Joy in the Valley

Joy in the Valleyby Phil Callaway

I’m known as a humorist, but sometimes life isn’t funny. Sometimes the mountaintops are clouded over and we are stuck in the valley. A recent Thanksgiving Day adventure showed me that there are cacti here in the valley, but I don’t need to sit on one. My attitude may not change my circumstances, but it can change me.

A few hours after our family gathered to consume the turkey, I gathered our three children in the living room to read the story of the Good Shepherd. My wife, Ramona, who had been having seizures for five years, entered the room, called my name and slumped to the floor. As she lay unconscious, I cradled and carried her to the bedroom, hoping to shelter the children from the horror. Later as she slept, I pulled the children close and cried with them, answering their questions as well as I could.

“Is Momma going to die?” asked Jeffrey, our youngest.

“I don’t know,” I admitted. “But I do know this: God will never leave us, and I’ll be here for you kids, too.”

“What’s wrong with her?” asked Stephen.

“We’re not sure, but the doctors are trying to help.”

Later that night as I drifted off to sleep, my son Jeffrey stood in our doorway, silhouetted by a night light. “I can’t sleep, Daddy,” he said. I had to be up in six hours, anyway, so groggily I stumbled from my nice warm bed and took him down the hall. “Jeffrey,” I said, tucking him in again, “I want you to think of 100 things you’re glad about.” It’s a game we’ve played before.

“You start,” he said.

But how do you recite a “Stuff I’m Thankful For” list when you’ve just watched your wife come back from the brink of death for the hundredth time, and you’re worried about tomorrow, and you’re wondering about your kids?

Perhaps the key lies in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 with the words of the apostle Paul, one who suffered more than I ever will: “Always be joyful,” he wrote. “Keep on praying. No matter what happens, always be thankful, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.”

I think Paul would agree that the most genuine gratitude is shown by those who don’t always feel like showing it. That joy grows best in the soil of thanksgiving. But thanksgiving is a choice, an attitude. So as my youngest lost a battle with his eyelids, I told him a few of the things I have to be thankful for: “I’m thankful for Thanksgiving Day, Jeffrey. I’m glad we don’t eat turkey every day of the year. We’d all look like the Goodyear blimp by Christmas.

“I’m glad for memories of an afternoon of touch football at the Callaway Annual Thanksgiving Day Oldtimer’s Game (CATDOG) and coming to the table sweating and eager and prepared to dodge my brother’s spoonful of mashed potatoes which last year struck me splat on the forehead.” Although none of us can run as fast anymore, we still enjoy that classic football game. And although the food fights are a thing of the past, I’m still childlike enough to hold a spoonful of my wife’s sage dressing and measure the distance to Grandpa’s glistening head and wonder just for a moment what it would be like to let that spoonful fly.

I’m thankful for my ability to make bread now that we have a bread-making machine. Ramona’s health troubles have forced me into the kitchen to exercise my food preparatory muscles a bit more often. Several times while she has been sleeping, the kids and I have enjoyed cake and ice cream for breakfast—delicacies, I keep reminding myself, that contain the four basic food groups: milk, eggs, flour, and artificial flavouring.

“I think Paul would agree that the most genuine gratitude is shown by those who don’t always feel like showing it. That joy grows best in the soil of thanksgiving.”

I’m thankful for Attention Deficit Disorder. It helps me write short stories. I’m thankful that although things aren’t what I’d like them to be, they’re not as bad as they could be. I’m thankful for a wife who loves me and in the toughest of times has been faithful, loving and gentle.

I’m thankful for a storm that reminded me that in the cold we seem to huddle together, needing each other more. I’m thankful for the valleys. Nothing grows up on the mountain; growth takes place down where the dirt is.

I’m thankful for the dark. It’s the only time I can see the stars. I’m thankful that my hope is not fixed on the stuff of this earth—that I’ve got more than tomorrow to look forward to. I’ve got eternity.

I’m thankful for Someone to thank and three wonderful children—God’s gifts to me. They surround us with laughter, energy, mischief and love. I’m thankful that all of them have finally gone to sleep.

I think I will, too.

[Footnote: Ramona’s epilepsy has been treated by an anti-seizure medication called Epival. “Lately,” writes Phil, “she’s been waking up beside the most grateful guy on the planet. I’m thankful that God’s grace always accompanies life’s surprises, and that although I don’t have all the answers, I know The Answer—Jesus Christ.”]

ReadPhil’s books are available at www.philcallaway.com. You can receive his daily radio program at www.laughagain.ca. This article, “Joy in the Valley”, appeared in the December 2004 issue of testimony, a monthly publication of The Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada. © 2004 The Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada. Photo © istockphoto.com.

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