(Welcome to the serial sharing of the book “Hello, My Name Is Phillip.” Available on Amazon here. To find previous chapters on my blog, search for Phillip’s story. Enjoy and share it with your friends.)
Nana and Papa came the next day, along with Aunt Sarah and Uncle Max, who had flown in from Philadelphia. I liked Nana better than Papa. He was a bit too big for me and seemed scary, like he was too big for the clothes he wore and too big for the room. But Nana, she was crunchy when I hugged her. Do you know what that is like? I think she just liked wearing so many layers of clothing that when she hugged me, and I hit all those layers, they crunched. She was big, too, and laughed big, and often talked with me about my birthday since she loved her own. “April 10th,” she would say, “That’s my birthday. You can get me a card anytime.” She was one of a kind, for certain.
“Phillip,” she said as they entered, “Show me your room. I hear you have a new paint color!” And so, I led her upstairs to show her. “Blue! I love the blue. Even in the closet and the bright other walls. It is like your room always has sunshine, even in a rainstorm.” She made me smile. She had walked in and sat on my bed.
“What a great room you have. Do you know what happened to me just the other day?” Nana always had spoken with me as if I understood everything she told me. Which, I did, of course. She talked like I was a person, like Miss Liz had done back when I was two.
Nana continued, “I was in Freddies down in Canby and I had with me the five girls and two brothers from that family I have helped out over the years. I think you met them once, when I was able to bring them to your church for Christmas Eve one year. Anyway, they are the sweetest girls and guys, so precious. We were there so I could get them their winter coats. It’s just a small thing to do. And you know what happened? I was at the checkout. Everyone had picked out their coat, and we were there to buy them. I was sharing with the cashier about why we were there, and he was so touched that I was helping out this family, but that was not why I was telling him. Then he said, ‘Ma’am, we just stopped a sale yesterday, but I am going to discount the coats with the sale price because I am so moved by the fact that someone would do what you are doing for others.’ I was just astounded. I thanked him and was thankful for another reason. I did have nearly $500 saved for the seven coats and with the discounts, they came down to about $185. Can you imagine that?
“I told the cashier, ‘I have something to tell you, too. I think you are here to serve Jesus. I really didn’t have the funds saved for the coats at full price, but this will fit right into our budget. I think Jesus assigned you today to help me.’ And when he looked at me, he looked especially solemn and there were tears in his eyes.
“He said, ‘I don’t know how to respond. I don’t even know who Jesus is.’
“And Phillip, I got to help that young man meet Jesus right there. I told him, just what you would have said if you could get those words out of your mouth—that Jesus was God’s Son and had come that we all could become the people we were meant to be, free from sin and the power of death. He knew and loved him.
“At that, this man, his name was James—just like your middle name Phillip—said, ‘No one ever told me that there was this kind of hope before.’ And right then and there, I got the privilege of praying with this young man, already a gift to my life and he was able to receive Jesus into his heart. James looked up and said, ‘I feel like something zapped me.’
‘That, son, would be the Holy Spirit,’ I told him. But there is more.”
I loved Nana’s stories. It was like reading a book with her, except they were these real-life accounts, always. She was full of stories.
“You see, there was this person. Well, by then, there were about six people behind us in line, and the woman just behind the girls said, ‘I have just witnessed something that I have wanted to know how to do my own life. I don’t know who you are but thank you for just being yourself here and helping James discover there is hope in this world. It has shown me an example and has touched me. Thank you. I’m Gail.’ And I introduced myself and we shook hands. And then I told her, ‘Give me just one more minute for I am not quite done.’
“‘James, now that you have been introduced, the most important part of our life is to follow, to embrace, and to walk with Jesus. He will lead you by His Holy Spirit but getting into a place of worship is a great help. I would suggest the Methodist Church, it is just down the road here in Canby. They have a great pastor, a loving congregation and there you can keep growing. Okay?’
“By that time James was smiling ear to ear, he was so happy, and he said, he would check it out. Now, wasn’t that a great event?”
I had to admit it was. Blue. It was a blue story, filled with the best, the brightest, and happiest blue there was.
