“I got the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart, down in my heart to stay…”
Who would have thought that as this little girl mounted the steps to take center stage for her first performance, it would be the spark that God would use to breathe life into her heart and cause a deep and abiding passion that she would need for the future?
My name is CJ Callahan and 40 years ago, that little girl was ME! I was born in Minneola, KS, the youngest of three daughters to a pastor and his wife. Six months later, God directed them to Central City, NE, and there that spark continued to grow. I asked Jesus to come into my life when I was 5. My thirst began for God’s knowledge, and I was extremely thankful for all the scripture I memorized in our AWANA club.
Growing up in a small town, I was very blessed to learn the dynamics of working with others through the various team sports I was involved in ( softball, basketball, volleyball….anything with a ball.) In 5th grade, God brought an amazing teacher into my life, who taught me how to play guitar!! Once again, God was providing the tools that I would need to use for His glory.
“The joy of the Lord is my strength…..”
In the fall of 1988, I moved to Lakewood Colorado to attend classes at Colorado Christian University. There I led worship with an all-girls band, “LightHearted”. During this time, God also developed a heart in me for outreach through a club called “Dare to Care”. I married in May of 1991, and in 1992 I received my BA in Psychology and Communications.
“When the valleys that I wander, turn to mountains that I can’t climb, You are with me, You never leave me. There ain’t nothing gonna steal my joy.”
In 1993, God began to fill my life with the first of four children: Allyson. Austyn came along in 1995, Alyxandra in 1997, and Aaryn in 1999. During these years, I took great delight in being a stay-at-home mom to my children. I was able to infuse and support their strengths in music, sports, school, family events, and church activities. Again, God was using that joy to teach me about serving others and giving me invaluable experiences to share with others in the future.
In 1998, I became the worship leader of my church, and soon after, was invited to lead worship for various women and youth events: Protestant Women of the Chapel (PWOC-Ft. Carson), Pre-Conference Worship Leader for Beth Moore Conference, “Define” “Imagine” (girls events), Heartbeat of a Woman, Women of the Harvest/Thrive, Wings for Women, and other local and state events. I was also the lead singer for nine years with a Christian contemporary band called, “Run With It”.
It was during this time that my dearest friend secretly planned on sending me on my first international missions trip. The “reveal” came during a church service, while we were having our “missions moment” with our children’s group. We were talking about how when God calls us to go, we must be ready. I was asked to assist by packing a suitcase of items that I might have need if I went on a trip: clothes, a Bible, a curling iron……you know, IMPORTANT stuff! Imagine how surprised I was, when the last item needed was a ticket, and I saw my name on a ticket to Slovakia!!!! And God breathed on that small flame again……
“So that I may come to you with joy, by God’s will and in your company be refreshed.” Romans 15:32
In 2005, I became the Youth Leader at our church. Over the 13 years I served in this position, God provided various opportunities for short-term mission projects with the youth. We ministered with World Changers, GROUP Missions, MANNA Worldwide, StudentLife in: Tacoma, WA, Gallup, NM, Chicago, IL, Nikiski, AK, Nashville, TN, Cheyenne and Casper, WY, Estes Park, CO, Colorado Springs, Guatemala, and Puerto Rico. Even through all these trips, I never imagined myself being a full-time missionary – like, one who raises support :)
You see, all my life growing up in small town Nebraska, I heard missionary after missionary come to our church and talk about “the mission field”. It always sounded so exciting, and thrilling, and adventurous to this little sanguine/otter. I wanted to go, I wanted to serve, I wanted to love…..but there was no way I could imagine doing that! I would never be able to afford the trip. And I wasn’t courageous enough to ask others to support me in serving Him.
But God had His plan…….The flame He had ignited years ago was fanned into a fire when I was asked to lead worship for a Women of the Harvest retreat in 2010. It was there that God revealed how and why He had been preparing me all these years. Missionary women from all over the world were gathered together for a time of refreshment and pampering. I had the awesome privilege of leading them into worship. It was an incredible experience!! I knew this was the passion of my heart — to come alongside missionary women and encourage them through my music and the lessons I’ve learned through my personal journey. Since then, I’ve had the joy of leading worship in: Estonia (Thrive), South Africa, Mozambique, and Lesotho.
“You stay the same through the ages, Your love never changes, There may be pain in the night, but JOY comes in the morning….”
In 2006, and for several years, I experienced and better understood “ pain in the night”. My mother-in-law was diagnosed with cancer in October, 2006. Twenty minutes after receiving this message, my mother called and informed me she was diagnosed with cancer as well. My mother-in-law passed away in April 2007, and my mom in March 2011. My marriage of 23 years ended, and I began a new chapter of life that I was totally unprepared for…..
Changes, changes….Allyson gave birth to Trevor in May of 2013, and suddenly “Nana” experienced a different kind of joy. Austyn went to college and took on a tremendous double/triple major load. Alyx decided to marry her elementary sweetheart, Nick, and I became a mother-in-law. As of this writing, Austyn is preparing for his wedding to his high school sweetheart, Annie. And my baby boy, Aaryn, leaves in February 2018 to join the Marines. “You stay the same through the ages, Your love never changes….”
So now, here I am at a place where I can shout from the mountaintops that “You have been my help, and in the shadow of Your wings, I will sing for JOY! “ Ps. 63:7 The Lord has been preparing me for such a time as this. He is leading me to use the passions He has infused in me, the talents He’s graciously given me, the experiences that He’s walked me through, to come alongside others to encourage, lift up, and hopefully show that no matter how painful — there can be JOY in the journey!
Oh! I bet some of you are wondering what “C.J.” stands for…… It stands for Colene Joy Callahan. Right there, even from the beginning, JOY has been in the middle of it all!!!
“You’ve turned it all around
Where I was hurting, now I’m rejoicing
In Your love I’m found and I have joy!”
“Joy” Planetshakers, 2014, Gary McDuffee