Today is Labour Day in Canada. The first Monday of September and a long weekend holiday. As I sit in my library early this morning I am overwhelmed with joy at the thought that this is day 243 since Brenda’s cancer diagnosis.
Why joy you ask? Simple, Brenda is still with us and very much alive. We are enjoying life together and with our family. In a seemingly irrational manner, there is a new sweetness and depth to our relationship that we understand is perhaps counter intuitive given the circumstances.
We have had a series of good news reports from the oncologist of late. Word that five of the six lesions in her brain are gone and the sixth is in retreat. The mass in her lung has also shrunk and the cancer in her backbone remains in check. The latest scans show no further metastases – no further spreading of the cancer. So we rejoice in this news yet we are still living with cancer.
I can sure understand how the cancer journey causes so many patients and caregivers to suffer depression. It begins with a cumulative crisis of loss and anticipated loss. It is not just the fear of losing a loved one, but there are many other losses experienced along the way. Your life is changed. Things you used to do together, you no longer do. Patterns and responsibilities change. Your diet, sleep patterns, ability to travel, even your financial status all change with a cancer diagnosis.
As new medical appointments begin to fill your calendar it leaves little time for old relationships. People you find life giving are now inhibited from visiting with you because of your physical and emotional ability. Your ability to plan is thrown out the window as your physical stamina and the medical system now have a high degree of control over your schedule. These are all losses and we grieve these.
I have some moments when I catch myself getting caught up with the thought of being without Brenda. Theologically I understand that loss is not the central issue in my feeling sad and depressed, it is my unwillingness to let go. I am attached to Brenda. I love her and desire to be with her. I do not ever want her to leave me but a cancer diagnosis actually forces you to have to talk about ‘what if’ scenarios.
For friends who are not Christians and are in this kind of circumstance, I could see this being a very dark time. What seems like a completely empty life today morphs into an equally meaningless eternity. There is nothing to hope for and so the tendency would be to hold onto the memories and objects of the past.
But as Christians we are called on to let go of everything that gives us security and cling to Jesus our Lord. Brenda and I know this in our heads, but we have moments when we get as frightened as anyone else at the thought of letting go.
We become attached to our spouse, our family, our hobbies, our reputation, our ideas, our position, and our dreams. It is painful to think about giving them up ourselves, let alone them being taken away.
The thought of loss can cause one to become hardened, and rather callous, towards the things we hold dear. It is our way of protecting ourselves from feeling hurt. It would be like me saying, “Oh I didn’t like sailing anyway, and we can sell the boat. I don’t care.” That would not be true. I’m fooling myself. I have great memories from our boat and I will miss her.
Yet central to the gospel is our willingness to let go of everything we cling to that we gain security from and to fully place our trust in Jesus. The closer we draw to God, the less prone to depression we are because fewer things can be taken away from us.
We are studying the book of Philippians right now at our church and in it Paul shares he has learned that in whatever state he finds himself, he will be content. How did he accomplish this? He shares that the things he used to count as ‘gain’ – the things he used to cling to for security – he is willing to let go of. All things were considered lost but for his clinging to God.
Early on in this journey I was praying and God called me by name and asked me to trust him – regardless of the outcome. Since then I have realized that I can trust Him and that life does not stop for our circumstance. I also have learned that there is a healthy sense of letting go of Brenda that I can embrace. It is in this process of letting go of Brenda and all the other ‘losses’ both perceived and real, that I am actually able to free myself to be fully God’s.
Somewhere in the midst of all this, after 243 days, I am coming to grips with the many losses we have already experienced. I am feeling free and trying to be content in our circumstances. But I still cry at the oddest times and without over spiritualizing receive this as part of the body’s natural recovery system.
I listen again for those words, “Carson, Trust me.”
It is amazing that we are 146 days into Brenda’s diagnosis. We have been so blessed by the love and support of our family, friends and our church and the Arrow Leadership network.
Brenda is doing remarkably well all things considered. I wanted you to see for yourself so here are two video clips. The first is a message that she recorded for a series of Arrow events across the country that had she been well she would have probably attended with Dr. Steve Brown and our friend Ken Shigematsu who was speaking about rhythm based on his best-selling book “God in My Everything: How an Ancient Rhythm Helps Busy People Enjoy God.” It was recorded one week after her diagnosis.
She recorded it to greet hundreds of Arrow leaders whom she has known personally over many years.
