A Divine Intersection: Behind the Scenes of “The Color of Rain”

As many already know, the Hallmark Channel is turning our story, “The Color of Rain” into a Hallmark movie in 2014. Filming took place in Vancouver, Canada last month and we’re excited to see the finished product (Will air sometime between December 2013 and June 2014). The experience of being on a movie set was a thrill for our family. We enjoyed sharing photos on Facebook and tweeting with movie stars. But there is a “less public” side of this story that needs to be shared. It’s a story of how one generous sacrifice can lead to a lifetime of memories.

It began more than a year ago when the movie producers, David Permut and Dan Paulson, agreed to let us auction off a “walk on” role or cameo appearance, in “The Color of Rain” at our annual fundraiser benefitting our nonprofit, New Day Foundation for Families. We were thrilled to have such a unique experience for our live auction. Not many auctions around here can offer that!

The night of our gala event, just prior to the live auction, Theresa Kull shared her cancer journey with nearly 300 foundation supporters and passionately explained how the New Day Foundation for Families blessed her family in their time of need.

“I read “The Color of Rain” just a few weeks before my cancer diagnosis, not knowing what my family was about to go through. After I was diagnosed, Michael and Gina came to our church to speak and I felt as if God was letting me know everything was going to be okay. That was the day I learned about the New Day Foundation. It was just a few weeks later we started receiving much needed help with our monthly expenses, and the foundation even threw a wonderful birthday party for two of my kids that summer. It was truly a gift from God.”

When it was time to auction off the walk on role in the film, bidder paddles went up, and up, and up! There was a couple, sitting not too far from Theresa, who was outbidding everyone in the room. I had never met the couple, but knew they were guests of our friends and sponsor, Mike and Joeanne Gauthier, from Save On Everything (the coupon books you get in the mail regularly)

When the bidding went over $3,000 things really started to get exciting! This unassuming couple seemed determined to have a cameo appearance in a Hallmark movie.

As the auctioneer was shouting, “Can I get $4,000? We’ve got $3,750 over here, can I get four?” Sure enough, the quiet couple raised their paddle and the crowd started cheering. With that, the winning bid was called and Vince and Lisa Asaro from Rochester we’re the winners. Or so we thought.

Just minutes after outbidding the room for this one of a kind auction item/experience, Vince and Lisa informed me that they wanted to give Theresa Kull the walk on role in the movie. They gave it away and walked away empty handed.

Through their Asaro-Guzzardo Family Foundation, Vince and Lisa out-bid everyone in the room in the name of generosity and kindness. But it didn’t stop there. They also offered to provide travel expenses for Theresa’s entire family to join her in Vancouver on the movie set, which meant another $2,500 on top of the $4,000 they so generously donated to the foundation.

In the aftermath of the event, I’ve come to believe the Asaro’s walked away perhaps the most fulfilled and grateful people of all. Certainly, Theresa and her family were blessed and grateful for the experience and the memories it created, but it’s compelling to recognize how a selfless act of kindness, a pouring out of self, will cause us to overflow with the riches of God’s love. Our souls seem to grow deeper roots and grow more robust fruit of spirit with each act of generosity.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Galatians 5:22-23

It’s not dollar amounts that matter. It’s about the spirit within us that compels us to share our resources, time, money, space, life, and our very hearts, with others in need.

Those blessed enough to afford a ticket to this beautiful party and auction at Meadow Brook aren’t attending for the purpose of walking away with something. We attend for the purpose of providing for those less fortunate in our community and burdened by the horrors of cancer.

It’s a party with a purpose hosted by a love your neighbor as yourself organization! Come, and walk away enriched and blessed!

To attend our events in September, please click on “Events” above or visit www.FoundationForFamilies.org.

 

The Kull Family with actress Lacey Chabert, star of "The Color of Rain" Hallmark movie

Theresa Kull, New Day Foundation recipient, in a scene with actor, Warren Christie, on the set of "The Color of Rain" Hallmark movie

Theresa Kull, New Day Foundation recipient, with the actress playing Colleen in "The Color of Rain"

Sticky Faith

Look around the local Christian elementary school or church youth group in your neighborhood. By the time these kids get a couple of years into college, more than 7 out of 10 of them will leave the church completely. (According to a new survey by LifeWay Research) Although as many as 35% may eventually return, significant numbers of young people are turning away from church as they reach the age of consent.

