The Helping Hands Project



The Shack




Of all the books I have read, other than the Bible, 'The Shack' is probably the best.  What an incredible account of a life changing spiritual event that takes the reader to the very realm of God. The author claims it to be true and after reading it, I'm inclined to agree.   I encourage you to get a copy of this book and you will be amazed at the story line and I am sure it will change your life as it did mine.  A beautiful heart warming story of total heartbreak, love, forgiveness and redemption, that could only have come from God Himself. 

I don't usually promote any book other than the Bible, but in this case, I am making an exception.  Wonderful, fantastic, encouraging are just a few of the compliments and praise that I have for this beautifully, well written novel.  It is both an honor and a privilege to endorse this amazing work of art.



Click on link above for additional information about this amazing book










Who wouldn't be skeptical when a man claims to have spent an entire weekend with God, and in a shack no less? 

I have known Mack for a bit more than twenty years, since the day we both showed up at a neighbor's house to help him bale a field of hay to put up for his couple of cows.  Since then he and I have been, as the kids say these days, hangin' out, sharing a coffee-or for me a chai tea, extra hot with soy.  Our conversations bring a deep sort of pleasure, always sprinkled with lots of laughs and once in a while a tear or two.  Frankly, the older we get, the more we hang out, if you know what I mean.

His full name is Mackenzie Allen Phillips, although most people call him Allen.  It's a family tradition; the men all have the same first name but are commonly known by their middle names, presumably to avoid the ostentation of I, II, and III or Junior and Senior.  It works well for identifying telemarketers too, especially the ones who call as if they were your best friend.  so he and his grandfather, father and now his oldest son all have the given name of Mackenzie, but are commonly refereed to by their middle names.  Only Nan, his wife, and close friends call him Mack (although I have heard a few total strangers yell, 'Hey Mack, where'd you learn to drive'?).

Mack was born somewhere in the Midwest, a farm boy in an Irish-American family committed to calloused hands and rigorous rules.  Although externally religious, his overly strict church-elder father was a closet drinker, especially when the rain didn't come, or came to early, and most of the times in between.  Mack never talks much about him, but when he does his face loses emotion like a tide going out, leaving dark and lifeless eyes.  From the few stories Mack has told me, I know his dad was not a fall-asleep-happy kind of alcoholic but vicious mean beat-your-wife-and-then-ask-God-for-forgiveness drunk.

It all came to a head when thirteen-year old Mackenzie reluctantly bared his soul to a church leader during a youth revival.  Overtaken by the conviction of the moment, Mack confessed in tears that he hadn't done anything to help his mama as he witnessed, on more than one occasion, his dad beat her unconscious.   What Mack failed to  consider was that his confessor worked and churched with this father, and by the time he got home his daddy was waiting for him on the front porch with his mama and sisters conspicuously absent.  He later learned that they had been shuttled off to this "Aunt May's in order to give his father some freedom to teach his rebellious son a lesson about respect.  For almost two days, tied to the big oak at the back of the house, he was beaten with a belt and Bible verses every time his dad woke from a stupor and put down his bottle.

Two weeks later, when Mack was finally able to put one foot in front of the other again, he just up and walked away from home.  But before he left, he put varmint poison in every bottle of booze he would find on the farm.  He then unearthed from next to the outhouse the small tin box housing all his earthly treasures: on photograph of the family with everybody squinting as they looked into the sun (his daddy standing off to one side), a 1950 Luke Easter rooked baseball card, a little bottle that contained about announce of Ma Griffe (the only perfume his mama had ever worn), a spool of thread and a couple of needles, a small silver die-cast U.S. Air Force F-86 Jet, and his entire life savings - $15.13.  He crept back into the house and  slipped a note under his mama's pillow while his father lay snoring off another binge.  It just said, "Someday I hope you can forgive me."  He swore he would never look back, and he didn't - not for a long time.

Thirteen is too young to be all grown up, but Mack had little choice and adapted quickly.  He doesn't talk much about the years that followed.  Most of it was spent overseas, working his way around dthe world, sending money to his grandparents, who passed it on to his mama.  In one of those distant countries I think he even picked up a gun in some kind of terrible conflict; he's hated war with a dark passion ever since I've know him.  Whatever happened, in his early twenties he eventually ended up in a seminary in Australia.  When Mack had his fill of theology and philosophy he came back to the States, made peace with hi mama and sisters, and moved out to Oregon where he met and married Nannette A. Samuelson.

In a world of talkers, Mack is a thinker and a doer.  He doesn't say much unless you ask him directly, which most folks have learned not to do.  When he does speak you wonder if he isn't some sort of alien who sees the landscape of human ideas and experiences differently then everybody else.

The thing is, he usually makes uncomfortable sense in a world where most folks would rather just hear what they are used to hearing, which is often not much of anything.  Those who know him generally like him well enough, providing he keeps his thoughts mostly to himself.  and when he does talk, it isn't that they stop liking him-rather, they are not quite so satisfied with themselves.

Mack once told me that he used to speak his mind more freely in his younger year, but he admitted that most of such talk was a survival mechanism to cover his hurts; he often ended up spewing his pain on everyone around him.  He says that he had a way of pointing out people's and humiliation them while maintaining his own sense of false power and control.  Not to endearing.