Best Easter Ever
Brenda has only been able to attend church once with me since January – and that was on Resurrection Sunday. While I was in the midst of talking to our congregation. Safe to say I was not at the top of my game as it was an emotional day for me.
My colleague, and Senior Minister, Darrell Johnson sidled up beside me – and you can watch what happened. He pointed out to the church that Brenda was present and invited her up onto the platform with me. She spoke for just a few moments – and it was powerful. We have felt such love from this congregation in the heart of this great city.
Brenda’s writing about her journey has captured the attention of thousands and touched many hearts. I have been collecting all of her entries and we are praying about publishing it in a book form for others who face (what the medical community call) terminal illness. What is interesting is the amount of peace we feel when we take just one day at a time.
Brenda’s latest entry can be read HERE.
Have you ever had an experience where one bit of information completely changed your life?
That is how 2014 began for me. The first week of January we received a cascading amount of bad news in that our doctor had discovered a mass on Brenda’s lung. Rapid testing afterwards confirmed this was indeed cancerous and had spread to both the brain and lower back.
Since first suspicion, to diagnosis, to telling our family – the news is not getting any better. Our lives have been altered. One minute we were heading in one direction, the next moment we are redirected to an entirely new vector.
So, was God in the previous direction? Is he in the new direction? Answer is that God is in all of it. He is in every aspect of our lives.
What are we learning in this so far? Well we are learning again that He is in control – not us. We are also realizing how empty it must be for people who have no faith to help endure the stress of a diagnosis like Brenda’s. With faith comes community – a relational cadre of fellow Christ followers who live out what Jesus said, that Christians will be identifiable by their love for one another. We are startled by how many people are dropped off at the cancer clinic and sit there all alone throughout their treatments until the taxi picks them up again.
God is bringing comfort to us in many ways. Through the presence of our dear family and closest friends. Through expressions of love and concern from people around the world who are choosing to share in our challenge. Through words of prayer from those who really care. And through God’s Word and especially the Psalms right now.
So whatever you are doing right now, stop and ask yourself how much of your day are you investing in relationships. For the past two weeks Brenda and I have been together 24/7 making our way through the medical tests and the emotional exhaustion of repeating the story over and over to those who ask. In the midst of all this, despite lots of tears, there is an overarching sense of peace.
We are savouring each moment together and it is like we have been given new lenses to view the world around us. “Things” can so easily clutter our lives are just temporary. I can see this now as if a bright spotlight was shining on it. Relationships on the other hand last forever. If this is true then nothing can replace the time we spend investing in the life of another.
Our daughter by marriage, Kristin, established this website where Brenda can journal her journey with God right now. It also allows people who know and love her to write a comment in a guestbook. If you will linger for just a few minutes reading the comments left there you will see how this amazing faith filled woman I am married to has invested in and mentored the lives of hundreds.
Brenda inspires others to move from focussing on things that are temporal and instead invest in those things that are eternal. How does she do this? By following the inspiring wisdom found in the Word of God
As the Bible says, “Be easy on people; you’ll find life a lot easier. Give away your life; you’ll find life given back, but not merely given back – given back with bonus and blessing. Giving, not getting, is the way. Generosity begets generosity. (Luke 6:37-38 MSG)
For the next while I am going to use my blog to allow you to join me on my journey alongside Brenda as her adoring husband, BFF and fellow pilgrim. Frequency will be sporadic depending on how things are going here, but the content will be authentic.
I love cities. New York, London, Mumbai, Berlin, Singapore, Hong Kong – it doesn’t matter. Plop me in the middle of millions of people in a downtown core and I am happy camper. The fact that I am working again in the downtown of Vancouver is so exciting.
Walking from the Skytrain up to my work office each day I am exhilarated by all the life in the people around me. Thousands scurry about to their offices. men and women servicing these offices also make their deliveries and pickups around me. Sitting on the sidewalks I pass several ‘regular’ homeless types – I say that only because I am not certain they are homeless in that they are so regular in their spots that I think of them more like having a job. Then I meet new homeless and see new business types each day who are new to me and to the downtown.
The other day, Darrell Johnson and I went for coffee to a favourite ‘hide-out’ we have found. On our walk there we saw a well dressed man on the street looking around. After our coffee, he was still there.
“Just give me a minute,” Darrell said as he walked towards the man. “We noticed you a while back and do not recognize you in the community. Can I ask what you are doing?”
