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CRAIG'S BLOG

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I’d forgotten how sentimental the movie “Father of The Bride” is.  Together, our staff took a long lunch to watch the film and encourage our colleague Brad Beck, who will be “giving away” his daughter Brianne this weekend.

Somewhere near the middle of the movie a transition took place; I was no longer watching a comedy starring Steve Martin, I was caught up in the memories, remembering, reliving and savoring the season, ceremony and celebration of my two daughter’s weddings.

The movie ended and I swam home to linger in my journals, giving my heart permission to enjoy the life I live and the family encircling me.

I'd like to share a few of my journal entries from the past over the next week on "Daughters, Fathering, Weddings, Grandchildren and Such".

 

A journal entry from August 12, 2007

It began in tears… of joy. It ended in tears of grief.

Within three hours of landing in Los Angeles I was sitting in an upscale lounge in the Mon Amie Bridal Salon. Meagan, in another room, was putting on the wedding dress she chose for her wedding and hoped I would love at my first viewing. It was interesting, a bit odd and the perfect set up - I’m in a waiting room while, in a separate room, privately, the bride-to-be is dressed while standing on a platform in a room of mirrors, complementary lighting, soft background music and a Mon Amie seamstress/associate present to assist (and insure that absolutely no photos are taken… until you have bought the dress). Readied the associate invites Lori and me into the “viewing” room to see our daughter in The Dress.

All that unfolded is a little foggy. What I do know is that I lost my breath seeing Megs.

I could not speak... not a word.

I circled her wearing a smile and my heart on my sleeve. She asked me 2-3 times, “Dad, do you like it… what do you think?” She knew the answer but had to ask. Initially I could only look her in the eyes and nod approvingly… I felt like I was snorkeling… sucking air and viewing the world through a veil of water, or tears in my case. In a moment the words came, “Honey, you are the most beautiful woman in the world and the dress has nothing to do with it”. And it didn’t. The dress was merely an extension of all the speechless qualities I love about my daughter: alive, passionate, beautiful, feminine and funky, stunning and simple, trendy-unique-different, warm and unpretentious.

I want the aisle I walk her down to be so very, very long.

 

- Craig McConnell

 

 

 

 

 

6/19
(0)

 
We were created for unimaginable levels of pleasure… isn’t that what Eden held?
 
Therefore, of course we legitimately long for all the pleasure we can squeeze out of life… that’s part of being, at the core, an Image Bearer. And there is no condemnation or shame in wanting our lives to be free of the hassles, discomfort and suffering that commonly jumps out and upon us in this life. 
 
The issue isn’t our desire, it is our timing.
 
 How much of what will fully be ours in heaven is available now?
 
Yes we were made for Eden and it will be ours again… fully in the future!
 
Until then we mustn’t be naïve to the realities of the world and fall victim to a spirit that demands all the pleasures of heaven we were designed for, now.
 
- Craig McConnell
 
(John and I have a conversation on this theme in this week’s podcast, “Worldview 4 Part 4)  http://itunes.apple.com/podcast/john-eldredge-ransomed-heart/id260843816?mt=2
 

6/14
(0)

 
I remember Bill Sayers and I running the Redondo Beach Village Runner Fourth of July 5K. It’s a route set on the bluffs above the ocean run by a festive mob of Los Angelinos. The holiday enthusiasm of the crowd causes most to underestimate the deceptively steep and daunting final 2.5 kilometers.
 
Bill and I ran with youthful vigor, thinking, as most do, “it’s only a 5K… we can trot this backwards with both arms tied behind our back, wearing Elvis suits while balancing seven plates on our heads.
 
How often we underestimate what we’re facing.
 
We were fine until we hit the infamous “I” Avenue “Wall” and were passed by a coterie of pregnant women pushing strollers.
 
Wounded masculine pride is an untapped energy source.
 
With a glance Bill and I knew we had to ‘KICK’ the last 150 yards to pass the fleet-footed stroller team and re-establish our high finish in the Over 55-heavyweight-happy-go-lucky-good-guys–who-love-God-and-have-two-kids-and-hot-wives Division. So we kicked like mules with a bad rash; like war horses snorting under the strain of battle we went deep into overdrive and sprinted a solid 100 yards… 50 yards short of the finish. There was no glide time, drafting or coasting. We were blowing oil, throwing rods, overheating…
 
We came up short and limped across the finish line sucking air, totally spent like a couple of vanquished weekend warriors.
 
