Posted in focus on faith

Pancreatic Cancer as God’s Canvas

IMG_2724“There’s a mass on my kidney,” our daughter Christine said shakily into the phone. Her dad took the call on my cell because I was paying for some shoes at the mall. He stepped into the hallway, pacing and murmuring, while I tried not to show my impatience with the chatty associate who was handling the transaction. I hurried over to where Gerry was in time to hear him say, “Stay there. We are on our way.”I could tell by the look on Gerry’s face that the report of our daughter’s ultrasound was not good. When he said “mass” and “kidney” I stopped breathing. My mother died from kidney cancer. I was shaking so badly I had to lean on the wall while Gerry said all the smart things: we don’t have all the facts yet; it’s too soon to panic; blah blah blah. Of course he was right but he needed to knock the monster off my chest so I could breathe!

That was almost exactly two years ago and yesterday our daughter had her second surgery to remove tumours from her pancreas — the “kidney” diagnosis turned out to be inaccurate. It has been a difficult and beautiful season in our family’s life. “Difficult” because no mother wants her child (grown or otherwise) to suffer. Every mother wishes to take the suffering on her own shoulders and let her child live in glorious freedom. But trading places is not an option. “Beautiful” because God uses our suffering as the canvas on which to paint Himself. Every time you look at that canvas you see Him and you know He cares, He knows, He is with you, He was ready for this, He’s in control, and so much more as the canvas takes on colour and pattern and depth.

There’s hardly a family that hasn’t been touched by cancer so you know what I mean when I say that the early days of waiting for the right diagnosis, the treatment options, the prognosis, the side effects (and so on) seem to drag on forever. You want answers. But you only want good answers, hopeful answers, dodged-a-bullet answers. If the cancer is rare, as Christine’s is, the answers are even slower in coming. Meanwhile, swatches of colour began to appear. The first was when we realized that the tumours on Christine’s pancreas had no symptoms and would never have been discovered until they had done irreparable damage. However a separate minor medical problem required ultrasound. And in the search for something else, the technician noticed a golfball sized mass and other smaller ones in Christine’s abdomen. The touch of God’s hand was obvious right from the start.

After Christine’s first surgery where they removed the tail of her pancreas that held seven cancerous tumours of various sizes she suffered hideously with uncontrollable pain and severe nausea. On her darkest night when she could not stop herself from crying out a young nurse came alongside her bed, took her hand and began to pray. Christine opened her eyes and saw Robyn Booth, the daughter-in-law of my dear friend Susan. Robyn’s comforting presence and heartfelt prayers as well as her subsequent search for better pain control was a giant swath of colour onto God’s canvas.

It took a year for Christine to regain her strength. She went back to work, taking two casual nursing positions. Two months later an MRI revealed a new tumour on the pancreas. We didn’t see it coming. I was on my way back from speaking in Georgia, enjoying some quiet in the Denver airport’s United Club when I read the text telling me the news. I had to find a bathroom stall so I could weep unseen. I called Gerry, bawling, and told him to tell Christine I would talk to her in the morning since my arrival home would be too late. The truth was I didn’t trust my composure. I packed my computer and iPad into my carry-on and stumbled to my gate in a fog. Someone called my name. I turned to see Patsy Woodard, a friend and fellow ministry associate from BC. She was en route to visit grandkids in Texas(?) and she saw me pass by.

“How are you?” she asked.

“Not good,” I replied, eyes watering. I explained. Patsy wrapped her arms around me and prayed, right there in the crowded airport hallway as people flowed around us. Drops of colour shaped like tears fell onto the canvas. God was present.

There’s so much colour on God’s canvas, I can’t begin to put it into words in one oversized blog. Here are some snatches: Christine, Brad and the kids bought a house four doors down a year before the cancer struck. I have been able to rush over — in pjs! — many times when needed. The kids have come to my place — in cuter pjs — many times. Colour on canvas! Women all over Canada and the US are praying for Christine as I share her story in my speaking ministry and so many keep in touch and send encouragement. Splashes of colour! When Christine arrived in the Operating Room yesterday morning, a woman from her fitness class was a nurse in the adjoining OR. She spoke to Christine assuring her that her attending doctors were the best in the area. Colour!

Two years ago in July, when my husband Gerry had his burnout, I felt God whisper into my ear, “Gerry needs a wife.” Obviously, he had a wife but I was so busy with my speaking and writing that I was very distracted. I stopped writing immediately — look at my blog (or lack of) for evidence. I honoured my speaking engagements but did nothing to get more — newsletters rather scarce! You see, God knew that by the time Gerry had recovered (after our “summer of love”), we would get the call from Christine that changed everything.

Christine called us from her hospital bed last night. Her pain was under control. She had no nausea. The surgeon says everything went according to plan and her pancreas is clear. She is in good spirits and excitedly reported how God had so obviously been adding colour to His canvas all day long.

