The Unseen Story


Survive or Thrive

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My name is Thomas Rhodes. I’m married to Molly. We’ve been married since 2004. I’ve got three boys, Jackson, Tucker and Jonathan. They’re 14,12, and seven. 

I grew up going to church. I would say that I had a faith, I think faith is important to my parents. I probably had more of a moralistic faith. I understood that being a Christian meant being a good person and, and doing things right, and things like that. Yeah, so I would say that the story is really about. I got to compare and contrast what the difference is between walking with Him – walking by faith and being led by the Spirit, versus like, doing it all on my own – white knuckling it, gritting my teeth and just efforting, and like pulling up by my bootstraps, because that’s kind of how I was raised. 

I went to a military school in Virginia for four years and it’s all about self reliance, and grit. Like, if you don’t have it, just do whatever it takes; there’s no excuses. You know, it’s kind of the attitude of like, no one’s coming; it’s up to you. So this was a gift for me. I had nothing to do with this. 

I’ve been involved in this Christian ministry for quite some time, a Men’s Ministry. It’s related to business, but it’s really more about men leading their wives and finding balance, not just in their business, but with their wives, their kids, their faith. And, I was at this seminar – There were about 18 guys from all over the country. – I don’t think I knew anybody. Well, I knew a couple guys, but nobody really from my hometown that I knew very well. The guy who was leading, the head of the organization, was leading the talk that day. He was talking about faith and he’s like, kind of talking about what faith looks like. And usually when somebody says, you know, “Hey, do you have faith? Do you believe? Do you have faith?” To me, that just means kind of like, Hey, do you believe in Jesus? And like, yeah, I’ve got faith.

So we were kind of going a little bit deeper than that and talking about like, do you have faith that God’s in control? Do you believe that God is here? That He’s present? Do you believe that He can guide your steps? Do you believe that you can ask bold prayers; you can ask and they will be answered? 

And I just want to be careful like, this was not a message of health and wealth or like, declare it and achieve it. That was not the point of this. It was really more about walking in faith with Christ, being led by the Spirit and just letting God intercede for us in these goals. And so he kind of wrapped it up and he’s like, “So do you all believe in that?” And you know, all of us are like, “Oh, yeah. Sure, sure. We believe it.” But, there’s a big difference between saying you believe it and proving it. 

He said, “What I want you to do is, I want you to give me your wallets, give me your phone, and the only thing you can take with you is obviously the clothes on your back and your driver’s license. So they blindfolded us, stuck all 18 of us in like different trucks and cars and they drove us outside of the metroplex, and then just dropped us off in this town. 

They said, “Here’s the deal: You have” – The time was like 2:30 in the afternoon. – “You have until 8am tomorrow morning to get to downtown Dallas from where we’re dropping ya. The rules are, you can’t use any of your own resources.” I couldn’t call friends and ask for help. I couldn’t use anything else than what I had. I had to rely on people’s generosity and kindness. The other thing is, we couldn’t tell people what we were doing. We couldn’t say, “Hey, I’m part of a seminar and we gotta get, we gotta get to Dallas, and you’d be helping out…” We couldn’t tell them that. If somebody was generous to us, we couldn’t say, “Hey, listen, if you’ll do this for me now, I’ll pay you back tomorrow, once I get my wallet back.” We couldn’t do stuff like that. 

So a weird thing happened to me as we were driving out, and it was probably about a 45 minute to an hour drive from where the seminar was held. All these just negative, like despair, sorry for myself thoughts were coming in. Like, you’re going to be cold, you’re going to be miserable, you’re not going to do this well. And just all this doubt. Then I started getting angry. I was like, This is stupid. Like, why would I sign up for just ridiculous things like this? This just doesn’t make any sense. As we got closer, I just heard this voice inside my head. It was like, “What if you didn’t survive? What if you thrived?” And then I got this picture of a helicopter. That was an inspiration of like, what if I didn’t survive? What if I thrived? 

