“A Night of Hope” Fundraising Dinner

On Monday, May 25 at 6:30pm Nello’’s Fine Italian Dining in St. Albert is hosting a “”Night of Hope”” featuring me as the keynote speaker and recipient of any funds raised. There will be a fantastic, three-course meal with small breaks in between where I share some of my life story and lessons learned along the way. It will be upbeat, providing laughter, inspiration and hope for anyone in the room.

I would love for you to join me and Melissa for this event. It will be a great opportunity for a date night with your special someone or as an evening out with friends. Tickets are $100 per person, and all proceeds will be used to more effectively market the book and spread the word to more people about the difference God can make.

If you you are interested in tickets to this event please leave a comment and I will contact you ASAP.

Thank you so much for your prayers, support and encouragement. I feel like the most blessed person in the world, and I hope that “Sideswiped” will be a blessing to many that I could never reach in person.

Nellos FB

Kickstarter Update

For the last decade or so I have been wanting to write a book. I have started, stalled, and finally stopped writing more times that I care to discuss.

But now my fear of writing has been eclipsed by my fear of NOT writing. I must write. It is a matter of obedience now. I believe God wants me to write this book and so I have. Each morning I get up, writing 500-1000 words. The book is coming together, and I am very excited.

To write, publish and market a book takes a lot of money. In order to gauge the hunger for any kind of book I may write I did a Kickstarter campaign where people could sign up to pre-order a copy for themselves, and in doing so help me to know how many books to order, and help raise the funds for editing, publishing and marketing.

I set out to raise $8500, but over $10,500 was raised.

I am overwhelmed, humbled and deeply encouraged. You can tune into my website or go to my Kickstarter page for updates on the writing process. It looks like mid-October will be the release of the book currently entitled “Sideswiped.”

Thank you for your prayers and encouragement. I pray this book will be a blessing and source of hope for everyone who reads it.

www.kickstarter.com/projects/518731742/sideswiped

Sideswiped

 

Strength in Weakness

My buttons were popping with pride and I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face. I was sitting in the front row, and on the platform at our church was my wife Melissa speaking to a gathering of about 150 people. Our roles were reversed from the normal routine of me at the microphone and she in the shadows. Her topic? The yo-yo journey she has been on with a severe anxiety disorder. There were many wet eyes and knowing nods as she explained her wrestling match with anxiety since age 11.

Shortly after we met Melissa shared with me that she suffered from an anxiety disorder. Truth be known she could have said that she suffered from just about anything, because I was so taken with her beauty and intrigued by her thirst for knowledge that nothing would dissuade me from pursuing her. She stretched me in so many ways, and as far as I knew I was more than up for any challenge she may throw my direction. So what if she got anxious from time to time? I was able to convince her to go on both roller coasters at the Pacific National Exhibition (even I was anxious about that!) and she would ride on elevators with me, something she had avoided for years. I figured I would break her of this anxiety. It would all work out and smooth over. She could trust me. All would be ok.
Was I ever in for a reality check.

We were married in December 2004. The world was our oyster, with limitless possibilities of where we might live and what the future might hold in store for us. Shortly thereafter I was hired as the Associate Pastor at North Pointe Community Church (then Central Tabernacle) and she finished her Masters of Science in Physical Therapy at the University of Alberta. We were both happy doing the things we loved-helping people our areas of calling. Things were looking up and we were excited at the opportunity to see the world and minister together.

Then I got the phone call.

It seems most bad news comes in the form of an unexpected phone call at the most inopportune time. I was working and in meetings, and Melissa was on her way to visit her parents in nearby Wainwright, Alberta for an overnight stay. Because I was in busy I had my phone on silent and missed the several calls from Melissa and from my brother-in-law Chad. When I finally got through to Chad he assured me that everything was ok, and that Melissa was at their house recovering. She had a massive panic attack and was rendered paralyzed on the side of the highway, unable to drive; unable to think. She thought she would die. Chad was her rescuer, and now I was on my way to pick up the pieces.

To this point Melissa had been very good at covering up her anxiety through prayer and scripture memory, therapeutic exercises, regular medication, and her silver bullet pill called Ativan. Whenever she felt things were unravelling out of control she knew that it would help calm her so that she could move, think, reason. But for the first time it let her down. After taking 5 pills she was still stricken with fear and was unable to move. Her lifeline had let her down. Prayers didn’t work. She had hit a new low.

Life from that moment got very restricted for her. She had to be around me or her mom for comfort and security. We were her “safe” people. She couldn’t drive in the dark, even with me, and was unable to drive outside of the city by herself. For months I had to drive behind her to the university so she could get to work at the hospital without a full blown panic attack. Not only did her world get small, mine did too. I would be invited to speak at camps, retreats or conferences and would have to turn them down either because she wasn’t mentally able to fly or because the distance that I would be from her was too great. I found myself covering up a lot, and making a lot of excuses. Most people have the same understanding that I had about anxiety. It’s ok, it will go away. You’ll be ok. To mention that my wife couldn’t bear the fact that she was separated from me or her mom, or later, the kids can be difficult to explain. Especially to a Christian crowd.

