(Welcome to the serial telling of my book Hello, My Name is Phillip. You can order your own copies online, here. This is an opportunity to walk slowly through this story. One reader told me how much he enjoys this chapter by chapter release. “I look forward to each new installment.” May you be enriched. And, thank you for reading!)
I wake sweating and screaming. It is dark. The lady and the man are standing beside me.
“Phillip. Honey. Phillip. Honey. Wake up.” Sobbing I sit up. I am shaking, my breath ragged. My heart is still running a race. “Hold you. Hold you, Hold you” whispers from my lips.
“Whatever you dreamed must have been frightening. Buddy. So sorry. I wish you could tell us what you dreamed. You were screaming and crying. We came as quickly as we could.” Both the lady and man are sitting beside me on the bed, Skye’s paws are on my leg. He is nuzzling me.
The lady has her arms around me, the man places his hand on my leg. As my breathing calms I realize, the man is quietly praying for me. From where his hand is on my leg, a warmth begins to fill me. It is like when the Voice would speak to me in the closet, or when Jesus speaks now. I take a deep, deep breath and let out a sigh.
“That’s better,” the lady says. “Keep praying,” she says to the man, “I think it is helping.”
“Jesus,” the man continues more loudly. “Restore peace to Phillip. Wrap him in your love. Fill him with Your Spirit. Dissipate the fears of the nightmare like fog in the morning sun.”
As he prays, I feel that warmth and peace fill me. I cannot remember the details. But someone I love died in that dream. I breathe again a deep breath.
After he finishes his prayer, the lady says, “Thank you,” to him, and then to me, “Now, our little man, try to rest. It is still the middle of the night. We will see you in the morning. It is thanksgiving today, so we will get to be up early preparing the food.”
I lie back down and suddenly feel exhausted again. The man prayed for me and I sensed the presence of Jesus in his prayer. The thought pulses hope through me. When I open my eyes again, it is daylight.
I’m so excited! I get up, pull off my pj’s and pull on my clothes. Thanksgiving. I put on my Hulk underwear, blue jeans, purple t-shirt, red sweater, and Spiderman socks and head downstairs.
“There you are,” the man says. “How did you sleep after the nightmare?”
I smile and give him a thumbs up. He kinda looks like the man with the car but doesn’t act like him. I could get used to this.
The lady gives me a hug, and says, “Breakfast is on the table, buddy. I’m getting the turkey in the oven, cooking cranberry sauce with Maggie’s recipe, and preparing the sweet potatoes. Daddy has chopped the wood and is laying a fire in the wood burning stove in the living room.”
The lady and I never light fires. She used to say, “I can get the same heat from the thermostat.” But I like it when a fire is in the stove. It is a different kind of heat. It is like being wrapped in warmth.
As the house warms up, I practice piano, the lady and man cook in the kitchen and we await the arrival of the others.
Nana and Papa arrive first with Uncle Max and Aunt Sarah from Pennsylvania. I remember from last Thanksgiving how Maggie’s story of finding me in the tree had touched them. Nana brings in her cranberry Jell-O salad and Sarah carries in her green beans and bacon which she will make in the kitchen.
“Phillip!” Nana exclaims, “I have missed you!” I get a crunchy hug from her and Papa gives a fist bump. We usually see them often since they live so close by but haven’t seen them since the assembly at school. “Phillip, I have not been able to tell you about the horseback ride we had after the assembly!” She tells me while Papa looks on. He likes her stories too, I think. She ends with, “We will make arrangements in the spring for you to begin to come over and ride horses more often. We would like the extra time with you.” I smile!
Max comes and gives me a hug and says, “So, you still play piano?”
I nod. “What are you learning?”
I show him the music books and he says “You really can play all this?”
I smile. “Man, Phillip. You are a maestro” And he gets down to give me a hug. I like Uncle Max. He’s tall and towers over me and has the biggest feet of anyone ever, but he moves with ease. His hugs are solid, like being hugged by a tree. When he laughs, his face and eyes crinkle. His forehead has permanent creases in it, so when he is serious it looks even more serious. “Can I look forward to you playing today?”
“Good. Nana’s been telling us stories about you playing at your school. We wish we could have been there for the event.” He hugs me again.
Grandma Faith and Grandpa Harlie arrive after Maggie and Henry. Maggie brought her rolls again. Who needs to eat anything else? And Faith and Harlie bring the fixings to make her corn soufflé. Grandma and Grandpa come give me a morning hug and then Grandma goes to “whip up my soufflé,” as she says. Maggie and Henry come and talk with me and with Max who is standing there with the man with the car, who had come up.
