Hunkered down at a blackjack table in the wee hours of the morning, Mike Lindell feigned a drunken stupor while some 300 different number combinations ran through his mind like a computerized algorithm.
As a professional card counter during the 1980s, ’90s and early 2000s, Lindell tried to make a living at casinos in Las Vegas and across the Midwest—calculating his bets on the patterns he observed coming from the card dealer’s hand. As long as he focused on the card sequences and ever-changing quantity in the dealer’s card deck, he fared pretty well. Yet, all too often, his gambling addiction would eclipse his penchant for solving the real-time mathematical equations necessary for beating the odds. And like a puff of smoke from a card dealer’s cigar, Lindell’s acumen for leveraging probabilities versus possibilities dissipated into thin air.
When Lindell wasn’t cashing in his chips at the blackjack table, the college dropout was back home in Carver, Minnesota, pursuing his dream of running his own business. So far, he had been a carpet cleaner, pig farmer, food truck operator and then a bar owner.
But it was a random dream about losing his pillow one night that set him on a journey to become the ubiquitous “MyPillow” inventor and founder. After experimenting in his back yard with 94 different foam types, Lindell discovered the trifecta foam combination in August 2004 that he still uses to fill his pillows today. MyPillow—which debuted from a kiosk in the Eden Prairie Center—took shape in a converted bus shed that housed a re-tooled hammer mill to grind foam.
From an early staple at the Minneapolis Home and Garden Show and the Minnesota State Fair—the company has sold 46 million pillows. Throughout much of his adult life, however, Lindell’s determined entrepreneurial spirit and work ethic was overshadowed by his nearly 30-year addiction to alcohol, cocaine and its cheap cousin, crack.
“I’d lived through electrocution, parachutes not opening, motorcycle and truck accidents, getting burned alive,” Lindell told Decision. “All these different things and I’m going, ‘Wow, I’m kind of invincible.’”
By September 2008, Lindell’s run of death-defying exploits—at the hands of drug cartels in Mexico; gang bangers in Milwaukee; drug lords throughout Las Vegas, Wisconsin and Arizona; and mafia members in Minneapolis—seemed to be coming to an end following a weeklong stay in the Clark County Detention Center in downtown Las Vegas for failing to pay an old casino debt that had previously been dismissed.
A series of improbable events that began earlier that year got Lindell to thinking that God was trying to send him a message. While on a 12-hour cocaine binge, he had received calls to his cellphone from four different people who didn’t order pillows, but wanted to encourage him not to give up on his fledgling company that they had seen in his television infomercial.
God wanted to use the future success of his pillow company as a platform for His purposes, the callers said. Three of them prayed for Lindell. The other, he says, was an atheist, of all people, claiming God told him in a dream to encourage Lindell to run his business for God. His sister, Cindy, a devout Christian and prayer warrior, had also told him God had big plans for his life.
But the years of cocaine, and the days of not sleeping after this latest binge, were taking their toll, and he was spiraling downward. Eventually, Lindell says, his longtime Minneapolis drug dealer put the word out on the street to not sell drugs to the “crazy white guy with a mustache.”
For several years, Lindell had been promising to quit using drugs and alcohol. He had even inspired several fellow drug users to give up the habit. But his own addiction had destroyed his 20-year marriage, alienated him from his four children and caused the bank to foreclose on his house.
“You’ve been telling us for years that this MyPillow thing is just a platform for God and that you are going to come back some day and help us all out of this addiction lifestyle we lead,” Lindell’s drug dealer reminded him. “We’re not going to let you die on us. I’m going to take your picture. You’re going to need that for that book you’re writing.”
Lindell’s self-published autobiography titled, “What Are The Odds? From Crack Addict To CEO,” was released in May. The book chronicles Lindell’s beginnings, from his parents’ life-scarring divorce when he was 7; his prayerful bargain with God to deliver him immediately from addiction in 2009; overcoming hostile takeover attempts from company investors; a 2015 dream about meeting with future President Trump; his prayer for salvation in 2017; and the planned launch of his Lindell Recovery Network.
On the night of Jan. 15, 2009, Lindell prayed: “God, when I wake up, I don’t ever want to have the desire for drugs or alcohol again.” He writes in his book that the next morning, “I could feel without question that my desire for drugs and alcohol was gone.”
Nearly 3 million MyPillow commercials have aired on television, starring Lindell and his trademark cross necklace, but it wasn’t until February 2017, when his fiancé, Kendra, questioned his salvation and persuaded him to attend a Christian retreat in Lake Tahoe, California, that he realized he had never truly surrendered completely to Jesus as his Savior and Lord.
“We did this prayer of repentance and I just started bawling,” Lindell recalls. “I went to my knees and this peace came upon me. The Lord had forgiven me. I let go of the control, and I was able to forgive myself. And that was a huge lift. Everyone else had forgiven me. These feelings of inadequacy, not fitting in, unworthiness, I’m a bad person” were gone.
Since nearly going under in 2014, Lindell’s company has grown to $300 million in annual sales and nearly 1,500 employees. In March, in response to the coronavirus, he converted 75% of his production facilities in Shakopee, Minnesota, from making pillows to producing 50,000 cotton facial masks per day.
And on March 30, President Trump, whom he’d first met in August 2016, recognized him, along with several other CEOs, during a coronavirus press briefing in the White House Rose Garden for their efforts to help stem the spread of COVID-19. When introduced to the gaggle of reporters and cameras, Lindell’s outspokenness for God was on full display. He encouraged Americans under stay-at-home orders “to use this time at home to get back in the Word. Read our Bibles and spend time with our families.”
Lindell honors godly values with his MyPillow fortune. For example, he gave $1 million to keep the movie “Unplanned” in production. The movie about former abortion clinic director Abby Johnson, now a pro-life activist, debuted in 2019.
Franklin Graham commended Lindell for upholding God’s Word in an April Facebook post.
“Mike’s life is a testimony to the transforming power of Jesus Christ—he was a drug addict. Now he is an outspoken and bold Christian. What a great testimony!”
Ever since his pillow dream, Lindell says, he’s looked for purpose and meaning in what others might dismiss as random. In July 2016, more than a year after his obscure dream about meeting Donald Trump, he was on a flight home from California when he picked up a magazine with an article about the real estate mogul. Suddenly, he started praying that God would make sense of the seemingly outlandish idea of meeting a presidential candidate. Immediately after concluding his prayer, his phone dinged to alert him of a meeting invite email from Trump. The email brought him to tears. “It’s a miracle,” Lindell says. “Not that I was going to meet Donald Trump, but that God answered me in real time.”
The Trump administration, Lindell says, has supported his advocacy for making Biblically based addiction treatment more accessible through his Lindell Recovery Network, which is scheduled to launch later this year in partnership with 60,000 churches around the country. Lindell says God used his spiritual and physical transformation to influence several of his former drug dealers to place their faith in Christ. He hopes his addiction recovery network will leverage the power of God’s grace and forgiveness to set others free of their addictions.
At 59, Lindell is praying about seeking the Republican nomination for governor of Minnesota in 2022. He had discovered in second grade that helping people was what made him feel significant when he readily gave his Mother’s Day planter—a gift students were to take home to their moms—to a distraught classmate who lost hers to a bully’s prank. But it would take nearly five decades for Lindell to realize Who gave his life significance.
“This is all God,” Lindell says. “I didn’t do anything. This is what I want people to see: that this is God’s platform and I’m just a vessel.”
Photos: Courtesy of Mike Lindell