The man with the car had come to the doorway, and as she finished, he said, “Another one of those stories huh?” He said it the way he used to always say my name, kind of spitting the words. Like he didn’t know her stories were blue not black.
She brushed him aside. “Michael, someday I know that you will discover there is more to life than anger. I know it for I have been praying for you for years and you cannot steal from the time that Phillip and I get to share.”
“Well, it’s time for dinner. I’m here to invite you to the table.”
“Thank you, son. We will be right down.”
Skye perked up. He loved the word dinner! Nana stood up and we made the way to the door and down the stairs. She was a bit slow on those, always stepping down with her right foot and following with her left. I tried it a bit and it took a lot longer that way. Skye just ran to the bottom. Once down, I went and filled his food bowl and set it by the door. Then, I went to the little bathroom and washed my hands, because I knew the lady would want me to, and then went to the dining room where everyone was sitting around the big table.
We never ate in this room. It was reserved for holidays. On the table was the turkey, stuffing, mashed sweet potatoes, Grandma Nana’s cranberry Jell-O salad, Grandma Faith’s Corn Soufflé, Aunt Sarah’s Southern Green Beans. That meant that they had bacon in them, and that also meant that they were good, and amazing-looking rolls. We usually had those rolls that came from packages in the store. But those rolls…Then I noticed what I had not expected: seated at the table were Maggie and Henry whom the lady had invited to join us! She had made rolls!
“I want to introduce again our new friends Maggie and Henry. They recently met Phillip, well, a few months back, and have become very important in our lives. They didn’t have any place to go for Thanksgiving, so we invited them over.” The lady said this, but by the way the man with the car looked as she said it, I thought it was more her idea than his. I ran to Maggie and hugged her, and Henry gave me a fist bump—good thing he doesn’t bump too hard! His fist is the size of my head.
I took my seat, sitting on my knees, with Skye curling up in front of my chair under the table—I was between Maggie and my Grandma Faith. The man with the car said our regular prayer while we held hands, and then after the amen, people started passing the food around and talking. Maggie helped me reach the food near her and then passed the plates to Grandma. I soon had turkey, mashed potatoes, green beans, soufflé, and bread. I just shook my head. Well, my whole body shook as the Jell-O came around. I put butter and jam on the roll from Maggie’s house and took a bite. That roll! It was just like the color blue—perfect!
I dropped bits of turkey to Skye. There was no reason why thanksgiving couldn’t be something for him to give thanks for as well, and he was appreciative. He rested his nose on the front of my chair under the table, so the food did not have to go far to reach him. He liked Maggie’s bread, too.
The table got quiet as people chewed and the lady asked Maggie to tell how I had met them. That story captivated everyone. I had run off, the lady had filled in that part, and then how Jesus had told Maggie they were to come find that boy and his dog she had been given a picture of in her heart and that boy had been me.
Henry piped up saying, “Wellll, I have to admit, I was nnnot favorable to the idea at fffirst. I didn’t wannnt to go out in that ssstorm at all, I was afraid Maggie might fffall on that path. You know how those pppaths are in the park, not exactly lllevel. And my faith was nnnot as large as hers that what ssshe had seen was actually there. But here’s what ssshe told me, ‘Henry, either I am correct, or I am not, but if I am there’s a little boy out there who needs us.’”
“Well, that got mmme,” he said. “Maggie, you ccccontinue.”
Everyone had stopped eating as they listened. Like Miss Jeanne said, you could have heard a pin drop around that table. I gave a bit more turkey to Skye. As she told how they had then discovered my gift of music, and how the lady and man had then come to pick me up and she had been giving me piano lessons ever since, questions erupted.
“I just cannot believe this actually happened! But here you are, and here is Phillip, and there are too many of you confirming it, then, it must be true!” That was Uncle Max. He had pushed his chair away from the table, a crease across his forehead, and a deep one between his eyes. “I have always thought this Jesus stuff was just garbage, but …” He stopped talking. It was like he lost his words just like mine won’t come out of my mouth very much. He couldn’t talk. Aunt Sarah picked up there.
