(This is the serial release of my book Hello, My Name is Phillip. Follow this link to get your own copy on Amazon. We start at the end of Phillip’s first day of school.)
After we get home, I practice piano and then do my homework. Mrs. Olson sent extra math sheets home with me. I practice writing my numbers and letters. I give the lady a note Mrs. Olson sent to her. After reading it, she comes and sits down at the table with me.
“Phillip. Mrs. Olson wrote someone was cruel to you on the playground today, but that Kevin was there defending you, and Mr. Simons brought you back to class. Was that the hard thing Kevin mentioned?”
I nod but keep practicing my numbers.
“I’m so impressed my little man. Something like that, well, you might have been thrown off by that for quite a while. I’m proud of you.” I look up.
She looks me in the eyes.
“Mrs. Olson also says math comes easily to you and thinks that you are already ahead of your grade level. She says she is going to find a second-grade curriculum for you to follow. Well, all I can say is, this was quite the start!”
The phone rings and the lady gets up to answer it. “Hello?” She listens and says, “Hello, Mr. Simons. Good to hear from you.”
Then she listens again for a long time. I work numbers. I hear her say, “Thank you so much for calling. And what an offer. I would be happy for him to play any instrument you think suits his size and abilities. Phillip will be excited. He loves, loves music.”
She talks further and hangs up. “Phillip! You are going to play another instrument! Mr. Simons told me more of the story of what happened on the playground. I think there is a backstory to this. Beyond Kevin and Mr. Simons, I think you experienced someone else on the playground with you. Did you experience Jesus with you at school today?”
I nod and smile thinking of the Voice, Mr. Simons, Kevin, Nemo, Mrs. Olson! So many moments of experiencing Jesus. “Well, thank you, Jesus.” This lady. She is growing on me.
“Finish your homework, then we need to put in reading time and make dinner together. Molly is coming over tonight to celebrate your first day of school with us. So, you and I can make dinner after we read.”
We are still in Charlotte’s Web. When we finish this one, I am excited to read the next one in the Chronicles of Narnia series. We are to the fifth book, The Horse and His Boy. The title sounds exciting.
In Charlotte’s Web, I love Wilbur, the pig and Fern, his friend, the way the Geese speak makes me laugh, and I even love the rat, Templeton. And I love how kind Charlotte is to Wilbur. We are just to the scene at the fair when she is writing the last words above his pen. She is a good friend – always knowing just the right thing to say. I was not prepared for Charlotte to die! When the lady reads Charlotte’s goodbye, she stops reading for a moment to wipe the tears. Tears are in my eyes too. I keep having to wipe them away. We are still sitting on the couch; we have just finished the book when Molly walks in. “Hi you two! My, look at you! Looks like you have had a good cry! Ah. Charlotte’s Web. I always cry at the end of that one too. Great story, though, isn’t it!”
“Yes, it is,” says the lady, “But, somehow, I did not remember Charlotte dies at the end, and it just caught us. So, Phillip, that was great to finish the book. Let’s get dinner made. Sorry, Molly, we are behind!”
“Hey, that’s no challenge for me. Happy to help. Just give me an assignment,” Molly says.
I form burgers. Molly makes salad. The lady toasts the buns from Maggie and cooks the burgers.
“So, Phillip! Your first day of school. How did it go?” asks Molly.
I smile and give her a thumbs up.
“Really?” Molly exclaims. I enjoy how excited Molly gets over everything. Her blond hair is pulled back in a ponytail.
“You know,” the lady says, “Kevin met us at the car and escorted Phillip into school. Mr. Simons called and there was an incident on the playground with the school bully, and Kevin was there defending and caring for Phillip. Mr. Simons said, Phillip had collapsed on the ground and when he got there, Kevin was kneeling, his arms enfolding Phillip. ‘It was like an eagle protects her young,’ Mr. Simons said. ‘Tears came to my eyes.’
“So, Phillip has a friend in Kevin. I don’t know what we’d do without him.”
“That’s beautiful!” Molly says. We sit at the kitchen table with our salad, burgers, French fries, ketchup, mayo, mustard, pickle relish and salad dressing. She takes a bite of her burger and then says, “Oh My Gosh! These are so good. This bread! Oh. Wow. I’m glad I’m here for dinner.”
The lady continues, “Mrs. Olson wrote a note about how well Phillip did in class. It seems that math and words are coming as easily as music. He just seems to get it. She wrote, ‘Your boy has a gift.’ School, overall, will be a good place for him. Also, Mr. Simons plans to get him into the band playing some wind instrument, not certain which one.”
“What a great day, Phillip! I’m glad I can celebrate with you! Is there a favorite thing you experienced you could draw for me?”
I nod. So, after we finish eating and eat the last three pieces left of my birthday cake, that the lady had kept in the freezer, I get a piece of paper out of the drawer in the kitchen. I grab a pencil and draw the back of the classroom with the fish tank and fish in it. I love the sound of a pencil on paper and the smell of the wood and lead. A warm feeling comes over me.
