands grabbed on to the handle, she screamed at him, “If your devil is stronger than my God, then KILL ME!”

Hands tightened and fury filled the room. Her life could literally end any second, and she knew it. But she would rather die than continue this kind of life. And even though Latasha knew that he wanted to kill her, there was the feeling in the back of her mind that this battle between God and Satan had already been won long ago. And whether her dope man recognized the true Victor or not, he was powerless against the One who now claimed her as His own.

She left that night and checked into a drug rehab facility. After some time there, they asked her where she wanted to go. With no family to take good care of her, she chose Watered Gardens. The love the staff had showed her there was unlike anything she had ever experienced. They had been encouraging her in this odd new life, and she could not stop saying how thankful she was, both for them and to God. He had given her an opportunity to truly live for the first time.

Later that day, while at my office, I spent a half hour on the phone with an FBI investigator. I shared all of the details I had about her dope man: where he lived, his full name, his drug dealing, and my own conclusions. I had told Latasha that she needed to talk to the police, but since I wasn’t sure if she would follow through, I did all I could on my end. There was no way I was going to let that scum bag continue what he was doing if I had any chance of stopping it.

When I got off of the phone, it took me a few hours to calm down. Simply witnessing a life so intensely hellish had taken a toll on me; and Latasha had lived it for most of her life.

I came away from this experience knowing something first-hand that Christians who live more average lives often give lip-service to. No matter how far gone a life may appear to be, there is no such thing as a life that is out of God’s reach. He can rescue the most destitute. He can restore the most broken. He can redeem the most guilty.

Latasha’s life is proof of that, and that is why I am telling you about her. It is indeed something to be thankful for this Christmas season.

And thank you, Latasha, for entrusting me, a complete stranger, with your amazing story.

May God bless you in your new life.

*All of the details of this story are true. I have only changed the names of the individuals involved.