Don’t Stop Breathing

grapesThere’s a weird thing the radiology nurse says as you lie on the biopsy table waiting for more pictures of your right breast – a body part you never thought might try to kill you.

In the nicest, least alarming way possible she says:

“Stop breathing.”

Not, “Hold your breath” because it’s likely you’re already doing that. Not, “Take a deep breath and hold it,” because even a tiny movement will skew the coordinates for the spot the doctor found on your mammogram.

Three weeks is a long time to keep quiet about things like this.

At first, I didn’t tell anybody about my bad mammogram, except Sam. But as each day passed, I felt like a MMA fighter, weak and bleeding, pinned up against the cage, taking hit after hit.

Now I know the scripture is right: Our battle is not against flesh and blood but against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Are you taking hits? Are you being stoic and brave about it, all by yourself? Not a great idea.

Finally, I did what I tell everyone else to do: I got the biggest, baddest MMA fighters I know* and invited them into my cage. Because I was too far down to do it myself, they used their considerable heft and experience to fight for me. They surrounded me and insulated me in ways that are hard to describe.

Lesson #1 – You can’t really follow Jesus alone, because Jesus didn’t live like that.

As my friend Barry says: You can’t find people working alone in the New Testament, anywhere. Even in the garden, knowing they would disappoint him, Jesus took his friends along, and when he sent them out, he sent them in pairs. Are you a Jesus follower, trying to fight your battles alone? Sorry Charlie. That’s a contradiction in terms.

Yesterday, at 4pm, Dr. Lee called.

I stared at the number before picking up, knowing he would either tell me I have breast cancer or I don’t. I’ve spent three weeks considering my response, because the moment you imagine how it looks to join to the pink ribbon club – the one you’ve had the luxury of ignoring your whole life – you start asking hard questions.

  • If I have cancer, does that mean God is not sovereign?
  • Does it mean he is not good?
  • How does my faith look on a breast cancer journey?

On biopsy day, during my third round of mammograms I started to cry. Overwhelmed by the dozen women in the waiting room, wearing matching robes like cult members; overwhelmed by the woman I prayed for the in bathroom who later got terrible news; overwhelmed by the amazing breast imaging technology that is sure to bankrupt me.

When it was over, I walked into the lobby crying and it scared Sam.

“I don’t want this,” I told him. “I don’t want this to be my life.”

But as it turns out, it isn’t.The biopsy was negative. And this is the most amazing news.

I wonder though, what I would be saying today, if it hadn’t gone my way? Would God still be good? Would he still be sovereign? Would I even be talking to you about it? I want to believe all three answers are yes.

Lesson #2 – It helps to make up your mind about Jesus before the bad mammogram.

Because if I wait to see how my circumstances unfold to decide if the Bible is true, my faith is a house of cards.

Jesus said,Everyone who hears these words of Mine and does not act on them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and it fell– and great was its fall.”

The storm comes. Count on it, but Jesus promises if I build my house on his foundation, it will stand. Not only that, Acts 1:8 says, I will receive power – ability, efficiency and might – when the Holy Spirit comes upon me. Jesus left that here for me to use, so I can be a powerful menace to the enemy that’s trying to kill me…And you.

fireworks-725134_640By the way, that word ‘power’ in the Greek is dunamis, the root word for dynamite. I love that. You can’t imagine the things I want to blow up in the enemy’s camp.

So I decided weeks ago, even if I was diagnosed with cancer, I would be dangerous to the enemy in the Ross Breast Center, and on the days when I wasn’t up to that, I would call in my fighters and let them do it for me.

So tell me, what are you facing and who are your fighters? What do you believe about God? Has he abandoned you in your struggle? Is he punishing you? Or are you just subject to the spiritual laws of a broken world, separated from the God who created it?

Can I bring some dynamite to your fight?

*Thanks to my fighters: Sam Kirk, Stefan & Andrea Schmid, Pieter duPreez, Jenny Case, Karen Ransone, Cassie Bartley, Alicia Kramer, David Warner, Lisa Long, Stacia Julian, Beth Herndon, Krissy Close, Michelle Tucker, Christy Quirk, Jane Quirk and friends, Mike Quirk and the women of Love Dinner.

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You Have An Identity. Where’d You Get It?

Being the Beloved constitutes the core truth of our existence.”
― Henri J.M. Nouwen

Love Dinner

A few weeks ago, a guy named Barry spoke at Mercy Ships and asked us the following questions:

  • Do you know who you are?
  • When your circumstances collide with your identity, what wins?
  • What are you doing here?
  • Who are you doing it with?

I say he’s a guy named Barry because I Googled him ahead of time to see what kind of Christian hotshot he was, what he’s written, how many Twitter followers he has, you know those important metrics that indicate one is worthy of attention. Here’s all I found:

Barry enjoys people, bikes, bbq, and a really good tomato. Currently, he teaches and facilitates retreats, consults and mentors various non-profits in San Francisco. Barry hopes to spend the rest of his life in San Francisco helping it live up to the name of its patron Saint, St. Francis – as a city on a hill.

Wait, a Christian speaker with no website, no platform and a scrubbed Google profile? Besides this other teacher 2000 years ago, who “ordered them not to make him known,” who does that? Especially since every publishing industry professional says get famous first, then we’ll talk about your book.

Jesus didn’t do it like that.

What Jesus did was show up at a muddy stretch of the Jordan River to be baptized by a guy in camel skins. Before doing anything to earn it, he received his identity then headed right into the wilderness for beta testing. He came out, made some friends, and then he went to the synagogue to teach.

Evidently, even Jesus had to absorb his identity before there was much to write home about.

Barry made me wonder if publishing my book, as a life goal, even matters. If I am awash with the passionate love of God and convinced that I am precious and pleasing even before I do anything fancy, does it matter if “bestselling author” ever modifies my name, like I want it to? Don’t I have what I want already?

“We go looking for identity in mission,” Barry said. “But if your achievements are your identity, you’re only as good as your last success.”

OMG that explains a lot of human behavior doesn’t it?

What I want is to be fully known and loved anyway, and if I choose to believe the gospel, I already have that. So, Barry suggests, whether I’m writing books or cooking spam in West Africa, my vocation is merely the context in which I am transformed into someone interesting and beneficial to those around me. This is also what I want.

“The reward for the process, is the person you get to become,” Barry said.

So what if we believed the gospel without all the mental gymnastics, disclaimers and doubt? What if we believed we actually are passionately loved, clean, holy, purchased and royal? What if we trusted Jesus enough to come to him like children and just follow him, wherever that leads?

What would happen then?