(This is the serial release of the novel Hello, My Name is Phillip, first published in January 2021. Feel free to share this with others, or better yet, buy the book and share that as well. Check out some of the reviews and testimonials at www.brianshimer.com. We pick up after the school assembly when Phillip and his mom head for the hospital. Maggie, his good friend, has been rushed to the hospital.)
Fear grips me before I have a chance to fight. I imagine Maggie on the ground all broken. I see her funeral. I imagine life without her. No more time with her and Henry! No more piano! Without warning I went from “Maggie has fallen” to her death and my dismal life without her. I am smothering. Hands on my ears. I begin to rock and say colors while the lady drives. My eyes squeeze shut. I cannot bear to look. Not Maggie! Skye jumps between the seats to the floor by mine and puts his paws on my leg. He puts his muzzle in my lap. I stroke his hair. The lady is speaking, but I cannot hear. Time is in slow motion.
As I sob, pressure releases. And I hear the lady, “Phillip, breathe, honey. Breathe. Just breathe.”
I take a ragged breath.
“We don’t know anything yet, buddy. Let’s pray and breathe and wait to see what we find. I need it too.”
I take another ragged breath.
I start saying it. Again, and again. I lean into Skye. I breathe again. “Jesus,” I begin to repeat. We are nearly to the hospital. Then I remember, fear is like an entity. I can tell it to leave. Fear, leave! I think. It’s grip lessens in my heart. I think it again and again. I say Jesus’ name. I can breathe. I begin to hear the lady speaking again.
“Here’s what I know,” she is saying. “After the assembly, Maggie and Henry went to Jim’s Market to pick up groceries. Then they drove home, unloaded the groceries, and went inside. Maggie went upstairs to get something and was halfway down, when she fell. She took a tumble and Henry called the ambulance.”
I feel her hand on my shoulder, squeezing. It is the first time I notice. I think it has been there some time without me noticing.
I hear the Voice: “I’m here child. I’m here. Don’t be afraid.” It feels like diving into a freshwater lake. Cold, refreshing, alive.
I breathe and look up. Phew. What just happened?
“There you are. It is going to be okay, buddy. Remember, ‘You and me and God and love, we are out to change the world and we can.’” The lady looks down at me and I smile.
I remember her saying the phrase before. I liked it then.
“Ann Kiemel said that. I read it in one of her books, I’m Out to Change the World, years back. She was an author and speaker. Before I wandered away, her writings spoke to me. It’s true, you know. Together with Jesus nothing is impossible. We’ve seen it already, haven’t we? Your leg healing at the hospital when you were five, how you chose colors for people at the paint store, the prayer you made at hospital for Henry where Jesus healed him, Dr. Tyler coming to faith, your dad’s new life, and even today’s assembly! What a picture of Jesus at work in our lives, and of the power of His love.”
I think of Peggy coming to talk with me, and how her eyes are now colorful instead of just black. The light in her face, her blossoming faith. I take another deep breath and smile. You have this, Jesus. I don’t need to be afraid. You. Me. God. Love.
We pull into the ER parking space, the three of us walk in. There, at the desk sits Val, the same receptionist working when we came to see Henry after his stroke. She’s added streaks of purple and red to her grey, curly hair. And I see bright purple eye shadow with glitter in it above her eyes. She smiles. “You three again. Hello there. Bet you are here to see the O’Neil’s!”
The lady and I nod. “That poor couple! They have been through some tough things recently. But you know, with age comes all kinds of challenges. But last time, I hear, you here prayed and there was a miracle! You are practically famous around here now. Here, then—your visitor nametags. You can follow the same route you did last time, only you are looking for room 15. And honey,” she says to me, pinching my cheek. “Pray again. Jesus listens to you.” She waves her big hand as we walk away.
We go through the same white corridor surrounded by the people with flip charts, blue and white coats. We walk past the same rooms with people in beds suffering from all kinds of illnesses and injuries. I breathe and cling to the lady’s hand. All these people. It is like the hall is filled with sadness and suffering. I take another deep breath. Skye leans into my leg as we walk.
We come to room 15 and enter. Henry sits on the far side of the room. He’s holding Maggie’s hand. She is the one in the bed this time.