I booked half as many events as usual these past two years but my husband needed his wife and my daughter, her mom. I answered their call, His call. I am following God one yes at a time and have no regrets. His magnificent canvas, ever before me, is proof that I am on the right path.

What about you? Where has God led you in these last months? Can you see the colours on His canvas of love?

Posted in need a laugh?, tips for speakers

Three Ways to Inject Laughter into your next Outreach Event

 IMG_1160We have all been to events that were so much fun we lingered later than we planned, laughed more than we expected, and left feeling glad we went even though hours earlier we had a hundred excuses why we should stay home.

Why did we have fun? It could have been a number of factors ranging from the logistics to the guest list to the program to the refreshments to how we felt in our new outfit. The common denominator if you were to poll the guests after the fact is probably something as simple as: “I had fun because it was fun – I laughed.”

Laughter brings a guaranteed return on the investment of time it takes to inject some humor into an event. If your guests laughed that is a pretty good indication that they had a good time and they will come to your next event. That is why I think it is so important for Christian event planners to make sure they include “laughter” on the checklist of things they need for their next outreach event.

We’ve all met fun-loving people – maybe you are one – who know how to have a good time and they bring laughter wherever they go. My sister Lisa is like that. The minute she walks in the door at a family get-together, she always announces: “I’m here! Let the fun begin!” And it does! She brings it with her in the form of games, contests, funny stories and family lore.

Sadly, my sister Lisa is not for hire. So let’s look at some sure-fire things you can do to include humor in your next outreach event.

  1. Personally invite fun-loving people to attend: You might even consider offering some of them scholarships or discounts! A board game that made me shriek with laughter with one group of friends felt like a funeral mass with a different group a week later. Obviously it wasn’t the game (or me!) that was funny it was the group of game players. Make an effort to find “gamers” who know how to have fun and pepper your audience with as many of these fun-loving people as you can. The value of what they have to give (shared laughter) is as important as what they can get by attending.
  2. Make sure at least one program personality is funny: It doesn’t matter whether it’s the emcee, a special guest who does fun music or sketch comedy, or the speaker as long as someone brings some levity from the platform. This is important because if it comes from the platform, it gives permission to the audience to relax and enjoy themselves. It sets a joyful, fun-loving tone for the whole event. This doesn’t mean there won’t be seriousness and even tears; just as you can set a tone for fun you can shift the tone into weightier concerns when the time is right.
  3. Include fun in your program: What about an un-fashion show? The more outlandish the outfit, the better. Or a demonstration of what not to do in home decor or home reno. Old standbys like skits, games, contests or short videos also work. Not every event needs these add-ons; because I am a comedic speaker, sometimes the program is simply “sweets and me”! They eat chocolate and laugh at my stories and go home happy. But maybe your next event doesn’t have a funny speaker and you still want people to laugh because you know laughter will help them relax and be more open to receiving whatever it is your wonderful speaker wants to impart. In that case, look for something people can either watch or participate in that will get them laughing. The Internet and fun-loving people you trust are your best resources.

One final thought for you to gnaw on: La Chapelle, a new church in Montreal Quebec, is attracting and winning people to Jesus by the hundreds. Last year they baptized 70 converts. Pastor David Pothier attributes their growth to their willingness to adapt their timeless message (the gospel) to a new methodology: “We are constantly driven and focused on reaching people. We do and think everything through that lens.” One of the items on a short list of essentials for Sunday Worship is humor. Pastor Pothier knows the value of shared laughter in building trust, breaking down barriers and establishing community. Humor is a valuable tool – don’t underestimate its importance.

 

Posted in focus on faith

Generosity part 3: hope for the rest of us

hubcap-treeAs the Christmas season approaches does the word “generosity” make you nervous? If so, you’re in the majority. Many of us are in a constant state of donor fatigue, inundated with requests from our kids’ schools, our churches, the natural disaster of the day (tsunamis, tornados, earthquakes, floods and fires), starving children, missions fundraisers, telemarketers, political parties, community initiatives, door to door campaigns, and on and on and on.

We aren’t just stretched financially but many of us also have a bulging calendar and a demanding clock. Maybe you are multi-talented and you don’t want to waste it. Or perhaps you can’t bear to see an unmet need. Or maybe you look at the staggering success of colleagues and, in comparison, you feel like you have to crank it up a notch so you don’t get left behind. Maybe, like me, you read Sheryl Sandberg’s blockbuster book, Lean In, and you think super-woman really does exist so you just need try a little harder.

303891 The truth is Superwoman is a mythological comic figure. And no matter how much we want to be her, we can’t. (I doubt the slinky get-up would be overly flattering for most of us anyway!) We can’t say yes to every request for our time, our talent or our treasure. We have limits. We are human.

