Knowing that God says He loves us is one thing, but personally encountering His delight in us often involves confronting the ways we resist His grace. Karlene Cannon shares her PAPA Prayer story of God’s subversive generosity in revealing His heart for her.
Karlene Cannon’s Bio:
In 2012, Karlene Cannon sat across a dinner table from Rachael and Larry Crabb and was captivated as Larry talked about his Teleios project- his dream for how his lifework and legacy of relational spiritual formation would be passed on to a new generation on a broader scale than had been possible in his lifetime. That evening eventually led to Karlene joining the staff of Larger Story as the Director of Content and Product Development, where she uses her experience in education, content development, and software business consulting to direct Larger Story’s strategy and create new products that bring to fruition the Teleios vision Larry articulated over a decade ago.
Karlene has written curriculum, developed retreats, and hosted a large Christian community group in her home in the ensuing years, but nothing has prepared her for the current task of reaching a new generation more than raising 4 children (ages 25, 21, 18, 14) in a family culture where relational formation is the norm, relational holiness is the goal, and the Holy Spirit gets all the credit. As she now launches them into a world rife with divisions on all sides, where the truth is often regarded as optional, Karlene’s vision is to reach this connected-but-lonely generation with the transforming certainty of a relational God and His Larger Story. Her passion has found an outlet in digital course development, content creation, and the kind of spiritual direction that occurs over a cup of coffee, via text, and through long conversations in the car.
Karlene loves sports (actually, just Duke basketball and whatever her sons are playing), all things vintage and historic, great books, fragrant coffee and crackling fires. She feels God’s pleasure when her home is full of courageous people sharing their hearts and lives for the glory of God and their own growth and healing.
Rosanne Moore’s Bio:
If Jesus is Who He says He is, why doesn’t being a Christian seem to work better? More to the point, why didn’t it seem to make people better? Those were some of the questions Rosanne Moore was asking about her own life when she first encountered Dr. Larry Crabb’s book Inside Out as a teen and in its pages discovered an invitation to journey into a radically different understanding of what it meant to be a follower of Jesus, one that was focused on relationship with God rather than rule lists or behavior modification.
Drawing on her background as a writer, editor, reading instruction specialist, language arts tutor, homeschool mom, speaker, and social media marketer, Rosanne now serves as Larger Story’s Communications Director. She has run a successful small business and worked with several missions and church organizations, but her greatest delight is in listening to the unfolding story of God’s work in the lives of others and sharing her own journey of seeking God in every part of life, even (or, perhaps, especially) in our darkest nights.
Nowhere is Rosanne more passionate about seeing God’s redemption cultivated than in the lives of victims/survivors of abuse of all kinds. Her Lifeline course for women escaping domestic abuse was birthed from her personal experience, as well as out of more than two decades of advocacy work serving women and children impacted by intimate terrorism, coercive control, spiritual abuse, and sexual violence.
A single mom since 2011, Rosanne seeks to create opportunities for rich conversations with her 4 teen & college-aged kids who continually amaze, amuse, and humble her with their awesome selves and their crazy menagerie. She enjoys honest friends who are both hilarious and wise, a lapful of snuggly kitties, and a good book on a rainy day. Lily’s chocolates, Jane Austen movies, and crisp autumn days are a few of her favorite things, and music is her heart’s prayer language.
Show Note Links:
Rosanne Moore: Hello, Larger Story audience. We’re so happy to have you back with us today. I’m Rosanne Moore, your host at the Relational Spirituality podcast. I have with me my co-host today, Karlene Cannon. We are looking at The PAPA Prayer during this quarter and we have some stories to share about how God has met us in that, in a really personal way.
Karlene, I want to start with you. This actually goes back to 2022, right?
Karlene Cannon: Early 2022. Yeah.
Rosanne Moore: When we did the Summit as a memorial just celebrating Larry’s life and the way that his ministry touched so many lives. We had been working for months to get ready for the Summit.
Karlene Cannon: Over a year really, it had been a big undertaking that we had been heavily invested in as a team and personally. It was a big deal.
Rosanne Moore: And in the midst of that, something happened with you that I want you to share about. So go ahead. I’m going to let you start sharing your story.
