Wednesday, January 10, 2018

And you may ask yourself, well... how did I get here?

So, here I am at Azusa Pacific University (APU) and there’s a Talking Heads song running through my head… “And you may ask yourself, well… how did I get here?”  Lyrics from “Once in a lifetime.”

David Byrne the front man for Talking Heads, gave his take on the song to NPR a number of years ago.  He said, “We’re largely unconscious. You know, we operate half-awake or on autopilot and end up, whatever, with a house and family and job and everything else. We haven’t really stopped to ask ourselves, ‘How did I get here?’”

With all due respect to Mr. Byrne - I’ve actually asked myself that question and I’ve pretty much always been able to answer it. Even now as I begin my newest journey at APU.

The “how” is something I think about a lot.  As I look back at my career and my life in general, I can see a path that clearly makes sense. It may not have made sense at the time, but in hindsight, it most certainly does.

Every step of the way, I could easily quote Proverbs 16:9 – “A man’s heart plans his way, But the Lord directs his steps.” 

So, with a tip of the hat to Bryne, I thought I’d share how I currently find myself here at APU. 

When I decided to make this move – I surprised quite a few people; including myself. After all, I really loved the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network (PanCAN). 

You could say – my coming to APU is a “calling” – but that doesn’t give you enough details. 

Let’s begin this story by going back in time...

I started in this business a number of years ago and I really began to settle in once I arrived at City of Hope (COH), where I worked for nearly 12 years.  Back in that time, I used to ride the Blue Line from Long Beach to downtown Los Angeles. As I walked up the hill on Wilshire to our development offices – I used to wonder if I could picture myself doing this for the rest of my career.

I wasn’t necessarily just talking about riding the train and walking to work – but more about if City of Hope was going to be my “home” for the foreseeable future.  Most days, I could see that being a possibility. 

God had guided my steps there for sure.  Not only did COH become a highlight of my professional career; my dad ended up being a patient there, as did my father-in-law.  They most likely wouldn’t have ended up there if it wasn’t for the fact that I worked there and learned so much about the incredible and passionate care they provided.

I ended up leaving COH for an opportunity to be closer to my mom who lived in South Orange County by taking a position at U.C. Irvine.  Again – I know God guided me there as my mom ended up becoming quite ill and battled pulmonary fibrosis for a period of time.  My being at Irvine allowed me to provide her with a great deal of care and allowed me to do things that would have been virtually impossible to do otherwise.

When I left COH, I remember the Executive VP at COH (Kathleen) writing me to say that it would “take some time, but eventually UCI would feel like home. “

Well... for better or worse - that never happened. 

Every morning; as I pulled in the parking lot, I would say to myself, “This doesn’t feel like home.”  I said that routinely for about 3 years.  There are lots of reasons for that, but I just never felt like I belonged there and I never felt like I could just be myself. 

For better or worse, it was just never "home."

The most important thing UCI did for me was cause me to look at my career and try to figure out what was next.

That introspective look at myself lead me to a conversation with the VP of University Advancement at APU.  This was in 2015 and a seed was planted.  My conversation with Corbin (VP of Advancement) wasn’t typical in anyway.  For the first time ever, I began to consider the possibility of taking my experience and skills to an organization that put "God first."

At the same time, I began to reach out to development professionals at a variety of non-profits.  I interviewed.  I networked.  I dedicated myself to making a change.  My plan was to transition into major gifts.  Well, that was my plan.

God had other ideas. 

That’s when I found myself at PanCAN.  It was there that my love for prospect development was rekindled.  It was there that I began to once again embrace the idea that I could make a difference through the work I had been doing for so long.

I needed those two years at PanCAN to recharge my batteries – to reconnect with fundraisers in ways that I had almost forgotten about.

So – there I was working at a wonderful organization and having a great time.  I had autonomy.  I had great colleagues.   I had the resources I needed and I could clearly see how I was making a difference.  For the most part – I was happy.

I say “for the most part” because no organization is perfect and we all have days where things might not go the way we’d like.  Again – I loved PanCAN and I still do – but one day I found myself taking a peak at the job board on the CARA web site and I saw an opening at Azusa Pacific University.

Hmm.  APU.  Corbin.  God first.  Hmm.

I decided to reach out to Kristen who was leading the prospect development effort at APU.  I was curious.  I asked her what was going on and it was then that I learned she was leaving.  She was moving to Kenya.


I thought about applying.  I wasn’t exactly sure why, but I thought about it.  I thought about it some more.  Should I?  Why?  Maybe… I don’t know.  Am I crazy?  Why would I leave PanCAN?

Half-heartedly, I applied.  I reached out to Corbin to let him know I was applying. 

Within a couple weeks a phone interview was scheduled with Kristen and the hiring manager (Amanda). 

First question they asked - “At APU our motto is ‘God first’ – what does that mean to you?” 