Here is a YouTube video that gives voice to what many young people are thinking…

In our book, The Color of Rain, I talked about my own faith walk when I left the church around the time I left my parent’s house. It wasn’t that I didn’t believe in God. I did. It was more that I didn’t believe in religion, or The Church. As I wrote in the book, “I’ve always believed in Him. I’ve never believed in them.” Our collective cynicism regarding the weaknesses of men (and women) running our churches has lead us away from God and his word. That is a shame.

The folks at Fuller Youth Institute have developed an interesting program called Sticky Faith designed to develop faith that “sticks” to young people as they mature and come face to face with the challenges of college and beyond.

On tomorrow’s show (1/14/12) Gina and I welcome to our program Kara Powell, author of the book ‘Sticky Faith’. WLQV-AM 1500 in Detroit or listen on the Internet at www.FaithTalk1500.com.

To call in tomorrow and ask Kara a question… (866) 423-9578

Christina

“A physically nondescript young nurse in her twenties, she moved with the confidence of a veteran who knew exactly what she was doing. It was her voice, though, that stood out the most. Gentle and firm, it was oddly familiar, and provided surprising comfort. It had a quality that put me at ease the moment I heard it; like a favorite song from a long time ago.” (from The Color of Rain)

When my wife Cathy lay dying in a gray and lifeless room at Beaumont Hospital in Michigan, I stood at her bedside, helpless. At that moment an angel appeared, in the form of a nurse. She told us to call her Christina. In an instant we felt comforted. Recognizing that I needed to be a part of Cathy’s care, what little there was left, she simply allowed me to be. She called us by our first names. She stepped in when an insulate doctor flaunted his ignorance. In the midst of cancer’s horrific assault, she brought gentleness into the room. It was simply amazing.

Christina went off her shift just a few hours before Cathy passed. I asked a nurse to write her name for me on a scratch piece of paper as I had the notion of sending her something as a thank you. I never did. All I had was a name on a piece of paper. No address, no phone number. So I took the piece of paper and put it under the clear cover on my desk. I see it every day. For 5 years, 8 months and 20 days now, I have looked at her name and said a small prayer; that she is still in nursing, caring for others and that somehow, in some way, she might know what she meant to me.

Last week a friend, Kay, who also is the mother of a former basketball player of mine sent me an email. She congratulated me on the book. She also said this:

“I have worked at RO Beaumont as a nurse for 32 years. In my current administrative role, I felt a calling, need, desire (and have the means and opportunity – gee, I’m thinking divine intervention here)…..to find Nurse Christina.  She is, as you described, the way a nurse should be.  The way, we want all nurses, especially Beaumont nurses, to be.  With the help of 3 nursing managers (all of whom I told, ‘just read chapter 21 and call me back’), we found Christina.”

Yesterday I was invited to Beaumont Hospital to speak at a meeting of several hundred staff members, including the President of the hospital. I told them that, whether or not they were successful at fixing the various illnesses they treat, they always have the opportunity to soften hearts and touch souls.

When I was done, Christina was brought up to the stage where we hugged for a very long time. She was honored by her peers as an example of how all nurses should be.

I had the chance to speak with Christina afterwards for quite a while. She told me that she remembered Cathy and remembered leaving the shift that day wondering if she had done enough. I told her about that little slip of paper on my desk.

My friend Kay, the hospital administrator, wrote me this morning, thanking me for coming. She tells me that this story will impact how care is given at the hospital. She also said that Christina’s life has been changed.

Later tonight I will go to practice with my new team and forge all new relationships with new guys – and their families. I love the wins and losses, the excitement of Friday nights, the timeout huddles and the last second buzzer beaters. But that’s not why I coach. I coach because it connects me. To enthusiastic athletes and their families. To smart and dedicated coaches. And to a community of people who in countless ways, take care of each other. I coached Kay’s son years ago. He was one of the good ones. Funny, smart, respectful. (And a wicked pro-hop finish when he drove into the lane!) Now, years later, his mom connects to me again through circumstances beyond comprehension and provides me with a moment for which I will never be able to thank her sufficiently.

I am so thankful for these connections. They are woven into the fabric of my life and create an inspired pattern of unexpected grace. And I am humbled by it all.

