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.

 

A True Warrior’s Motivation

My brother-in-law set aside his life as a successful entrepreneur to serve the people and the country he loves. Make sure that whatever you are fighting for is inspired by love. It is the only drive that is inexhaustible and results in a truly fulfilling life.

Anger, resentment and revenge are motivators that burn hot. But they also burn out fast and take you with them. But when love is acted on, it is refueled by the responses of others and your own internal response. As far as motivators go, it is the only renewable resource.

Jordan Meme

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!

 

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.

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.

Take Time for Josie

I don’t always feel like hearing someone’s story. Sometimes I am busy.

Me teaching a class in the Willard Learning Center
Me teaching a class in the Willard Learning Center

Sometimes I have other things on my mind. But never did it cross my mind that if I don’t hear what he or she has to say right now, I will never get the chance again. Well…it does now.

I was in the Willard Learning Center at Watered Gardens, a place where I help teach people who have been through hell how to get back on their feet. Some are homeless and still active drug users; but others live here, which means they have taken some very significant steps forward. If you are a resident, you have to be sober and attend classes, such as the ones I teach.

I was testing out the new projector when Josie walked in to clean the desks. At Watered Gardens, if you want food, clothes, a shower, or anything else, you have to earn it. A strong work ethic is something they begin instilling in individuals the second they walk through the door.

Charles, who was once homeless, is working roasting coffee beans for their delicious Redeemed Bean custom brew.
Charles, who was once homeless, is working roasting coffee beans for their delicious Redeemed Bean custom brew. Try some here: http://goo.gl/5G1p6B

The concept is sometimes shocking to people who have been living on government handouts for years, drinking and drugging away their days. Living on the streets or under bridges, many anxiously await the first of the month when Uncle Sam indiscriminately puts more money into their accounts. Recipients can get fifty cents cash for every dollar of food subsidies, and then it’s off to buy the drink or drug of his or her choice.

I introduced myself to Josie and could immediately tell that she was doing well. Clear eyes, coherent speech, and a sharp mind meant she had overcome many of the demons that drag others to the grave.

We began to dialogue and I asked her some benign questions: Where are you from? What brought you to Joplin, Missouri? etc. It didn’t take her long to sense my sincerity and then she started to tell me her story. Everyone who ends up on the streets has a story, and I am yet to hear a single one that begins in a happy, healthy home. Josie’s story was no exception.

“My mom died recently,” she told me. “Before they put the casket into the ground, I walked up to it with a black rose clasped behind my back. Then, with the preacher standing right beside me, I placed the rose on her casket and said, “I hope you rot in hell, you b—-.”

Josie then told me about her step-father who molested her from the time she was 2 until she was a teenager. Her mom would stand in the doorway and watch.

She started drinking at just 12 years of age to  try to silence the pain. Running away multiple times proved fruitless. The police would always bring her right back to the people who were supposed to love her more than anyone else on the planet. But they didn’t love her. They violated her.

But her story didn’t end in disaster, as many do. She stopped drinking before it consumed her, which amazed her counselor. She was now in a relationship with a kind man and they were just about to get their own apartment, which is a major accomplishment for someone who has been homeless.

Watered Gardens had given her a safe place to earn life’s necessities and be around people who helped her to grow.

She then paid her boyfriend one of the most significant compliments I can imagine coming from a lady. “Even at 50 years old, he makes me feel pretty.”

I thanked her for sharing her story with me and asked if I could share it with others. I then asked her if I could be praying about anything specific for her. She told me she had a blood clot that her doctors were concerned about, then I gave her a hug and she left the classroom.

I saw her a week later at Watered Gardens, but for the next few weeks noticed that she wasn’t around. So many people who come here are transient, though, so you never know how long someone will be around.

About a month after I met Josie, I was walking up to the front door and passed Joshua, who was locking up his bike. Joshua is an incredibly nice guy and a regular at Watered Gardens. I have run into him other places as well, including a grocery store on the opposite side of town. He puts a lot of miles on those tires.

I stopped to ask him how he was doing.

“I’m just trying to make it, Brian. Life just knocked me down pretty hard.”

I told him I was sorry, then asked what had happened.

“My girlfriend died. We were only 3 days away from getting our own place. She died in her sleep…in my arms.”

His next four words broke my heart.

“Did you know Josie?”

Yes. Yes I did. But I had no idea the two people were connected. I was so glad that I had taken advantage of the only significant encounter I would ever have with her on this side of the grave. And it didn’t surprise me a bit that Joshua was the one about whom she had spoken so kindly.

He fought back the tears as he finished fastening his bike lock and I told him how sorry I was. I also told him how well she had spoken of him. I tried to offer him some comfort and walked on into the building, where every week I do my best to take time for Josie.

*For information on how you can make sure someone like Joshua or Josie has a safe and clean place to sleep at night, along with training and mentorship, please check out their “One Night” campaign with the link below. You can help sponsor the bed I chose (bed #1) for 1 night a month and have an enormous impact on somebody’s life. Feel free to contact me with any questions.

http://wateredgardens.org/onenight/