The house is filled with such joy, it is like blue light is everywhere. It bubbles within me. Can life be this good? At dinner the man with the car tells of his story. He tells about my birthday, his brokenness, and the pride that had ruled his life. He tells how that birthday incident, when light exposed the darkness of his heart, turned him around. “I am still attending daily small group and counseling sessions at St. Albans,” he says. “And I am working most weekends.”
As he finishes, Nana claps her hands together. “Michael.” Then she stops talking for words cannot come. “Michael. We knew all this was happening as we have been keeping track, but really had not heard you tell of it. At the assembly it was obvious that you had encountered a hope unlike anything you had known in your whole life. I am so happy, well, here I can speak for Papa, we are so happy for you and grateful. What answers to prayer.”
The table then fills with conversation. I eat and sneak turkey to Skye under the table. He loves this day like I do. The rolls and butter are my favorite. Maggie and Henry tell of his stroke and healing. Maggie tells of her surgery.
After they finish Max says, “So, you experienced what even doctors call a miracle and are healed of the limp and lisp you have had for a decade, but you, Maggie, still have to have surgery and chemo? I don’t get this. If God really is a healing God, why isn’t everyone healed the same?”
I look up and think of what Miss Jeanne says about how God does not ever do the same thing twice. Everyone pauses in conversation. Looking at his chiseled face, creased brow, Max looks like Peggy looked when she refused to let us join the game. Like he is daring someone to take him on, to put on the gloves and enter the ring, like Mr. Simons says of boxing.
Henry does so.
“Max. I don’t claim to know the answers. Such questions are bigger than my knowledge. What I know is this: God is good, all the time, and works wonders and healings in all kinds of places, in all kinds of ways and in his own time. What Maggie and I believe is this, God has reasons we do not know of. He’s the great economizer. He does not waste anything.”
It feels like Sunday School when these conversations happen. I like Sunday School. Blue light is in the room. The tension that I felt at the initial questions has melted as suddenly as it came. Everyone is eating while Henry talks. I take a serving of the corn soufflé and cranberry salad. They taste better than they have other years.
“So, when a healing does not happen as we might have wished, like for her when her broken bone and cancer was not healed instantly at the hospital, there are people we will meet because of the process of healing whom God wanted us to meet. With some of those, no door may open. But with all of them we are one hundred percent ourselves. We don’t hide our faith. And we go in saying, ‘Jesus show us where you are already working and let us join you. Let us ride on your back as you do your work and use us alongside you.’
“Already, she is working with a physical therapist named Jill Blanch. We had never met Jill before this month, but because of the need for physical therapy we are spending three hours a week with her as she works with Maggie. So far, we have had about nine hours with her.
“While she and Maggie work, they talk constantly, and Maggie overflows with stories about herself, about me, about Phillip, about life, and all of those stories include Jesus. She is not shoving Jesus down Jill’s throat, but joining Jesus in his desire for Jill to know Him. What has happened so far is Jill has shared some of her own life, the struggle she has in her marriage, and the need for hope. And we have prayed for her there and in our regular morning times of prayer.
“Had Jesus healed Maggie in the hospital, we never would have met Jill. So, I don’t know everything, but I do know, Jesus wants Jill to know Him, and she is open to this.”
“As you share that Henry,” Grandma Faith says. “I think of the flood we have just been through and believe this applies to your question as well, Max. Why, if God is good, and powerful do bad things like floods happen at all? And why should people who love God be afflicted with them? Am I right?”
“Yes,” Max responds. But that yes has an edge to it and comes out as a dark color not a light one.
“I get it,” Grandma says unphased, as she finishes chewing a bite of the sweet potatoes with pecans and brown sugar. I love the sound of Grandma Faith’s voice. It has a soft scratchy quality. It is gentle and peaceful. I don’t think she could ever sound angry. Bet the lady could tell me if I could ask!
“It is our human tendency to believe we are somehow entitled to have a life free from challenging experiences or hardships. I think back to the stories of the Hebrews when enslaved in Egypt for more than 400 years. At the end of their slavery, when the plagues began to be enacted upon Egypt to set God’s people free, the Hebrews suffered the plagues alongside the Egyptians. God did not make a distinction between Egyptians and Hebrews to begin with. But later on, some of the plagues passed over the Hebrews. Eventually, God delivered the Hebrews by taking them on a dry path through what had been the Red Sea. But even after they had been protected from many plagues and mightily delivered, they rebelled against God time and again. They doubted God’s provision and questioned God’s goodness. They had been delivered from slavery, but they were still slaves inside their hearts.”