“I think we have lived a long time as if God was just, well, incidental. Like he didn’t matter, and we didn’t need to do anything about Him, one way or another. But this story, and Maggie, your faith. Could you tell us more about how you came to such a depth of faith? And Phillip, buddy, I want to hear you play after dinner.”
I looked up. I wanted to play. I liked it when I played, and I could talk more than I ever did with anyone. The music was my words. I told stories, painted pictures, made beauty in the room, and everything got washed, as if with water. It was nice how music changed everything and everything inside me. I smiled and warmth rushed through my face and whole body.
“Well,” Maggie began, “I guess it was like this. My mom and dad never went to church, at all. When I was about five or six, Phillip’s age, I wanted to go. I don’t know why I wanted to go, but I did. So, one Sunday, I told my mom and dad, ‘I’m going to church today. Do you want to come?’ And since they didn’t, but they were okay with me wandering around our small town outside of Liverpool, they let me go. So, I walked from our house that Sunday. Our little two-story duplex sat on the corner of Duke and Prince streets and was three blocks from this big old stone church building that stood on another corner at Queen Street.”
“There were these three big steps outside the door. I climbed up those with my hand on the black railing and entered. I didn’t even know when church started, and they had just begun. I walked in the back of the sanctuary, and, well, I don’t know how to tell this part exactly, the air itself felt filled with such joy I knew I had arrived someplace I needed to be. The church was filled with what looked to me like all these grandparents, and as I walked up the aisle with them singing the first song, it was “Amazing Grace,” and everyone standing, the joy filled me. This one woman and her husband reached out and tapped my shoulder and invited me to sit with them. Their names were Fred and Josephine. I called them grandpa and grandma after that, and they loved that.”
“So, I just walked into church, and Jesus was there in his Fred and Josephine outfit! Josephine lowered the hymnal for me to read, but I wasn’t quite reading yet. But her faith in me that I could, meant something. That was the kind of small church where everyone knew everyone, and soon, everyone knew me and felt like they had a gift added to their fellowship: a little girl for them to love! And they loved me.
“That was my first Sunday in church. But more than that, that was my first Sunday meeting Jesus. He was there. He was in the music, in the very air, and in the pastor who spoke. Dr. Peter George was, well, I guess you could say a little man, with a slightly rounded middle, he used to call it his ‘well-rounded ministry.’ He wore glasses and had a light that shone from his face. Do you know what I mean by that?”
Sarah and Max said, “Actually, it would help if you explained it.”
“Dr. George had so much joy inside of him because of Jesus it just flowed out. He was alive from someplace deep inside. So, his face shone. You’ve seen people when they are angry, you know, their countenance shows it. Red faced. Tight-lipped. The veins pop out on the forehead or side of the head.”
That reminded me of the man with the car. He was angry like that, a lot.
Maggie continued, “Well, Dr. George showed his joy the same way. When he spoke, he would light up with anticipation and excitement. He’d be up on his tiptoes as he spoke of heaven! I always liked listening to his sermons. They were easy to understand, even for me, a child, and he always gave us a simple way to practice living as followers of Jesus.
“But there was more than that, that first Sunday, I met Jesus. Dr. George asked if anyone would like to commit themselves to Jesus, and I didn’t know what that meant except that I knew I wanted to know Jesus for it seemed like that was why I had come. So, I walked forward, Josephine came with me, and we knelt at the altar. There were several others there as well. As Dr. George came to me, he said, ‘What’s your name, little one?’ ‘Maggie,’ I told him. ‘Well, Maggie,’ he said, ‘Jesus has great plans for you. He died and came to life just for you. Is it okay if I lay my ‘and on your head as I pray for you?’ I nodded. Then Dr. George laid his hand on my head and asked me to pray after him a simple prayer to Jesus, ‘Lord Jesus, I give my life to you and ask you to come and live in me.’ And then he prayed over me and I felt that same joy flowing within me that I had felt when I entered, and they sang. And Dr. George prayed and then began to speak over me, as if talking from God to me: ‘This child is My vessel and will bring My life and joy to many. She is mighty in my kingdom. A child with the heart of a lion.’”
