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Brad, Britney, Bill and Jim
Wherein lies true nobility? Phil Callaway reflects on those whose lives exhibit depth and honour.

Most of us do not grow one inch through success, or ease, or happy circumstances. I wish it weren't this way. I wish we learned about patience by not having to loiter in traffic. I wish we learned about peace by living in peaceful times. And more than this, I wish we learned about suffering by reading good books on the topic, books that are on the blowout table for ninety-nine cents.

… our sad culture has replaced the servants with the stars…

I first asked my wife Ramona out in tenth grade (okay, she was not my wife until later, she was my least, I was hoping she would be) and soon learned that there was a 50 percent chance she was carrying around a hereditary disease known as Huntington's. Though we have known for more than a decade now that she does not carry it, three of her siblings inherited this neurological disorder—her dear brother, Dennis, succumbed two Christmases ago. Today her sisters, Cynthia and Miriam, and their faithful husbands Bill and Jim are battling this awful disease, and though I don't use the term very often, I consider the four of them to be saints, because they put others' needs ahead of their own without telling you about it.

I fear our sad culture has replaced the servants with the stars and that we need to refocus. If you've been unfortunate enough to read scandalous headlines in the checkout line lately, I think you agree.

Recently I began receiving phone calls from the editorial staff at Life & Style, a Hollywood tabloid, asking me to comment on various goings-on in the unnatural lives of celebrities like Brad Pitt, Britney Spears, and Angelina Jolie. I joked with them a little, then asked why they called me. "You're on file as one of our experts," an editor said. I'm not sure if she could hear me laughing.

Now, I'm old enough to get away with being cranky, so allow me a brief rant: I have no clue about the lives of these people. I see Jessica and Paris on the covers of magazines when I'm buying mangoes, and I know that God loves them (Jessica and Paris, and probably the mangoes too), but I can't tell you a thing about their love lives. Will it help me in some small way to know more about the feud between Rosie and Donald? Will it better my marriage to know who broke up with whom this week?

I fear, in saying this, that someone may show up at my door and give me a talking-to for being insubordinate, but it's a risk I'm willing to take. Perhaps that is what aging is, sorting through what's rotten and throwing it out.

At this particular time in my life, I cannot afford to be sidetracked by the trivial. If I am going to write about people, there needs to be some depth, some honor, something bordering on nobility. And that's what I've found in the lives of these family members whose love for others propels me to love deeper, whose laughter astounds me as much as their attitudes.

Steve Cohen is the president of The Apple of His Eye Mission Society. Like Bill and Jim, Steve's wife, Jan, wrestles with Huntington's. And like Bill and Jim, Steve faces each new day with profound faith, a robust attitude, and a couple of much-needed chuckles.

I would love to see his face at the checkout line. Recently the Cohens celebrated 31 years of marriage and the 14th year that Jan has bravely battled Huntington's (HD). When Steve travels throughout the country he meets people whose lives Jan's story has touched, people who are praying for them. "Please tell me how Jan is doing!" they say.

In high school I heard a sermon on what we should say when God meets us at heaven's gates and asks in His thundering Charleton Heston—ish voice why He should stoop to unlatch the door for the likes of us. I was sitting with three friends that day and normally we were busy distracting others, reading Alfred Hitchcock magazines stuffed in our Bibles, or listening to a transistor radio through a tiny earpiece attached to a wire beneath our shirts. But this day the topic sobered us enough to listen.

The preacher listed seven things we needed to say, and a host of things we would need to do on earth before we entered the hereafter. I'm ashamed to tell you I don't remember more than one or two of them. I knew the preacher was a man who had no shortcomings; there seemed to be no reason God wouldn't open the gates wide and hug him home. But not me. I sat there hanging my head, knowing I could never measure up.

With a few years under my belt, I have come to the conclusion that I'll be speechless when I arrive there. But if I finally find my voice and, for some reason, God asks me why He should allow me in, I shall bow nervously and try to stammer out the words a wise friend of mine said: "Because You love me, You know You do."

Then I think I shall add this: "I know Bill and Jim and Steve. They're over there in the front row. They're my friends."

Phil Callaway is the author of It's Always Darkest Before the Fridge Door Opens (Bethany House). Visit him at Callaway is the editor of Servant magazine, author of a dozen books and a popular speaker. His web site is:

Originally published in City Light News, January 2009.




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