________________________________

By the way…

The little slip of paper is still on my desk. Today is 5 years, 8 months and 21 days. I have all new prayers for my friend Christina. She told me that she now is married to a man named Dan. And they have two little boys. Matt and Drew.

Thankful For Loss

Below is the first post I ever submitted to the Huffington Post. To my surprise, it was rather controversial. I’d love to know what you think.

A little insider info about the title. When I submitted the article, I asked the editor for an opinion about whether or not to use a question mark at the end of the title “Thankful for Loss? Or, Thankful for Loss.” My question was never answered and the title was printed as submitted. I thought this was funny! Now that I’ve seen the responses to the article, I know what the title should have been.

At the end of the article I have attached a link that will allow you read the nearly 150 comments online about this article. I’d love to know what you think here, so please chime in!

 

THANKFUL FOR LOSS (Huffington Post Religion) by Gina Kell Spehn

Whenever an actor, athlete or musician glorifies God in the wake of their victory cynicism rears its ugly head with the collective eye roll of skeptics everywhere. They love to point out that Christians never seem to give thanks to God when we lose.

Or do we?

My husband, Michael and I have learned that being thankful in our losses is not only possible but also necessary. The deaths of our first spouses to cancer taught us what it truly means to be thankful for the blessings found not only in the victories this life offers but also the losses.

When my first husband Matt was diagnosed with cancer he wasn’t triumphantly praising God for his diagnosis. He was, however, quietly reflecting gratitude for everything in his life that wasn’t cancer. I watched Matt, a dying man, celebrate life and serve others in the midst of his suffering. There is perhaps nothing more humbling. He also gave cynics something new to consider when he called his cancer battle a “win-win” situation. He believed that a cure is a win and heaven is a win.

With a young family and a successful career it was easy to admire Matt’s life from a distance. Yet, oddly, even after he was facing a terminal diagnosis many of us closest to him found ourselves admiring him more than ever before, but not for the reasons one might think.

Matt’s courage wasn’t found in his determination to beat cancer (though he was certainly determined to do just that), rather, it was his unwavering commitment to trust in the unseen, eternal promises of a God who could use even a devastating, evil disease like cancer for good purposes.

Let the world take note, no red carpet or trophy can compare to a life of genuine gratitude and faith.

Certainly cancer is not enviable, but for Matt to believe there is victory in cancer is remarkable. It is undoubtedly a gift when a dying man learns to appreciate his life and resolve to fight for it, but Matt also recognized and believed that cancer, through him, could be used for triumphant purposes as well. He wrote:

“As a believer, the prospects of untimely death should not break me. I can be a better witness through death at age 35 than I could ever be living a blessed life into my 80′s. In a perverse way, dying with grace, dignity and hope and joy is a great gift.”

God let’s nothing go to waste. If we are open to receiving his grace, he will use anything for his purposes. Our job is to be aware of God’s presence in all circumstances, even suffering and loss.

Imagine an athlete or movie star using a defeat (nowhere comparable to death) as a platform for helping others or giving thanks. Seems contrary to our culture to esteem a loser, yet life’s greatest lessons are often born out of losses.

Growing up I recall overhearing adults talk about the alcoholic who hit rock bottom or the criminal who got caught and suddenly they found Jesus. They were considered weak and in need of the “Jesus crutch.” At the time I bought into it. However, I’ve since come to know Jesus. He specializes in meeting people in their place of need. The drunks, criminals, diseased and lonely are all alike to him. When you strike out on three pitches, or “the Oscar goes to…” someone else, or God forbid, a doctor in a white lab coat calls you in to a 10 x 10 room to give you that evil diagnosis… no matter what dark place we find ourselves, Jesus brings the light with the presence of his grace and mercy.

I believe it was fitting that Matt died on Christmas Day, the most celebrated day of the year. It’s a beautiful metaphor for his life and a constant reminder that despite our losses, we must simultaneously celebrate the life we are given and receive the gifts of faith that are being delivered to us, even in our darkest hours.

The spotlights of this world fade and award winning moments pass, but a life focused on the eternal promises of God is a life fulfilled, even in cancer; even in our losses; even in death.

To read the Huff Post comments, please click HERE. Be sure to scroll down to the bottom of the page to read the comments.