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Part of the process was, and probably for insurance reasons, that they made us buddy up with one person. They said, “You have to go with your buddy.” But I ended up partnering up with, there were four of us, including myself, there were four of us. We got together and my partner was like, “We gotta go this way. We gotta go…”And I was like, “Hey, guys, hold on, we gotta pray. We gotta pray.” That’s when I told the guys like, “Hey, listen, what if we didn’t survive? What if we thrived? What if this was a different experience?” 

That’s when I was kind of like, Hey, this is what I feel like the Lord has called us to. Like, I know I could do this but…Maybe I’m a little arrogant, but I kind of felt like I could easily talk somebody into giving me a sandwich, or chips or whatever. I mean, I can pull that off my sleep. But what I couldn’t do is get a steak dinner for everybody here. All four of us. Like, that would definitely be God. And then I was like, I’m pretty convinced I could talk us into getting or train or a car, or hitchhike or whatever. Like, that, to me would not seem like wow, you know, God was really involved in this. But I was like, if He gives a helicopter, that ain’t me. That’s God. Then if God’s really going to show up, we’re going to raise like, I can’t remember, I think was 1000 bucks for like, the homeless. I said, we’re gonna raise that. And so everybody kind of got on board. 

We prayed and then we’re walking into town and I see this restaurant. It was literally like a moth to the flame. I was like, this is, this is where we’re gonna go. We walk into the restaurant and the lady’s like…You know, the hostess is there, and she’s like, “How many? Four?” I said, “Hey, this is going to be awesome. So this is gonna sound crazy.” And she goes, yeah. I said, “We’re on a purpose driven mission and we believe that God sent us here for you to give us a free steak lunch.” She looked at me and she goes, “Sweetheart, are you serious?” I was like, “Yes, ma’am. I’m serious.” And she was like, “You’re gonna have to talk to the owner.” 

So we talked to the owner. He goes, “Can I help you guys?” I said, “Yes, sir.” I said, “We’re on a purpose driven mission and we believe that God has told us to come here, and you’re gonna give us a free steak lunch.” Now this is not something I’ve never said or probably might say again. I mean, it felt super awkward and the guy just looks at us and it was like, “Okay. I mean, all right, grab a seat.” And I don’t know if you’ve ever seen Star Wars, where like, I think Obi Wan Kenobi is like, “These are not the droids you’re looking for.” It was just so effortless. 

The hospitality of this man, it was like, you know, I would have expected him, or it would be reasonable if maybe he brings out like, one steak dinner for all of us to share. But what he did was he gave us a menu and said, “Just choose whatever you want.” We all agreed, just pick the absolute cheapest steak dinner that he has, blah, blah, blah, and we’re just sitting there in amazement. Like, who does this? 

In fact, we found out later that some of the coaches at the seminar had actually tried to pay the guy $100 to get us kicked out. And we still got seated, and we still got fed. 

We get done there and now we gotta go find a helicopter. We get outside, like, what should we do? I was like, “We need to pray.” So we pray, Lord God, guide our step, tell us where to, where do we go next?” We don’t know what’s around us. We don’t have a map. We don’t have our phones. And I’m not great with directions. So I don’t know what’s around me. He’s like, “Go to this hotel.” I don’t even know why we’re going, like, we just went. But then when I got there, it was just like, it was clear. It was like, well, you need to get on a computer because you need to figure out where you are. 

We start looking up airports. I used to be a pilot, like a private pilot and like I was like, there’s no way that a large class A, huge airport…We’re not going to find that. Like, no one’s going to talk to us, nor could we probably get in. I was like, there’s this regional airport and I was like, “That’s where we need to go.” Well, it was like, six miles away and it was probably a several hour walk. But we didn’t have any other options and we just start walking.

I’m in my boots and I’m like, Man, these are not the shoes for this. And I was like, “God, I am tired. My feet hurt. You’re gonna have to give me a car. Like, I need a car.” I see this guy filling up with gas and I was like, that’s him. 

When I say these things, it’s not, it sounds like I’m being cocky. I’m just saying like, it’s like when God was directing our steps, it was so obvious. It was like, No, that’s the guy you need to go talk to. I don’t want it to come off sounding like, “Oh, that’s the guy Thomas Rhodes is going to convince.” It was like, No, that’s the one that God wants me to talk to. 