She takes a drink of water while we wait. I think of the lively time in Sunday School when we talked about this story. That was the day Skye was not feeling great and had wanted to go out of the class really fast, but I had not gotten up in time and he went diarrhea near the door and then threw up! It was a plague for certain. “Poor Skye!” said Miss Jeanne. “He must feel awful!”
Well, it smelled awful, for certain. Miss Jeanne got a dustpan to scoop up the throw up and diarrhea some and dump it into the trash can. Kevin told me that Timmy had run to the kitchen and come back with a roll of paper towels. I had taken Skye outside where he finished. He was not feeling good for certain.
Miss Jeanne had everyone get on gloves to help. Some of the girls didn’t want to get involved and helped by opening the windows and staying out of the way. But Susanna got right in. She soaked up the diarrhea from the floor with paper towels and put them into the trash can and then sprayed disinfectant on the floor and wiped. The smell of the spray and the open windows helped the smell in the room lots. She and Kevin were working on the points of Skye’s accident and had a trash can filled with paper towels when Skye and I returned.
Kevin had everyone then put their gloves into the trash bag, and he tied it off and carried it downstairs and outside to the dumpster. And left his gloves there. We all washed hands and were laughing about the experience.
Miss Jeanne never wasted a moment and said, “Imagine just what everyone in Egypt experienced with the many plagues. They could not have cleaned up as easily. Then, just like Skye had something going on inside of him that had to get out, for the Hebrews, there was the disease in their hearts, in their beliefs about gods and about life. Those were an ongoing plague within them. These would cause them to stumble and fall much as they traveled through the wilderness until God could use their experiences to help their hearts change. In the Deuteronomy 8: 2-3, it says, ‘Remember how the LORD your God led you through the wilderness for forty years, humbling you and testing you to prove your character, and to find out whether or not you would really obey his commands. Yes, he humbled you by letting you go hungry and then feeding you with manna, a food previously unknown to you and your ancestors. He did it to teach you that people do not live by bread alone; rather, we live by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD’”(NLT).
I take a bite of bread slathered with butter and homemade jam as I think back to that day. At least Skye got better quickly. And the class had impact. We had experienced a plague of sorts, as Miss Jeanne said, “Can you imagine how badly the whole land smelled with the dead frogs?”
Everyone laughed. No one wanted to eat snacks. But we talked. Miss Jeanne asked, “What does it look like to have faith in God, not as our parents’ faith, but our own?” What things did we need to get out of us, like Skye needed the sickness within him to get out? In that weirdly smelling room filled with disinfectant, fresh air, throw up and diarrhea, it seemed like a good place for such thoughts.
I tune back into Grandma Faith. “I guess when I encounter big questions like yours, I remember how much I learn through experience. The flood was frightening and devastating.”
Grandpa jumps in. “The water was right up to our front door, the street a river. This was the hundred-year flood, I guess from what we have read. Thankfully, it did not come into our house, but many others were flooded. We have been working as a community on the cleanup. People are helping one another shovel mud from basements and living rooms. Houses are being rebuilt. I’ve been helping with the rebuilds of several of them.”
Grandma Faith continues, “Harlie and I believe being spared some damage that others experienced puts us in a ready position to make a difference through actions and words. We believe God will use this flood in us, to grow our own faith and in others to introduce them to Himself. God’s agenda is to redeem this world through Jesus. As John 3:16 says, For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whosoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life.”
“Max, what’s the fight inside you?” the man with the car softly asks. “What’s holding you back from trusting Jesus?”
I stop chewing. This definitely is a different guy. A year ago, I would have told you the man with the car had only one volume.
“In my world as a financial advisor,” Max responds, “I am invited into many people’s lives and help them plan for the rest of their lives and retirement. I help them have money to achieve their dreams. And I watch many of them, without a blink of faith accomplish incredible things. They seem carefree and giving, yet there is no God in their lives. Then there are others who struggle, pinch pennies and barely make it, who claim a trust in God and talk with me about their faith. They seem to limp not walk. What gives with that?”
