Phil Callaway: Fearfully and Wonderfully Wired

Interview by Emily Wierenga

Tell us about your new children's book: Be Kind, Be Friendly, Be Thankful. Why did you write it? 
Like many dads, Iíve told my kids animal stories hoping they would fall asleep. So I've had lots of practice. The book was written for a California company that markets to 4-H Clubs and to the U.S. Army. The CEO bumped into my writing somewhere so he called asking me to write a childrenís book.

What is it about?

The book is about two best friends who must say goodbye for a time and the lessons they learn.

Why do you think it's a timely book?

Sadly, I donít think weíve ever had more children saying goodbye than we do nowadays. With the break up of families and job changes and the distances we travel, itís a harsh reality. I wanted to write something that would teach children how to turn even this into joy.

Were you expecting it to be gobbled up by the military as it has been?
Ha! I was expecting this about as much as I expected my high school sweetheart to marry me. She did. This was much less a surprise, but a nice one too.


How did they learn about it, and what makes it so desirable for them?
I guess military families are taxed to the max when it comes to saying goodbye, so a book like this is geared to help them through that. 


What are your hopes for this book? 

I hope the book sparks something deep within children. A longing for a better place and a thankful heart. 


How do you share the hope of God through its pages?

When commissioned to do something like this, I view it as a sacred trust. It's much like speaking to corporations. I am at all moments aware that I am a Christian, but for me to get preachy is counter-productive in every way. I would love to write ďJesus loves you! If you need to know more, call my home number,Ē in large letters across several pages, but the military wouldnít be buying them if I did. Instead, I wrote about three things children need to do when tough times come, and the final one is to be thankful. A prerequisite to being thankful is to have someone to thank and I pray the kids will find Him.

What other books do you have on the horizon?
Family Squeeze (Random House) is the story of the last five years of our lives. The subtitle is ďHope and hilarity for a sandwiched generation.Ē Our house has been home to my aging parents who have Alzheimerís and three teenagers. So the journey has been wild, and as with my other books, Iíd like people to experience the joy I have, despite the challenges life hurls our way.


What is your overall philosophy as a speaker and author?

I want to use my gifts to point others Home.


What are your goals in life and how do you find yourself achieving them?

My goals in life are to walk close to Jesus, to build a strong marriage, love my kids and perform meaningful work. And Iíd like to golf this afternoon if it werenít so darn cold. Every single plan Iíve ever had has been too small. I never would have planned to be the author of two dozen books or be able to share the gospel with millions of people on radio. I'm more into figuring out what God would like to do right now and hitching my tiny wagon to His. God's ways are not our ways, so I'm just learning to be faithful and to do the next thing. I've been blessed beyond belief to be able to do something I got in trouble for back in school: making others laugh. If I can be doing that 70 years from now, I will be very happy and very, very old.

What are some of your highlight memories as a speaker/author?
Speaking in the States and smacking my water bottle off the platform. It splashed all over three rows of ladies. I said, ďWhoops, my water broke.Ē They laughed for three minutes. Last week I spoke in Ottawa and realized that my 18-year-old tough, hockey-playing son sat through all five gigs and one of them was 90 minutes. I asked him why. He said, ďI just like to see the response.Ē The kids have traveled with me through the years and they always create highlights. Last weekend a woman and her husband came up to me after I spoke and said, ďWe heard you speak 4 years ago and came to Christ. Weíve been attending church ever since.Ē If you could bottle their smiles and sell them, youíd be as rich as Bill Gates. Itís pretty tough to top that. 


Why comedy?

Because itís the way Iím wired, I guess. God gave me the gift of a warped mind. I just see things from a strange point of view. I visited my mother in the hospital yesterday and noticed that the first objects I encountered were three candy machines, a chip dispenser, and a Coke machine. They were a little out place, donít you think? Like a puppy at church. But you can even find humor in a hospital if you look.


Why do you desire to make people laugh?

I wish I knew. It just happens. I grew up without television, so I had to come up with my own violence, and my own sitcoms. In second grade I noticed that the class laughed at me but the teacher didnít. I should have known good things were in store. At first I thought my teachers liked me because they would let all the others go but keep me there. I spent hours with my head on the desk completely bored. I think the art of boredom is lost on us in a noisy, wired culture. Writers and comedians need it to work on material.


Are there days when it's difficult?

Only on days that end with ďyĒ.


How do you keep at it?

I do what I do because I see the joy it brings to others and because I believe it is the call of God on my life. To paraphrase the runner Eric Liddell, ďWhen I speak, I feel His pleasure.Ē Thatís why I speak 100 times a year. Yes, I get tired and much of my writing has been about things Iím trying to practice. Like slowing down, and learning to trust when your wife has Epilepsy and Huntingtonís Disease is in your family. These things give you more compassion for others and itís a wonderful thing to be able to encourage them with laughter.

How do you seek to share God through humor?

People who laugh are willing to listen to what you have to say when you get serious. I was speaking to 500 ladies in Niagara Falls (not in the falls but at the Sheraton by the falls) and a man came in and sat at the back taking notes. He told me he was in the bar band for the hotel, had heard the laughter and wanted to see why people were laughing. He had written down every Scripture reference Iíd used and said, ďIíve been far from God and Iím coming home today.Ē Psalm 26 talks about what happened when God freed the children of Israel from captivity. It said, ďOur mouths were filled with laughter, our tongues with songs of joy. Then it was said among the nations, ďThe Lord has done great things for them.Ē These are troubled times and people who see our joy often want to know why.


How did you learn about Jesus Christ, and what does He mean to you personally?

I accepted Jesus Christ when I was knee high to a Doberman. I think my brother told me I was going to hell, so I told my mom and she fixed both of us. I grew up in a home where God was honored, where my parents were real followers of Jesus whose lives matched their words. No atheist has ever been able to explain my motherís life, so Iíll stick by my motherís God. He has given me strength when Iím weak, joy when I should feel only sorrow, and an abiding peace that hasnít gone away. I canít tell you this without smiling, because Iím so thankful that a holy God loves the likes of me. Itís the greatest punch line in all of history.

Click the banner to order or read more about Be Kind, Be Friendly, Be Thankful...