I may not have the exact day correct, but I have been thinking a lot about my deep close friend Graham Johnston the last few days. It was in 2011 about this time that my friend Graham passed from this life.
I’m missing him a lot these days.
I wish I could talk with him about what Brenda and I are going through with her cancer diagnosis. I’m also missing how much fun we would have mixed of course with passionate discussions about ministry and vision. We longed to make an impact in the world that would glorify God. I miss him because I have recently been communicating with Susan Perlman and Martin Sanders. The four of us with Graham were like the “Rat Pack” of Leighton Ford’s Point Group. Often at our annual gathering we would stay up late into the night talking, laughing, sharing and praying.
Graham was one who would get incredibly passionate (and loud) about certain topics near and dear to his heart. These would include his wife Tracey; Paige and Carson (love that man’s name); “Subi” his church in Perth; his closest friends; preaching; mission work and of course his immediate family.
To Graham, a minister out of touch with today’s culture was like an uninformed missionary trying to teach in a foreign country. He was an amazing communicator and understood that to communicate God’s Word effectively, teachers need to know how to connect with and confront an audience of postmodern listeners. That is what inspired him to write Preaching To A Postmodern World: A Guide to Reaching Twenty-first Century Listeners. His insights written there continue to help speakers and teachers are birthed out of praxis and having been widely travelled.
Despite Grahams enormous influence globally, his legacy means more to me on a very personal level. Our son Jeremy and his wife Shari had the privilege of working with Graham at the church in Perth Australia in 2009. Seeing Graham modelling how to live life as an authentic Christian changed our kids. They returned back to Canada transformed. They loved church and made many friends there. They returned empowered, confidant, inspired, passionate and with a love for those in culture who perhaps would never enter the doors of a church.
As I share some of my friend Graham’s legacy let it be an encouragement to build on our legacy. You can start with some of what I learned from Graham:
- Be passionate about the things you really love and act on it. Get loud.
- Don’t be afraid to express and show your love for others.
- Love your church and let them know that.
- Communicate in a credible way with others about the love of God. Practice it.
- Build into and mentor those younger and empower them with confidence.
- Be generous. Share you time, your home, your resources, and your influence.
- Love your spouse and kids and let others know you do.
- Be authentic.
- Finish well!
So today Graham, I raise a toast to you. Your friendship endures to this day for we are indeed ‘forever friends.”
New Years Day is when I open up a new journal for the coming year. As I do so I recognize that last’s years journal is not nearly full – quite blank actually with sporadic writings. Some years I overflow into two journals but not 2014. It is not that there wasn’t much happening – just the opposite. There was so much taking place that I barely had time to write. When I could find a moment here and there, I was lost for words.
One year ago today we received a phone call from our family doctor telling Brenda he had seen something in an x-ray that he wanted to have a closer look at. This led to her cancer diagnosis of stage-four lung cancer spreading to the brain and bone. At that moment, time stood still. From that moment on, time has been different for me.
We were told that Brenda might not see her birthday in August and that she would definitely not see another Christmas. However, doctors can’t know God’s time plan for Brenda. We are grateful to have celebrated the Christmas that was not to be. We are living with cancer as a reality in our lives now.
How Time Feels
The first year of living with cancer seems to last forever. I have lost count of how many medical appointments there have been. We seem to measure time by when the next appointment is. Then when waiting for blood work test results or the latest MRI or CT scan time seems to take forever. Each day feels like a week. Weeks feel like months, and months feel like years.
Time has become very precious to me this year. Every second does count and we rejoice at every day we have together. Here in the northern hemisphere, and at our latitude, we are in a season when daylight increases by one minute per day. Brenda and I were out walking together and she asked, “So what are you going to do with your minute today?” At first I did not understand what she was talking about. She then explained about the lengthening of the daylight hours. This led to a very enjoyable, fun, and reflective conversation about how we might each use our extra minute that day. Suddenly I found myself dreaming about how I could use that minute – and then the new minute tomorrow and the next day.
For most of us, time is something that we never seem to have enough of. We have so to do that we scarf down our meals to get meetings just in time to get a seat. Then it is off to the next thing, and the next thing – then we swiftly make our way home for dinner and just when you think that the day is finally over – there is another meeting at the church or a workout that is calling your name. When we finally get to sleep it can be near or after midnight and we need to get up at 6am the next day. With all the expectations on us plus adding family, friends, relationships, volunteer work etc. – who has time for anything else?
How often have you heard in the marketplace, “Time is money”? Well time is not money. Time is life and you and I get to choose how we spend it.
How We Spend Time
The way that we manage time can be one of the most challenging parts of our working life. But remember that Jesus had more day-to-day demands than can be imagined and yet he moved throughout his days with a peace that came from knowing that there was always enough time to accomplish His Father’s will for that day. All the time that God allows to us, is just enough for the work that He calls us to. Nothing more. Nothing less.
Each year Brenda and I take a day to do planning for how we are going to use our time and resources in the 12 months to follow. It is our family annual general meeting and we do this right around the change of the calendar year. We are about to have that meeting and dream about our intentional use of our time in 2015. I said “dream” because we have certainly been reminded this year that time is in the Lord’s hands. However, this year it is perhaps more important for us to meet and discuss our use of time. We now have to factor in our energy level and capacity for activity. We have to be selective about our relationships – spending time with those who are inspiring and hope carriers and not draining. We are discerning about how we spend our minutes.