This cancer season has some similarities to that story. I’m running a race but keep misjudging where the finish line is. I thought the finish line was my last infusion of chemo. Nope.
 
How often we underestimate what we’re facing.
 
I sprinted and came up short. Apparently there’s a season of recovery, healing and finding a new normal I wasn't aware of.
 
It’s pretty gruesome to realize how hard we can be upon ourselves with our demands for recovery, healing, performance and normalcy following the traumas, wounds and battles we endure. I’m pretty certain we can expect more from ourselves than Christ does.
 
I thought I was running a standard 5K but I’ve already covered 10K’s and am still moving forward. This is a race I’ll finish and by the grace and strength of God I’ll hoist a tall cold one and echo Timothy’s words, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith."
 
What mile-marker are you at?
 
- Craig McConnell
 

6/07
(0)

Today is "Cycle Six, Day Ten" which in Chemotherapy parlance means that the first day of my sixth and final cycle of Chemo was ten days ago. Internally some demonstrative part of me is screaming, “Are you Florence Kling DeWolf-Harding me? I’ve peaked and valley-ed a thousand times, at least forty days have passed?!!?” 

This cycle involved a notch or two increase in my experience of "Chemo Brain" (crippled short term memory, seemingly no ability to focus or multi-task, general foggy thinking/feeling). 

So, having finished the blessed poison I was anxious and a bit premature in my efforts to read through the last eight months of journal entries to draw out all the redemptive lessons, experiences, ups & downs and draft a "Shit Howdy" personal story. It would be something to point to as a tangible "it was all worth it" trophy that helps make a little more sense of the hell I just went through. Evidence that "I'm back… a contributor, a participant, a value or needed/appreciated "producer". It would’ve been an honest and vulnerable inspiration, a vehicle for God to call His people to fuller consecration and deeper worship.

I can’t do it. It can’t be done. I’m fried.

It is hard being weak, limited… on the bench… non-productive, beached (or is it “Shipwrecked”?). 

So, this morning Lori reads out of one of her favorite Devotionals:

“Thank Me for the conditions that are requiring you to be still. Do not spoil these quiet hours by wishing them away, waiting impatiently to be active again. Some of the greatest works in My kingdom have been done from sick beds and…

Instead of resenting the limitations of a weakened body, search for My way in the midst of these very circumstances. Limitations can be liberating when your strongest desire is living close to Me.

Quietness and trust enhance your awareness of My Presence with you. Do not despise these simple ways of serving Me. Although you feel cut off from the activity of the world, your quiet trust makes a powerful statement in spiritual realms. My Strength and Power show themselves most effective in weakness.”*

I HAVE tasted a bit of this, yet still resist the thought that His grace and Power are best seen in/through my weaknesses (2 Corinthians 9). 

- Craig McConnell 

 * Lori’s devotional is “Jesus Calling: Enjoying Peace in His Presence”, by Sarah Young). 

 

2/19
(9)

Do you know that feeling of returning home after being away for a while? Perhaps you’ve been out of town on vacation, visiting the in-laws, stuck on a desert island or had your head in the sand and you walk back into you house just as you left it three, eight, seventeen or one-hundred-seventy-five days ago and you exhale and, for better or worse, you’re home! The plants need watering but the big easy chair beckons, you should unpack the car but you sort through the mail, your bed feels more comfortable then ever, there’s no food in the fridge but the cookies are still in the cupboard… you can kick off the shoes and relax… you’re home and it feels great!

 

That’s how I began to feel today. 

 

Reentry, a retaking possession of my “health”, “wellness”, sanity, senses, heart… I felt like I was… back home.

 

This chemo treatment was tough - I know, I know, each of them are tough and each one of them is tougher than the other; it’s true! It’s horribly true. 

 

I still feel like damaged goods but I’m home. In the same way you can tell I’ve been camping by the fact that I smell like smoke, am wearing a torn plaid flannel shirt and a faded Cabela’s Camo hat; you can tell I just had a rough ride with chemo by the fatigue, stomach doing gymnastics, aches, foggy brain and a 1,000 yard stare. But there’s also a smile on my face and a gratefulness that:

  • I survived!
  • God is good… so good, so very good. (Yes! There were times He didn’t seem near, or share my desire for relief of discomfort/pain/distress, yet, when I had no faith or strength He was there!)
  • I have family and friends who’ve covered me with prayer, grace, love, patience, support, kindness, mercy and life-words for month after month
  • My Medical Team, Chemo and God are viciously annihilating cancer cells throughout my body. 
  • I think I’m a different man now than I was seven months ago.
  • A party is planned when my final Eleanor-Roosevelt-cheese caking-feather-tuffed chemical romance is completed. 