So I pull up to this guy. I was like, “Hey, man, you’re not gonna believe this, but we’re on a purpose driven mission and we believe that God’s telling us that you’re going to take us to the airport.” He’s like, “Man, this is crazy. What are you talking about? I’d love to, but I can’t. I mean, like, look.” And he’s got this SUV but it’s like the smallest SUV they make and in the car, not only is it him, but it’s his wife, and his brother, a brother-in-law, and his kids. So there’s already four people in a car that probably, maybe, seats five, and there’s four of us. So altogether, that would have been eight people in this little tiny car.

He’s like, “Man, I just can’t, I can’t do it.” He had this medallion on; this like Christian medallion. I think it, I can’t remember what was on it, maybe the Virgin Mary or something else.” And I’m like, “Bro, look at your medallion, man.” I was like, “This is fate. Like, this is, you’re supposed to take us.” He’s like, “Oh, man, “F” it. Get in it.” 

So he puts the back seats down. He puts his son, who might be five or six, and puts him in the driver’s seat. His wife gets in front of the son. So it’s basically, it’s like the steering wheel, his wife, his child behind the wife, and then the driver’s seat. I was like, This is so illegal. I don’t know what is going on. And then his brother was in the shotgun. He was like, “Man, this is awesome. I was having a terrible day before you guys showed up. This is great.” We’re like, oh my gosh, this is like a blessing to this guy. Like, he’s blessed by us. He feels blessed by it! So we get in Oscar’s car and I said, “We need to go to this airport.” 

We go to this flight school and we tell them the same, you know, “Hey, this is crazy but we feel like God’s telling us that you’re gonna fly us to Dallas.” And they’re like, “Well, we have one friend who’s probably crazy enough to do this.” They called him and he’s like, Man, I’d love to do it, but I’m out of the country. But, this sounds awesome.” And of course, they’re all like, “Why are you doing this? What’s this about?” We’re like, well, we can’t tell you. 

It was really cool. Hardly anybody ever gave us any grief. No one was like, Dude, this is so insulting.” or “You guys are crazy, just get out of here.” It was like, “Whoa, that is cool.” It was, in a lot of ways, just effortless what was happening to us. Which is just another reason why I’m kind of taken out of the scenario. There was no sales job or anything like that. It was just like, we just put it out there and then people had to wrestle with it. 

So we struck out at the flight school, and then I saw a sign, it was a helicopter sign. I remember telling the guys like, “That’s it. This is it.” It was that same feeling I got when we saw the restaurant. It was the same feeling I got when we saw the guy named Oscar at the gas station. It was the same feeling that I got when I saw the sign. I was like, “That’s it. That’s it!” 

We go over there and I walk in and I think I said, “Are y’all ready to hear the craziest request you’ve ever heard of?” And they said, “ Well lay it on us. But we hear a lot of crazy stuff.” I said, Well this one might top it all.” They said, “Go ahead.” I said, “Well, we’re on a purpose driven mission and we believe that God has told us that you’re going to fly us for free to Dallas.” 

They were so kind. They were just like, “Well, that is the craziest request we’ve ever heard.” But none of them said that ain’t gonna happen, just you’re gonna have to go. They were like, Well, we don’t own it, but…they said the guy’s name, he’s up flying. So you want to wait to talk to him? You could do it. But we recommend you just go over to the, I think it’s called an FBO, flight business office. It’s just basically like a lounge for people to wait for flights or whatever. 

So we see the helicopter land and then out of the helicopter comes this cop. I mean, this cop was jacked. I mean, he was so big and he was like a helicopter pilot cop. So we were kind of like staying away from the cop because I mean, if anybody’s going to kick us out, it’s that guy, right? Or so we thought. We’re sitting there and we’re just kind of talking and he’s like, “What are y’all doing? Like, why are y’all…” but not in a like a, you’re about to get kicked out kind of way, just kind of more inquisitive. And then we start telling him our story like, Well, we’re on this purpose driven mission and so far, we’ve had this happen to us and this happened to us, and now we feel like God is telling us that your instructor, the guy that owns the helicopter is gonna take us to Dallas. 