So I am thinking a lot about time. In fact I am spending more time than ever before planning how to spend my time.
Time With God
Time is precious. It is our most precious commodity. That is why I wanted to write something about it and emphasize that the most important activity of our day is actually our time with God. I have never been perfect at having intentional time with God but I have a long enough history and experience to know that it is extremely important.
Scripture reminds us, “Make sure that you don’t get so absorbed and exhausted in taking care of all your day-to-day obligations that you lose track of the time and doze off, oblivious to God. The night is about over, dawn is about to break. Be up and awake to what God is doing!” ROMANS 13:11-12 MSG
If you spend days, weeks, months acting oblivious to God it is going to make a difference. What if you didn’t spend consistent time with your spouse, your family or friends? It would result in losing touch with one another – a lack of closeness making you feel “out of touch.” The same thing happens in your relationship with God if you do not spend consistent time with him.
So with all that you have to do during the day, make sure that your time with God does not go by the wayside. Make it a priority for the day. You can move around other appointments, but not your time with God. Figure out what works best for you. When is the best time? Just find a few minutes of private Bible reading, prayer, and close by thanking God for all He does for you and who He is. By doing so you will learn to love Him.
So that is how I am going to use my extra minute. Quiet time with God in my library and favorite chair.
Every day God thinks of you. – Psalm 68:19
Every hour God looks after you.- 2 Thessalonians 3:3
Every minute God cares for you. – 1 Peter 5:7
Because every second, He loves you. – Jeremiah 31:3
On January 2nd a routine X-ray revealed a tumour in Brenda’s right lung that was confirmed as Stage IV Lung Cancer. We agree that this is the worst news we as a family have ever received in our collective lifetime.
Within ten days Brenda’s mom moved in to care for us all and, gratefully, is still with us. Brenda was told to get her affairs in order and was given about six months to live (June). Family and close friends became even more important. Time with God was and is essential. People around the globe began praying for us. 2014 has been a year marked by prayer, listening, learning, and seeing God in the ordinary.
It has been a year of family retreats. All 12 of us gathered together on four different occasions – grandparents, parents, and grandchildren. These times away, plus family nights twice per month, have brought tenderness to an otherwise intense year.
In August, we boated up the coast with life friends and Brenda celebrated the birthday that we didn’t think we would see.
In October our hearts filled with gratitude for the gift of another Thanksgiving, which also marked our 38th Anniversary. On the 31st Carson stepped down from his role as ED at First so that we could have more time together. He continues to work part time advising on our church’s building project.
Brenda is sharing her journey online and you may follow her here: www.caringbridge.org/visit/brendapue
The best of times? Well we didn’t know that such sweetness was possible in a cancer journey. But we do know that with God all things are possible.
Love, Carson and Brenda
21707 – 46 Ave, Langley BC, Canada V3A 8M9
For Immediate Release:
Carson Pue Steps Down For A Promise
VANCOUVER, BRITISH COLUMBIA – October 22, 2014. At a crowded, historic, First Baptist Church in the heart of downtown Vancouver, the congregation showed their heart towards Rev. Dr. Carson Pue by gathering around him to pray at the end of both services.
Carson announced that due to his wife Brenda’s cancer diagnosis, he had tendered his resignation as the Executive Director at the church effective the end of October. He has worked alongside senior pastor Darrell Johnson since January 2012 and during this time the church has experienced great favor and blessing.
Pue addressed the church amidst tears with Johnson beside him saying, “Thirty eight years ago I made a promise to Brenda to cherish and hold, in sickness and in health. Well, she needs me to hold her more right now and as result I have resigned as Executive Director…” Carson has cancelled all future speaking events at the present time so together they can focus on her health and their relationship. He and Brenda plan to continue some book projects, as they are able, but most of the time will be spent walking, talking and enjoying time with the family.
Carson and Brenda Pue are known globally for mentoring Christian leaders through the ministry of Arrow Leadership, which they led together since 1996. Brenda left Arrow unexpectedly this January after being diagnosed with stage-four lung cancer. She decided to share her journey of faith while living with cancer on a Caring Bridge journal. With over 70,000 visits, many have been blessed by her authenticity and faith inspiring lessons.
Looking ahead, First Baptist Church has invited Carson to stay on staff in a part-time role as the Executive Advisor for the church’s “Heart for the City Project”. This is an ambitious building initiative in the downtown of Vancouver that will allow the church to enhance ministries of affordable housing, serving the homeless, venue for conferences, coffee shop, a full service counseling center, older adults programs, bookstore library, daycare and family resources in the downtown.
Lilac Hawkey, moderator of First states, “Our church leadership completely supports Carson in this decision, and we are very grateful that he will be continuing to serve our congregation still even in a limited capacity. We continue to lift both Carson, Brenda, and their whole family up in prayer during this very challenging time.”
###For further information about this release contact: Gillian Hollett, Media Relations First Baptist Church PH: 604-683-8441 Ext. 226 E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org 969 Burrard, Vancouver BC
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.