A lively conversation follows. “You know, had we been your clients, you might have seen Michael and I as people of faith,” the lady begins. “After all, he was a pastor of a church. But you would not have seen a life-altering faith but a limping faith, if that! So, perhaps, some of the people who are struggling are those who still have growing to do in their faith. For even after the hardships since August, we are more people of faith now than we ever could have been before.”
“That’s true Dorothy,” Nana says. “And Papa and I view what has happened for you as nothing short of a miracle. I guess those people who are carefree in this life without faith, may not know this life is not all there is.”
Aunt Sarah jumps in. “There’s a psalm that says it like this as the psalmist looks at the lives of those faithless and wealthy who live carefree lives while their riches multiply and asks,” she reads from her phone: ‘Did I keep my heart pure for nothing? Did I keep myself innocent for no reason? I get nothing but trouble all day long; every morning brings me pain’ (Psalm 73: 13-14). And then later he writes, ‘Then one day I went into your sanctuary, O God, and I thought about the destiny of the wicked. Truly, you put them on a slippery path and send them sliding over the cliff to destruction’ (Psalm 73:17-18). Not a great scene, but the Psalmist realizes how his own heart had become bitter because of looking at the lives of others which looked so carefree by comparison. Perhaps what you see is not all there is of those clients’ lives, Max. God’s plan reaches far beyond life on this earth now. I think our brief lives are opportunities to learn there is more to this life than meets the eye.”
Max gives her a look. It looks like a face similar to what I had seen on the man with the car’s face in the past. There is a scowl, but also like a pleading look. In the tug-of-war game at recess last month, one of the guys looked around at the onlookers and had that kind of look on his face. He was straining and shouted, “Hey, could someone give me a hand here?” Max reminds me of that kid but says nothing in response.
It is then I begin to feel like I felt when the Voice first spoke to me in the closet or when Jesus brings color and bubbles to my heart. There is this burst of joy inside me, and I know I have something to say. I feel nervous about trying, like my stomach is flipping. But also know I kind of have to. Miss Jeanne always talks about doing what you know Jesus wants you to do: “Our highest calling is obedience, simply do the right thing, take the step we know Jesus wants us to take.” And right now, at the table I am supposed to speak.
The pressure builds inside me as people are still talking. Tears prick my eyes. I am uncertain how to even start or get the attention of those around me. So, I grab onto Maggie’s arm and squeeze it and tap on her to get her attention.
“What is it, Phillip?” she turns and says quietly. I point around the table and gesture wildly and grunt. “You want to say something?”
I nod and grunt. She says loudly, “Everyone, let’s take a pause. I think Phillip wants to say something.”
Silence fell as if everyone had taken a bite of food at the same time. They all look toward me. I have to just open my mouth and speak, but words are easier to think than speak, once I get to them.
I look down the table at Max and say, “Jesussss iiisssss rrreeeaaaaaaalllll.”
“Phillip, you can speak!” the lady exclaims.
“Glory to God,” says Nana.
“Can you say it again?” asks the man.
“Jesusss issss reeeaalllll,” I say again.
“Jesus is real,” repeats Maggie. “I have a feeling, laddie, that if you could, you would talk a mile a minute about Jesus!”
“MMMMMAaaaaaaxxxxxx, Jesus is rrrreeeeaaaalllll,” I say to my uncle.
It’s a showstopper. Max coughs and his cheeks wet as he holds Sarah’s hand. The lady and man are quiet and smiling. Nana grabs Papa’s hand. Grandma Faith hugs me from the left. Maggie says to Henry, “What did I tell you that first night? Jesus has plans for this boy!”
The lady speaks up. “You know for that to be your first sentence, Phillip, is beautiful. You are right. Jesus is real. The event we have not described yet today is the assembly. It showed just how real Jesus is to so many. You know, the principal has called me a few times in the weeks since the assembly. She says bullying has virtually stopped. Kids are helping one another. Teachers have no complaints. Parents are volunteering at a greater rate. This all is happening since the assembly took place. In her last call, here’s what Mrs. Scott, the principal, said:
“‘Mrs. Smythe, I’m not a religious person, or, at least, I wasn’t. But, at the assembly I experienced such a sense of peace, like we were transported to another world by Phillip’s music. He might not have words in speech, but he spoke volumes through the music. After Phillip played, Jesus moved into the school, and has made it his own.’
“Thank you, Phillip for your sentence, ‘Jesus is real.’ We cannot convince or argue anyone into the fullness of the truth. The bottom line is what you said. And I cannot get over it, you spoke!”