As I finish and hand it to her, she said, “So, there’s a fish tank in your classroom?” I nod and smile. “What colors are the fish?” she asked.
I get my watercolor pencils and create a few of the fish on the paper, and make the colors burst to life by lightly touching them with water. Suddenly there on the paper are some of the brightly colored tropical fish from the tank.
“Oh Phillip! I love how those colors come to life with water!” the Lady exclaims.
Molly and the lady listen, cry and clap while I play songs on the keyboard. And then we get to start The Horse and His Boy together. Molly and the lady take turns reading. Molly does great voices for Bree and Shasta.
On Friday afternoon, I get to go to Maggie and Henry’s for my piano lesson. Again, I am met at the door like their long-lost grandson! Henry picks me up and says, “Glad yyou are eating bbbbetter, Phillip!” He puts me down, laughing.
Maggie gives me and the lady hugs, and says, “Today we are going to play some fun, new music, laddie!”
She introduces me to a new sound: ragtime and jazz. It is such a different sound than the classical music I had played. Sometimes jazz sounds like molasses looks, flowing out of the jar into the bowl to make gingerbread—rich, deep, smooth and mellow. It comes with surprising rhythm. Slows, fasts, runs and chords. We spend the lesson learning how to take any song and add jazz elements. Then, I listen to Rhapsody in Blue. A blue name! It was written for me. I start playing it and learning to feel it. I love it. And for ragtime, I start learning Scott Joplin’s Maple Leaf Rag. Now there is some fun music! And colorful!
We stay for dinner. Skye loves eating here. Maggie has special food for him and always gives him a little scrap or two from dinner. That night she serves fried chicken, mashed potatoes, green beans with pieces of bacon in them, coleslaw, and of course, some of her homemade bread with butter and honey. I love being in their house. The lady tells them about my first week at school, and how Mr. Simons wants me to play the saxophone in the band!
“The sax! Phillip, you will love the sax. That’s a great jazz instrument!” says Maggie.
I smile and take a bite of my chicken wing.
“You know, the other day, Henry and I were doing our grocery shopping at Winco, and when we came to the cashier she just looked so down. Her eyes looked so sad. Her name was Laura. As I put my things on the belt, I greeted her and introduced myself. I felt Jesus prompt me and asked her how her day had been going. It had not gone well. Then, I said, ‘I know we don’t have much time, there are people behind me, but would you mind if I tell you a brief story from the Bible. When I am having tough days, I find it helps me when I read a story about someone else’s real life, and real faith from a long time ago.’ Laura said, she would love that. We were the last people in her line. She already put out the sign saying LINE CLOSED behind our order. She was heading to take her break. So, we walked together outside and she said to me, ‘Tell away.’
“So, I chose the story of Peter and John going into the temple at the time of prayer in Acts 3. It is the one from which that song was written, do you remember it?” And Maggie sings in the creakiest voice the song about this man who went “Walking and Leaping and Praising God. Walking and Leaping and Praising God. In the name of Jesus Christ, of Nazareth rise up and walk!” Henry and even the lady sing with her!
Maggie continues. “As I told that story, it was like Jesus himself was right there with us. Tears came to Laura’s eyes as I told of how the man had given Peter and John his total attention, after Peter had commanded, ‘Look at us.’ Then, as we discussed the story just a bit, I asked about what touched her about that moment.
“Laura said, ‘When I work here, I spend my days checking people’s stuff through. A few of them will say hello, but to most of them, I feel invisible. Like they could have been at a computer checking out their own groceries for the level of interaction they bring. And when I seem invisible, I get these thoughts in my head like I don’t matter, that no one sees me. When Peter would not let that man stare down at the ground, when he commanded him to give them his attention, something leaped in my heart. It was like I could hear a voice deep within me saying, ‘Look up, Laura. Give Me your full attention.’
“I said, ‘Well, honey, I think you just heard from the Holy Spirit. That man is like all of us can be trapped in an economic system dependent upon him just showing up. He was laid there, every day. Later in another story we learn this man was over 40 years old. So, he had been there for decades, not being seen. He’d just had money tossed at him. Can you imagine the level of shame he might have felt? The shame of not being seen, valued, known, recognized as an actual person?
“Laura was so caught by the story. ‘That man, he’s me.’ she said. I told how I had felt prompted to speak to her and ask her about her day. Just as Peter and John had stopped for the man in the bible story. ‘You mean,’ she asked, ‘you think Jesus sees me, notices me, hears my cries and longs for me to allow Him to come raise me up just like that man was raised up?’
“’Just like that,’ I told her. ‘Jesus is reaching out to you, to take your hand and raise you up, strengthen your feet and legs and help you too go walking, and leaping, and praising Him through your life. He wants to be in the center of your life.’ We were nearing the end of her 15-minute break when Laura said to us, ‘Maggie. I came to work this morning determined that this would be my last day, last day here and my last day on earth. I was going to go home after work and end my life.’”
At that, we all stop eating.
The lady’s hand flew to her mouth as she says, “Oh, no!”
And Henry says, “I wasss there and that’s wwwhat this Laura says. I just let Maggie dddo the talking.”