Henry interrupted, “Now that pppart is so very true! She ssstill has a lion’s heart! Once she hasss her heart ssset, there is nnno changing it.” Everyone laughed.
Maggie continued, “So, that first Sunday I met everyone there, they gave me hugs, cookies, asked me questions and loved me like Jesus. Dr. George asked if he could walk me home and meet my parents. After that visit, they willingly let me go each Sunday. They didn’t begin to come with me, then, but supported me in going. My parents drank a lot on weekends, they often started drinking early in the morning and continued until they had passed out. I made my own lunch and dinner many weekends. Most Sundays after that, Fred and Josephine would take me to lunch someplace after church and then drop me off at my place. They also met my parents and I think that’s why everyone at church began to pray for them, week by week for it was obvious to them all that my parents really needed Jesus.
“Eventually, within about four years, my parents both had come to know Him, and started coming with me to church. That’s when the drinking stopped at our place. Jesus really worked a change. My dad would tell you that he had lived as a drunk since he was 12 years old until he was 40. But that’s when his little girl helped him find Jesus.
“It’s been a few years since then and my Jesus has always been there. I do get visions and dreams which I write down and seek to follow. They have led us to write checks in certain amounts and give them to people.” Here she interrupted her own story and said to Henry, “Remember that lady on the bus next to us? That was many years back, Henry, wasn’t it?”
“I’d say it wwwas decades back, Maggie. I just rememmmber we were short on money, and tttaking the bus into town, when you sssaid, ‘Henry, that woman two rows ahead of usss. Do you see her?’ Of course, I could sssee her.” Everybody laughed again. “Maggie sssaid to me, ‘Jesus wants us to write a check to her ttto help her with her rent or something. Anyway, I have a ssspecific amount we are supposed to give. $213.42.’ Maggie,” I sssays back, “How can we afford that?”
“‘I ddddon’t know,’ Mmaggie responds, ‘bbbbut Henry, it’s Jesus, I’m cccertain.’
“I didn’t know what to dddo with that back then, but I sssaid, ‘Hhoney, if you think it’s Jesus then you bbbetter just do it.’ So, she got out the checkbook, wrote a check fffor that amount and then the lllady was getting off at the nnnext stop like we were. As we exited, Mmaggie runs up ttto her and says something, the lady gggot all teary like and gave Maggie this huge hug and wouldn’t lllet her go. Then Mmmaggie and the lady joined hhhands, heads bowed – they were pppraying together. When Maggie comes back to mmme, she tells me, ‘Henry,’ and then Maggie couldn’t tttalk. She tttoo was crying. And I got to just hold her. That is one bbbenefit of all these emotions, a man gets hhhis hugs.” Everyone was laughing again, all except the man with the car. These stories seemed to make him uncertain.
Maggie continued. “It was such a powerful experience with that lady and Jesus has led us to do many similar things over the years. Oh, but wait, you know what else? When we got home there was an envelope in the mail and inside it was a check. It was a surprise gift that more than covered what we had just given away.”
Aunt Sarah and Uncle Max, both had wet cheeks and were wiping them with their napkins. Aunt Sarah looked up and said, “Thank You Maggie and Henry. Those stories…” but she couldn’t finish her sentence.
I gave Skye more turkey.
“Stories! That’s exactly what they are.” sputtered the man with the car. He had pushed back his chair and then stood suddenly. “Stories. I know you are nice people and all, but…”
“Not now,” interrupted the lady in the white house, sitting beside him, a hand on his. “Not now, Michael.”
“Michael looks like those stories are bothering you because you know there is no explanation for them, and the Holy Spirit is cutting right through to your heart,” Nana said, smiling. She was not scared of the man at all, not like the lady and I had been.
“I think it is time you faced the facts Michael that your worldview is incomplete with a rejection of all that is unseen or spiritual. By attributing to myth everything that you cannot explain, or repeat, you have essentially cut yourself off from most of the story. These stories say it clearly, don’t they? They are testimony from people you cannot deny are telling the truth. And what can you do with that?”