You see, for years Melissa has prayed, fasted, placed Bible verses up around the house, car and anywhere else they can be seen as a constant reminder of the power and presence of God. She has pleaded for God to remove the anxiety and do a miracle of Biblical proportions. Only silence was heard. Even well meaning people can add fuel to the fire, some suggesting that she need to pray harder, truly give this to God or perhaps she might even be oppressed or possessed by the Devil. Mental illness is so desperately misunderstood. People would never say these things to someone who had cancer or a broken leg, but depression, anxiety or or any other mental health issue seem to be the realm of the spiritual. After years of this daily battle it led to a crisis of faith. Melissa took a break. Not from God, but from trying so hard. In that time the Lord spoke to her like he did to the Apostle Paul who pleaded that the Lord would remove the thorn in his flesh-evidently a condition in his mind, body or spirit that was overwhelming for him. Melissa’s answer came in the same form as Paul’s; “My grace is sufficient for you. My strength is made perfect in your weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).

Now Melissa has chosen to focus less on praying for herself and more on praying for others. She is open to a miracle that would eradicate this anxiety from her mind, but in the meantime she has chosen to reach out to others and share her story. I’m sure it’s painful at times, but she has chosen to embrace her pain in order to bring relief to others. Hers is a story of faith, hope and love. And her ministry is flourishing. I know that God’s strength will be made perfect in this weakness, and she will be the bearer of hope to the 30% of society that deals with a mental health disorder of some sort.

As for me, I am ashamed that I wasted years feeling resentful, sorry for myself, or even feeling at times that it wasn’t as real as she was making it out to be. I was selfish and ignorant. I just didn’t understand. Thankfully in this weakness of mine the Lord has also given me strength. I am convinced that her weakness actually saved me from getting over-committed and focused on things that would only be a distraction for our family and ministry. I can now echo with conviction the words of Paul in Romans 8:28 “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” All things even includes mental illness…and selfishness. Thank God that He is at work in both of our lives.

Now when I look to the future a smile spreads across my face. Once again I realize world is truly our oyster.IMG_3568

Inspiration

inspiration-01My head hurts. It’s not the kind of pain that needs medication or even a glass of water to cure. Inspiration is the relief I need. After starring at my MacBook Pro screen for several minutes I have decided that there is one elixir that will prime the creative process. I pack up my laptop and head towards the exit while pulling on my coat. It’s cold out there today. I lean into the door and feel the chilly breeze hit the exposed skin on my face and hands. What a difference a day makes here in Alberta. Just yesterday the snow was melting. I pick up the pace in an effort to get to the comfort of my car as quickly as possible.

The familiar beep notifies me at that my car was locked and is now unlocked. All too often I forget to the lock the doors. At least I got this right today. Reaching for the door handle I gingerly use my fingertips in a vain attempt to stay clean. Fail. My hand is coated in a grimy combination of wet dirt and salt from the underside of the handle. Great. I open the door, ducking my head and nestling into a very cold leather seat. Now what am I going to clean my hand with? Opening the glove compartment I see hand lotion, insurance papers, a Bible, phone charger and a pack of gum. No napkins in sight. I was sure I had some in here. I must have thrown them out the last time I cleaned the interior. This is one of the drawbacks of being a clean freak. Spaces may look organized but they lack preparedness for such an event. Note to self; buy some wet wipes. They are the Swiss Army knife of cleanliness and will come in handy when the kids are in the car. I decide to carefully grip the steering wheel with my palm, trying to avoid further mess.

Slipping the tiptronic gearbox into reverse with an almost imperceptible shimmy I glide out of my parking spot. As I engage the car into drive I use my muddy hand to pull the lever of my windshield washer fluid. I don’t want to get any filth on the lever, but I also don’t want to impair my vision. Sometimes a compromise must be struck. The wipers burst into action as the pale blue washer fluid cuts the dirt on the windshield. For the first few arcs of the wipers there is an audible scratch of the rubber blades cutting through the road grime, until finally the washer fluid has done it’s job of removing the bulk of it. Now all that’s left is the large spot at the base of my windshield on the drivers side and the strip at the top of my passenger side where the blade obviously doesn’t make contact with the windshield. This bothers me something fierce. Note to self: order the new wiper arms online-it’s way cheaper than the dealership.