Karlene Cannon: I think I need to give a little bit of background of my broader story just to understand the significance of this particular event. Part of my story is all wrapped up in “father.” I had a series of men in my life who had the title of father; I had a biological father who gave me up when I was born – I was adopted – Then I had an adopted father who obviously took me in as a baby and stepped into that role, but then, over the course of my life, he gradually disappeared such that by the time I got married, he was largely not part of my life. He didn’t help with college. He didn’t come to my wedding. He just gradually faded out of my life. And then I had a father-in-law who stepped in and made a lot of promises like, “You finally have a father” and that did not go well either. And God graciously gave me people like Larry Crabb. I have another Larry who’s very important in my life, who has shown me and fathered me spiritually over the years, but that place of father was always nebulous and empty, not one of the positive parts of my life. The idea that a father would give good gifts to his children was always something I cognitively believed, but didn’t actually experience.
Another part of this story that’s going to be really important was, when I was 18 years old and applying to colleges – I grew up in Texas. I wanted to go somewhere different. So I had one application that I could afford to send and I chose Duke University. I’m really not even sure why, except the cover was beautiful on the little brochure they sent out. And that’s where I ended up. God provided miraculously. Tuition was more yearly than my mother made. Lots of things had to come together for me to be even able to go. And that was one of my first experiences of God as a father providing for me. My father actually signed a paper that said he wouldn’t. And so God stepped in and all sorts of ways to make sure that happened.
Those four years were fantastic. A lot of that revolved around basketball. If anyone knows much about college sports, and Duke University – it’s all basketball, all the time. When we were there, our four years there, we went to the final four, all four years, and we won two national championships. So basketball was just a big part of our life, and we continued that with our kids. We have lots of family stories about how important basketball was, and my little six year old praying for a win, and it had just all sorts of different things. It’s where I met my husband, we got engaged at a basketball game, we got married at the cathedral on campus. My daughter went there and met her husband. So our whole lives have been part of the journey of Duke basketball and Coach K.
So when we get to the Summit, it turns out that the weekend we had planned for the Summit was going to be the weekend of coach K’s last game at Cameron indoor stadium ever. It had been hyped and it was a big deal for lots of reasons. When I realized that I wasn’t even going to be able to be home and to watch the whole day of festivities, I was really sad. It was like a loss. I experienced it as a loss because this had been such an important part of my life. It’s such a place of joy for me. I just was struggling with that reality.
We had some friends who had also graduated from Duke about, I don’t know, 15 years ahead of us. And he had season tickets.Throughout the years he had given us those when he wasn’t using them. So a lot of our story centered around getting tickets from our friend Jack and being able to go and see games.
We had been with them in early February at a game and they were telling us that they had an option on some extra tickets for the Carolina game, but nobody ever gives up their tickets for this game. This game is like the biggest, especially when it’s coach K’s last game, it’s like the biggest game of the year and the biggest ticket, even president Biden couldn’t get a ticket. They were selling for like tens of thousands of dollars. So when they said we might get tickets, I was like, Sure. And then they said, we’ll let you know. I was like, there’s lots of people in line ahead of us. They had three sons and two of their sons were Duke grads, so it was a real long shot in every way, but there was something in my heart that was like, Ooh, I would like that ticket. I would love to be in that stadium for Coach K’s last game. It was completely out of the realm of possibility, but the seed was planted in my heart.
Every time there was something mentioned about – of course, this is the biggest news, because coach K’s retiring after 40 years, this story career, so it’s on every TV commercial and so lots of opportunities for me to communicate my desire back to God and just say, I’m going to really miss not watching the game. It’d be great to be there. Just this ongoing conversation about this thing that was important to me, that seemed… Almost shallow; it seemed almost ridiculous because I was also completely focused on this Summit that we were doing and that was consuming most of my time and energy and I had deep desires for that to be honoring to Larry and significant almost this competitive set of desires. I just kept handing them back to God, and just saying, my heart and I really want to be ensured and do this thing for you and for Larry and for Larger Story. And I really want to be in Cameron Indoor Stadium, or at least be able to watch it on TV and I’m just going to leave that in your hands. It was just this relational conversation that I kept having with God over about four weeks.
We get to the Summit, it’s going really well. I guess I should give a little more background…
Rosanne Moore: I was going to say, one thing that strikes me and what you’ve shared so far is the fact that you didn’t just go, “this is not the spiritual desire,” right? Like, “I just need to focus on the spiritual desire and maybe even repent of the selfish desire.” Instead, you put it before the Lord and you were like, “I’m going to let you sort it out.” I love that. I love that you didn’t try to tell Him what He should do. You just came and presented yourself honestly to Him.
