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My Crooked Friend
“Through penalty boxes, late-night telephone calls and broken noses, Kevin and I have always been there for each other” (Phil Callaway).

Kevin Birch and I grew up together in the same small town, but we didn't get to know each other until the day we met outside the penalty box at a hockey rink. As the referee, I had just watched Kevin (who was not a dentist) attempt to remove the teeth of a fellow sportsman. After stopping the play, I informed Kevin who is five years younger of his crime and invited him to spend two minutes in the "sin bin" to think of mending his ways. Skating toward the penalty box, he let me know that I had serious problems with my eyesight, that my nose was crooked and that there were some evil people in my family tree. In other words, the blue streak he swore matched the colour of his jersey. While reporting the penalty to the timekeeper, I thought of making Kevin sit a while longer, perhaps four to six years. Instead, I looked at him and said, "So you didn't like my call, huh?"

Phil Callaway (left) with Kevin Birch

He shook his head. "Ah, Callaway, I'm sorry. I need to talk to you. I'll wait for you after the game."

I'd heard this from other players and their parents. But following the game, Kevin approached me with good intentions. "It's been quite a week," he said, apologizing again. "Do you have a few minutes to talk?"

Over soft drinks in a nearby restaurant, he told me of his struggle with friends, with substance abuse and with God. I don't know if I said much that night that was helpful. All I did was listen. When Kevin informed me that he was finished with faith, I said, "Well, if you ever need a religious fanatic to talk to, you know where to find me." We laughed.

During the next few years, he often took me up on my offer. Sometimes late at night the phone would ring and Kevin would be desperate. "I need you to pray for me. Things aren't going so well." And while he listened at the other end of the line, I would pray.

"Good Friends Do That"

Fifteen years have passed and I’ve watched him come back to God and marry the girl of his dreams. He has also become one of my dearest friends. Kevin is a farmer by trade, and when he's out steering a tractor, you'll prob3ably find him praying with his eyes open. "I pray for you when I remember to," he tells me often. When I travel to speaking engagements, I never do so alone, and sometimes Kevin accompanies me. Sitting on an airplane bound for Toronto recently, he asked me a question he'd been pondering for years: "How did your nose get so crooked?"

"When I was in Grade 9, I weighed less than a hundred pounds," I told him. "So I started lifting weights. One day, I was bench-pressing 75 pounds and my arms gave way. Guess where the barbells landed?"

Kevin held his nose and laughed until I offered him an oxygen mask.

The next day, while sightseeing at the CN Tower, he turned to say something to me and walked nose-first into a huge sliding glass door. He hit it so hard he knocked it off its hinges. We spent the afternoon in a nearby hospital, where I watched a doctor push, pull and prod his nose until she was satisfied it wasn't broken.

"If it wasn't broken before," Kevin said on our way out, “it is now.”

By the time we headed for home, his nose was twice the size of normal. Black shadows had formed around his eyes, making him look like a raccoon. "I feel your pain," I told him. "Good friends do that." We talked about our friendship, and we spoke of the time we met outside the penalty box.

"I wonder where I'd be if you'd thrown me out of that game," Kevin said, staring out the window past pillowy clouds.

"At first, I was afraid of getting together with you," I confessed. "I always thought a mentor should have it all together, have all the answers."

"Mostly I just needed your time," said Kevin. "A shoulder to lean on, someone to listen to me. And I needed to see someone who  loved Jesus."

After we got home, a doctor informed Kevin that his nose was broken for sure. In fact, if you saw us standing together, you'd swear we had the same plastic surgeon.

Every time Kevin looks in the mirror now, he has a small reminder of me. And every time he hesitates before opening a glass door, he smiles and says a prayer for his friend with the crooked nose.

Kevin still travels with Phil Callaway when he speaks. Neither has broken any bones since this story. You can tell Phil of your own injuries at www.laughagain.org.

Phil Callaway is the editor of Servant magazine, author of a dozen books and a popular speaker. His web site is: www.philcallaway.com.

Originally published in Faith & Friends, January 2008.

 

 
 
 
 

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