A Few Good Words


I was a skinny child. So skinny that I needed suspenders to keep my Speedo from falling down. So skinny I was swimming in a lake one summer and a dog came out to fetch me—three times. People looking for a toothpick at the dinner table would grab me. You get the picture.
It isn’t easy being a skinny kid. I suppose I became a writer partly as a response to the enormous humiliation of being teased as a child. A sense of humour and my ability with words were the only weapons in my arsenal.

In elementary school a classmate broke my thumb with a hockey stick, threw snow in my face, then laughed as I cried. His name was Ken, but I called him other things – things I’m not proud of. I told him things about his family history and his future. I knew he was gonna break my other thumb. Instead, he skated away. I realized something wonderful that day: sticks and stones can break bones, but words can shatter something far deeper. In high school, an upperclassman named Larry approached me in the hallway and said, “Callaway, you’re so skinny we should slide you under the door when we need stuff.” Or something like that. I couldn’t think of a gracious response, so I said, “Well, you’re so fat you broke your family tree!” He was stunned. I was on a terrible roll. I said, “You’re so fat, when you bend over you cause an eclipse on three continents.” I couldn’t stop myself. “You’re so fat, you beep when you back up.” I thought he would murder me. Instead, the colour drained from his face as he walked away.

Words. When I realized I could wield them like a sword, I dreamed of writing bestselling novels jammed with humour, sarcasm and revenge.
But two things stood in the way: A praying mother. And a father who promised me a watch if I read one chapter of Proverbs each day for a month. I began to encounter verses like, “Reckless words pierce like a sword” (12:18), and “The tongue that brings healing is a tree of life” (15:4). Someone informed me the other day that I’ve now written almost thirty books. I have written all of them on my knees, praying that God would somehow use the stories I tell to change lives. Miraculously, He answers that prayer in the most surprising ways.

I was speaking about God’s grace at a large convention recently and when I stepped off the stage, guess who was waiting for me? Ken. He gave me a bear hug until my ribs squeaked. There were tears streaming down his face. Ten minutes later Larry elbowed his way through a group of people and opened his arms. Tears were in his eyes. They were in mine too. The three of us stood there together. Amazed by grace. On even ground at the foot of the cross.

“Isn’t God good?” said Ken, taking my right hand and squeezing it hard. “How’s the thumb?” he asked. “Never better,” I said. “Never better.”

Want to read more from Phil?

2 min read

These Three Things

I told a bus driver friend of mine the famous old politically incorrect joke about the lady who took her…

3 min read

Not One Ounce of Good

When I was 15 I worked one summer for a construction company. Now, if you’ve ever been the new guy…

3 min read

For Guys Only

About 50 percent of our readers are guys. But, given the title above, 75 percent of our readers are now…