Karlene Cannon: I think that was a real struggle because it did feel very self-absorbed and worldly, especially because you’ve got this Summit going on over here that you know is of great spiritual significance and you’ve got a basketball game, the scales are pretty obviously tipping one way, and yet the desire was so strong that I just couldn’t parse it myself, and I just said, “I’m just going to let You handle it.” Which is unusual for me, honestly. “I’m just going to own this, and let You know how I feel every time I feel it and see what happens,” and I think there was something in me that recognized that God is going to do what He was going to do at the Summit with or without me. Of course, He’s going to do what He’s going to do in Cameron Indoor Stadium with or without me, but I could trust Him that I could be where He wanted me to be.
My assumption was that He wanted me to be focused over here and not even watching Coach K on ESPN, that was my assumption in that, but there was this sort of belief that I’m not that important either place. What is important is what’s happening with me and God, and that can happen in either place. I think part of what makes this story more than just a shallow wish to go to a basketball game was this journey I had been on with God for about 12 years where He was regularly and consistently and even miraculously, trying to communicate to me that He was delighted in me.
This was a really difficult message for me to internalize and own for a host of reasons that I won’t get too bogged down in. But there had just been a series of events over the course of 12 years that God kept telling me, “you are my delight. I delight in you. All of these other things you get so hung up on don’t matter because I have chosen to delight in you because I see you through the righteousness of Jesus, and I can delight in that and who I created you to be.”
I just struggled to take that from my head down into who I am in my relationship with God. So this was a journey. When we got to the Summit, the first night Kent Denlinger was thinking, and he brought up this whole topic of delight. Honestly, what happened to me was this sort of, “Oh great. Here we go again. What else are you going to do, God, on this one? Because I know I’m being stubborn and I need to repent and all of these things.” I experienced that whole journey of frustration. Listening to Kent as he talked and being glad of the reminder once again that God delighted in me, that was good.
That was the end of that whole part, and we woke up the next morning, and Rich got a phone call, and I’m listening to him on the other end, and it’s starting to dawn on me what’s really happening on this phone call. Our friend Jack had gotten two tickets to the Carolina game. That in and of itself was shocking, but then all three of his sons were involved in things that they felt they could not leave, so he was offering us the tickets and we were in North Carolina, so we were only two hours away. Rich says, “We just got these tickets. What do you want to do?” Because here I am, technically at something I really should have been prioritizing over this game. But something in my heart said, “You’ve been asking me how I was going to handle this. I want you to know that I am a Father who gives good gifts to His children. I delight in you.”
I knew that it would be wrong to refuse those tickets because this was bigger than a basketball game or what was happening at the Summit. This was about what God was doing with me. He had gone to such extravagant lengths. President Biden couldn’t get tickets the morning of the game. So we talked and I went back and forth, but I knew in my heart that I was not going to turn down those tickets and it might cause trouble. I remember coming to you and being like, I’m supposed to do this and this, is it okay if I just dump it on you? Because I’m headed North. Fortunately, our colleague Kris was actually the one who was responsible for most of the Summit, and I was really more of a peripheral player and it wasn’t a huge upheaval for me to leave. But it still felt like I was shirking my responsibilities and abandoning you guys.
But surprisingly, we drove out of the Cove, and I was all in on this experience that God had just handed me. It was a delightful day. In some ways, it was a little bit of heaven. We were there celebrating. It was just fun. There was so much reminiscing, and it was celebrating someone who had done something really significant.
Then we get to the game. Games in Cameron Indoor Stadium are fantastic in any scenario, but this one was particularly full of energy. It did not go well, however, We lost that game, and we lost that game badly. My heart was broken for these young men because most of them are about 18 years old, and they have got the entire world watching them, and the pressure of winning this last game, and there was just a lot going on. I remember a conversation in my head with God. This has been such a great day and so unexpected. I felt like I’d really lived it with God. Like He was with me throughout the day. This was about five minutes toward the end. I’m like, we could still pull this out. It’d be really great if we won, that would just cap off a virtually perfect day. There was just this little whisper in my heart of, “You’re not in heaven yet. Don’t be deceived by how good this is. This is not heaven.” I just thought, “Losing this game doesn’t in any way change the significance of the day for me.” It doesn’t take away from the time that I had with God and that He orchestrated for me. I wish it had turned out differently, and I’m not in any way saying that I had any responsibility for the outcome of the game, I absolutely did not, but it was just God’s kindness to make it clear to me that whatever I’m going through in life, there’s always a reconciliation of really good and really not good. And the really not good doesn’t change the really good. The really good can change the really not good. But the brokenness that we live in doesn’t change the reality of God’s great extravagant love for us.