Spontaneously, everyone around the table begins to applaud. They clap for me. I sit there smiling. “Hip hip hurrah!” they say, again and again and clap.
We are quiet for a moment and start to eat. Then Max speaks up. “Wow. Phillip. Thank you. Jesus is real. I’ll start with that. And thanks for your story too, Faith.”
After a moment, Sarah says, “This is a total change of subjects. That okay with everyone?”
Everyone chewing, nods. “We had the most amazing experience flying out this time. We were behind this couple in line in the jetway, a middle-aged man and his younger girlfriend. Boarding took a while and this woman, turns and said, they had been in airports for five days. This intrigued me, so I asked, ‘Have you been on a long trip or something?’ To this, she laughed and said they had been trying to make it home to Baltimore from Las Vegas for the past five days!
“Isn’t that crazy? What normally would be a four-hour flight had taken five days? Their first flight from Las Vegas had been cancelled. The airline booked them on the next flight which was due to leave in three hours. So, they just camped at the airport. Then this second flight, which had been due to leave at about midnight got delayed and delayed, and then also cancelled. At that point, it was nearing two in the morning, so they planned to take the flight leaving at 6 am. Again, since it was already so late, they stayed in the airport. She told me they read, slept, and stared around until 5 am and they lined up to board this flight.”
Everyone around the table groaned at what it would be like to be sitting in an airport all night.
“The flight at 6 am was a puddle jumper to Oklahoma City and then to Dallas. Turns out there they needed to change planes. Upon reaching that gate, the next flight too had been cancelled! So, they got a flight to New Orleans, then up to Chicago. Again, they got stranded in that airport because of weather problems. So, for five days they had traveled to more Midwest airports than this woman knew existed and finally, day five, they were with us on our flight from Philly to Baltimore.
“This whole time, the guy with her never spoke, he just stared at the ground, exhausted. Well, we got separated from them once on board, but no sooner had the Fasten your Seatbelt sign been turned off when the flight attendant came to me and whispered, ‘Be careful moving your feet.’
“Why?” I asked her.
“‘There is a man in row 22 who brought a kitten onboard. He didn’t realize the carrier was unzipped. So, while he napped on takeoff, the kitten roamed. I saw an orange flash and a tail. I went to him and told him his kitten had escaped. He awoke and assured me it hadn’t, but on checking his carrier, sure enough, it was gone. I think it is around where you two are now. We are seeking to capture that little rascal.’
“I looked down, and around my carryon baggage and shoes, and couldn’t see a kitten. The flight attendant got on her hands and knees and looked under our seats.
“‘I can see it,’ she said. ‘The little fellow is under your seat sir,’ she told Max who sat by the window. He looked down along the side of this seat and could see orange fur. So, Max tapped his finger on the floor in front of his seat. And the little kitten came to investigate. And Max was able to pick it up and hand the squirming, ball of orange to the flight attendant.”
Nana laughed and laughed. “You two! What a trip!”
“Oh, that was not all. On Sprint Air they carry those trays with their cups of juice and water and coke and coffee for the service time. Well, just as this same flight attendant was serving the people in the row in front of us, the coke she was passing to the person on the window, got released too soon, perhaps, but fell on the person in the middle seat who had been sleeping! Baptized with a cup of ice and coke.”
Everyone makes comments to this and laughs as Sarah finishes.
“Imagine a kitten loose on an airplane! I bet those flight attendants have all kinds of crazy stories,” Maggie says.
The lady, Maggie and Sarah get up and clear the table, and bring back dessert. Nana had made pumpkin, apple and a mincemeat pie. There’s vanilla ice cream. Sarah brings new forks and small dessert plates. The lady slices the pies and offers slices around the table. She puts a piece on a plate and Maggie offers the ice cream. Sarah comes back with coffee and begins to pour.
After dessert we move to the living room for music, play games, and take a walk together in the early evening. We walk to the park and I show them the root tree cave where Maggie and Henry found me.
“Phillip! I shudder to think of you hiding there with Skye all alone that night!” Nana says. “Thank you again,” she says to Maggie and Henry.
“Oh, we only followed the prompt of Jesus, so it was really Jesus who found him,” Henry says. Too bad every day cannot be as perfect and filled with blue as this Thanksgiving Day. I fall asleep thinking about the day and listening to the sound of Skye’s snoring. Today was filled with blue! Nothing but blue. Such joy all the way through. Thank You.