 

Thank you for your prayers and support!

2/06
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Back Story:

A friend sent me this video link of a few surfers and a “wave” off the shore of Teahupoʻo, a village on the south-west coast of the island of Tahiti, French Polynesia, southern Pacific Ocean.

Thoughts:

For so many reasons I love this.

I’ve ridden that wave.

Don’t you want a piece of this? Let go of the rope!

http://video.mpora.com/watch/5Pgs2slxu/

 

1/17
(0)

Early in my Christian walk I fell into a subset of believers viewed by other believers as depreciating the call to an obedient submission to the Lordship of Christ by our “over emphasis” on the grace of God. They may have been right, I knew so little but believed it passionately. Now, I hope I wouldn’t take sides in a false dichotomy.

The definition of grace I grew up on was “unmerited favor”. That’s pretty short and simple. I imagine all my training, experience and insight could add a little color and texture to that definition but I’m not sure I’d really improve it.

Unmerited favor. Unmerited favor.

Unmerited favor from God, for others and from others is something I’m experiencing in ways that make me wonder whether I’m rollicking in grace for the first time or is it another deeper cut “thingie” where something you know you now really know. (Oh Lord, forgive me for all those passionate sermons on things that I knew so very little about.)

I never imagined being in a place/season where I have so little to offer others and am so needy of them. In need of things I resist receiving, I haven’t earned, don’t deserve, can’t live without and may not be able to repay. Grace.

Unmerited, compassionate, free flowing, heart felt favor… from God, from others and for others. I’m on the front end of all of this and it feels like “Christianity 101” but its not the first time I’ve repeated a course before.

Grace.

(Tell me about the grace you’ve experienced.)

12/01
(17)

Round 2 of the 6 Round Event begins tomorrow here at my local hospital/cancer center. The drugs I took over the course of four days last month at MD Anderson will be given Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.

 

I started to write a lengthy update of what's going on but lost energy. Hopefully our website will be further along and I can post/send out more info later in the week/weekend. Here's a summary:

 

  • Symptoms.  Fatigue, on various "lower levels" is pretty consistent. I lost 15 lbs. on first treatment and gained 6 back the last 10 days. I'm a little muddled in my ability to prioritize things (it's an interesting twist, everything looks like a "10" in importance; going to the hardware store to get 2 replacement 60 watt bulbs for an unoccupied guest bedroom feels just as important as calling the insurance company to argue the legitimate need of 1 (one) $40,000.00 drug. At times I catch myself staring at my "To Do List" frozen in a funky paralysis). I'd love your prayers for the side effects of chemo.
  • My next two treatments, this month and next, will be locally. The local center has an entirely different spirit/feel. It's darker, less hope, grim… The patients seem… Resigned… To cancer, to suffering… To death(?). I hope I'm wrong, nonetheless, I'm a little anxious about the heebie-jeebies that may come my way. I'd love your prayers for a wall of protection against the spiritual forces of darkness that would love to overrun my heart.
  • Though Lori and my friends have been incredibly supportive I often feel very alone. It's not a loneliness that the presence of others resolves. It's the byproduct of fear. Every time the waves hit God rescues me… The timing is, at times, not what I would choose; thus, fear and "aloneness" seems to linger longer than my strength to battle.
  • I'd love your prayers for my wife and family, this is harder on them than they know.

 

My ultimate prayer is for life; the life of God way beyond my ability to manage, govern, control or resist; the life of God in my mortal body.

Thank you!

 

I will update you as soon as I can.

 

 

10/11
(27)

This evening ends “Day Nine” of my chemo-journey.

 

Here’s what I want to say to each of you, “Thank you, your prayers made a difference.”

 

At this moment those few words capture what I believe to be true of your prayers for me over this past week.

 

Yet, as I write those particular words I realize how overused and cliché they can sound.

 

Your prayers make a difference” can sound like the religiously canned illusory response effective shtick that drafty “spiritual” professionals commonly use. I ought to know I’ve been a trained, tried and true spiritual-director/pastor/Pharisee.