I just got to the end of that day, and there was this certainty that I might still struggle to feel like I’m a delight, but I can always look back on that day and know that God wanted me to unmistakably never question that He is delighted in me and He would go to great lengths to communicate that to me.
There were lots of things that came off of that, tendrils and different things that came off of that story. But one of them, I think, is almost like my story birthed, in some ways, or at least ignited or was a catalyst for an even bigger story that we’re going to talk about in our next episode.
There was, for me at least, something in that connection to somebody else’s story that also reinforced for me what God is about. That day felt like it was me and God. The community, the body of Christ, there were just lots of other ways that God was working.So when I gave up the sense that I was important over here and needed to stay at the Summit, it was almost like it released the Spirit. I’m not communicating this well. It was almost like, in not having to stay here because I thought I was important here, it’s like God did all of these other things over here, that might not have happened if I hadn’t just followed His leading in ways that almost felt sinful to me, if that makes sense.
Rosanne Moore: Yeah. I was thinking as you were talking, humility is accepting who we are with God, right? It’s not making ourselves too small or too big. And so by, by letting go of the role at the Summit and receiving what He was offering you, you accepted you. It’s like you embodied who you were in His presence in your relationship with Him. And that actually did release what the Spirit was going to do next, but also do in you. And that was important.
I think when you’re talking about this, father issues are a big deal. You had a lot of lived experience that had reinforced that issue of delight. And so for you to open your heart at that moment and say, “I’m not going to earn Your delight by staying at the Summit, I’m going to receive Your delight by receiving this gift You want to give me.” I think that’s a big and beautiful thing that He was doing.
Karlene Cannon: That’s a really good way of articulating what I was struggling to articulate. I think you’re absolutely right. If I had stayed at the Summit, there would have been a sense of earning something and pleasing someone else. I was very aware of what other people might think about me abandoning my post and leaving the Summit. I’ll just be honest, that was part of my challenge, what are people going to think about me? Because I also knew that the next day I had to talk to people about, here’s what we’re doing at Larger Story and be passionate and, are they going to wonder how committed I am if I just up and leave for a basketball game?
It was interesting. I actually had a conversation with Jim Cress, who was there as we were leaving, and I told him that I got tickets and I was just sharing my struggle and he was like, are you kidding me? Go, just go. It was so encouraging because he got it. He got the sort of reason for going. I didn’t even share all those details about what it was doing in me, but just the bigness of this gift, if God’s giving you that gift, go. Actually, maybe it’s that I hadn’t quite absorbed it. When you said that, Rosanne, I do think a lot of my story with God has been trying to earn something. So the miracle of being able to just let that go and receive was a really big part of what made that day so special.
Rosanne Moore: I’m curious, did you look back on that? How is that staying with you? Does that feel like a one-time “trophy” event? Or is that something that you’re still able to access and live into?
Karlene Cannon: That’s a really good question. I have tried to navigate my spiritual life largely by trying to get it right. One of the things I struggle with is the desire – to borrow from one of Tim Keller’s phrases – to be my own savior. I actually want to just do it. That just feels safer to me if I can do it. Then, my bases are covered. There’s lots of reasons why I operate that way. But, I think in addition to the sealing on my heart the delight. The idea that I have to do it right and that’s more important than following the Spirit into places that feel strange or weird or like they just couldn’t possibly be true. I think it gave me some courage to step away from the safety of trying to do it right and to just rest into the reality that I hear from the Spirit and I can follow Him, even when it doesn’t necessarily make sense. That is where the delight comes from, that God is not as happy and thrilled by my attempts to get it right as I am, and that’s actually a really good thing that He just likes me and just wants me to want Him and “the pressure’s off,” to quote another of our favorite books.
I think that was the whole part of that experience. This real, tangible, lived experience of choosing against getting it right and just how freeing and beautiful that was and that God could really meet me in a way that my attempts to earn had been keeping Him at a distance previously.
I think your question was, how does that stay with me? I had a real sense that day that this was a landmark moment, and then I needed to somehow hold on to that. I sent an email. We were in the car driving to the game, so I’m typing up this email to capture what I was feeling and what was going on. So many other things happened after that email, but I do hold on to that and look back at it just to remember when I’m struggling with the sense of delight. I think God in His kindness, He kept telling this long story that started to weave other people in that in case I forget, He’s going to keep reminding me in all of these other ways.