She looks up as we enter. “Oh, Laddie! Dorothy! This is ridiculous! So sorry to put a damper on this great day. I sure tried the wrong way to come down the stairs. I’ve broken my hip, they think. I am scheduled for a CAT scan in an hour or so. In some pain, but they have given me a morphine drip, which is helping.”
We hug her. I stand next to her and feel like Jesus is present in the room too. It is light and blue and comforting. I take her hand and pray His name.
“Ah, that feels better, thank you Phillip,” Maggie says. “The pain just notched down.”
We stay with them and the three of them chat away. I sit in the chair by Henry, his big paw on my back, patting now and again. After she gets the CAT scan, Dr. Tyler comes in.
“I thought I recognized the name,” he smiles, entering.
“Dr. Tyler!” they exclaim.
“Maggie and Henry, I’d much prefer to be just saying hello at your place. You okay if I speak to you about what is going on while Dorothy and Phillip are here?”
“Of course, Dr. Tyler,” says Henry. “We are all in the same family.”
“Okay, then. Maggie, as best as I can tell from the CAT scan, your hip broke before you fell. And the reason it broke is because of a tumor that was working against it sitting right on the bone at the joint.”
“A tumor? Dr. Tyler?” Henry says.
“Yes. It looks like Jesus has saved your life. This is the kind of cancer that can go undetected until it has increased in strength and is nearly impossible to defeat. But because it broke the bone, we were able to detect it early enough to give treatment to stop its growth. It is a slow growing type of cancer that seems to have originated in the bone, not another organ. And thankfully it appears we have caught it early. From the scan, it looks like it is Stage 2. Although, we will be able to confirm this with a biopsy after we remove the tumor.”
“We have scheduled surgery for tonight, Maggie. We need to do the hip replacement, during which we will excise the tumor, as well. We will replace the hip mechanism and then after you have recovered enough to start it, we will begin chemo. We cannot do radiation until your hip recovers but removing the tumor will start the process. Any questions?”
“What are the chances of recovery?” Henry asks.
“They are good, Henry. We found it early. This is going to be a tough hill to climb for a while as you go through the recovery and fight the cancer, but you will come through it.”
“Could you outline what the recovery and treatment look like, Dr. Tyler?” Maggie asks.
“Dr. Peterson, the oncologist, still needs to read the records, but what it looks like is you will need to do both chemo and radiation. The chemo will last six months and the radiation, two. You will be coming here quite a bit for a while.”
I prayed and Jesus lessened the pain but did not heal the disease? I will pray more. I’m a bit confused about it. Why doesn’t Jesus always heal the same way?
But then I think about what Miss Jeanne said. “Jesus never heals anyone the same way twice in the stories we have in the Bible. Sometimes he speaks the healing, other times touches, and other times adds in some physical substance. Like with the man blind from birth in John 9. There Jesus spit on the ground, made mud and smeared it on the man’s eyes. Every time unique. Sometimes the illness is rebuked, other times pronounced clean and other times leaves reluctantly, as with the man who saw people, but they looked like trees walking around before Jesus prayed again and he could see clearly.”
Jesus doesn’t heal the same way twice. Jesus is in charge of healing. I lean into Henry. I don’t want anything to happen to Maggie, ever. I don’t want her to leave us. What would I do without her? With the thought, the sad pictures return to my head—Henry without her, her funeral, no piano lessons, the emptiness. Before I know it, I’m clinging to Henry, tears starting again.
But then Dr. Tyler says, “Before I leave, could we pray together?”
Joining hands around the bed, I shake off fear, as Dr. Tyler leads in a prayer for Jesus to heal Maggie, for the tumor to go, for the cancer to set her free and for the leg to heal. With the prayer, fear leaves, and peace enters the room.
After he finishes, and everyone wipes their eyes, he says, “Melinda and I will be praying. I need to go prepare for the surgery and meet with Dr. Peterson. I’ll check in with you once we have the time set.”
“Well, Phillip,” Maggie starts after Dr. Tyler leaves the room. “This does throw a wrench in today’s piano lesson. I thought we ought to have a party to celebrate your assembly! But that too needs to be postponed. You practice during that time, okay? We will get back to normal. But unless Jesus has a plan for another miracle in our lives, I think the miracle will be a long process of recovery.”
I move into a big hug.
“There, there, there,” she says, hugging me. While I cry, I say “hold you,” quietly inside.