The man smiled and told us he was paparazzi – a photographer trying to capture a picture of a famous person to sell to the tabloids or magazines. We did notice his massive lens on the Nikon camera he was carrying. Not a normal Vancouver tourist camera – in fact most just use smartphones now.
“Who are you watching for today?” I asked.
“Ninety percent of the Hollywood stars doing filming here stay at this hotel. Today I am waiting to get a shot of George Clooney. He is staying here while shooting Tomorrowland.”
I should introduce him to my colleague Mark Laughlin at First as Mark seems to know where every celebrity is in the city. In fact his office is filled with photos of Mark and a collage of famous people who have visited our city.
We ended up having an enjoyable conversation with this man in the city. He went on to tell us his job is one where everyone hates him but that he loves it and does it more as a hobby than a profession.
Mr Paparazzi is just one of hundreds of thousands of stories. It is in this city that we of the church live. It is our environment and an in your face portrait of the world itself. I love the city because it is a symbol of the world and an amalgamator of people from around the globe. God loves people and with our density – there is a lot of His love here.
Our church takes seriously the words found in Jeremiah 29:7 “But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.” These words were spoken to Israel when its people were sent as exiles into Babylon (the city) as captives. We as the church are captives in the city. Normally prisoners are trying to escape – but the prophet Jeremiah passes along the instruction of God to move in, build houses, live in them, raise a family there. Don’t flee the city, get involved.
Cities by their very nature are about captivity. Young adults move downtown to experience freedom, but within two weeks a deep sense of loneliness sets in and they get captured by their work and other pursuits to fill this longing for relationship. When men and women in the city begin to feel captive – they too seek escape in frenetic activity or unhealthy pursuits.
These are the very people we are told to live with and to seek the overall welfare of the city. This verse does not insinuate that we are to convert the city – but to pray for the welfare of the city on its behalf. If we can bring the shalom of Jesus into the city, see it prosper and be strengthened it will certainly weaken and break the powers that hold its dweller captive in anti-redemptive ways. By our prayers the very meaning and quality of the city could change, be overhauled, transformed, reorganized, reworked and renewed.
This is why we need the people of the church to be at the heart of the city praying for its wellbeing.
Just writing this makes me want to be out on the streets downtown. #lovedowntown
Director of Children
& Family Ministries
First Baptist Vancouver, or ‘First’ or ‘FBC’ as we are known on the street, is a community that believes it is possible to live and love the way Jesus does – and we come together to help one another on this journey of becoming like Jesus. Located at the crossroads of downtown Vancouver a vibrant community congregates in our stone building. We are young, old, and in-between; rich, poor, employed and re-training; multicultural; families and singles; Bible scholars and seekers.
Our neighborhood is surprisingly filled with many young families and our Children & Family Ministry is one of the most robust in our congregation. Engaging one hundred volunteers, we are a church deeply committed to family.
Children & Family Ministries is vital to the health of our congregational and community life at FBC and in our neighborhood. The new director will have primary responsibility for giving leadership to shape Sunday morning and mid-week children’s programs, ensuring that they are Biblically relevant to the contemporary family and for developing a family friendly congregational environment. Reporting to the Executive Director, this ministry leadership position is supported by both staff and volunteers. A strategic team, your Ministry Area Team (MAT) will be established to be a support in this ministry area, and assist you with dreaming, strategic planning and assessment of existing programs.
In order to carry out this important ministry in our congregation and neighbourhood this position will include a number of key responsibilities in multiple areas including:
- Develop and work with a team of leaders who seek to integrate children’s ministries within a church family framework where parent involvement and spiritual leadership of children is a partnership between the home and church.
- Screen, recruit, train, and nurture a large team of volunteer members who have a heart to serve children, in both leadership and support roles. Provides direction and supervision to volunteer team leaders.
- Model Christian leadership and empower volunteers to fulfill their assignments.
- Oversee administration needs of preparing and controlling the budget, maintaining database of volunteers, and preparing communication about the ministry.
- Work with key volunteer leaders to select and implement user-friendly Biblical curriculum that reflects the values and vision of FBC.
- Provide initial pastoral care as needed for children, staff, volunteers and parents and faithfully pass on information to the Pastoral Team for additional support.
- Implement ministry and special events of importance to the family. Current programs include a Mid-week Parent Group, Family Connection Groups, All Church Family Camp, Soccer Camps, Parenting Seminars, and Small Groups.