This was different.  Not in a bad way by any means.  Unexpected for sure.  It wasn’t something I prepared for (in the traditional sense of interview prep) at all, but never-the-less – it was a question I was prepared to actually answer…  In fact, it was probably the easiest question I have ever had to answer.

The rest of the phone interview is somewhat of a blur.

God first.  Ok.  Yes. 

Am I ready for this?  Do I really want to leave PanCAN?  Hmm. I don’t know.

A couple weeks passed and Amanda reached out to schedule round 2.  It took a day or two for me to respond and when I did – I decided to withdraw my name from the process.  I felt I needed to stay at PanCAN.  I still had work to do.  I had to help more donors tell their stories.  I wasn’t done.

Funny... God had other plans.

What happened over the next several weeks is hard to put into words, but I will try. 

Up until this point, I was really only thinking about me.  What I wanted.  What I needed.  Never-the-less, in the back of my mind – I kept asking myself – who are they going to get to take on the role that Kristen held at APU?  Even though “God first” really resonated with me – I clearly wasn’t putting Him first in this process.

So, I prayed. 

In the meantime, Amanda asked how they could stay in the conversation with me.  Hmm. 

mm.  I could see that this wasn’t going to be easy.  I couldn’t just walk away now.  I had to keep talking with APU.  I wasn’t sure if I wanted to, but I felt compelled to do so.  The Holy Spirit was working in me.

As I continued along in the process – it became clear to me that APU put my skill set and experience 3rd on their list of importance.  Yes, third.  More importantly – they wanted to know if I was a fit for the culture and mission of the university and was I fit for the culture of the office?  God first. 

Each interview and each interaction painted a clear picture for me.  This was more about my faith journey than about my work experience.  I began to pray “God, if this is where you want me to go, I will go.” 

During the process, I had a revelation. I knew that PanCAN could replace me.  I knew they could find someone to do the work I did there, but I wasn’t so sure APU could replace Kristen as easily.  I asked myself – “If not me – then who?”

I felt God was calling me to go to APU.  I didn’t necessarily want to go – but I felt I had to go.  I tried to withdraw my name from consideration – but again, God had other plans.  I began to realize that after so many years in this field, it was time to take my experience and put it to work on His behalf.  That realization helped me make the decision.  Now, I wanted to go.

It was a humbling thought.  It was even a bit scary. 

I went through four rounds of interviews.  Through the process we talked about the mission of the university.  We talked about the culture.  When all was said and done, an offer was made and I said yes.  What started as a half-hearted effort, ended with my whole heart embracing the opportunity.

Luke 22:42 - "Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done."  This verse ties it all together for me and I was reminded of it this past week.

Jesus didn’t necessarily want to go to the cross.  He knew what was waiting for him, but asked if there could be another way.  He did what He did not want to do.  He did what he had to do.

I’m not suggesting my coming to APU is on the same level by any means. 

You see, last week - we had the amazing opportunity to come together as faculty and staff and have what is called a “Spiritual Refocus Day.”  The message was delivered by Bishop Charles E. Blake.  His message was centered on Luke 22:42.

His message really spoke to me.  It reminded me of my journey to APU.  It reminded me how I was reluctant to come and kept trying to focus on what I wanted; all the while, acknowledging that I would ultimately to do what God wanted.  I decided to take the leap, trust God and answer to His will and not mine.  I didn't come to APU for me, I came for Him. I'm so glad I did.

I’m blessed to be here.  I'm incredibly happy about this path.  I am honored and humbled to be here.  My skills will be put to good use here.  You could say I've prepared my whole life for this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.  

David Byrne may not know how he got to where he is – but I surely know how I got here.  I'm supposed to be here.  I belong here. 

I am here to serve, but I know I will also grow here. I will grow in my faith.  I will grow in ways I can’t even imagine right now.  I need this.  God knew.  He always knows.  I’m thankful to finally be "home." 

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

A Tribute to the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network

They come.  By the hundreds. By the thousands.

They come heart-broken, scared, angry, frustrated and yet – they come.  Many have experienced loss.  Tremendous loss.  Heart-breaking loss. 

They are caregivers.  Friends.  Family.  Together, they form an army.

Some are survivors who are still fighting.  They are few; far too few – but they are mighty. Courageous. Inspirational. And they are growing; although slowly – their numbers are increasing.

All are giving everything they have – physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.  Everything.

They come determined, oh-so-committed and passionate.  That passion runs deep.  It’s not the kind of passion you see at a stadium with 100,000 people on their feet.  It’s much more than that.  It is a passion that burns even in the quietest of moments, far away from any crowd.  Together they are unstoppable.  They move mountains. 

They come from every corner of the nation and beyond. From every walk of life.  They are our parents, our grandparents.  Our spouses.  Our brothers and sisters.  Our aunts, uncles, nephews, nieces and more.  They’re our friends.  Our neighbors.  Our co-workers. 

They belong to a family they hope no one else will ever be a part of.  A family they are thankful for and have great love for, but still not the family they wanted.