Now on my way to my destination I turn on the radio. Without fail it’s set to the local sports station and all they can talk about is our team’s dismal play. I’m not sure why I subject myself to this inhumane torture. It must be out of bad habit. In this city it doesn’t matter what the time of year, hockey is the only topic that’s given any meaningful attention. My mind wanders. Searching. I need an idea! Then louder and with more urgency, Come on! I need an idea! With the flick of the signal light I check my shoulder and turn into a nondescript strip mall. Seems every strip mall in North America has a fast food restaurant, pedicurist and coffee shop. I look for the closest parking spot I can, but when nothing is available I pull through into a spot where I can make a quick getaway without needing to put my car into reverse. This is how spies park, or so I think.

I walk towards my destination. I don’t need a pedicure, but I am craving creative stimulation in a cup. I lean into the door and am met with a burst of warm air on my face followed by the tantalizing and invigorating smell of freshly ground coffee. Instantly I am hit with a bolt inspiration. I know what I will write about!

Crush Your Goals This Year!

DSC_0173Standing centre stage at the Citadel theatre, arms raised in exhilaration and joy, I drank in my 15 seconds of fame. I had never seen my abs before, but now I knew that the rumours were true; I really did have a six pack, and I had the confidence to show them off to everyone in the auditorium. All the hard work had paid off. I had achieved my goal of getting into the best shape of my life and competing in a physique competition. Regardless of my placing, I knew I was a winner, and it made all the protein shakes I had consumed in the past months taste sweeter than honey at that moment!
On the other hand, there was a bitter taste left when I badly missed my goal of completing my first book by the end of the year. I was disappointed at myself, and I felt that I had let down others who had cheered me on in my pursuit. I started well enough, writing on a consistent clip in the early morning and letting people know what I was doing as an added level of accountability. Then I missed a day, and another, and before I knew it I had fallen from my writer’s desk and I couldn’t get back up. Someone call the medics!

What was the difference maker between success and failure in reaching my goals?

PROCESS.

Focus on the Process, Not the Goal
When it comes to completing a goal I believe the number one factor in determining whether you will achieve it or not is a proven process. Each day I had my meals prepped so that I would never get hungry and be tempted to sabotage my diet at McDonald’s. I knew the exercises I would do and I wrote down every rep, set and weight lifted. Nothing was left to chance. I hired a knowledgable trainer at a considerable cost who would kick my butt if I slacked off. Rarely did I think about the competition day. I just knew if I didn’t compete hard today, I would never arrive in my best shape possible on competition day.
However, with my writing I was so focused on the goal of delivering a book by the end of the year that I got deflated. A few bad days of writing caused me to lose faith that I would be able to reach my goal. Then rather than push through, I avoided writing. Deadlines weren’t met and the dream died a slow and painful death.

Process is a Daily Discipline
If you don’t brush your teeth daily there is a good chance that you will have a pretty mean, rotten and incomplete set of fangs in a matter of time. Daily discipline doesn’t need to be drudgery, it can be absolutely liberating if you let it. I got used to morning cardio sessions, chicken breast and broccoli. I started to feel energized, and because I was in a routine, I always knew what the next step would be. I loved it (except when the sugar cravings really hit me around Easter!) and got tremendous satisfaction seeing my body transform right before my eyes. Even random people would stop me in the gym to ask me what I was doing differently. Bonus!
Meanwhile, back at the laptop, after a few missed writing sessions I got used to sleeping in a bit or doing other things with my time. Netflix became more important that writing, and I let myself slide completely out of any formal routine of writing. Without a consistent time to get my thoughts out, the battery drained completely and the screen went dark.

If you are trying to complete a goal or two this year, ask yourself the following question:
Am I more focused on the goal or the process?

One day at a time, may this be your year of accomplishing great things. Remember, if you want to reach the Payoff, you will have to go through the Process.

Now about that book I was writing…

Hard Skin, Soft Heart

hard skin soft heartSometimes it sucks being a Christian leader.

Many days there is more wading through garbage than triumphal procession.

A visionary dreamer saved his entire family and the the nation of Egypt from the brink of starvation through wise decision making. A passionate and dedicated young man defeats an army when he slays a giant, and then plays his heart out to soothe his stressed out king. An upright Jew exiled in a foreign country refuses to slide into moral decay. Instead he uses his leadership acumen to help his captive nation flourish. A man of common pedigree bursts into the spotlight when he teaches with an uncommon authority that stumps the educated and draws the masses, performing miracles that had not been seen since the days of Elisha.

You would think that they would be paid handsomely for their actions. Accolades, awards…ticker tape parades.

Think again.

Joseph was beaten by his own brothers, sold into slavery, falsely accused and forgotten to rot in a jail cell. David spent a decade dodging spears and running for his life. Daniel is framed by his enemies and thrown to the lions. Jesus is betrayed by one of his closest “friends” and is nailed to a Roman cross.

So why are we surprised when our best intentions are skewed and those we think should have our back end up stabbing us in it?