She releases me, looking me in the eyes, and says, “Phillip, this is a challenge, but it is not the end of the world. No one lives forever. I’m not saying I’m dying, but I am saying our lives here on earth are incredibly brief. I’m already in my mid-eighties. When death comes it would not be a tragedy. I’ve had the best of lives. And none of us gets to choose how we die. Even the prophet Elisha in the Bible, who healed many people, even raised a boy from the dead, died of an illness. This might not be my exit, but the time will come. And when it does, you can be glad for me and sad for you. It is always hardest for those left behind! On my part, I’ll be with the Lord and awaiting the glorious day of resurrection. And I’ll be there awaiting your arrival at the end of your own long, full life.”
It makes sense, what she says. I hug her again. I lean into her hug.
“I’d love to stay longer,” the lady says. “but I think I need to get Phillip home. I can come over later, if you like, to sit while Maggie is in surgery. I’ll have Molly come stay with Phillip and Skye.”
“No, Dorothy, that won’t be necessary,” Henry says. “I’ll be fine. They said I can sleep here, so I plan to stay here tonight. And they will bring me food.”
“Do you need me to bring you anything?” the lady asks.
“If you two could come tomorrow morning and check in, then, I’ll know better what I need,” Henry says. “For now, I think it will be fine. I brought my toothbrush and toothpaste, anyway.”
“Phillip, you and I will leave then, and we will check back in later. Henry, call me after the surgery to tell us how it goes, okay?”
“Will do,” he says.
The lady grabs my hand as we leave, saying, “It is amazing how Jesus had the tumor show itself to protect Maggie. What a cool answer to prayer we didn’t know we needed to ask!”
I agree. She drops my hand to wave to Val as we exit. We make our way back to the car and home. As we walk in, the phone is ringing, and the lady goes to answer it.
“Hello?” Her voice softens immediately. “I’m so glad you called.” She signals to me, and I take her purse and keys and put them on the table. Then, close the door, and take my school bag upstairs.
When I come back down, she is still talking, “Yes, they are suspecting a type of bone cancer, but treatable. Yes. We are planning on that. Also, we are heading to the hospital in the morning around nine am to check in on Henry. Are you free to join us? Oh, okay. We will take your greetings with us. Alright. Yes, love you too. Goodbye.”
“That was daddy,” she says. I still wince at that name. “He will bring his things over first thing in the morning, and then will be leaving for work by 8:30 am. So, tomorrow night we will have dinner together. I’m kind of nervous about that. What about you?”
“We need food tonight. I was thinking about pizza. What do you think?”
Who would argue with that?
“Okay. I’ll make the dough Maggie taught me to make, and we can put the toppings on together. How about you practice while I make the dough and then you can help.”
Yes! I punch the air and go to play the piano. I play through my scales, “Maple Leaf Rag,” and work on “Rhapsody in Blue.” Then, some of the other pieces I love. Music is an answer to everything. The whole house fills with color. I breathe deeply. When the lady calls, I go help put on sauce, cheese, pepperoni, pineapple, crispy bacon, Canadian bacon, sliced peppers, olives, and mushrooms. It will be the best pizza ever. Then I finish practicing while it is baking. We sit to eat pizza and salad and she shares more and more about the assembly that morning. “Phillip, it was as if Jesus came and hugged me; joy filled me. I’ve not experienced anything like that even in church before. Thank you again.”
Later, as the lady reads in the Narnia story The Horse and His Boy, Skye and I sit both on the couch leaning into her. Skye is curled up, his head rests on my lap. I’m in my superhero pj’s. What a day. I think back to the assembly— was that just today? Then the hospital visit, the fear, and Maggie’s illness, the great pizza and time tonight with the lady. Like Jesus was involved in all of those, so, the Lion says he was in all the adventures, hardships, painful and joyful experiences for the characters in the story. Hearing the Lion’s large confident voice as the lady reads, somehow, this is the best possible end to this day.
As she ends the chapter and closes the book, she ruffles my hair and says, “Well, little man, what a day! It is time for bed. We have an early start tomorrow since we are going to the hospital at nine and your daddy is bringing over his things by eight. How about you let Skye out once more and then head upstairs.”
