Nothing endears you to an audience quite like that moment when things go horribly wrong. When a microphone quits. A cell phone rings. A podium collapses, or you have a wardrobe malfunction. Each of these things has happened to me. To make matters worse, when you stand before audiences, your forgetter can go into hyperdrive. I once said, “There’s a sign on an Alaska highway that says…” and my mind went blank. My brain was a giant piece of fuzz, fluffy white clouds floating around in there. So I grinned and said, “The sign says…something you would have really laughed about if I could just remember.” The audience was so encouraged by my forgetfulness. They laughed harder than they would have had I remembered the rest of that sign.
Several times I’ve been asked, “What was the worst speaking experience of your life?” I think of the time I was asked by a corporation to entertain their employees, but missed the fact that few of them spoke English. As I started to speak, chairs began to move. An audience of 500 turned their backs on me and visited among themselves. What would you do? I addressed the ones who brought me there for about 15 minutes, then sat down. As a boy, I heard speakers ask mothers to remove crying babies from the building. “This is not the ball room,” one yelled. I heard speakers who made their spouse look silly or an audience member look like a fool. I remember the hollow feeling of doing that when I first started in comedy. Then I encountered Bible verses about our speech. It should always be seasoned with grace. It should minister grace to those who hear. Even when the unexpected jumps out from nowhere.
Not long ago I was privileged to address a crowd representing 72 nations. Suddenly a small child wriggled from the grip of his parents and dashed onto the stage, stealing the show. I thought, It’s okay. Don’t panic. And when that boy wrapped his tiny arms around my leg and wouldn’t let go, I said, “Thank you. I’ve had fruit thrown at me while I’m on stage, but never this.” I discovered later that this boy is a Syrian refugee, that his parents don’t speak much English, still somehow I made them laugh. I tried not to tear up. “God bless this precious little boy,” I prayed.
Sometimes even I get things right, and when I do, I’m astounded and grateful. Sometimes I even remember punchlines. Remember that sign on the Alaska highway? I do now. It says, “Choose your rut carefully. You’ll be in it for the next 200 miles.”
Could you use a few good snickers? Not Snickers bars, but a few laughs? Kids were asked, “Why does love happen between two particular people?” Mae, age 9, said, “No one is sure why it happens, but I heard it has something to do with how you smell. That’s why perfume and deodorant are so popular.” That reminds me of what I’ve often said, “Love is like deodorant. Put it on every day or life will stink.” “I think you’re supposed to get shot with an arrow or something,” said Manuel, age 8. “But the rest of it isn’t supposed to be so painful.” How do people in love typically behave? “Mooshy. Like puppy dogs,” said Arnold, age 10. “Except puppy dogs don’t wag their tails nearly as much.” Do beauty and handsomeness play a role in love? “Beauty is skin deep,” answered Christine, age 9. “But how rich you are can last a long time.”
Kids were asked for some surefire ways to make a person fall in love with you. Del, age 6, said, “Tell them that you own a whole bunch of candy stores.” Floyd, age 9, said, “Love is foolish … but I still might try it sometime.” Regina, age 10, said, “I’m not rushing into love. I’m finding fourth grade hard enough.” “Love will find you,” said Dave, age 8, “even if you are trying to hide from it. I been trying to hide from it since I was five, but the girls keep finding me.” That reminds me of when our daughter Rachael was 16 and put a Bible verse on her bedroom door: “Have mercy on me O God, for men hotly pursue me” (Psalm 56:1). I think it was slightly out of context, but I took a picture of it that I have to this day.
Most Wednesday nights, my wife and I attend a Bible study. Last week, we looked at what Jesus talked about the most during his final days on earth. What do you think it was? You’re right. Love. The apostle John records Jesus using the word just six times in his first twelve chapters, but 31 times in the last five. You know, if I was hoping to start a “religious” movement that would change the world, I would spend my last days planning innovative strategies, designing thick manuals, and creating well-moneyed foundations. Not Jesus. What he wanted was a few men and women who would love one another with His love, a radical love that loves even our enemies. This love is how people will know that we are His disciples. It is truly the greatest thing the world has ever known.
Greg, aged 8, agrees. “Love,” he said, “is the most important thing in the world. But baseball is pretty good too.”
I’m not much of a runner. But friends of mine religiously strap on their running shoes and jog across the tundra. One was trying to explain to me something he called the “runner’s high.” I’ve found I can get that same sensation just getting up off the couch.