All of a sudden he sort of starts talking about faith. He starts talking, he’s like, “Yeah, I’m a believer. I love what you’re doing.’ And this guy looks like Arnold Schwarzenegger in a cop outfit. He goes, “It’s funny that you guys showed up because the owner is not always here like we are and we’re not always here. I don’t even work in the area. I’m training from this guy doing emergency procedures and just happened to be here. The fact that you’re even catching this guy here is pretty amazing.” So we just start talking to this guy, not about a helicopter ride, but just about his faith about how he went to a local private school here, and just kind of strike up a friendship with him. 

Then all of a sudden, a lady who was like the boss of the FBO said, “What are y’all doing here?” And so far, this is going great for us and we kind of just tell her, well, you know, we’re on purpose driven mission, blah, blah, blah. And you could tell that went nowhere with her. She’s like, “I’ll be right back.” She goes and she’s like, “Yeah, I’ve already talked to the people at the helicopter place. They told us what you’re doing and it’s not going to happen. You need to leave. You can’t stay here.” 

So we were like, oh man. So we walked back into the lounge of the building where the helicopter office is, in the common area, and we’re all just sitting there on couches. It was like, man, I just, it just felt, felt like we were so close. I just felt like, man, like it was really going to happen. Dang it. 

Two minutes later, the cop starts walking over. He walks in, he looks at us in the waiting area and he goes, “You guys are in the right spot.” and he just walks off and he walks into the helicopter office. We’re looking at him like, I’m sorry, what is happening here? Now our hopes are totally elevated and we’re like, this might actually happen. I don’t know what’s going on here. 

A couple minutes later, in walks that cop with the owner and they’re chit-chatting and talking and stuff. Now we’re getting super excited, because we got this cop who we think is on our side and now he’s talking to the owner and they walk out from the airport. He walks up to us, sitting on these chairs. He walks in and he’s like, “Are you the boys that want to hitch a ride? That want us to fly you to Dallas?” And we’re like, “Yes, sir. Yeah. Yes, sir!” He just looks at us. He pauses for a second just looking at us. He’s taking it all in and we’re just not saying a word. 

He goes, “Alright, right. Alright, we’ll take you. But you know, there’s 1, 2, 3, 4 of you guys. I got two pilots, you know, it’s night. So we’re gonna have to take the blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, helicopter.” It’s just over our head. We didn’t realize it, but what that meant is we’re gonna have to take the big boy, probably one of the most expensive helicopters in the fleet. 

This is another cool part of the story. So there were two pilots. One was a kid who looked like he was 14, who was in his 20s. And then one of the guys that was like, 40 or 50, his wife worked in the lobby. She called him to come back up to fly us. The other guy, we asked the younger pilot, we said, “Did you think this was going to happen?” And he goes, “Absolutely not. No way. But I got off at five and I stuck around just in case.” 

Had that guy left, it’d be a no go. It never would have happened. And had the guy’s wife not called her husband to come back up, we never would have flown because we needed two pilots. That was one of the coolest rides ever! We’re just over seeing all the city lights and looking, and the pilots were so cool. I mean, they were like, “Hey, look over here, Blah blah blah.” They gave us headsets! They fly us to Dallas, they drop us off at a private airport in Love Field and we hop out. 

We got dropped off at 2:00 or 2:30 in this city. It’s now like 6:30 or seven. We’ve already had a steak dinner, a car ride to an airport, and we’re now in Dallas. We don’t have to be in Dallas till 8am the next morning and it’s like 7:30 or 8:00, somewhere in that ballpark. And we’re in Dallas already. We get kind of fueled up. This place has snacks at this private airport. So we get snacks and coffee and stuff and we see this one guy walking out. 

We asked him, “Hey, are you going downtown? He’s like, “I live downtown.” – And by this point, we’re like, Of course you do. – “Because this is where I live, I’ll drop you off here. Is that okay?”  It was like a block away from Klyde Warren Park. We’re like, “Yeah, that’d be fine.” 

