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It's February, a month when people think about their heart and the health of their heart on more regular basis.

One thing that has come to light recently is that heart disease is not only a men's health issue, but it is also something that is affecting women on a daily basis. Heart disease is the most common cause of death for both women and men.

The Heart & Stroke Foundation published reports on heart disease and stroke in 2018 demonstrating that women in Canada are under-researched, under-diagnosed, under-treated and under-supported during recovery and under-aware of their risks.

Dr. Olga Toleva is an interventional cardiologist at St. Boniface Hospital. She says it is important to put a focus on females and the health of their heart.

"For many years in the past it was belied that women don't suffer from heart disease or not as prevalently as men," Dr. Olga Toleva, an interventional Cardiologist at St. Boniface Hospital explained. "Now we know there is a high risk of developing heart conditions in women. And there are some heart conditions that are more specific to women than men."

One of the conditions that affects women more specifically is Spontaneous Coronary Artery Dissection (SCAD). It is an emergency condition that occurs when a tear forms in a blood vessel in the heart. As blood flow is slowed or blocked entirely, the result can be a heart attack, heart rhythm abnormalities, or sudden death.

This condition most commonly affects pregnant and menopausal women.

When it comes to heart attacks in women, symptoms are not always obvious. When a man has a heart attack they will quite often have a crushing pain in their chest and numbness in their arm. Women on the other hand experience slight discomfort in their chest, pain in their arms, shoulder and jaw area and just a general feeling of unwell.

Dr. Toleva says it is important to take preventative measures to reduce the risk of having a heart attack. They include reducing our cholesterol by eating a proper diet, exercising, being healthy, consulting with a doctor for the levels of cholesterol, reducing our blood pressure, taking control of diabetes and obesity and also staying away from smoking.

February 13 saw events all across Canada calling for awareness of the women's health issue. Toleva was one of four Winnipeg members of  the Canadian Women's Health Heart Alliance, who organized the event specifically for Manitoba, which featured a number of heart-focused events throughout the day.

Toleva will also be featured in three upcoming talks at cardiac rehab centres, to educate on the importance of heart health amongst women and exercise both prior to and following a heart diagnosis.

It has been almost two years since Canadian band Sky Terminal released new music. In fact, they were quite quiet as lead singer Marcel Preston took time off to focus on his wife who was dealing with health issues. It was through that process that Preston learned valuable lessons about God. 

 

Now, the band is back with a brand new single called "Never Giving Up," and is getting set to hit the road once again.

"We really do believe in family first and spent the time needed on the home front," Preston said. "She is doing so much better now, and we are grateful to all those who supported us through that time. With the release of this single, we are coming back in full force. This includes multiple tour dates across Canada this coming spring."

Over the last two years, Preston and his wife moved from the big city of Toronto to her family's farm near Ottawa. For Preston, a self-confessed city boy, it was a big change but one that's also sparked some new creativity. That combined with the health difficulties his wife faced, and Preston found "Never Giving Up" come to life.

"I think as a songwriter, writing songs can be a way of hearing God. We had gone through this rough time. [This song] is really asking all the questions; 'OK, God, where are you in all of this? What does that look like?'"

Preston says as he asked those questions, God's presence was there.

"I just had this constant feeling of being pursued . . . I just felt that God was with me and fighting for me through that whole process. I really did feel that relentless love that never stops pursuing you."

Writing (or rewriting) a story with God

Preston says there are maybe times in our lives where the 'story' of a particular life season might seem to end. But he says in his experience that's where God is inviting you to continue with Him.

"There's a line in the second verse that talks about, basically, whatever the story seems to have ended up, God's like 'alright, well that's not where this story is finishing. Let's rewrite the ending.' There are these moments where you might think 'oh, well I guess that was that.' But God is like 'no, let's rewrite it. Let's fix this.' He really is a healer in that sense where we can go through these things and He's like 'No, that's not the end of the story. There are things to learn here but this is not the end.'"

Glow Festival

As Preston prepares to hit the road again part of that includes the Glow Festival.

The event is something that Preston started a few years ago to minister to and encourage fans to share the light of Jesus with others.

"There's something inside of each and every one of us that needs to glow. Glow Festival is an event aimed at bringing out the light in everyone with music and inspirational dialogue. It's about people coming together to make a collective difference. An opportunity to showcase music, people, highlight awareness for non-profit organizations, and to share our light."

You can find out more about Sky Terminal and bring them to your town through their website.

As anyone who has navigated the world of dating well knows, romantic relationships can create some of our greatest happiness and some of our deepest heartache. They make us think, stress us out and bless us abundantly. 

Most of us desire to end up as part of a happy couple one day. We want relationships that will last and bring us real joy. And God wants that for us, too. We may need to assess the one we’re already in—or we may want to know what to look for in the future.

Below are eight key traits of a healthy relationship that can help create the foundation for long-term, side-by-side growth and happiness as God intended:

1. It Feels Stable

There is a sense of consistency to the right relationship. This doesn’t mean it’s never hard, but you shouldn’t feel like you’re riding a roller coaster where amazingly happy moments are followed by extremely awful ones.