Children’s Programs (Birth to Grade 7)
- Oversee our discipleship groups for children: Early Childhood, School-age Children, Preteen Ministry, Sunday weekly activities; mid-week children’s programs; baptism classes, summer programs, and special events.
- Build and nurture contacts with our neighbourhood and community (for example: schools and the YMCA).
- Share ministry information with the FBC pastoral team for the health and development of the church and represent the interests of children and families to the wider church body.
- Engage and work collaboratively with the Ministry Area Team (MAT) for support, discussion and assessment of ministry programs.
- Work collaboratively with the Pastoral Team.
- Plan together with the Youth Director, to ensure smooth transitions to the youth program, and annual calendar planning.
- Demonstrate commitment to the FBC Values and vision by participating in the life of the church (examples: worship service attendance, small group participation, staff devotions).
Education and Experience
The successful applicant we see as having the following skills and traits:
- Bible College or University education appropriate to the position,
- A godly leader of good character who has a vibrant personal faith in Jesus Christ.
- A strong desire to see: parents become the spiritual leaders in their homes; and their children become fully devoted followers of Christ.
- Strong organizational, communication and collaborative leadership skills
- Ability to multi-task, delegate, team build, and provide oversight to many ministry areas.
- Significant church experience would be an asset
- Candidates must be eligible for credentialing as a licensed pastor with our denominational family, Canadian Baptists of Western Canada. Details regarding this can be found at (cbwc.ca).
Hours per Week: 40 (FTE)
Compensation: FBC uses a salary grid commensurate to the role responsibility, education & experience.
Timeline: Accepting applications immediately
Closing Date July 22, 2013
Please submit your resume electronically to firstname.lastname@example.org
The daily commute and normal people
I love taking public transit to work and one of the reasons is that it surrounds me every day with ‘normal’ people – those who are not followers of Jesus. I say normal because they are the majority – especially in my city.
Yesterday, a young woman in her twenties boarded the train dressed in black from head to toe and sat right in front of me facing sideways. She was sharply dressed and looked as though she might work in one of the large office towers in the city centre. Her style was like ‘professional Goth.’
As she was getting settled in her seat she turned her head to the side and I was able to see a tattoo on her left cheek. It was an upside down cross.
“I notice your tattoo, where did you get it done?” I asked. (If you are putting a tattoo on your face I figure you are inviting conversation.) She looked directly into my eyes pondering if she would even respond. Was I being judgmental or condemning? Why was this man even talking to me? Eventually she answered with the name of an artist and she had it done nine blocks from our church.
“I guess if you are going to get a tattoo on your face, you would sure want to have the right artist.” I answered. “My son gets his done by an artist in Calgary.” This seemed to suddenly change our relationship and I even got a small smile. Now, keep in mind, the entire time I am looking at a young woman the age of my oldest daughter-in-law. She is attractive yet her dark eye makeup and the upside down cross on her face shout out a defiance that I am sure comes out of deep hurt.
Laughing she responded, “It is my way of giving the finger to organized religion”
“Well it is a very appropriate tattoo for this week,” I responded.
“Why is that?”
“Because the Pope announced he is resigning and he actually sits on a chair that has an upside down cross engraved on it.”
“He does? Unreal!” She was really mystified. “Why.. would the Pope have this on his chair?”
“Well maybe he wasn’t brave enough to put it on his face,” I quipped.
She laughed with a big smile.
“Before I tell you more, and out of respect for you, I want you to know that I am a minister. I work at First Baptist downtown.” She was flummoxed, her head now fully cocked to one side.
I continued, “I know that organized religion can be incredibly frustrating for people to understand and even experience.” More puzzled looks. “But the Pope has your symbol (pointing to her cheek) on his chair because for us as Christians it reminds us of Peter, one of Jesus’s disciples. Peter was crucified on a cross like Jesus – but upside down. He was killed because he refused to renounce his faith in Jesus. He didn’t feel himself worthy to be crucified like Jesus and asked to be hung upside down..hence the cross on the Pope’s chair. The church was founded by this man – Peter.”
With a subdued softer bewildered look, she began to gather her things together getting ready for her stop. My morning friend did not seem anxious to run away and, had our commute allowed it, she might have liked to talk more.
Invite rather than tell
What will she think about when she looks in a mirror today, and tomorrow, and next week?
Inviting people to think, instead of telling them what to think is an effective way to engage normal people.
I hope I meet ‘cross lady’ again to continue the conversation.