(This is one of a series of posts recounting my experience at Story Chicago. Read Part I here, Part II here and Part III here, Part IV here.)
After lunch (day two), we were serenaded by the beautiful and talented Sarah MacIntosh.
As I listened, I had a flashback. “This voice…I know this voice…” I thought to myself. I Googled Sarah and sure enough, she was in one of my favorite bands from the late ’90s, Chasing Furies. I sheepishly relayed the story to Sarah as we spoke for a moment after the conference and she was gracious and funny. “So you were out there back then!” she said with a laugh. Sarah’s newest album, Current, is incredible. The title track slams into you and The Damaged gets me pounding my steering wheel (the build starts at the 3:17 mark, hehe). Meanwhile, Hiding Place and Joy Comes In are both gorgeous and uplifting in their own right. If you haven’t heard Sarah before, check her out. You’ll be glad you did. (She also just posted this video called “Burned By The Church.” Powerful stuff.)
Then it was Phil’s turn to wow us.
Phil Vischer, the creator of Veggie Tales and voice of Bob the Tomato, made such an impact on us all that he was the only speaker to get a standing ovation. And it was well deserved, if I do say so myself.
Before he spoke, I knew barely anything about Phil’s story. Basically, he felt “called to be the next Walt Disney” and in the mid to late ’90s, that started to come true. Veggie Tales went gangbusters and in just eight years the company went from three employees to two hundred and fifty. The “one big thing” he thought God had for him, his dream, was coming true! And then…it all crumbled beneath him. Poor business planning and a lawsuit resulted in the sale/bankruptcy of Big Idea Productions. Poof. Dream dead.
Phil’s story is the classic case of having good intentions, but ultimately working for God rather than with Him. “When you say, ‘God, here’s what I’m going to do for You,’ you’ve completely turned that relationship upside down,” he told us. And Phil’s desire to please his Heavenly Father came from a place of deep hurt. When he was nine, his dad left the family. He came downstairs, kissed Phil on the head, and walked out the door. What was the take-away for that little boy? “I knew my mom and dad weren’t very happy. They weren’t smiling much anymore. But, when he walked out, I felt like he had made the choice that I wasn’t worth it. I wasn’t worth the effort to stay,” he said (how I remember it). Everything Phil did was to try and find worth. The more he found success, the more he was “worth it.” Phil said, “I wanted to be Walt Disney because I didn’t know who I was.” That’s a danger we all face if we don’t take the time to find out who we are and how God made us. We need to press into our true selves and not someone else’s story.
“Believing you can change the world results in a lot of pressure,” Phil said at one point. In one of the most telling parts of his story, Phil told about how he went to his therapist’s office the day of the Columbine shooting and when his therapist noticed his distress and asked how he was doing he replied, “I wish I would have done more, faster. If only those kids had seen the videos and learned about Jesus, this might not have happened!” Phil blamed himself for Columbine. “That’s a heavy burden to carry,” his therapist said. One that would result in a near-death experience with pericarditis and shingles and various other physical ailments. Phil was working himself to death, all for naught. He was trying to make his dream come true without God’s involvement.
Things are a lot different for Phil now. He’s working on a new video series, disseminated through his new company, Jelly Telly. But, more than that, he’s learning to follow God’s lead rather than telling God what he’s going to do for Him. “What I’m doing in five years is really none of my business. My job is to do today what I’m supposed to do and that’s all I need to be concerned about,” he says.
I believe Phil summarized his experienced best when he said, “If you’re not willing to do nothing for God, you’re not healthy enough to do anything for God.” His point being, if we cannot sit at the feet of Jesus and just be with Him, our work for Him will always, always be misguided. It will not come from a place of truth.
Thanks for sharing your story, Phil, and for encouraging us to be creative. For telling us to seek out what God has for us and not just that “one big thing.” For your honesty and transparency, which inspires us to do the same. We appreciate you.
(For Phil’s version of the rise and fall of Big Idea, go here. It’s a long read, but well worth it.)
In my last post about Story I’ll share some of the “odds and ends” that didn’t make it into the first five, but that still made an impact on me!
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