Friday, August 29, 2014

"Let Go and Let God" By Elder James K. Phillips

I knew the Lord wanted me on a mission after I graduated from BYU but then I had to figure out how to pay for it. This choice was going to make me face one of my greatest fears as a little boy, not having enough money. Money meant safety to me hence why I went to work for my dad at 10 years old and spent my summers and weekends at K.L. Phillips & Sons Sporting Goods Store and Gas Station until I was 19. Mom used to say that I saved every dime I ever made. Dad paid me very little the first two years but then I can remember doing really well in the Sporting Goods Store and getting raises over the years. I started out getting two dollars a day then five, ten and finally twenty. I saved every dollar I made. I was driven to go to work and couldn’t get enough, motivated by my savings account growing and feeling a real sense of accomplishment.

Looking back now with big boy eyes I realize that driving down to Pismo Beach with my dad was a big deal to me. Working with my grandfather, K.L. Sr. and seeing my tiny grandmother Andrea (my Ashlee’s middle name) at lunch every day mattered to me. I claimed my dad’s family by working for them. I always felt I was their favorite because I came to work in the family business my grandfather started and my dad ran his entire work life.

My father would turn over in his grave if he knew he was the one that introduced me to wanting to have my own business. When I got my first real job with Xerox that over 300 people interviewed for, dad was happy.   

When Xerox got down to the three final candidates from the 300 that applied, we had to be interviewed and approved by the Sales VP at Xerox in Los Angeles.  He was over all the offices and hiring in Southern California up to our Santa Barbara Office that included San Luis Obispo. The other candidates who were in the running were great so I asked the VP of Sales why he was giving me the job. He said you are all equally qualified but you had the best recommendation letter. I had forgotten that I had included my Mission President’s Recommendation Letter that told about me being his proselyting assistant. The Sales V.P. said that he was an inactive Mormon but he understood what that kind of experience gives. You obey Father and he always takes care of you.

Let me get back on track now that I was hired. Dad saw working for one of the best companies in America at the time as long term security. I saw Xerox as the best sales training I could get anywhere and that I would need it to start my own business. Over the next 18 months Xerox invested $87,000 in my training. It was considered the best sales training in the world at the time. After completing my training and working for them for two years I left grateful and feeling prepared for the next step, my own business. My poor father. When I left Xerox to start my own business he thought I’d lost my mind.

Xerox didn’t last long because of the seed he unknowingly planted in my entrepreneurial heart by letting me go to work with him when I was just a boy. My passion for business was born in that Sporting Goods Store, standing behind the gun counter as a 12 year old, envisioning a chain of K.L. Phillips & Sons Sporting Goods Stores all over San Luis Obispo County. I figured I’d build the business with my five brothers and they’d each run a store. I can remember gaining confidence in my ability to sell, doubling the surf board sales every year. My dad would shake his head as I would ring up another sale of our best clamming waders instead of the cheap ones, along with its matching clam bag and of course you had to have a new clam fork to get the clams to fill the bag.

I don’t remember Dad ever saying what a great job I was doing so I asked Mom what Dad thought. Mom would say that all he would do was come home and rave to her about how gifted I was as a salesmen. Those words were never spoken to me.

(Pap’s Lesson) Dads, don’t wait to tell your children what a good job they’re doing when they deserve it. They need to hear it from you, not their mom.

My dad withholding his approval was one of the main drivers in my life to excel in business and in athletics. I figured if I could be the captain of the team and the best player he’d come to my games. That never happened. Dad, continuously working, only reinforced my fear of not having enough money that would lead to no free time to be a dad.  I longed for my father to come to my games, my businesses or even my houses but it never happened. I just wanted to prove to my dad that I was successful so I could hear him say he approved of my life.

When my father was 73 years old I finally heard what I needed to hear from him. It happened when I announced I was taking my family to Utah. I was walking away from my mountain bike business, Alpine Stars. I was the managing director and it was producing 22 million dollars a year in revenue in Europe. I was living at the Country Club making the most money I’d ever made. I told dad that I knew I had to take my children to Utah so they’d be able to marry in the Church. When I told him he turned to mother and said, “He always succeeds so I don’t worry about him.” My mother almost fell off her chair but in that moment I knew my dad loved and respected me. That’s all I ever wanted to know from him.

(I’ll get back on track now) When I was a little boy I could remember feeling very afraid of not having enough money. I took on that fear from watching my father work 7 days a week 364 days a year (he took Christmas off) to provide for his family of six boys, two girls and mom. I remember being very aware of the old dangerous cars we drove and swearing that my wife and children would never be riding around in a dangerous car. 

That leads me to a funny story of the first new car I bought for your mom. On her 25th birthday I had gone out and bought her the #1 safest station wagon available. It was a great car and had every extra you could ever dream of. Her B-Day arrived and I had her brand spanking new “station wagon” parked in our driveway waiting for her approval. I was so proud of myself for keeping my promise that my wife and kids would never be riding around in an old, unsafe car with my children in it. (It’s amazing how we’re driven by our fears.)
I guided your mother out to the driveway to see her big surprise. When I took off her blind fold, she took one look and begin to cry. She told me later that she wasn’t ready for “a station wagon. She felt like that car represented that she was an old lady now driving a station wagon around with her kids. Wrong message on a woman’s birthday. 