I open the door for Skye and then we head upstairs. On the way, I remember something, run back down to the lady and give her a hug. If I could speak, I would say thank you!
She gasps, surprised, and hugs me back. “Thank you, Phillip,” she says.
Skye jumps on my bed as I crawl under the sheets. The lady comes, reads “The Story of Zacchaeus,” the next Bible Story, and prays with me.
The next morning, I open my eyes with a dream still clear in my memory. I was playing the piano in front of this big, big group of people. It was amazing. And then the scene shifted, and I am arriving at school with the lady. And here was the surprise — Peggy met me at the car to walk me into the school!
I sit up in bed, hearing voices. The man is here. It is morning. He is walking past my doorway carrying a box to their room. It has been just the lady’s room for a long time. I shiver and then remember: It is a test. He is here just to take a test. If he fails it, then he will leave again. I relax, swing my legs over the side of the bed to the floor, put on my fuzzy slippers with the dog’s face on them and bathrobe and head out into the hallway.
“Hello Phillip,” the man says, “Glad you woke up. I hoped to see you this morning. So, we will try this out, you and me and your mom. I am hoping we can relearn how to live together. I have been training to be different, and mostly, to learn where my reactions have come from and find healing. How are you this morning?”
He squats before me, looking me in the eyes, smiling. This is different.
I give him a thumbs up.
“Good!” he says, kissing my head. His hair isn’t slicked back but loose and now hangs over onto his forehead. “We will take this one day at a time, okay?”
I give the lady a hug next.
“Good morning Phillip,” she says. “Are you ready for breakfast? I made pancakes, bacon, and sliced oranges, again, hope that’s okay. Daddy will be eating with us before he goes to work, and we head to the hospital.”
I am always ready for pancakes!
At the table the man takes her hand and mine and says, “Could I pray?”
The lady and I look at one another surprised and then bow our heads.
“Jesus, I am here to start over,” he begins, “I have failed you and this family time and time again. I have asked you and them to forgive me, and know we need to rebuild trust. It will take time. Jesus, help me to not act from selfishness and pride and fear any longer, but from a deep sense of your real presence and love. Let the largeness of your presence in me and in this home lead us. Assist us to recreate a home to put your love and peace on display. For years, I have lived a double or triple life. But now I am learning to live just one, to be the same person here, as at work, as at the center. So, we begin today. We are seeking to test if I will be able to be the man you have created me to be. And we will see whether I can live in a way that is all you want for me. So, here we are, come set apart this great food for your use in us, and more than the food, set aside us to be instruments for your purposes this day and every day. I ask this in your mighty Name, Amen.”
When he stops praying, happy tears are rolling down my cheeks. Is this possible? Is it possible I might actually have a home that is safe? Everyone deserves a home that is safe, the lady said once. Maybe these people will actually become more like a mom and dad to me than the strangers they have been for these six years? The lady is crying, and the man’s cheeks are wet too.
“Well, that’s a start,” he says smiling, wiping his eyes with his napkin. “That’s a start.”
We laugh and dig in.
Breakfast is nothing like any meal I have ever eaten with them before, with food matching the atmosphere. The pancakes with peanut butter and yogurt, frozen boysenberries, and syrup are incredible. There is laughter and conversation at the table. The two of them are talking like people who enjoy each other’s company. As he finishes, he gives her a kiss, me a hug, runs upstairs to brush his teeth and then leaves saying, “I’ll see you tonight!” and “Phillip, thank you for welcoming me home.” He smiles and departs.
The lady looks across the table at me and smiles. “Well, that was an unusual breakfast, wasn’t it!”
I nod still astounded. How is this possible. I remember how Jesus had said to me when he came in the root tree cave: “I gave them to you for this time in your life. I’ll bring light from darkness and hope even from places of despair.” It has just over a year and look what He has done. Nothing is impossible. The lion’s voice comes back to me from last night’s reading telling the boy Shasta how the lion Aslan had taken part in all aspects of Shasta’s life.
I smile. I stand on my stool and help with dishes.
“Phillip, it is like all my prayers are being answered suddenly. I think I dreamed of a man like that when I met and married your father, ten years ago, now. But I had given up on that dream. I believed the worst. But this morning, I know it is only one morning, but this gives me hope, Phillip. I have hope. I have not had hope in my heart in the longest time. You and Jesus are the reason for this. You have brought joy to this home, music, words, paintings, color.”
