Finding God Again After Tragedy with Lori Champion

Auntie Anne Beiler
January 18, 2022

Auntie Anne Beiler

Founder of Auntie Anne's Pretzels


When Lori Champion's dad died, she went numb and could no longer feel the God she'd always known and loved. And then after getting cancer, while pregnant with her first child, she doubted whether she'd actually live and feared the cancer might take her.

This week on Overcome With Auntie Anne, I'm chatting with Lori Champion about how she found purpose through her pain and encouragement in her darkness. We talk about the ups and downs of her life--family, church, death, and cancer--and how God remains her focal point.

Listen to the podcast to hear my entire conversation with Lori or keep reading below to catch some of the highlights.

Growing up as a PK

Lori comes from a family where pastoring is essentially the family business. In fact, there are five generations of pastors on both sides of her family. So to say she grew up as a pastor's kid (PK) is a bit of an understatement.

Because of this, her home life revolved around the church. There are some PK's whose experiences as pastor's kids aren't enjoyable. But not Lori. She had a great life growing up as a PK.

She remembers things like waking up to her dad praying in the middle of the night. And her parents would take people in to help disciple and restore them. Lori's parents weren't perfect, but she feels their lives modeled well what it meant to be Christians. They were Christians first and then pastors.

Despite her good experience, or maybe in spite of it, Lori understands that the church is flawed and can be full of flawed people. The same is true with many things in life. But Lori loves the church, and it’s what she knows. It's been a place of healing for her, it's modeled community, and it's even helped her live into her God-given abilities.

Lori the boss

While Lori may self describe herself growing up as bossy, her parents saw her natural tendency towards leadership and tried to steward that as best they could. Her dad helped her run for school office throughout her time as a student. And her mom encouraged her to watch her timing and tone and the way she communicates: "You can't just fly off the handle and say what you think." Lori says her mom "put the velvet on [her] hammer."

They also worked to soften her without compromising her leadership gifts. "They put in me the hard things. They put in me the fiber to survive and to overcome the things that I had to overcome."

And growing up in a pastor's home gave her the opportunity to use her leadership gifts, because oftentimes, someone has to step in to fill in the gaps. "I was the lawn person to the hymnbook straightener to worship leader to leading youth when I was still a teenager." Through the church, Lori got to use, practice, and grow in her leadership abilities.

Even today, she still has that "whatever it takes mentality." "I will never lose grittiness," she says. The seeds that Lori's parents planted in her life are planted well and planted deep.

The death of her father

Talking with Lori, she seems to have an affectionate memory of her childhood. But while in college, an unexpected tragedy struck.

On March 27, 1988, her dad was preaching at his church on Palm Sunday. Lori had just come home from college for a visit, and the family was planning on leaving for vacation together after the service. But in the middle of her dad's sermon, "he collapsed, fell to the ground, had a heart attack, and died." He was only 45.

Lori and her family were all sitting in the front row when it happened. In fact, in the moment, Lori thought that he may have tripped and didn't get back up. But eventually an ambulance came and rushed him to the hospital. And not long after, a doctor told the family that they had tried everything but couldn't revive him.

Lori says it was shocking, awful, unexpected, and shattering. She remembers riding home and thinking about how they didn't just lose her dad, but their entire way of life--the church, and ministry, and everything they'd spent their lives being a part of.

The after-effects of her father's death

Eventually, Lori headed back to college. But now she was on her own, away from her family, and she became numb. "For the first time in my life, I could not feel the presence of God." This feeling lasted for six months. She says she was dead inside, and although she could smile, that deadness was reflected in her hollow eyes.

Lori was determined that her numbness of not feeling God wasn't going to last and that eventually, she'd feel him again.

While she was at college, she heard about a new church that was open and went to visit. At the end of the service, she made her way to the front and prayed with one of the elders. In that moment, she broke and told the elder while sobbing, "I have not laughed or cried in six months." She went on to tell him the story of what happened, and "from that day," she says, the "spirit of heaviness lifted from me."

There's a line I love that says "Out of our pain our purpose is born." That's what happened to Lori. She believes that her dad's death propelled her into her calling in ministry.

Although she had come from generations of pastors, Lori was working towards becoming an attorney. She felt her gifts weren't suited for church life nor that she had the personality needed to be in the pastorate.

But after her dad died, she surrendered herself to God--even though she thought He might be wasting her gifts--and told him he could have her life even if it meant ministry or marrying a pastor. Eventually, both of those things came to pass.

Out of her pain, Lori's purpose was born. And while she says she wouldn't wish what happened to her on her worst enemy, she believes, "It shaped me and it helped me hear the voice of God and the call of God in my life."

Cancer at a young age

After her father's death, Lori met and married her husband, Joe. They were serving together in ministry as youth pastors for the church her dad had pastored.

One day, while scratching her neck, she felt an abnormality that was never there before. "It felt like a bone sticking out of my neck." The doctors did some testing, thinking it may be an allergic reaction. But then they did a biopsy and realized it was cancer that was in her neck and her chest.

Lori was 23 years old at the time and was seven months pregnant with her and Joe's first child. The doctors said that they couldn't wait for the baby to go full term and needed to deliver it within a week. So Lori ended up having her baby a month early. And then immediately after, she started cancer treatments.

Although they caught the cancer early and the prognosis was good, Lori says it was still a really difficult time. She was a new mother, with an infant baby, who had to get radiation treatment. But she says, "I just determined that I wasn't going to waste that pain." And so everyday when she went in for radiation therapy, she would strike up conversations with others so that she could "be a light to people who were sometimes at the end of their lives."

Lori battled the cancer for a year. It got to the point where she felt like she wasn't going to make it. One day at church, there was a visiting pastor from Peru. He called Lori out of the audience and said to her that God told him about how Lori felt she was going to die. But then he said that God says she's "going to live and declare the works of the Lord."

After this moment, Lori regained her desire and will to live. She says she didn't feel defeated anymore. And she got her appetite back. "It was like all of a sudden [I thought], 'I'm going to fight for my future because I have one because God's promised me one.'"

Often in our most desperate and darkest times of struggle, God comes to us with a word of encouragement. It can be through another person, through scripture, through a song. But we have to learn to pay attention, because when we do, hope arises.

Lori says she wouldn't trade anything for the things she's been through. She doesn't know that she would have the authority to do what she does today without overcoming what she did. And she wouldn't have the confidence she has in God without having gone through those dark times, because those things have helped her see God in new ways that she would have missed out on.

Lori today, cancer-free and thriving

Today, Lori is in ministry with her husband, Joe, and she's passionate about building the local church. Together, they cofounded Celebration Church in Austin, TX in 2000. The church has since expanded into three continents.

Lori actively co-leads and strategizes to see more people reached with the gospel. While her husband is the "lead visionary," Lori works in the day-to-day role of seeing that vision put into place, and she has a desire to see people fulfill their God-given leadership potential. Also, in 2012, she launched the Radiant conference to inspire and activate women to walk in wholeness and purpose.

She says she wants "to walk like Elvis and serve like mother Teresa."

If you want to learn more about Lori or connect with her, visit her website. It's there that you can access different teachings that she's given as well as her book, Woman Up: Discovering your God-given voice in leadership, relationships, and calling. You can also follow her on social media @lorimchampion.

The post Finding God Again After Tragedy with Lori Champion appeared first on Auntie Anne Beiler.

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