The man with the car, stiffened, saying, “Excuse me,” and walked from the room.
For a moment, everyone was silent. Like after a car accident. No one could believe what had just happened. But then, Nana said, “Would anyone mind, if I led a prayer for that boy of ours?” No one did mind, and she did.
Then, Papa said, “If you’ll excuse me also for a moment, I think I will follow and see if I can hear him out.” And with that he too left the dining room.
“Well, that was a disruption, but we cannot do a thing for Michael or Papa, at this point, but we could pass the plates around and have some more of this great meal,” Grandma Faith said, beside me. And then she whispered in my ear, “And I think Skye would benefit from not having any more turkey.”
I looked up my face warm. How had she known?
Everything made its way around again. Max and Sarah began to share about their own lives in Philly, as they called it, as questions and answers flowed around the group at the table. As everyone finished eating, the lady offered dessert.
“I was just sitting here thinking, that dessert sounds like a great idea, but I wondered if you”—here Grandpa Harlie looked at me— “would be willing to play us a bit on that keyboard before we get out the dessert?” Everyone was eager about this idea.
I liked Grandpa with his tuft of grey hair, crooked teeth and wide grin. Grandma Faith called him her “bean pole of a man, weighing the same now as he weighed in high school,” and I would be willing to do anything for him.
So, we adjourned to the living room. Maggie and I had worked out a series of songs that I could play on Thanksgiving, anticipating this. My first concert for an audience! She had talked with me about the songs, and then, I had put them in the order I wanted. I wanted to start deep and somber and so began with those in the minor keys, a Chopin and some others. It was a painting and I put in the dark colors first. Then I planned to move to the major keys with some of the songs the lady and Maggie liked to sing.
During this concert, the man with the car and Papa entered and sat down. I didn’t look up when they entered. I was playing the Rachmaninoff and you don’t look up while playing his music.
When I played the hymns people knew, they began to sing. The light in the room was so full. And the painting, I saw this beautiful painting in my own heart as I played. It was like every color had been used to create this meadow, with a clear, beautiful brook running through it, birds singing and flying about, rabbits, deer and flowers everyone. It was like every note I was playing added new ones. Then toward the end of the song I was playing, there He was. Jesus. Standing in the meadow. He was looking at me and smiling.
The joy seeing Him that flooded me brought tears to my eyes, the happy kind. I played to the end of this the last song and stopped. And I sat there. What do you do after playing lots of music? Maggie and I had not talked about that. It felt too full to just step off my stool at the keyboard. It was quiet in the room. A good kind of quiet, like no one quite knew what to do or say. Nana broke the silence.
I looked over at her. She was trying to get more words out. It was very seldom that Nana lacked words.
“Well…” she started again, but again, couldn’t. She was silent a long time, everyone waiting.
“Well, Dorothy, when you said Phillip would like to play a few songs after dinner today, I have to admit that I lacked imagination. I was thinking perhaps like ‘Row, Row, Row Your Boat,’ or ‘Mary had a little Lamb.’ But this? Phillip, you might not yet speak with your mouth, but you certainly speak powerfully through music. Phillip!”
And she got up and came across the room to me and picked me up from the stool and hugged me. That broke the room. Everyone talked at the same time, laughing, hooting, clapping, hugging. Even the man with the car was hugging Papa.
“Who still wants some sweets after that musical dessert?” asked the lady. Everyone went back to the dining room, including Skye, who had been sitting beside me as I played. We passed around the pumpkin and boysenberry pies, Nana had brought, and the fruit crisp with ice cream Grandma Faith had made. And most everyone had some of the pecan pie that Sarah and Max had made at Nana and Papa’s house. But not me. I didn’t like how it felt in my mouth.
Sarah looked down the table to me and said, “Phillip, thank you for playing. I am so amazed at the music that could come from your little self. It was beautiful.”
I wasn’t used to getting this kind of attention. And it made me kind of feel uncomfortable. I reached down and stroked Skye.