I look around, as she talks, at all my artwork on the refrigerator, and one of the first color pencil drawings I did hangs framed on the wall.
“I’m grateful for how life is unfolding. I’m excited to see what God will do next.” I am too.
I run upstairs, brush my teeth, get on clothes for the day, dark blue sweats, orange t-shirt, purple sweater and my scarf, tiger socks and my red canvas, tennis shoes. I can tie them myself, now. I grab my coat from the closet and me and Skye come downstairs and the lady is ready. We drive to the hospital.
Val greets us like old friends. She’s wearing a sparkly headband today pulling her grey, curly, purple striped hair back from her forehead, her flag-red lipstick, and pink glitter eye shadow above her blue eyes. She has a dog treat for Skye and directs us this time to another part of the hospital. “Take the second bank of elevators down this hall, up to the 2nd floor, and look for room 225. She’s there.”
As we reach the floor, there is Maggie in the hallway, walking. She had hip replacement surgery last night and today walks.
“Hello, friends!” she exclaims. “They had me walk last night, as well, just an hour after surgery. There’s no resting around here.”
Henry walks with her, wearing the same clothes as last night—his plaid button down and brown pants, his big, full beard falling onto his chest. He turns and hugs each of us.
“Good morning, you two. They took her in for surgery about seven last night. They removed the tumor. Turned out they didn’t need to replace the hip. The femur broke just below the hip. Once they got in there, they were able to put in plate and screw to repair the bone. The tumor was malignant, but they got all of it.”
It all sounds and looks good from his face, but I didn’t follow all the words, I am busy watching Maggie. She is walking slowly. She looks old. I have not thought of her and Henry as old before. After talking with me last night, I don’t like the idea of her or Henry leaving us. Death is a fearful thing to me.
Then I remember the recent Sunday School class. Miss Jeanne had talked with us about death some from the story of Lazarus. He had died and was in the tomb for four days before Jesus came. Before Jesus called Lazarus out of the tomb, he cried. Jesus wept! For me, that caught my heart in the story. Even though Jesus knew he would be calling Lazarus back from death, he wept. He showed his own grief. “Even Jesus wept,” Miss Jeanne said. “It is the normal response to death, for those left behind. We weep. We feel the loss. Jesus wept and then demonstrated He is mightier than death.”
“Do you think Jesus was sad about having lost His friend in life? Or was He sad because he had to pull his friend back to life here from the beautiful place he was?” asked Miss Jeanne. “Remember how Jesus said to the thief from the cross, ‘Today you will be with me in paradise’? Death is a departure to another place, and Jesus said it is paradise. So, perhaps Jesus was feeling bummed to bring Lazarus back? Maybe he was expressing his own empathy for the people and sisters grieving, just stepping into their grief with them. What might it tell us about Jesus that he wept those tears?”
Following that lively discussion, we talked about Jesus’ power. Death is no match for Jesus.
“Then why do people die?” Susanna had asked.
“Great question,” Miss Jeanne had said. “What might we learn about Jesus, that although he has power over death, death remains undefeated on earth since people still die? What might this tell us?”
“Jesus has a reason for death to still be here, for a time. But it has changed because of him,” Kevin said. “Just as it was not permanent for Lazarus, it will not be permanent for us.”
Sometimes Kevin said the most awesome stuff.
I look up. Clearly, the lady had been speaking to me.
“Hey, you okay? Looked like you were off in the clouds someplace.”
I nod. I was thinking about death! How could I even explain that?
“We are going down to the cafeteria with Henry. He hasn’t eaten breakfast. Maggie is going to take a rest.”
“Well, that was a thrilling night,” Henry says, sitting in the cafeteria with his coffee, grits with cheese and fried onions, bowl of fruit, and toast before him on his tray. “I tell you, hearing her and finding her all in a puddle at the foot of the stairs! It took my breath. And she was in such pain. Crying and saying, ‘Honey, don’t move me. Call an ambulance.’ Her face was white as a laundered sheet and pinched with the pain. The paramedics were there in a flash and drove us here. Speaking of, could you give me a ride home when you leave so I can get our car? Maggie might be able to come home today. They will be doing outpatient physical therapy.”