But when I got to Dallas, my ego took over. I was like, “Well this is my town…” And that kind of sounds gross even saying it. But like, “Now we’re in my city, we’re in my element. I know exactly where to go and know what to do blah, blah.” This is when things totally shifted. 

Now keep in mind, we had just witnessed God effortlessly deliver a steak meal, effortlessly deliver a helicopter. We had just flown in a helicopter – at night. And we had just gotten a ride to downtown Dallas. Now all this doubt creeps in because we have one more thing to do on our list, raise $1,000 for charity. Everybody’s like, “What do we do now? We’re at Klyde Warren Park, where do we go to raise this $1,000? And one of the guys that was with us, he goes, “We should pray, what’s our next step?” And I was like, we don’t, we don’t need to do that. I know where to go. We’re gonna go to Deep Ellum. A lot of people are down there. We can raise the money. It’ll be easy. 

They’re all just looking at me like well, Okay. You’re from here. We’re not. Okay, we’ll just follow your plan. So we literally walk from basically Klyde Warren Park to Deep Ellum. It ended up that we only raised, I think $15.00. Fifteen! We’re in one of the wealthiest cities on the planet and we could only muster up $15. So long story short is we bounce around basically from hotel lobby to hotel lobby, but it was all a grind. It was all our effort. 

For our group, like that was our experience. This motley crew, we kind of gelled together around this idea of, “Ask God big things.” But there were other guys in the group that basically, that wasn’t their experience at all. They just took a simple train. Which is fine. But on that train, they probably prayed for like 50 to 75 people throughout the night. And it’s like, what a blessing. Right? And yeah, we showed up in a helicopter, great. And then we got there and we kind of just fell on our face. We just kind of floundered. 

When we were telling the story, we were kind of going sequentially, like, we got a steak dinner, one out of three. We got a helicopter, two out of three, and then whan-whan, we failed on the third one. And like this one guy was like, “Man, I was hoping you were gonna say, ‘and then we hit the trifecta.’ Like you got the $1,000.” I was like, “We didn’t.” 

I think it was actually a gift. Because had we done that, I think I would have been telling the story from like, “You’re not gonna believe what I did. You’re not gonna believe what I and my friends accomplished. We crushed it.” When it was like, no, no, no, no. By His grace, and His love, and His mercy, this is what life can look like. Versus like, when you do it on your own. You know, Without Me, your life looks totally different.

A buddy of mine…I don’t watch the show, but I’ve seen some clips of it.  It’s Family Guy and Brian and Stewie are at some little, silly little competition or something. And Stewie, he’s like, “We should pray.” And if you know Stewie, he’s a little baby that has no morals and his prayer is like, “Dear God, just stay out of our way.” And I kinda think about that. It’s funny, but it’s like, that is sometimes the way that I live life. Like, you know, God, hey, I’m gonna do, I’m gonna try to accomplish this thing in business or physically, if You’ll just get out of my way for a little bit, I’ll be able to do it.” And that’s the way I was living. 

I’m just now kind of wrestling with and playing with the idea that being a Christian is a relationship. There’s a conversation that happens. I think in this instance, like, when I was basically just interacting, I really feel like I was interacting with God. It was, “Where do I go next? What do we do?” Versus contrasting that with Dallas, it was like, I’m going to use God in the ways that it benefits me in this moment. But I’m running the bus here. 

So that to me was the beauty and the gift. All of this was just that experience of, You are here. You are around. You do have power. You accomplish things that I would have never been able to do by myself. And then, You lovingly said, Just let Me add an exclamation point on this to prove to you that this was not you. I’ll let you do you. I’ll let you do what you do on a normal daily basis, and let’s just watch what happens. It was great. It was perfect.

Maybe I'm a little arrogant, but I'm pretty convinced I can talk us into getting a train or a car. That to me would not seem like wow, you know, God was really involved in this. But I was like, if he gives a helicopter, that ain't me, that's God.

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