As I pen these words I reflect on the Mack I've always known-quite ordinary, and certainly not anyone particularly special., except to those who truly know him.  He is just about to turn fifty six, and he a rather unremarkable, slightly overweight, balding, short white guy, which describes a lot of men in the parts.  You probably wouldn't notice in in a crowd or feel uncomfortable sitting next to him while he snoozes on the MAX (metro-transit) during his once-a-week trip into town for a sales meeting.  He does most of his work from a little home office at this place up on Wildcat Road.  He sells something high tech and gadgety that I don't pretend to understand: techno gizmos that somehow make everything go faster, as if life weren't going fast enough already. 

You don't realize how smart Mack is unless you happen to eavesdrop on a dialogue he might be having with an expert.  I've been there, when suddenly the language being spoken hardly resembles English, and I find myself struggling to grasp the concepts spilling out like a tumbling river of gemstones.  He can speak intelligently about most anything, and even though you sense he has strong convictions, he has a gentle way about him that lets you keep yours.

His favorite topics are all about God and Creation and why people believe what they do.  His eyes light up and he gets this smile that curls at the corners of this lips, and suddenly, like a little kid, the tiredness melts away and he becomes ageless and hardly able to contain himself.  But at the same time, Mack is not very religious.  He seems to have a love/hate relationship with Religion, and maybe even with the God they he suspects is brooding, distant, and aloof.  Little barbs of sarcasm occasionally spill through the cracks in his reserve like piercing darts dipped in poison from a well deep inside.  Although we sometimes both show up on Sundays at the same local pew and pulpit Bible church (the 55th Independent Assembly of Saint John the Baptist, we like to call it), you can tell that he is not to comfortable there.

Mack has been married to Nan for just more than thirty-three years mostly happy years.  He says she saved his life and standing, she seems to love him now more than ever, though I get the sense that he hurt her something fierce in the early years.  I suppose that since most of our huts come through relationships so will our healing, and I know that grace rarely makes sense for those looking in from the outside.

In any case, Mack married up.   Nan is the mortar that holds the tile of their family together.  While Mack has struggled in a world with many shades of gray, hers is mostly black and white.  Common sense comes so naturally to Nan that she can't even see it for the gift it is.  Raising a family kept her from pursuing dreams of becoming a doctor, but as a nurse she has excelled and gained considerable recognition for her chose  work with oncology patients who are terminal.  While Mack's relationship with God is wide, Nan's is deep.

This oddly matched pair are the parents of five unusually beautiful k8ds.  Mack likes to say that they all got their good looks from him....."cuz Nan still has hers".  Two of the three boys are out of the house: Jon , newly married, works in sales for a local company, and Tyler, a recent college grad, is off at school working on a master's degree.  Josh and one of the two girls, Katherine (Kate), are still at home and attend the local community college.  Then there is the late arrival, Melissa - or Missy, as we were fond of calling her.  She...well, you'll get to know some of them better in these pages.

The last few years have bee, how might I pout this, remarkably peculiar.  Mack has changed; he is now even more different and special than he used to be.  In all the time I have known him he has been a rather gentle and kind soul, but since his stay in the hospital three year ago,  he has been... well, even nicer.   He's become one of those rare people who are totally at home in their own skin.  And I feel at home around him like I do with nobody else.  When we go our separate ways it seems that I have just had the best conversation of my life, even if I usually did most of the talking.  And with respect to God, Mack is not longer just wide, he has gone way deep.  But the dive cost him dearly.

These days are very different than seven or so years ago, when The Great Sadness entered his life and he almost quit talking altogether.   About that time and for almost two years our hanging out stopped, as if by some unspoken mutual agreement.  I only say Mack occasionally at the local grocery store or even more rarely at church,  although a polite was usually exchanged, not much of an consequence was spoken.  It was even difficult for him to look me in the eyes; maybe he didn't want to enter a conversation that might tear the scab off his wounded heart.

But that all changed after a nasty accident with...But there I go again, getting ahead of myself.  We'll get to all of that in due time.  Just to say that these last few years seem to have given Mack his life back and li8fted the burden of The Great Sadness.  What happened three years ago totally changed the melody of his life an its a song I can't wait to play for you.

Although he communicates well enough verbally, Mack is not comfortable with his writing skills- something that he know I am passionate about.  So, he asked if I would ghost write this story-his story, "for the kids and for Nan".  He wanted a narrative to help him express to them not only the depth of his love, but also to help them understand what had been going on in his inside world.  You know that place: where there is just you alone-and maybe God, if you believe in Him.  Of course, God might be there even of don't believe in Him.  That would be just like Him, He hasn't been called the Grand Interferer for nothing.

What you are about to read is something Mack and I have struggled with for many months to put into words.  It's a little,, it is a lot on the fantastic side.  Whether some parts of it are actually true or not , I won't be the judge.  Suffice it to say that while some thing may not be scientifically provable, they can still be true nonetheless.  I will tell you honestly that being a part of this story has affected men deep inside, in places I had never been before and didn't even know existed; I confess to you that I desperately want everything Mack has told me to be true.  Most days I am right there with him, but on other, when the visible world of concrete and computers seem to be the real world, I lose touch and have my doubts.

A couple of final disclaimers:  Mack would like you to know that if you happen upon this story and hate it, he says, "Sorry....but it wasn't primarily written for you."  Then again, maybe it was.  What you are about to read is the best Mack can remember about what happened.  This is his story, not mine, so the few times I show up, I'll refer to myself in the third person-from Mack's point of view.

Memory can be a tricky companion some times, especially with the accident, and I would not be too surprised, in spite of our concerted effort toward accuracy, if some factual errors and faulty remembrances are reflected in these pages.  They are not intentional.  I can promise you that the conversations and events are recorded as truthfully as Mack can remember them, so please try and cut him a little slack.  As you'll see, these are not easy things to talk about.