 

My four days of Chemo this last week were brutal, discomforting, painful and filled with a sobering awareness of my helplessness in spades. At the same time God came in heroic ways for me. I was acutely aware of his presence, goodness, love, comfort and sovereign strength. I saw circumstances unfold in my favor and that reflected his heart, physical reactions that were relatively “mild”, and his provision of people, words, grace, beauty, joy and hope. On top of all this, he gave me eyes to see how ALL of this was connected to and influenced by your prayers.

 

This week I ached, groaned and worshipped.

 

Feeling good enough now to write, I wanted to give my heart voice to the gratitude I feel. In doing so I found myself using, what, to some, is a platitude, that I have ingenuously parroted in the past. For that I now repent.

 

Thank you, your prayers made a difference.

 

 

A week ago Sunday was “Day One” minus one. (In my treatment plan “Day One” is the first day of a twenty-eight day cycle, with the first three or four days involving an IV infusion of Chemo)

 

Having just taken a taxi to M. D. Anderson/Jesse Jones Rotary House I’m rolling our luggage across the threshold/doorway into the building when I’m swiftly T-boned by a wave of emotion. I can’t immediately name it, but its deep, good, powerful and a complete surprise… “Ahh… its God!” He doesn’t speak; I’m simply overwhelmed by his presence. And it lingers.

 

An hour later, Lori and I are enjoying a Reuben Sandwich on marbled rye and a Chipotle Salad with a couple tall frosted glasses of Houston Municipal water with a wedge of lemon when mid-bite I’m staggered to tears again as God shows up. Immediately I’m multi-tasking, trying to swallow, compose myself and interpret what God’s up to. Lori wonders out loud the very words I’m trying to spit out, “Safe, are you feeling safe?” Yes, that’s the word, “Safe”. I’m engulfed by safety, sheltered in some unassailable strong hold!

 

And then, in His presence at that lunch table in Rice Village, he began to unpack the word “Safe” for me.  

 

“I am your fortress, your hiding place, a rock, your salvation, and your refuge. You are cherished, free from harm, impervious to assault, out of harm’s way, hidden, shielded… under my care and guard.”

 

"Rest, lay your sword down… this battle is mine.”

 

 This wasn’t a pre-chemo catharsis, an expression of powerful positive thinking, a breakdown or me “bucking up”. This was My God bringing into my entire being all that he promises us. This was the Word. The Living Word, God being God!

 

And a zillon passages came to mind; here are but two:

 

The LORD is my shepherd, I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures, He leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil, for you are with me; Your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, 
and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever. - Psalm 23

 

Because he loves me," says the Lord, "I will rescue him; I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name. He will call upon me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble, I will deliver him and honor him. With long life will I satisfy him and show him my salvation." - Psalm 91:14-16

 

I wasn’t to fight, I didn’t need to. I was to rest in safety, to be still and know he is God. He is a Warrior and he had me tucked away in his fortress 979 miles from the front.

 

Thank you, your prayers made a difference.

 

 

Days Three & Four.

 

By all standards, statistically and anecdotally my oncology nurses assured me I was experiencing relatively mild side effects compared to 70% of the patients receiving the same treatment. I totally believe them… I walked the halls and saw suffering on an exponentially higher scale than my current one.

 

Thank you, your prayers made a difference.

 

My big-hearted Jesus loving, Mama comforting, compassionate, joy-bearing soul sister nurses were God to me! There were other nurses I could’ve had, but didn’t. I was surrounded with life-givers. (I cried saying goodbye to them Friday).

 

Thank you, your prayers made a difference.

 

Fatigue is the most disheartening and challenging side effect I’m experiencing from the Chemo. There are times this world changing apostle of joy who’s liberating captives and prisoners around the world has wondered, "How I can possibly move the 12 foot span between my bed and the restroom?" 

 

I have been close to total helplessness. Safe but helpless.Preparing to leave Houston I feared all that was required of me to get back home. Check out of the hotel; get to the airport, through security, to the gate, the plane, to the car and home.  At the same time,God was there… in “it”, over “it”, all over “it”. I knew, really, really knew in places far deeper than my fear that God would come for me in anyway I really needed.

 

No horse pucky, he came! I had strength, endurance and an “I’m on top of the world” attitude all the way home. It was God! I was strong in him.

 

Thank you, your prayers made a difference.

 

Days Five & Six.

 

These were the most agonizing days so far.