Boy that really stinks doesn’t it?!

How are we supposed to “change our world” if we are limited human beings? Well, a few of you will do and are doing huge things that grab the attention of the multitudes. But most of us, the vast majority of us, are the multitude. What about us? We want to make a difference too! Is there any hope for the rest of us?

A resounding yes! Consider these four suggestions:

Get to know and then respect your limits. Even though I wince every time, I have learned to say “no” or “not at this time” with kindness, courtesy and respect.  I agonized for a month and finally replied to a request for support from a godly, gifted, impassioned young woman with “no.” I explained that I did believe in her and in her calling and I didn’t doubt she would do great things but I have limits and her request fell outside those limits at this time. It was tough. But right.

Discern what your top one, two, at most three talents or areas of giftedness are rubber-glove-thumbs-up-20579179transparentand operate mainly from those strengths. This will require focus, discipline and, you guessed it, the ability to say no.  I know that I have two strong gifts: my hands and my humour. I use the gift of humour in lots of speaking and some writing. I use my (often rubber-gloved) hands helping my family, my friends, my community and my church.

Be ready, and willing, to scale back, take a break, or walk away from some or all of your world-changing activity if God asks for it. In July 2012, with a head full of plans and a briefcase full if solid ideas, I returned home from a professional development conference to find my husband Gerry near collapse from exhaustion. It was obvious to me he needed a wife! Being Gerry’s wife is my highest calling and greatest privilege. God didn’t have to ask me twice. I dropped the plans and ideas and quit some other things and embarked on a yearlong ministry to my dearest and best friend. During that year, our oldest daughter was diagnosed with and surgically cured  from pancreatic cancer. It was a rough road. Gerry is doing great, my daughter is almost fully recovered and I am getting back into the swing of my ministry. Did my “sabbatical” affect my work? Greatly! My invitations and influence are much reduced. But remember this: when we follow God one yes at a time, we trust Him, not our own efforts. For the person who has entered His rest has rested from his own works (Hebrews 4:10). Either we trust He who calls us or we don’t.

Have some fun! Hug your kids or grandkids. Go for a walk on a snowy pathway. Sign snowy pathwayup for the Christmas choir. Paint a room. Curl up with a good book or your fav series on Netflix. Hop into bed early with your husband — check out this resource!

If generosity is a scary word for you right now, you are probably over-extended. Generosity flourishes in “margin” I meet very few truly stingy, selfish people. Christmas is still several weeks away, start now to create some margin–space around the edges of your life–and generosity will no longer be a scary word, but a joyful invitation to change the world one small act at a time. If the rest of us all do a little bit, it can make a huge impact. Now that gives me hope!

Posted in focus on faith

It’s all Greek to me

IMG_3324Have you ever said, “It’s all Greek to me”? What does that mean? How many Greek words do you know? Moussaka and spanakopita don’t count. None? Me too. And things aren’t likely to change on that front since I am losing brain cells faster than fat cells.

For most of my Christian life, I blindly supported the false narrative of a Christian Caste System. The people I placed at the top of the heap (the Brahmins or priestly caste) were the Bible teachers and scholars. They were closest to God. They had earned the right to have a voice. They had a message worth listening to. They were the experts.

I have never felt like an expert when it comes to spirituality. In regards to my personal journey, 10 years of spiritual wilderness took the shine right off my halo!

However, my “problem” was my call to ministry and the constant invitations to speak and write. But God! I’m not a scholar! I can’t pronounce or translate one single Greek WORD! All I have are my hands, my humor and a heart that wants to serve You. How can You use me?

His answer? Connie, most people are just like you. They don’t know Greek either! And they never will. But they have gifts – gifts I have given them. And they need encouragement to use those gifts for My sake.

  • Now there are different gifts, but the same Spirit. There are different ministries, but the   same Lord. And there are different activities, but the same God is active in everyone and everything. (I Corinthians 12: 4-6)

In God’s eyes, there is no difference between the man who preaches to thousands and the one who leads a small group during lunch hour at his office. There is no difference between the woman with the television ministry and the woman who brings a meal to her neighbor after she has had a baby. There is no difference between the Bible Study author who sells millions and the young mom who blogs to bring hope to her friends. All are using the gifts God gave them to be the hands and feet and voice of His Son Jesus.

What gifts has God given you? Two good hands? A sense of humor? A heart that notices the needy? Eyes that see beauty in unlikely places? Ears that hear the cries of lonely people? A nose that does not turn up in disgust for the homeless, the hapless, the helpless, the horribly disfigured? You have a voice. Don’t let false narratives silence it. Join me in saying there’s hope for the rest of us. Let’s take the message of authentic spirituality by encouraging everyday people, just like us, to keep it real.

 What do I mean, keep it real?