The Color of Rain Excerpt: Life Is Good

The following excerpt is from Chapter 10 (“Life Is Good”) of The Color of Rain by Michael & Gina Spehn. The book is written in dual, first person voices alternating between Michael & Gina.

Life Is Good is written by Michael.

Cathy had a great sense of “as it should be” and, through the years, taught me a lot about that. While I had spent much of my life looking for perfect, Cathy showed me how to look for what was right. It was effortless for her. She believed that God had a plan for us and, while we may not know it, want it, or agree with it, it was real and most of all, it was right.

I learned to trust Cathy’s instinct on the morning of September 11, 2001, the day our son Dan was born. When the sad events of that day became apparent, it occurred to me that my new baby would be tarnished with this God-awful event forever. “Day of evil” the newspapers called it and it would follow my son on every birthday for the rest of his life. As I drove back to the hospital later that morning, I came up with a plan.

“I think I can fix this,” I told Cathy when I arrived. “I’m sure Dr. McClellen will agree to my plan.”

Cathy was calm as ever. “What plan?”

“Danny was born only an hour into the day. I think I can convince the doctors to change his birth date to September 10.”

Cathy never flinched.

“No, MJ,” she said firmly, as she held our newborn son in her arms. “This boy is the only good thing that happened today.”

I thought she didn’t understand me, as though her being in the hospital kept her from knowing the full awfulness of what was going on. “Cath, they’re calling this the worst day in American history!” I was adamant. But I was wrong.

“I do understand,” she said holding Danny just a little closer. “If he is the only light that came into this world on a very dark day then that is what’s meant to be. I don’t know why God chose to send him to us on this day, but I do know that we aren’t changing a thing. This isn’t our plan—it’s His.”

That was her gift. Cathy could see the righteousness in imperfect things. I wanted to fix it. Fix God’s plan! Can you imagine? She saw the folly in that. Although this plan of His wasn’t perfect to us, she was certain that it was right.

The Color of Rain Excerpt: Mullett Lake

The following excerpt is from Chapter 2 of The Color of Rain by Michael & Gina Spehn. The book is written in dual, first person voices alternating between Michael & Gina.

Mullett Lake is written by Michael.

Cold spring waters run over the small rocks at the far end of Grandview Beach, providing the only sound to the predawn stillness on Mullett Lake in Northern Michigan. The perfect crystal surface rests, motionless. In the distance, at the first break of light, a lake perch stretches up toward the tangerine sky just enough to gulp a breakfast of fallen mayflies, then disappears quietly below the surface. The silent ripples on the water glide toward the now-smoldering horizon. As the sun begins to wrestle the darkness into retreat, I wish the world could remain this perfect for just a while longer. As I wallow in the calm, the moment quickly becomes bittersweet with the realization that, in the blink of an eye, this perfect tranquility will surrender to the sound and fury that accompany each new day. Cars and boats, people and noises, busyness and bills to be paid, and all of the blessings and curses that occupy the space between dawn and twilight will soon be upon me. In the end, the silent bliss that is morning on Mullett Lake is friend and foe alike; a beautiful and cruel Shakespearean device that each day seduces me with its promise and then shatters me with its heartbreak.

For my wife, Cathy, this was a unique and spiritual place. Her parents, Larry and Jill Lutz, owned a cottage on Grandview Beach, a pretty stretch of sandy shoreline at the far end of the lake, and Cath spent many summers there. One of the largest and deepest inland lakes in the U.S., Mullett Lake seemed to call out to her each time she stayed away a bit too long.

She became a different woman when she was up north. (That’s what the locals call it; when one goes to the lakes in Northern Michigan, one goes “up north.”) Along with flip-flops and waterproof sunblock, Cathy put on a new self when she was there and it looked good on her. Her slender frame seemed taller than the 5’6″ listed on her driver’s license. Her summer hair caught just enough of the sun’s magic to brighten with highlights. Her skin, fair and pink for nine months out of the year, grew deep brown, making her teeth piercingly white when she smiled. Being at the lake agreed with Cathy.

While she and I were still dating, I had to be dragged there. “Come to my parents’ cottage,” Cathy pleaded.