But if you’re about to start pounding the pavement with your sneakers, here’s a little advice.
• Start early in the morning before your brain figures out what you’re up to.
• Never run in front of a car. You might get, well, tired.
• Stretch. First take your left ankle and throw it over your right shoulder. If you feel discomfort, get back on the sofa.
• Don’t worry if you see a dog. But be very worried if the dog sees you.
• Set your own pace. But remember, if a workman from the city comes by and paints you yellow, you are running too slowly.
Devin Woodland loves to run. He’s a cross country champ who grew up in our little town, and now lives in the city of Red Deer, Alberta, with his wife Anna. Devin was out for a run this past September when he spotted something. He was sure it was his wife’s blue bike that had been stolen two days before. When he confronted the thief, the guy hopped on the bike and took off, not knowing that he was trying to outrace a guy who had just won his first triathlon.
As he ran, Devin dialed the police from his phone. They didn’t believe him at first, but soon joined in the chase. For nearly an hour, the race wound its way through the downtown. Finally, Devin and an officer cornered the thief who tossed the bike aside and dove into a bush. One newspaper dubbed the ending anti-climactic. Woodland saw how miserable the thief was, so he just forgave the guy. “I wasn’t sure what good pressing charges would do,” Devin explains. “Besides, I’m a Christian. God forgave me, I can forgive others.” I don’t find that anti-climactic at all. You see, Devin understands the concept of grace, getting what I don’t deserve, what I can never earn or pay for.
I hope your day doesn’t include chasing someone around for an hour, but it may include the opportunity to show God’s grace to someone who doesn’t deserve it. Go ahead. Make their day. As for Devin, he was happy to have his wife’s bike back. He thanked the officer, hopped aboard that bike and rode home in search of breakfast.
Is it possible to make someone smile with three words? I think so. How about “Hot apple pie”? “Come for supper”? “Let’s go eat”? It sounds like I have a bit of a thing for food. Is it possible to tell a three-word joke? Let me try. Bakers knead dough. Get it? Gloves are handy. Twins are wombmates. Trees branch out. Teachers have class. Tailors suit me. Okay, I guess the only thing tougher to find than a three-word joke is a three-word joke that’s funny.
Some three-word combinations are lethal: “Told you so.” I’m glad my wife hasn’t said this since about 1984. But she has said, “You are wrong.” She was right. She’s also said, “You are cheap.” Here’s a horrible three-word phrase: “You are fired.” I much prefer hearing, “You are hired,” or “The weekend’s here.” “I brought sandwiches.” There’s that food thing again. How about, “Class is canceled.” I like that. A friend told me, “Crashed your car!” Then he said those beautiful words, “I’m just kidding.” Let me tell you about three words that changed my life. When I started writing, public speaking and flying were my top fears.
One memorable day on an American Airlines flight I pulled out a card I’d stuffed in my briefcase the night before. My mother had given it to me. I knew it contained no money, she didn’t have much of the stuff. But its contents were priceless. This is what she wrote: “Praying for you. God has allowed you to be such a blessing. I’m so thankful you get to do this, Son.” Three words popped out at me: “You get to.” I honestly don’t think I’d be doing what I’m doing today were it not for those three words. God has allowed me to do this. Thousands would love to. I don’t have to. I get to.
I wonder what our days would look like if we woke up each morning and said, “Thank you God. I don’t have to go work, I get to.” “I don’t have to parent these crazy toddlers or change this ripe diaper or make this three-course meal. I get to.” Recently I found myself saying, “I have to take out the garbage.” And I thought of a dear friend in a wheelchair who would love to take out the garbage tonight. I get to.
The central message of the Bible can be summed up in three words: God so loved. “God so loved the world,” says John 3:16, “that he gave his one and only son that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life.” God so loved. You are loved. All is well. Why so serious? God is bigger. Love conquers all. Thank you God.
Phil Callaway, the host of Laugh Again is an award-winning author and speaker, known worldwide for his humorous yet perceptive look at life. He is the best-selling author of twenty-five books including Laughing Matters, Who Put My Life On Fast Forward? I Used to Have Answers…Now I Have Kids,Making Life Rich Without Any Money, and Family Squeeze. Residing in Alberta, Canada with Ramona and their three children, Phil’s desire is to see the joy of the Lord cover Canadians from coast to coast.
“Our heart’s goal is that people across our nation will see the life God has for them, and rediscover the joy of Christ in their life through the Gospel message.” – Phil Callaway