  • Recognize and dismantle your idols: anybody need a slightly worn “What Would Beth Moore Do?” bracelet?
  • Realize that all God-given gifts are spiritual and worthy: stop apologizing for being “just” funny or handy or creative or strong or energetic and accept that God made you that way and whatever He created, he declared to be “very good”.
  • Refuse to pretend you are something you are not: if I have a spare moment, I do not run to my desk; I run to my garden or my kitchen or the home of family or friends who need help. “Doing” feeds my soul. God made me that way. It’s okay!
  • Reject guilt that you are not a carbon copy of the saints you idolize: I love to read and listen to scholarly teachers and preachers. I admire their passion for study and their ability to gain insight from that study and their skill in conveying that insight in engaging ways. But I’m not them. And that’s okay!
    • But now God has placed the parts, each one of them, in the body just as He wanted. And if they were all the same part, where would the body be? Now there are many parts, yet one body. (1 Corinthians 12: 18-20)
  • Rejoice in who you are and let others see Jesus in your joy:The best Christian witness you or I will ever have is to be happy in Jesus. In 2004, in Surrey BC, I heard Beth Moore say, “I am happy!” Even though I have done many of her wonderful Bible studies, that is the one statement that stands out from everything else. That alone, was enough for me. I am going to go out on a limb here…I daresay the biggest reason Beth Moore is happy is because she is doing what God created her to do. She is being who God created her to be. Humans clone; God makes originals. Be the “original” God made you to be and let others see His joy in you.

Posted in focus on faith

Chocolates on the Trail

See this box of chocolates? My husband just walked into my office where I was praying for God to reveal Himself to me in His unique way, and plopped this down on my desk. Hmmmmm. Was this a sign? Is God trying to tell me that I should keep eating chocolates well into the new year?

Does this mean that it was okay for me to dig two chocolates out of the garbage where I had thrown them in righteous resolve on January Second? Okay, so I only took one bite out of each of them after dusting them off a little — I couldn’t stand it any more! They called to me all day long! — and then I threw them back in the garbage and carried the garbage out of the house so I couldn’t hear them calling.

Does this mean it was okay for me to eat the entire bag of homemade turtles that Gerry plopped onto my desk just before Christmas? I did not intend to eat the whole thing but I am a finisher — I usually finish what I start. That’s why I don’t start much. Before I knew it the bag was empty.

You and I both know my chocolate binge has to stop, unless I plan on increasing my dental budget and pants size! No, I think there was another message for me in this latest chocolate drop-off. I think God was saying what I needed to hear as this new year begins and I seek His guidance for my future in Christian ministry. He was saying, “Watch for Me.”

 If you have been a Christian any time at all you know, or have been told, God loves you and has a plan for your life. What you might not know by experience, and one possible reason you are having difficulty following God one yes at a time is you haven’t learned to recognize His divine incentives that encourage us to press on, and you are not experiencing the rewards of following Him. In other words, you are blind to the proofs of God.

Some friends of mine, born and raised in Germany, love hiking. They traveled all over the world, working on cruise ships as young adults, and hiked on their days off work every time the ship docked. They settled at long last in Calgary, Alberta so they could be close to an endless source of hiking trails in the nearby Canadian Rockies. When they were nearing 40, they had two babies in two years but kept right on hiking by packing them on their backs. When the toddlers grew too heavy to carry, they decided to train them to hike. After much coaxing, crying, and eventually, carrying, they wound up cutting their hikes short and turning back in frustration. Finally, they came up with a plan.

Along with the extra socks, bug repellant, sunscreen, moleskin, hats, rain capes, healthy snacks and water; they added a bag of individually wrapped chocolates. On the next hike, daddy jogged ahead a short distance and put two chocolates on the trail and then came back and he and mommy played a counting game: “Fifty steps to the chocolate!” Their initial hikes were short – no more than “four chocolates worth” since they were also health nuts, but chocolate-by-chocolate, little “Hansel and Gretel” learned to love hiking as their parents subtly began putting the chocolates further and further apart until finally, they only gave them as a reward once they reached their destination and ate their lunch. They always made sure to factor in enough time at the hike’s destination to thoroughly enjoy whatever it was they had traveled to see.

Chocolates on the trail

God does that for us who follow Him too. As a loving Father, He shows us the path He wants us to take; He clearly indicates the first step, making sure it is within our means to take it; He waits for us to say yes and step forward and begin walking; He places incentives at intervals along our path to encourage us to continue walking with Him; and He rewards us with Himself – a “hiking companion” whose presence gives us peace and power and whose provision ensures we have everything we need for the journey. (excerpt Following God One Yes at a Time)

As 2012 begins, let me encourage you to be watching for God to send you His proofs that you are on the right trail with Him. And when He does, keep walking, even though it is tough or steep or rocky. Hopefully some of His “chocolates on the trail” might be edible, like mine was today!