“’Oh sweetheart,’ I told her as I hugged her. ‘No, honey. Your life has great value. God loves you and made you for the purpose of bringing glory to His name as you follow Jesus in this life. Please tell me you have reconsidered.’”
“And Laura responded, ‘Absolutely. I believe this now. I want to live. There’s a little church down the block from my place, which I have wanted to visit for the longest time, but I keep talking myself out of visiting. So, maybe I will try that this week.’
“When I asked what the name of the church was, it turned out it is the place Henry and I attend, so this Sunday we are going to stop at Laura’s place and walk to church with her. It will be a bit of a slower walk for Henry, but it does him well to get moving.”
“Ah, it’s not fffar,” Henry pipes up. “We’ve seen her place mmmany times.”
“That’s the most beautiful story,” the lady says. “How wonderful, Maggie.”
“It was a special moment of following Jesus, that’s for certain. Now, Phillip, I was meaning to ask you. On Tuesday morning, about 10:10 a.m. or thereabouts, I had a prompting to be praying for you. And so, I began to pray. That was your first day of school, right?”
“Did anything happen to you around that time that had you scared? I got this feeling that you were scared and began to pray and asked Jesus to put his arms around you and hold you and tell you He was with you.”
I look at her, amazed and nod. My eyes might have looked like the size of the small plates holding the pieces of bread. That’s exactly what had happened. I was on the pavement, about then, rocking, hands over my ears, feeling the black, fear biting and whispering, when Kevin put his big arms around me. And then Jesus came near to me. I bet that Maggie was praying right then. A warmth and a joy flood through me. Jesus has such way of working with His servants, Maggie, Kevin, and Mr. Simons.
I get up, circle the table, and rush to hug Maggie right then. She chuckles warmly.
The lady says, “Looks like you heard at just the right time. There was an incident that happened on the playground with a bully, and that would have been just about when it happened.”
Maggie looks down at me and says, “Well, laddie, as I prayed, I got a word from the Lord for you. I wrote it down here in my journal. Do you mind if I read it to you?”
I look up. I don’t mind. But am not certain how to identify that.
“That okay with you?” she adds.
I nod and move back to my chair.
Maggie gets up and walks to her couch, where I had sat that first night I had been there. And there on the brown, polished, three-legged end table sits what looks like a green, leather-bound volume. I can see a cross embossed on the front. She sits back down at the table with us and opens the book; all the pages are filled with writing. She finds the place a few pages from the end and says, “Here’s what the Lord whispered to my heart, Phillip.”
“My daughter. Kevin has knelt and wrapped his arms around Phillip. He’s holding him tightly. And I sent Mr. Simons, my son, to come to his aid. That sense of being swallowed by the black and the taunts of fear have been dealt with, for Phillip has rebuked fear as I told him, and Phillip has welcomed my presence by repeating my name. Tell Phillip: ‘What you are doing when you say my name, rebuke fear, and stand is called spiritual warfare. You are using the weapon of prayer that I have placed into your hands. You are uplifting the shield of faith. You are wielding the sword of the Spirit. For these spiritual weapons are powerful enough to destroy the enemy’s strong places and destroy wrong ideas. On the playground you first succumbed to the lies that fear whispered to you. But when you stood by rebuking fear, by saying my name, then I strengthened you. Be ready to obey Me, my son, Phillip James. When you place your hopes in Me, I will strengthen you. When you turn to Me, you will soar on wings like the eagles. You will run and not become tired. You will walk and will not fall over.’ I wrote that down and felt God had answered my prayers.”
I am sitting in my wooden chair surrounded by blue, filled with joy bubbles. I feel like I did when I had finished playing a piece of music and saw the response of others. Jesus gave Maggie a word for me to encourage me! I can’t get over it.
“Phillip,” the lady speaks up softly. She is crying. “What a powerful experience that must have been. I wish you could tell us all the details, for I believe you have more to tell. Such a picture warms my heart for you. I feel like what you heard, Maggie, is a special gift to me, too. It shows me how Jesus can be with you, Phillip, when I cannot be. And it is a calling for me also to be praying for you with new words that you will lift faith up like a shield, and stand in the battle, and fight. I never would have prayed like that before.” The lady stops talking. We are silent around the table for a moment.
“I think wwwe need prayer now,” says Henry. And so, he takes ahold of my right hand with his big paw and the lady on my left encircles my hand with hers, and Henry starts to pray. He is followed by Maggie and the lady. I hope you get to experience a moment like that sometime. You needed to be there. It was like what it might feel like to be the first one to jump into the lake on vacation. Or the first one off the diving board at the pool. Or the one who got the kite to fly. Or the joyful feeling of seeing a bald eagle in flight. Or what it was like to open a package on your 6th birthday and find a keyboard. So, it was a big feeling. In that moment I felt my hands, held by the lady and Henry were also being held by Jesus. As they pray, I smile and hope it will always be like this. Skye leans his head on my leg.
But of course, minor keys are in the same scale with the major. Darkness and light work together in any beautiful picture. And so, it is in life.