Some people assume a relationship is good because there are good times. But, just as good relationships have hard times, even bad relationships have some good times. The key is recognizing how often the bad times come and how severe they are.

While we are meant to find our self-worth in God, He also wired us to feel good about ourselves when we are being affirmed and cared for.

There should also be a stability in your own thinking about the relationship. It’s a problem if you feel like you’re wildly in love on Monday, but on Wednesday, you feel ready to end it.

2. You Like Yourself in It

Like it or not, dating will change you. The more time you spend with someone, the more you pick up their tendencies, speech patterns and habits. Your partner’s personality will bring out different facets of your own.

If you don’t like the person you become around your partner, that is a huge red flag. On the contrary, some personalities will complement yours and help you become a better version of yourself. This can be challenging and hard, but in a way that feels good—like you are growing more and more into who you want to be.

Also, in a healthy relationship, you should feel loved and respected. While we are meant to find our self-worth in God, He also wired us to feel good about ourselves when we are being affirmed and cared for.

3. You Connect on the Deep Stuff

Small variations in habits, likes and personalities are usually not a bad thing. However, as research has shown, there are some areas couples really need to connect on in order to have a rich and lasting relationship.

You and your partner have to be able to agree and dialogue about the big stuff that affects your daily thinking and view of the world. This includes faith, relationships with family and communication.

Many people get into and even stay in relationships because they fall in love with surface stuff like affection and the fun they have together. But these things can only take you so far. The best relationships have depth to them, where the couple can practice faith together and communicate meaningfully.

4. You Feel Close to God

When Adam and Eve sinned, their inclination was to hide from God. We also tend to hide from God and others if we’re ashamed or we’re doing something we know is wrong—even if we don’t want to face it. How do you feel about praying for your relationship? Besides making you feel guilt, an unhealthy relationship will likely distract you and dampen your interest in God.

The right one, however, will help you feel closer to Him, be grateful toward Him and even feel a greater desire for Him.

5. There’s a Mutuality

It can be easy to fall into a place of helping someone when they need it, or relying on someone who feels like all we ever wanted. But it isn’t healthy. It prevents us from growing or respecting ourselves, and it doesn’t form a strong foundation for the future of the relationship.

The best relationships are those where both people completely enjoy each other, yet also recognize their personal relationships with God are immeasurably more important.

The healthiest relationships have a “give and take” to them where both people help one another out relatively equally. There may be times when one partner is struggling, but the dynamic over time should be that of a mutual partnership, not a codependent relationship where one person is the caretaker, and the other person is leaning on them totally.

6. You Feel Safe

Obviously, physical safety is paramount in a relationship. But you should also feel safe emotionally. You should feel comfortable around someone; able to be yourself. You should be able to bring up an issue if you’re upset and not worry that your significant other is going to yell and storm off.

A relationship can only be successful if both people can communicate honestly and feel safe express their hurt or fears. They need to feel they will be supported, not judged.

7. God is First for Both of You

God made us for Himself first. There’s only so much satisfaction we can get from another imperfect human being. The best relationships are those where both people completely enjoy each other, yet also recognize their personal relationships with God are immeasurably more important. Only as we lean into Him will we have the resources to grow and give to others.

8. Friends and Family Approve

Let’s face it: Sometimes we just don’t see what’s in front of us when our emotions are involved—or sometimes we just don’t want to see it. That’s where our friends and family come in. These loved ones who know us pretty well, can often recognize if a relationship is good or bad for us.

Of course, they don’t always agree. But be sure to listen if you have a few friends and family members who voice concerns over red flags in your relationship. They are concerned because they love you, so be willing to ask for and heed their advice.

God’s Desires for Us

It’s good to keep in mind the kind of love God has in mind for us. It’s special. It’s a mixture of a comfortable friend and a passionate love (check out Song of Songs). It’s one that will reflect His care for us, bring us closer to Him and to our potential.

Too often, we are tempted to settle for less than what He has planned. Along with asking ourselves about the above signs, our best tactic is to pray. Our thinking can only take us so far, but God can reveal what’s really true about a situation, and if we invite Him to, He can lead us to what is right. He loves us enough—and is powerful enough—to bring the best relationships (romantic and otherwise) into our lives.

A prison-based church is bringing a congregation of inmates closer to the Lord week-by-week.

The largest prison in Texas, Coffield Maximum Security Prison holds nearly 4,200 incarcerated offenders and is now home to Gateway Church's newest church plant.prison ministry INSET 1Powerful worship transforms offenders, says Wilson, pastor of Gateway Church in Coffield Prison. (Justin Miller)

Located in Texas, Gateway was first started by Robert Morris in 2000, and has grown locally, nationally, and internationally ever since. With seven campuses in total, and two more just announced this past Sunday, it's easy to see the discipleship effect of the church as highlighted by Stephen Wilson.

"It's just amazing to watch the growth and expansion, just the lives saved here in our church," says Wilson, pastor of the newest addition to Gateway, located within Coffield.