 

God had ushered me back to the front and with validating words told me to pick up my sword and join him in the battle. (The breaks from the front are not yet unending.)

 

I could find no comfort. TV and music were no distraction, I couldn’t read, sleep, sit, stand or walk. The icing on the cake was opening a delightfully demonic inspired letter that had been sent over night from my insurance company informing me they had reversed their decision and would not cover any of my cancer treatment expenses at M. D. Anderson!?@#*!.

 

We fight, we resist and at times we’re withered from the battles our lives bring but we never war alone. I was not alone in the trenches… somehow I knew that, and that was all I needed to know.  

 

 I have tasted sweet victories this week, other victories are yet to come, but victory is certain.

 

Thank you, your prayers made a difference.

 

 

Days Seven & Eight.

 

For brevity’s sake I will be uncharacteristically short. I feel great! Not 100%, but great!

 

I don’t think my journey is really much different than yours. My best advice: love God, live free and fight viciously every foe trying to take your life.

 

 Thank you, your prayers made a difference.

 

 

-Craig McConnell

 

9/21
(11)

When cancer intrudes into your life it comes with a boatload of baggage. Some of it you’d expect: anxiety, an in-your-face mortality smack, physical symptoms, warring hell’s vermin, lifestyle changes and a profound desire to live and love as you never have. Some of the luggage catches you off guard. Shame for example, Why am I so ashamed of myself, my life, my health, and every choice I’ve made in life?” Then there are the waves of confusion; hopelessness and despair that you thought your long storied walk with God would insulate you from. It didn’t for me.

 

 Another piece of cancer’s luggage is the “unknown”. The “unknowns” about your specific cancer’s “personality”, the staging of your disease, the multiple treatment options and ultimately your prognosis. All too soon your cancer seems to metastasize to your marriage, children, finances, plans for Christmas, career and interest in UCLA Basketball.

 

Hoping a “Second” opinion from the best cancer center in the world, M.D. Anderson, would bring greater clarity, rid us of the unknowns and calm our troubled souls; Lori and I flew to Houston earlier this summer.

 

How do you describe the experience of God coming for you through a hundred different people over the course of three days? That was our experience!

 

In ways it was a rescue. We were anchored again, reoriented, saved,  “found” and now rooted in some borderless circle of God’s grace and presence

 

I came to this research center expecting scientists to view me as a specimen from which to draw blood, poke, prod and take tissue from; brainy nerds focused on numbers, levels, and statistical categories more than me… my heart… my life. 

 

We stayed at the Jesse H. Jones Rotary House, a Marriott “Ronald MacDonald” like hotel that is attached by sky-bridges to MDA. Given that the hotel is limited to cancer patients we feared it would be a horrifying combination of a convalescent hospital and battlefield surgical recovery room, with the walking dead moving through the halls. We’d been told it wasn’t that; I’m not sure we believed the reports.

 

 Our fears were totally unsubstantiated.

 

Every, and I literally mean “every” person we interacted with, on any level, was Christ to us. From the hotel Staff, the other patients/guests (some who looked like they’d been on the battlefield), the MDA team, the shuttle drivers, bartender, food service, housekeeping…

 

In a hundred different ways and encounters God came for us.

 

We sat with those suffering greatly and found Jesus in their words, stories, prayers and example. We cried and found hope. The weak spoke of strength. Death’s curse and threats seemed strangely silenced. One day I had a couple of hours free and was excited to spend it walking the halls and sitting in the lobbies so I could simply be with Jesus.

 

 My friend John Moorhead shared a quote of Dallas Willard with me, “Where there’s Goodness, God is there”. We lived and breathed, swam in, drank in and were covered by Goodness… by God.

 

 This next week I begin a new part of the journey.

 

I’ll be in an “Infusion” room with a few fellow sojourners for my first chemotherapy cycle… four days of cancer killing kick ass drugs through an IV. I’ll be chillin’ in a brown Barcalounger, covered by a blanket with an igloo packed with snacks nearby. Lori will be on one side of me, Jesus on the other as we pass the hours watchingPlanes, Trains and Automobiles, just sitting and talking about “stuff”, listening to my “Worship A” playlist, napping or flipping through the out dated People magazines laying around.

 

I’m so glad I’m not going through this alone.

 

There’s still a lot of unknowns and tears, but at this moment, full of hope and strength I can say, “I’m good, God is good, I’m alive and free… and cancer sucks!”

 

 - Craig McConnell

9/08
(12)