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Authors: Phil Callaway

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BOOK: Family Squeeze
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Electricity will replace God.
The peasants should pray to it; in any case, they will
feel its effects long before they feel any effect from on high


When I pray, coincidences happen. When I don’t, they don’t


here was a time in my life when I hadn’t much use for prayer. “If I should die before I wake” was whispered without much heart in it. After all, I was six. What would I die of? A heart attack? Kidney failure? Hardening of the arteries? Then the day came when my older brother threatened to kill me. And the prayer was whispered with a little more conviction.

This is how it is with life. Our prayers mirror our level of desperation. As we age, more and more is taken out of our hands. As we watch earthly power slip from our grasp, we begin to look for power elsewhere.

I used to wonder how it was that really old and wrinkled people in their forties could pray so much. Now I’m beginning to understand that
many of them were experiencing the family squeeze. They had parents and, if they prayed without ceasing, probably teenagers too.

That’s the stage at which we find ourselves. Our dear sons, who once grabbed on to our knees and rode around on our feet, are out who-knows-where with gorgeous girls their age who have learned to use lipstick. We wonder why the Bible does not mention Jesus during His teen years. Some believe it’s because His parents refused to talk about it.

One of the most profound things I’ve learned recently is to stop discussing my parenting problems with parents my own age. Parents who have children older than yours have something called perspective, an invaluable asset when you’re raising children who used to leave sharp toys on the stairs and are now making life decisions while their hormones rage. Parents of kids the same age as yours seldom admit to you that they stay awake at night worrying and praying and pulling out their hair. But older parents have nothing to lose by being honest. They smile and nod and say things like, “I know. I remember the same thing. It’ll be okay. Your hair will grow back. Some of it, at least.”

I am bolstered by these people, but mostly at the end of the day when I’m lying in bed and three children are in different cars being steered by boys who not so long ago were driving their tricycles through mud puddles, I pray.

And sometimes, on really good nights, God will spark my ADD into action, and I’ll remember stories of answered prayer, stories the most skeptical would at least find amusing.

Simple stories that give me hope.

Back when our kids wanted to travel in the same car as their parents, we journeyed three days to get to Iowa, where I was to address a family camp. I’ve discovered that the best way for a speaker to gain credibility at family camp is to leave his children at home, but ours
have always come along. And I think it’s been comforting to other parents to watch them misbehave.

As we sat at dinner the first night, the children munching corn on the cob, the camp director, Earl Taylor, and his wife, Dede, told us a little about the camp. Located on 660 acres of wooded property in central Iowa, Hidden Acres had experienced significant growth the last few years. But with growth came the usual structural hurdles.

Most recently, the camp staff had been praying that God would supply enough money to build a sewer so that frightened campers would not have to hike past bears and wolves and hyenas to use the facilities in the middle of the night.

The staff prayed often.

Nothing happened.

Then one day a semitruck crept up the gravel road, and a gentleman climbed out. “Do you mind if I park my rig here?” he asked, pointing to a hayfield on the southern edge of camp.

Earl, as accommodating a Midwesterner as you’ll ever meet, said, “Sure.”

Soon the truck driver had another question. “We’re filming a little movie, and there are more of us. You know, trailers and some equipment. Oh…and helicopters, too. Is that okay?”

“No problem,” said Earl.

The crew was from a little studio out west called Warner Brothers, and they had a few more questions. They were shooting some scenes on a road west of camp. Could they scatter a little straw? Blow it around? “We’ll pay you to clean things up,” they promised.

Earl said sure.

Next a helicopter landed in the south field, and a bearded man by the name of Steven ducked out of it, along with his personal chef. He
was producing a little film about a tornado. The crew called him Mr. Spielberg.

Warner Brothers stayed thirty-six hours on the property filming
. It took the camp staff three hours to clean up the road. Then they were asked to put all the trash back on the highway; the crew needed to shoot the scene again. Earl said, “No sweat.”

Before the trucks and helicopters departed, Earl was handed a check. One that made his mouth drop open and hang there awhile. It was written out for the exact amount they’d been praying for.

A friend rolls his eyes when I mention answered prayer because he is more educated than I and can put a voice to the “hows” of history. How could a God who answers prayer turn a deaf ear while Hitler murdered six million Jews and several million Christians? How could God watch Stalin kill sixty million without doing something? What about Lebanon and Baghdad and Hiroshima?

I don’t know quite how to respond. There is so much I don’t understand. But late at night I keep circling back to God’s obvious leading in my life. I have seen Him give joy when there is no plausible explanation for it. When I’m in the back of an ambulance holding the hand of my unconscious wife while nurses cast sideways glances at each other. And I have sensed the peace of knowing that my children are in His hands, even tonight, no matter who’s driving the car.