Despite the tough exterior, a present reality in day-to-day prison experiences by many residents, Wilson says the transformation when these men engage in worship can be miraculous.

"Once they get inside, the presence of the Holy Spirit comes on them and just opens them up to a new realm and just a new way of thinking."

The offenders often referred to as "residents" by Wilson, engage in services held after school and work hours that resemble that of Gateway's traditional church model, simply placed within the walls of a prison.

"We want those offenders to have the exact guest experience that we have locally here at Gateway Church," Wilson shared. That includes conducting services as well as encouraging residents to assist in helping run the church plant. In fact, the campus is entirely offender-led.

The hope, says Wilson, is that upon release, those that have been involved with the Gateway Campus will continue to serve actively in their own churches beyond incarceration.

It's that training and building-of-bonds that sets them apart from other prison-based ministries, too, Wilson believes. Men interested in becoming involved in roles of leadership within Gateway receive the same discipleship and training as any other member of their church family. To date, 20 residents have undergone the six-week training.

"Inside that campus, it's offenders coming up to pray with offenders, which is having a huge impact not only on the residents that are sitting up in the audience but the residents that are learning and being a part of their church."

Wilson says that upon entry to Coffield, residents are often lost, disconnected from a faith community and unsure of how to connect while incarcerated. The goal of Gateway's newly-planted church at Coffield is to assist them in a smooth and positive transition upon release back into their communities at the end of their sentences.

"This is more about the offenders than it is about us. We are reaching out and loving on these men to help them prepare for re-entry when they get out."

In addition to real-church services held within the prison, Gateway also hosts classes on parenting and marriage for residents.

On average, 350 residents have been in attendance at each of Gateway's services since it's opening.

It's all about making a change inside their hearts that will last for eternity, says Wilson.

For churches looking to partner or learn more about the Gateway ministry, connect with the Gateway network here.

Danny MacKay is the national ambassador for I Am Second and E3 Partners. He spends everyday telling people about Jesus and has some tips on how we can, too. 

He was a runaway car thief. Then he met Jesus in the backseat of a stolen car, and his life has never been the same. "I remember a time in my life when I felt really hopeless," he says. "I thought no one cared about me, was struggling with drugs, and was just a real wild teenager."

At 17-years-old MacKay stole a car and ran away from home. In the backseat of the car was a book about the good news of Jesus. "I read it over the course of two days, and the power of the gospel, and how much it impacted me at the depths of that hopelesness and brokeness, my life was radically changed." MacKay says that the joy and hope he experienced in that moment made him want to spend the rest of his life telling others about Jesus.

Most Christians don't share faith

MacKay says that surveys have shown that 98% of Christians do not share their faith on a weekly basis. 

The reasons can vary. Some people may simple by shy or timid. Others might worry about being pushy.

"They cannot argue your story"

The most common reason for not sharing faith is that people worry about the response they'll encounter.

However, MacKay says the worst response he's ever received has been something along the lines of "No, thanks."

In fact, most people are open to hearing stories about faith. They might be adverse to coming to church or organized religion, but he says "every week we are consistently finding open people, all over. Jesus said it: 'the harvest is plentiful, the workers are few.'"

How to easily share faith

MacKay says that instead of engaging in debate about faith and God, a simple question opens the door to discussion about faith.

He says that when they send evangelism teams out, they simply introduce themselves to people and ask if they can pray for them. "We sort of clarify it with [asking] 'if God could do a miracle in your life, what would it be?'"

MacKay says that the responses to that question is amazing. "People are opening up and taking us right into the depths of their current brokeness and struggles." MacKay says they pray for those people and their requests right then and there. 

Tell your own story

Another easy way to share Jesus with people is to simply tell them your own story.

"People can argue theology, they can argue religion, they can argue creation versus evolution, and you can get into this debate, but they cannot argue your story.

"If your share an experience or a story how God has changed your life, or answered a prayer, or done a miracle, they can't argue that."

There's a lot of people who will open up and share their pain when they hear others' stories.

"Look for a worthy person"

Part of the reason so many people are willing to listen and engage is that God directs the right people along your path.

"When Jesus sent out his disciples (Matt. 10) he said 'look for a worthy person when you enter the village.' ... When he was sending them out to all the villages he was going to visit, he sent them out ahead of him. And he told them to keep their eyes open. To look for a worthy person.

"This is a search and rescue mission. Jesus said 'I came to seek and to save the lost.' I think as disciples that should matter to us, too. We should be seeking and helping save the lost. I think that's walking with your eyes open when you're going to WalMart, or the doctor, or going to work. I think we need to have our eyes open and be looking for those opportunities. And we should be asking God to create circumstances to create circumstances where we can share.

"It's not the lost's responsibility to come to us. It's our responsibility to go to them. So we have to learn how to jump the fence and start engaging with lostness, in a respectful, humble, but bold way."

That's why offering to pray for people is such a strong way to share your faith, MacKay says.

"You'll find that most times people are incredibly open. You just have to jump the fence."