The lesson here is that when we let our “fears” DRIVE us we usually get it wrong.

Heavenly Father knew all my fears and wanted to teach me who I could really trust very early in my life. He knew it would take great faith for me to be baptized, knowing that I would be thrown out of my home. He also understood how terrified I was of not having enough money so what does He do? He asks me to invest it all in my mission.

I accepted His call to serve in the England Central Mission. I had most of my money tied up in a new green El-Camino that I’d paid cash for and Pacific Gas & Electric stock that I bought in the 11th grade. The El Camino was a 300 hundred horse power, police special engine under the hood and was the coolest car ever. I bought it for college transportation at BYU my senior year. But when I made the decision to serve my mission I knew I had to sell it to fund my mission.

I HAD to sell the green ram (named by my best friend I played football with at BYU, Steve Facer). With time running out I tried every way I could think of to sell it.  But my car was still new and expensive. The day came when I needed a miracle given I was supposed to leave the next day to go up to Salt Lake City to enter the Mission Home. That last morning before I was to go a “Polly Dolly” showed up. Her rich daddy was funding his little cow girl’s car while she went to Cal Poly. She loved everything about the car except the most important part for a girl, the color. She said, “I love the El Camino because it will pull my horse trailer but the color just won’t work.” I was shattered because I knew I couldn’t leave without the “Green Ram” selling. After she left I went into my bedroom and prayed. I pled with Heavenly Father to help me. I reminded Him that all the proceeds were going to fund me in His service.  A few hours later the Cow Girl came back and said, “I don’t know why I’m buying this because I don’t love the color but I’ll take it.” She handed me $3,800 in cash that allowed me to leave the next morning. 

God always takes care of his servants. Always!

I arrived at the Birmingham England train station and was picked up by the Assistants for our Mission. One of those assistants was Elder David McDougal who became my partner in Digital Gateway 35 years later. (Selling DGI funded my second mission to the England London Mission along with the rest of our life. That’s a miracle for another blog). He use to tell the story that I was the only missionary that arrived with all their mission funds waded up in their pants pocket.

I had to make that money last for my entire mission. I lived on $75 dollars a month when the mission average was $125 at the time. My budget would have worked if I could have continued riding a bike. It failed because I was called into leadership early. Seven months into my mission I was made a district leader and at 9 months a zone leader. These callings drained my already limited funds because of fueling a car. I think the Lord called me to be an assistant at 11 months because the mission paid for the assistant’s car, housing and food. I served President Reed L. Reeve until I had four months left of my mission. After pestering President he finally put me back out in the field as the Zone Leader in Birmingham. This was the happiest day of my mission when I got to go out again and do the work with so many of the elders that I had come to love.

One of my best mission memories was having the opportunity of having my first greenie while I was a Zone Leader at the end of my mission. It was in my 21th month of my mission when President Reeve gave me the chance to help one of his dearest friend’s son that was struggling with his testimony. President asked if I would take the son for a mini-mission while his father did business in Birmingham for two weeks. Mark Schwindeman dropped his son off at the Mission Home and my companion and I picked him up just like a real transfer. The Lord went to work on his testimony. The Lord allowed this young man to awaken to the truth during his time with us. He went home totally converted to the gospel. I was later informed that my greenie went on to be an assistant in his mission in Paris, France. I always knew I could be a good trainer but my calling early in my mission was to serve with the elders that President Johnson gave me that were going to be sent home if I couldn’t turn them around. I was 23 years old convert, a graduate from BYU and still at my football playing weight. I was still a little scary and totally focused on the work. I wasn’t going to let any companion stop me from doing the work I’d been called to do.

All of this leads back to Father requiring me to give all I had so I would learn to rely 100% on Him. My fear of running out of money before I was released came true. I ran out of money with three months left. Your mother has shared the story of Brother Schwindeman being sent back to my door after the spirit turned him around while going to the airport the very day I ran out of money. I testify that as I knelt down the night before to pray and explained to Father that I had just enough money to fill the car, I was peaceful and knew I would be taken care of. I had no idea how the Father was going to do it but I knew he would. I had told no one that I was out of money except my Father in Heaven. He sees all things and I testify that when I opened the door and saw Brother Schwindeman standing there with his son asking me what I needed it just was one more confirmation to me of our Father’s faithfulness. 


  1. Great post with really great advice. I especially enjoyed the insights into you as a young boy and how that affected your life.

  2. Oh Pap, I LOVE this. You have a life full of miraculous stories! What a gift to write it down for all your posterity. You have lived a life a faith and diligence since you were a child. That faith and diligence practiced over a lifetime has molded you into one of the most unique and incredible men I know. I love you and your incredible example. Keep more coming!!! Loves and hugs.

  3. Ohhhh I love this! Love love love! KEEP EM COMING!

  4. Uncle Jim, what a incredible gift was invested in you during those hours with the Phillips patriarchs non-verbally instilling their values and character into you. You have stewarded those values and character wisely and been blessed beyond what they could ever have imagined or dreamed for you. What a blessing! Your "chain" of stores all over the county have been realized in your own grandsons' gifted athletic ability and good sportsmanship. They will always that legacy even if it isn't over a sales counter. LOVE YOU!!!