I wanted none of it. I was strictly concrete. I loved the city and was never going to be a “happy camper.” Roughing it for me was when room service stopped serving at midnight. Plus my only notion of a “cottage” came from the dreadful visits to Wisconsin where my dad had taken my three siblings and me in order to get a little outdoors in us.

“You’ll love it,” Cathy insisted.

“I will not love it,” I said, channeling Woody Allen. “Crappy fishing shanties and deerflies the size of Volvos …”

“It’s not like that,” she said. “Besides, we need a nice getaway.”

“Getaway has words like Hyatt in it. Spas and tee times. That’s a getaway! The only thing we’d be getting away from up north would be indoor plumbing and twentieth-century dentistry.”

Yet, as we all know, love makes you do the occasional foolish thing. So I packed a case of SPF 90 and a five-gallon canister of calamine lotion, and we drove north out of Chicago.

As soon as we arrived, all of my fears of outhouses and backwoods banjos were put to rest. It turned out that her parents’ “cottage” was actually a beautiful and well-appointed lake home with four bedrooms and two bathrooms. Being a top salesman in the furniture industry gave Larry Lutz not only access to the finer things but a taste for them as well. Their home was spotless, with a clean, contemporary style and a touch of up-north charm. The meticulous white walls remained free of any clutter, except for three large framed photographs that Larry himself had taken and hung prominently in the great room. They had more than one hundred feet of lakefront and all the water toys you could desire: ski boats and pontoon party boats, flotation devices of every kind, and even a SeaDoo to ride.

Nearby I discovered a golf course called The Secret—a fabulous little semi-private track carved out of the virgin pine forest that always seemed to have an opening on the first tee whenever I asked. The people there were great and the course not too difficult. I soon developed a love/hate relationship with the par-five eighth hole, which always taunted my ego into going for the green in two, though there was a well-placed pond in front. This diamond in the rough (all puns intended) was the deal maker for me with Mullett Lake. I began to look forward to going up north as much as Cathy.

Eventually I mustered the courage (brains really) to ask her to marry me. As I waited for her at the altar on our wedding day, I looked around the church at the countless friends and family gathered. My dad caught my eye and smiled a wedding smile at me and then turned toward the back of the church. Just then Cathy appeared, glowing at the end of the aisle. Dad wheeled around and caught my eye again. This time, though, he appeared dazed by the vision he’d just seen. I understood. Cathy had that effect on people.

It was her smile that took me captive the day we met, and never once let me go. There was an authentic quality to her smile that made people stop and look; a basic human truth that seemed to emanate from deep within her and naturally find its way upward and out. Like the magma flow from Vesuvius, there was simply no stopping Cathy’s smile. It could freeze people where they stood and hold them there, sometimes forever.

That’s what happened to me anyway.

_______________________________

Additional excerpts will be posted throughout the next several weeks. Please check back often or subscribe to this blog using the RSS Feed at the top of the page.

Cathy

She liked scary movies and Cookie Dough ice cream, symphonies and head banging rock (she would imitate Wayne from Wayne’s World when Bohemian Rhapsody came on the radio.) She had a singing voice best suited for lullabies, not concert halls… an aversion to public speaking and a keen eye for BS. She loved food but didn’t eat much. A can of Coke and anything chocolate was always nearby. She wanted to see the world, as long as it was together. Everywhere we went, she said “Let’s live here!” (I came to understand that it just meant that she was able to see the good wherever she went.) She didn’t know much about history (as the song goes) but loved to hear me talk about it. She didn’t climb Everest, paint oil on canvas or write poetry… no, her masterpieces would be her children, Charlotte, Jack and Daniel. Perfect in their imperfections, they remain astonishing expressions of their mother’s legacy: Life, Love, Laughter. They bring her to life for me each day and I will never be able to thank them, nor likely, explain it to them.

Somewhere during that last line, I realized that I was attempting the impossible: to describe a woman. She was quite a woman. And she blessed me with 15 + years of friendship, love, marriage, children… but most of all, laughter. You can’t possibly know how deeply we laughed together. The simplest, most trivial, intimate things made us giggle like children. It is that unbound joyfulness, that I wish for my kids as they grow and begin lifelong relationships.

Five years ago, to this moment, my love surrendered to the evil that doctors call glioblastoma multiforme. Some say God took her from us. I prefer to say that He gave her to us…

For way too short a time.