Phyllis is open hearted and singular in faith. Since serving prostitutes and ‘down & outs’ in London , as a ‘teeny weeny‘ young woman (she is still teeny weeny) she has spent the rest of her life loving with bright pictures and tender stories, the BIG heart of Jesus to those in our communities, usually tucked out of sight. Phyllis asked if we could talk about something she needed help with. She has a story that needs telling and she couldn’t quite ‘get it out.’
As Phyllis and I sat in Costa drinking our lattes, I felt excited getting to know her – Phyllis gently unfolding her experiences as I sat wide eyed, listening. I was nervous when she first asked to see me. Nervous that Phyllis might want me to give her a ‘leg up’ into the world of publishing. For so many, many reasons it was unlikely I could be of assistance and I dreaded being a disappointment. But to my utter delight, Phyllis is one of those rare beauties who gets on and gives out of what she has. She only needed the ‘teeny weeniest’ bit of encouragement as she is actually almost there.
In her lovely, lilting, Scottish accent, Phyllis told me that after working in London amongst the underworld of street sleepers and drop outs, she took up a post as ‘Matron’ in a school for ‘borders’ in Berkshire. The same passion for people and love for God that cared for ‘down and outs’ now embraced the ‘privileged.’ But these children were equally lost – they just didn’t smell so bad. Phyllis told me the heartbreaking story of a ‘wee’ boy who arrived alone, from China. He looked up at Phyllis and said ‘why has my Mummy sent me away. Doesn’t she love me?’
Of course she loves you!’ Phyllis replied. ‘She loves you so much and believes this is absolutely the best thing for you.’
Ever practical, Phyllis asked what he and his Mummy would be doing right now? ‘I would be helping her,’ the boy replied. ‘Well how about helping me with the washing?’
The boy thought this was a great idea and happily joined in. From that time on he never left her side and was a constant helping companion.
Phyllis is now House Matron at St Anselm’s in Bakewell near where I live. I despair as I try to navigate the school and its parents, steaming up the hill to pick up or drop off ‘owning’ the roads in their glossy 4×4’s. Phyllis doesn’t see these expensive, boisterous exteriors. She talks with fondness and compassion about the boys she cares for from 5pm until lights out, through after-school activities, home-work and bed time routines. She has been reading Bob Hartman’s ‘Bible Baddies’ to the boys which they love! One of them asked her recently, ‘how do you know if Jesus lives in your heart?’
But what did Phyllis need help with? She and 3 of her boys had been making up a story together. Full of fantastic creatures and make-believe islands. I was captivated. ‘My friend has drawn pictures of the creatures in the story,’ Phyllis said. She pulled some sketches out of an envelope and they were perfectly lovely. ‘I want to put the book together as a memory for the boys. I just don’t know how to do it!’
What I love about Phyllis is that she doesn’t have the usual, ‘if I can’t be published it’s not worth anything’ attitude. She understands that every story, however simply, quietly or secretly told – has value. Jesus always loved ‘the one.’ He drew close, took time to hear their stories and to tell his own and in doing so, passed on the ‘keys to the Kingdom! Jesus was the master storyteller and no audience was ever too small.
It is possible the boys Phyllis cares for will remember the story for always. But Phyllis is taking no chances.
She has (I discovered) a re-conditioned ipad. This gives her access to simple but effective publishing tools that will ensure the story lasts forever. She is now going to speak the story into the ipad’s dictaphone. She is then going to take her time notating the story, using all the comma’s, colons, dash’s and full stops she can muster to breath her unique intonation and vocal musicality into the words. Phylllis thinks someone at the school with help her to scan the sketches so that once they are digital, she can place them into the text. When it is finished she can print it out and bind it in all manner of ways – or use one of these digital printing companies to produce a ‘proper’ book.
But of course that’s up to Phyllis. This is her story!