Joy Comes in the Mourning
Joy is the serious business of heaven.
—C. S. Lewis
We should give as we would receive, cheerfully, quickly, and without hesitation; for there is no grace in a benefit that sticks to the fingers.
Between the two of us, we have written some one hundred books. Some of these have hit bestseller lists; others have hit bargain bins. Mostly you will find our books in the humor section of bookstores and libraries. Or at the bottom of a broken desk leg, keeping the desk in balance.
Wherever you happen to find our books, we hope they've brought a few smiles your way. But don't think we don't try to write serious things, too. It's just that our train of serious thought only has a caboose. We both love to laugh and would rather make whatever points we feel we'd like to make through the avenue of humor.
Often complete strangers will come up to us and tell us a joke or a funny happening in their lives. We love and expect this. If after several hours they're still not done and they want to go home with us to finish telling the story, well, that can get a bit uncomfortable. But still, like we said, we have come to expect this and other odd but fun behaviors from our readers.
I (Phil) was sitting in a restaurant once when an autograph seeker came over and said, "Excuse me, would you mind ..." and I said, as politely as I could, "Can this wait until after dinner?" The stranger looked at me funny and said, "I just wanted to borrow your salt shaker." I gave him the salt and an autograph. He had never heard of me and didn't really want the autograph, but I didn't want to come across as proud and not give him one.
Perhaps the most surprising thing is how often someone will come to us and tell us the single most tragic event of their lives. Laughter and tears are closely linked, it would seem. We're not sure why so many people will share their needs with us. Perhaps they sense that humorists can laugh about almost anything, and they want us to help them find what they can laugh about in their lives, too. Sometimes, though, they will tell us a story that stops us in our tracks, and we can't stop thinking about it for days. One of those events took place a hundred miles from Phil's front door, and the results are still being tallied.
On a dark February night, fourteen-year-old Daniel Garrard took the family van out for a joyride, collided with a semitrailer, and was killed. Daniel's mother, Terra, and his three siblings were devastated. As a single mother, Terra worked hard in a grocery store to make ends meet, but without a car and without hope, despair closed in around her.
Two teens, Katelin Allert and Amy Fitzpatrick, were watching, though. And they wondered what they could do to help their co-~worker. How about a fund-raiser? Maybe they could help her buy a van.
At first the dream seemed impossible. For one thing, the logistics would have challenged a professional fund-raiser. But the two teenagers began to plan. First, they convinced the manager of the grocery store where they worked to give them five hundred dollars. They used the money to put down a deposit on the best venue in town. Next, they began visiting business after business asking for an auction item or a donation. Something surprising began to happen.
"Before we went into each one, we prayed," recalls Katelin. "Only one business in the whole city turned us down."
At her irresistible urging, Katelin's father, Gord, a guitar virtuoso, began inviting musician friends to come and play at the event. Gladly they hopped on planes. Country star Paul Brandt heard about it and donated an autographed guitar. And Gord asked me (Phil) to speak. I knew I couldn't say no, but what would I speak about? A comedian speaking at a fund-raiser for a young teen who had died such a tragic death?
When Katelin and her mom, Liz, shared the plans with Terra, she was overwhelmed. Liz and Katelin took her shopping for a new outfit to wear at the event. Daniel's mom also expressed interest in a Bible, so they gladly gave her one. As the community heard what was happening, tickets began selling fast. On a Sunday evening in June, three hundred people gathered to support this family in their grief. Standing before them, I talked of joy—how it had invaded our lives when we couldn't explain it. I told them of the peace I'd found in walking with Christ, how happiness depends on what happens but joy does not. We cried together and prayed together.
And as we prayed, the true Christlike actions of these two young girls began to bear fruit. The results were nothing short of miraculous.
We'll let the local newspaper tell you more.
Garrard Touched by Community Support
Hundreds attend benefit in memory of Daniel Garrard, that includes one big surprise
An Evening of Music, Humor and Hope turned into an evening of triumph on Sunday night as hundreds turned out in support of the Garrard family. And, in a move that was known about by only a select few, not only was money raised to support Terra Garrard, but a van from Cochrane Dodge turned out to be a part of the night. "They called me and my family on stage and said they had a little gift they wanted to give me," said a still emotional Garrard on Monday. "They handed me a little bag, and inside were the keys to a van." For Garrard the support was "overwhelming."†
What the paper didn't report is that during the next few weeks, Terra couldn't stop asking questions. But instead of "why?" she began asking "Who?" Who could be behind people loving her the way they had? Who could be there to comfort her in her lonely hours? Who could make all the pain she was feeling ever go away?
As Terra struggled with grief, she began to wonder if what she had seen in Katelin and Amy was worth having for herself. She began reading the Bible that Liz had given to her. On one of her most difficult days, she called the pastor to say, "I need to talk to you, now!" Arriving at the church, she asked Pastor Jason to introduce her to Jesus. Jason grinned. Nothing would please him more.
Ask Katelin and Amy what effect this has had on them, and they'll grin, too. For they have seen God at work. And whenever we see what God is doing, despite our doubts, despite our weaknesses, despite our pain, we can't help but be changed forever.
I (Martha) once received a letter from the aunt of a young Brio magazine reader who was putting together a book for her niece, Anne Farris, on what the meaning of success was. She was writing to different people, asking them to write a response before compiling all the letters into a booklet for Anne.
I answered the letter, saying that I thought the meaning of success was being in the center of God's will for your life. A short while later I received another letter. It was a thank-you note from Anne, saying what my letter had meant to her. As I started to put the note back into the envelope, I noticed something else in there. I pulled it out. It was Anne's obituary. Anne had died suddenly while running laps. She was only fifteen years of age. When I wrote to the address on the envelope, I said how sorry I was to hear about Anne's death. Anne's mother wrote me back and asked me if I had ever considered writing a book for teens on dealing with death.
I ran the idea past my publisher and we broadened it to include divorce, death of different family members, death of a pet, moving away, and other kinds of losses. It was called Saying Goodbye When You Don't Want To, and it is filled with letters from people, young and old, who have had grief in their lives and how they got through it. I think both Anne and Daniel would be pleased to know that through their tragic deaths, so many others have been and are being encouraged and reminded of God's unfailing love.
The greatest pleasure I know is to do a good action by stealth, and to have it found out by accident.
To do the useful thing, to say a courageous thing, to contemplate the beautiful thing: that is enough for one man's life.
—T. S. Eliot
Excerpted from IT'S ALWAYS DARKEST BEFORE THE FRIDGE DOOR OPENS © Copyright 2011 by Martha Bolton and Phil Callaway. Reprinted with permission by Bethany House, an imprint of Baker Publishing Group. All rights reserved.