I think what that’s done and where this kind of comes back to what Larry’s saying in The PAPA Prayer. This is just very relational. So much of my prayer life in the past has been… I’ve done index cards, I’ve done prayer lists, I’ve had the little sheets where you check off when it was answered, all of it. It’s very systematized. And Larry’s talking in The PAPA Prayer about something that’s very relational and that’s how I experienced this. Both in praying leading up to it, because I’d have to just keep saying, this is what I want and I’m really sad and I just leave it with you, and then experiencing the whole day with God being, I can’t believe I’m here. Thank you. Just this ongoing conversational interaction with God. Even in the aftermath as it continued to unfold it’s been a very rich relational experience that I think is so much bigger than the gift of the day, which was huge.
Rosanne Moore: When you came and told me, I didn’t think, “She’s abandoning her post,” but I thought, “The Summit has all these really rich conversations, and she wants to walk away from that? That’s a little weird.”
Karlene Cannon: There was definitely a sense of loss as I was driving away because I did absolutely feel I’m actually going to miss out on what’s happening here. So that’s very true.
Rosanne Moore: And yet the Lord was actually speaking something really deeper to your heart probably than what would have happened in those conversations. It wasn’t until I got your email and understood the significance of what you were sharing that I realized there was so much more to the story than just, “Hey, we got tickets, isn’t that cool?”
What struck me about your story was that it wasn’t even just God saying, “I am delighted in you, this matters to you.” It was layers of provision, like Duke had been a place of provision. So it was like God was taking you back to layer after layer of provision for you. And then going, “I really want you to know I see your heart. I’m giving you this gift.” This is important for all of those many layers behind it.
Karlene Cannon: That’s right. Even just the whole part of the storyline about fathering. Larry had been a real voice of fatherly love and input, especially in the last 12 years. There were moments in this whole thing where it felt disloyal, because that was all about honoring him and a memorial to his life and his impact. Yet it was also some of the conversations I’d had with him and some of the things that he had said.
One time I was at SSD and he was actually talking to another young woman on stage, he’s not talking to me. She’s talking about her father and he says, “I think I’d really enjoy being your father.” And it was like he talked to me. I don’t even remember how it impacted her, but I just started sobbing. Larry had just been a really important part of that storyline in my life. And in some ways it was like God was using him again, in a kind of unexpected way. I think that was part of the reinforcement of what God was doing in being a father who gave, who gives good gifts, that just underscored that experience for me, that it was connected to Larry at the Summit. There were lots of levels that are still becoming more clear as we keep living this thing out.
I think everybody has those kinds of things in their life. God is really a God that weaves a tapestry. There’s a story arc, but it’s a lot more than one line. There are just all kinds of things that intersect that He’s pulling threads through to make a picture that might not be clear in one moment, but all of a sudden you get a glimpse of all the richness of that tapestry, and only God knows. Can you do that? We’re just not that smart.
Rosanne Moore: Christa Wells has a song: “A thousand things are happening in this one thing,” that’s one of the lines from it. That’s always going on, but we don’t always get the peek behind the curtain that you’ve got with what happened with you.
Karlene Cannon: That’s very true.
Rosanne Moore: We’re going to wrap up today, but Karlene made mention of what was the story that came out of that email that she sent. I was so glad that she didn’t just go and have a good time, but that she shared the story of what happened with us, because the Lord then sparked something in me and we’re going to talk about that in our next episode. So come back next week. Thank you for being with us today.
Karlene, thank you so much for sharing all of that with us. I think there are a lot of people in our audience who can relate to wrestling. We were talking about this in book club actually. Often when we bring our prayer requests we don’t want to do the laundry list thing, like what’s really going on is not the thing we’re asking for. It’s the underlying question. Is God a good God who is going to take care of me in a way that my father didn’t, in your case. How does He see me? Does He delight in me? Is His love something I have to earn? All of those questions, whenever we’re looking at things in the Middle East, the wrestling over what it looks like to be cared for by God in the middle of a situation that looks so hard. For the mother or parent, does God love my child as much as I do? Those are the underlying things that happen in our hearts and in our lives.
Thank you for sharing some of your journey and how God unexpectedly… – what I love about your story is how subversive it was. He used a basketball game, for Pete’s sake! It was just so subversive that He says, “I really want you to know this is how I see you.” I love that.
Thank you listeners for being with us, and we’re going to wrap up for today, but please come back next week.
Karlene Cannon: You don’t want to miss the rest of the story for sure.
Rosanne Moore: There’s more as we talk about The PAPA Prayer. Thanks so much.