“Sure,” says the lady. “Has Dr. Peterson talked with you about the chemotherapy yet?”
“Yes. He was in this morning early. He said they would give the leg a month to heal. She will have a bit of a limp since they had to remove some of the femur to get the tumor, but they will fit her with a lift shoe in physical therapy. So, tell me, did Michael move home this morning?”
“Yes, he did. How did you know?”
“He came over and saw us last night. He said you told him on the phone what had happened. He arrived right after I had dinner. He said he would be bringing over his things this morning and then begin staying with you tonight.”
“He will be there for dinner. He joined us for breakfast this morning, too. Henry, it was better than before. In fact, better than it has ever been. The man who has been caught up in his own unhealthy emotion was not there. He looks different.”
“I noticed that at the assembly. He looks more whole to me. Like he is comfortable in his own skin, and Michael has never been that in my brief acquaintance. Maggie and I have been praying long and hard for your family ever since the first night Phillip arrived.”
“God is answering those prayers. Do pray for tonight. Phillip and I are a bit nervous about him coming home. This whole thing is new. We had kind of gotten used to just the two of us.”
“Jesus has this. He has a way of going before us in the things we experience. I guess I have grown some this year too. Before Maggie and I took that trek into the woods to see if there really was a boy and dog hiding in the root cave of that old tree, I was skeptical sometimes about faith and about the things she saw. But when Phillip and Skye were there, Jesus began to change my thinking. He has been more real to me ever since that night. So, Jesus will go before you.”
That evening, dinner felt like breakfast with the man. It was joyful and serious, but the best color blue. He talked about some of his experiences at St. Albans.
“I’ve been journaling about my life and encountered many places of hurt from my childhood. I don’t think I had told you my second-grade teacher was super harsh and shaming. I had just ignored past hurtful things. I always had believed they didn’t matter. And I was harsh with myself when it felt like they did matter, like they were rising up out of the grave of my heart but resurrecting uglier than when I had buried them. Dr. Pearson has been working with me to retell and then relive aspects of the past. One thing he has done is lead me in several sessions of healing prayer.”
He pulls his hand through his black hair that hangs loosely on his forehead, “I have never experienced anything like this. He just tells me to hold the picture of the event firmly in my heart and the feelings that accompanied it. And then he asks Jesus to show me where He was in that memory. At first this was a really difficult idea. How could Jesus have been in situations that hurt? But what I have learned is that Jesus is always there. He never is absent and therefore can bring healing to every place of hurt. In my memories, I’ve learned to basically turn around and find Jesus there behind me. Other times, He’s been in front of me, or had his arms around me.
“In a second-grade memory, Jesus was holding me, a little boy, on his lap, soothing me and speaking into my heart how much he loves me and how proud he is of me. That day, in Dr. Pearson’s office I wept and wept. It was like the tears would never stop.”
I hear the voice of the lady reading the words I was the Lion as the man tells of Jesus being in all the hard places. Who is this man? Nothing like the man with the car, that was for certain. I may have to adjust the name I am using! I listen and am seeing colors, beautiful colors. A landscape painting with water, light, and life, birds singing and flying, geese swimming and deer drinking from the stream.
“Those times of prayer counseling have been remarkable,” he says. “It is like the pain is removed from places that ruled how I responded. I can see the memories but don’t feel the sting any longer. Alongside this, is the forgiveness of those who hurt me. It’s a journey.”
“I don’t know what to say except Thank you Jesus,” the lady says. “Michael. You are like a new person to be around. I have hope for us and our family for the first time in years.”
“Me too,” he says. “Me too. So, tell me some about what has been happening around here.”
The lady tells of life in the fall, of Pastor Elaine, the invitation to play a concert at church, and how I still love Sunday School. We finish eating, do the dishes and then he joins us to read.
“Could I read the story?” he asks. I have never heard him read a story before, so I nod. The lady, me and Skye sit next to him on the couch, and he reads from The Horse and His Boy.
I like how he reads. The man put voices in, changes in his pitch and when he comes to the hedgehog and dwarves and gives them deep and high, guttural and inquisitive voices. I laugh out loud. It is fun. I lean into him and feel the beat of his heart and the breath in and out of his lungs. This is the closest I have ever sat near him. I pinch myself. Yes, I’m awake. This is not a dream or a nightmare.