Their passion fuels their mission.  To find answers.  To make a difference.  To give hope and to find hope.  To connect with others who have shared experience.

Hope is the key.  Real hope.  Tangible hope.  Something they can hold on to and feel in their heart.  The kind of hope that makes them clench their fists. The kind of hope that brings tears to their eyes because they have a reason to believe.  Together, they Wage Hope. 

Hope is their weapon.  They wield it like a sword.  It is also their protection.  A shield.

Losing someone is always hard.  Losing someone to pancreatic cancer has a devastating impact.  The fight; although incredibly fierce, is often terribly short.  The odds against fighting pancreatic cancer are overwhelming.  Tidal-wave overwhelming.  Fall-to-your-knees overwhelming.  Collapsing-in-the-arms-of –loved-one overwhelming.

“They” are the PanCAN volunteers and survivors.  Magnificent.  Inspirational.

It has been my profound honor to serve them.  To Wage Hope with them and for them.  To do whatever I could to help them move forward. 

Every story has touched my heart. Every single one.  Especially the stories of you, my PanCAN colleagues.  Julie.  Pam.   Julia.  Cheyenne.  Sheri.  Britney.  Natascha.  All of you working here who carry the torch for someone who has been impacted by this disease.  It has been an absolute pleasure to Wage Hope with every single one of you.  It has been humbling to be surrounded by such greatness.  That includes those who have gone on to other places and causes. 

I have often said that I came to PanCAN to make a difference and to have an impact, but I have found the impact all of you have had on me is much greater than what I was able to give. 

Thank you.  From my whole heart – Thank you! Thank you for allowing me to be a part of what you have done and continue to do.

Now, it’s time for me to say good-bye.  I hate good-byes, but this is in fact “good-bye.”  At least for now.  I do not know if or when I might see you again – so rather than leaving without saying anything – I want to wish you well.  All of you.  Every single one of you.

I am embarking on a new journey.  Next stop - Azusa Pacific University (APU). To answer the “call.” It’s a long story… and I will tell this story one day soon.

APU will be my new home and although I am leaving PanCAN – PanCAN will always be a part of me.  Always. 

It’s time to look forward.  Onward I go.  God bless.

Monday, August 28, 2017

It's a Good Grind

I often sit at my desk "grinding" through names, desperately trying to find the “stories” that connect our donors to our organization.  The work can be intensive.  Trying to piece together the relationships and eliminate the duplicate records and all the things that go along with the process of learning each story takes time. There's lots of steps and every now and then the process feels overwhelming.  Sometimes, I just lean back in my chair and take a deep breath.  Then, I keep going because in the meantime, “people are dying.”

That’s a phrase straight from our founder's lips.  I remember standing in Pam's office some time ago, venting a bit about something and Pam just said, “In the meantime, people are dying.”  Those words echo in my head every day.  It’s why I Wage Hope.

I just found Samuel today.  He lost his mom – Phyllis .  He wrote this on the PurpleStride page dedicated to her...  “This past March Pancreatic Cancer took my mother Phyllis Taylor, way before she or I were ready. The disease does not care who you are or how you have lived because my Mom was one of the kindest, overall great people to ever grace this planet with her presence. I, along with so many, miss her dearly. She has and continues to have such a huge and positive impact on my life. She is definitely proud of the way my family has showed resilience and bonded together during this time of mourning.”

“Unfortunately, the money that has been raised to this point could not save my Mom's life, but it could potentially save the life of a person you love. Please join us in this fight to end what is undeniably one of the worst types of cancer. “

As I connected him in RE (our database) to his mom and dad, I whispered… “ I got you Sam.”  I was basically sying "I understand and I'm here for you."

His dad just made a nice gift. That's what started me on this particular journey... to see how we might engage the family even more. To do that, it all starts with "the story" - the details of why someone is engaged with us.

It can be incredibly hard to read these stories day in and day out.  That being said – it’s harder to lose someone to cancer…

That’s why I grind away.  I may never meet Sam, but I have his “back.”  Sam is only 25.  He’s raised $2,050 so far.  The team has raised $8,335.  They’re all having an impact. 

I came to the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network to have an impact, but the organization, the leadership, the patients, the volunteers, the donors, my colleagues and their stories continue to have an impact on me.  I can’t stop.  I need to keep grinding.

To get to the point where we are raising $50 million a year,  it’s going to take a monumental effort.  We have to grind through a lot of names just to find the ones who can become more engaged at a deeper level.  Then we have to reach them, engage them and eventually ask them.  Picture a huge funnel that is wide at the top and narrow at the bottom.  It’s hard work.  

There are thousands of stories in our database waiting to be discovered and more importantly - to be heard. I am on a mission to learn them one person a time.  Each story helps us find ways to better engage our constituents and at the same time, further our mission.

I know everyone at my organization is doing their part.  It’s inspiring to be in this fight with each of them. 

Together, we Wage Hope.