In his final days on earth, Jesus gathered his disciples and gave them a pep talk to encourage them before he left the earth. I don’t think it was very comforting. In fact, it was almost comical how bleak it was. Jesus promised the disciples that they would be hated by the world because he was also hated. They would be persecuted, thrown out of the synagogues, killed, scattered and experience many trials and sorrows (John ch. 15, 16). As an encore he exclaimed, “Take heart, because I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). Basically Jesus says, “This is going to happen, but I have already won, and I am with you…so live with courage.”

So Christian leader, when you experience people trash-talking you, trying to undermine you, or flat out doing whatever they can to destroy you, keep these things in mind:

Don’t be Surprised
Jesus promised this would happen (remember the bit where he said “If the world hates you, remember that it hated me first” John 15:18). Even Christians can be very worldly, and ‘friendly fire’ always hurts the most. The next time you encounter troubles, don’t let it surprise you. Instead, be ready for it so that you can deal with it in a healthy manner.

Don’t Fight Fire with Fire
What impresses me most about the strong leaders of the Bible and today is that they refuse to fight back in the same manner they are being attacked. Joseph never treated his brothers to a beat down in Egypt, David never threw a spear back at Saul’s crowned head, and Jesus prayed “father forgive them for they know not what they are doing” to those who brutally nailed him to the cross. Anger and vengeance can only lead to a hardening of the heart. You end up becoming what you hate. And when your main role is to lead people to a growing relationship with Jesus, there is no room for it.

Don’t Stop Doing What is Good
When we have been attacked it is easy to start to shut down and protect ourselves from any vulnerability. When you do this you may very well face much less attack, but you will also be rendered ineffective. Let God sort out the details of who is in the right and wrong. In the meantime, keep moving forward. Put yourself out there, and you will make a much bigger impact than if you live your leadership life on an island of insecurity. “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we don’t give up” (Galatians 6:9). These are good words to live by written by the Apostle Paul, a man who knew what it was like to be trash-talked, beaten and misunderstood.

Yes, being a Christian leader sometimes sucks. But there is nothing else I would rather do. When I feel like I have been put through a spin cycle, I am reminded that I need thick skin to fend off the attacks of others, and a soft heart to continue to pour out the love of Jesus to those who need it most.

Broken to Better

bitter-or-better“You are going to be such a better preacher because of this.”

These were not comforting words. I still had scars on my arm and was not sleeping well in an empty bed.

Of course my goal for the last ten years had been to develop the technical skills of preaching, coupled with the power of the Holy Spirit to inspire, encourage, and motivate people to grow in their faith. To think that people could see that I would become better at this should have been encouraging to me early in my pastoral ministry life. People actually thought I had potential!

But it wasn’t encouraging. Not even close.

You see, this was said to me not long after my wife Sheri had just died in a car accident. A good-hearted person was trying to cheer me up, and in the course of conversation had reasoned that God took Sheri because I needed to be a better preacher and have a more powerful ministry. I put on my best “thank you for your kind words” face, and managed to get out of the room before lashing out with an angry tirade and perhaps even an uppercut to the chops. Some people just don’t get it.

I believe that every hurt we go through can and will be redeemed for good-if we let it.

I could have easily turned away from God and others in this time of grief, deciding to forgo a life of ministry for something else. If God couldn’t hear the anguished prayers of a pastor, what hope did anyone have? Why go on with the Christian charade? But I made a decision not to get stuck and wallow in my pain forever. Instead, this is what I did:

I got Better instead of Bitter.

There were so many unanswered questions, and many of the answers I got weren’t very satisfactory, like the one I just described. But I knew that there would never be any good reason that I could come up with for losing Sheri. Instead I decided to focus on what I knew to be true. I took the words of Jesus and the hope of resurrection seriously. Instead of wallowing in pity, I shared my story. It was therapeutic. And it helped a lot of people, including me

I Comforted Others.

The Apostle Paul told the Corinthians “God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others” (1:3-4). Through my process of grieving there were many who genuinely comforted me with words and actions unlike Job’s friends. And because of all of the love and compassion I received in the dark times I decided that I would not waste my hurt. I would pass on the comfort I received to others. I have spent time at conferences, retreats, and counseling sessions sharing my story with people who needed hope when they feel helpless. And I always leave a better person for doing it.

I decided to offer more Love and less Advice.

One of the greatest gifts I was given in my time of grief was a congregation who had been coached by the pastoral staff to “Give Mike and hug, tell him you love him, and don’t give him advice.” Most people took those words to heart and it was a beautiful gift. Most days I just needed to know that there were people in my life who cared about me.

Advice can ring hollow. Hugs rarely do.

I think I am a better preacher for what I have gone through. Not because of the tragedy, but in spite of it. God has taken my brokenness and made something beautiful.

What brokenness might God want to redeem to make your life beautiful?