Earl agrees. Ask him if God answers prayer, and he’ll smile and tell you a story. And he’ll probably conclude it this way: “When I got that check, I knew what we’d build with it—and we’d do it in memory of Hollywood. They’ve built their share of sewers. Why not build one in their honor out here in Iowa?”

Nothing is so contagious as example


’ve written about hope from time to time, perhaps because I want so desperately to feel it, to have it stop wriggling away from me when I try and pin it to the mat. Hope is your best club in golf, the hope that on the next shot this stupid little white thing will do what you ask it to, that maybe a miracle will occur and you’ll be there to see it.

You need hope in golf; you need it even more when you have three teenagers. Lately I’ve been praying that these kids will stop grumbling and yelling at each other. That we’re not raising complete pagans here. That they will encounter godly people who are full of hope. After all, most of us would rather see a sermon than hear one any day.

My prayers have been especially earnest when it comes to our younger son, partly because he reminds me of myself at his age—filled with mischief and always about three seconds from a very bad decision.

Jeff is a big, tough, stylish kid, handsome and strong, the teenager all the little kids love and the kind girls phone to discuss math problems with (or at least that’s what they tell you when they finally get past your customer service department). His laugh was enough to bring the house down when he was a kid, but that contagious laugh began to vanish by
the time the boy was twelve and was completely extinct when he turned thirteen. It’s a horrible thing to watch someone view life wearing the glasses of a teenager, trading in joy because it isn’t so cool.

Our kids have always laughed a lot, partly because they get their sense of humor from my wife’s side of the family, whose motto is this: “It’s all funny until someone gets hurt. Then it’s hilarious!”

I slip on an icy sidewalk, landing on my rear, and these kids will snort and laugh until they hyperventilate. I raise a window to get some air in the room and it slips, landing on my fingers, and they fall off their chairs laughing. But by the time they are teenagers the hyperventilating has pretty much been cured. Life is as serious as a cracked rib. If childhood is spring training, the teen years are extra innings in the World Series. Laughter seems out of place, like a puppy at church.

And so I worried about Jeff’s dislocated funny bone, because laughter is surely one of God’s purest gifts to us. How I longed to hear that laugh again. The only time it seemed to eke through was during a movie I wouldn’t necessarily recommend or when I hit my elbow on the back of a chair. I even wrote the word on a prayer list I keep for each of my kids—
—believing that God cares about these things as surely as He cares for the other requests on the list: respect, soft heart, attitude, that my son will find a godly wife in about ten years.

To complicate things, the boy was struggling in school. He was late on assignments as often as United Airlines. A teacher called to tell me this and to hint that if he could issue marks below zero, he would give them to my son. Imagine telling your friends you have a minus twenty-three in Chemistry. Not an F, but an H.

My prayers turned more urgent. At night I closed my eyes in the dark and tried to pray, but the whole thing seemed so hopeless that I would get up and turn on CNN. There I found a strange relief knowing that things were at least as awful as I thought. Maybe worse. That
the sky really was falling, that situations were bad everywhere, that the good guys were in the minority. Sometimes, if things grew really desperate or I couldn’t find the remote, I would open my Bible.

I received a welcome phone call in the midst of all this. It was Compassion, the international child-development agency, asking us to go to the Dominican Republic on a short mission trip. I prayed about it for one-third of a nanosecond, then eagerly said yes. I would run away from home. And take Jeff along.

The teacher caught wind of our escape plans and called to accuse me of taking leave of whatever senses I had left. I thought of something I’d read about the Cuban Missile Crisis, how the Kremlin sent two messages to President Kennedy. One was hostile, the other calm. Kennedy said, “Let’s respond to the saner message,” and as a result, those elementary school drills where we cowered under our desks in panic were all in vain. So I listened for the saner message. The teacher said I was neglecting what’s truly important by taking Jeff out of school, that he should be at home with his teenage skull buried in serious books.

I considered telling this teacher that I learned about 6 percent of what I now know in the classroom, but thankfully I went with a saner response. I am a Christian, and sometimes I am relieved to find myself acting like it. “I’m so glad you care about him,” I said, “but I’m really concerned about his spiritual health.” I did not say, “I don’t want his schooling to interfere with his education.” I’m thankful I didn’t.

That night I waved the plane ticket in front of Jeff like a carrot. I told him that he’d better smarten up, listen up, and catch up on his assignments, or I would give the ticket to a complete stranger, maybe even the next girl who called. He smiled ever so slightly. “Do your assignments,” I told him. The smile was still there when he promised he would.

BOOK: Family Squeeze
11.57Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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