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.

 

When the Impossible No Longer Is

Just because something is impossible, doesn’t mean it can’t be done.

“When Jesus looked up and saw a great crowd coming toward him, he said to Philip, Feeding the 5000“Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?” He asked this only to test him, for he already had in mind what he was going to do.

Philip answered him, “Eight months’ wages would not be enough bread for each one to have a bite!” (John 6:5-7)

There was a problem. Thousands of people were hungry and had nothing to eat. To Philip, this was a major problem; an insurmountable problem; an IMPOSSIBLE problem for him to solve. And you know what? He was right. He was right….but he wasn’t alone.

May I ask you a personal question?

What moves you?

DaydreamingIn those rare instances when you are able to get off by yourself for a leisurely walk around the neighborhood and your mind isn’t cluttered with worries and tasks, what ideas begin floating to the surface that stir your soul? As you start thinking about those ideas your pulse quickens and your eyes dilate as excitement starts to well up within you. You don’t really even know where those ideas come from. They’re yours….but then again, somehow, they aren’t yours. They are just there, and they are good. You know they are good. But regardless of their source, just thinking about them makes you feel alive.

You want to pursue that idea, and for some reason truly feel like you should pursue it. You can envision all of the good that could come about if you do. But when you start thinking about all the things that would have to happen for this idea to come to fruition, it just seems, well….impossible. You know what?

You’re right…but you’re not alone.

The greatest accomplishments in your life will be determined by which of these ideas, if any, you pursue. What you decide to pursue will be determined by what you think is possible. And for most people, that is what will hold them back. They will only pursue that which they can envision accomplishing alone. 

“Eight months’ wages would not be enough bread for each one to have a bite!” Solving the problem is impossible to Philip…so he does nothing.

Nothing is ImpossibleBut what if you never stopped to think whether something was possible or not. What if you simply took the greatest passions or ideas you have and simply pursued your vision of what could be?

What if instead of being the pragmatic Philip, you were the hopeful and expectant Mary?

“They have no more wine.” (John 2:3)

With Jesus, his disciples and many others at a wedding in Cana, Mary sees the stress on the family’s faces as they realize the dreaded social consequences that will soon bring an end to a celebration that was to joyfully begin a new couple’s marriage.

Was Mary capable of solving that problem? Nope.

Did she know what Jesus was going to do? I don’t think she did.

Would it have ever crossed her mind that Jesus was about to have jars used for Mary at the Cana Weddingceremonial washing to do his first miracle? These jars are like something between a bath tub and a toilet bowl, and out of them was about to flow the most heavenly vintage of wine ever produced. Literally!

This thought I can confidently say would have never entered Mary’s mind in a million years. It’s impossible. And even more than that, it is the impossible done with a flair; because with Him, the impossible isn’t just doable…it’s easy!

Mary knew the problem she wanted to address (no more wine), and even though she didn’t know how it would ultimately be solved, she took the first step and did what she thought she should do. She took her problem to Jesus. Her problem then became His. But in many cases, they are His before they ever become ours. And it is only when we truly take ownership of them that we can make them His again. And that is when miracles happen.

Allow me to explain.

I believe that in the same way each of us are given certain gifts, we have also been given certain missions in life. (Ephesians 2:10 comes to mind: “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”) Those missions, assignments, or problems, are almost always linked to the very issues that move us the most. In short, they are near and dear to our hearts. What we ultimately do with them is up to us, but we have an innate emotional impetus to help propel us to action.

Jesus wanted Philip to see that when you are doing good to others, you need not be Follow the Leaderbound by your own limitations. As you start to move forward in your quest to make life better for others, you will see others following in your wake. They will possess different talents, resources, and levels of authority than you do. They can make things happen that you alone could not.

This world is starved for people who truly want to help their fellow man, who are selflessly willing to work to improve the lot of others. And when you begin moving forward with a powerful vision to make that happen, heaven and earth will conspire to help you along.

Philip knew something was impossible, so he did nothing. Mary didn’t bother to worry about whether something was possible or not, so she acted. And when she moved, the miraculous occurred.

So as you think about that one thing you would love to accomplish, and how much bigger than you that problem actually is, remember….you’re not alone.

 

 

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.

 

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.

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….