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.


Feel Like It’s All On You? Thoughts From Madagascar. 

People who visit Africa from other places will tell you, Africa has a smell. Certainly Africa has many smells, but when you finally stand on the Tarmac in Brazzaville, Nairobi, or Lusaka, after one million hours in the air, the thing you smell is smoke – charcoal smoke. 

It won’t register on your first visit to the continent; the overwhelm is too great. You notice it the second time, when someone turns to you and says, “it smells like Africa,” and you know what they mean.  

I’m enjoying that smell afresh tonight, sitting on my bed in Antananarivo, Madagascar, because I’m wearing the same pants I put on five days ago in Texas. I’m the gal who boldly proclaims, while still on the airplane, that certainly all of our team’s 30 checked bags are snug in the cargo hold beneath us. Imagine my happy/sad face when that proved 98% true. One team member suggested I proclaim more specifically in the future. Good note.

So I wear the same thing, and as each day passes I care less and less. My new Malagasy friends do it and it’s actually sort of freeing.  When and if my bag does arrive, I suspect it will be like Christmas. Or maybe I won’t care. 

When leading a team into a foreign country, even when they are fairly experienced Mercy Shippers, it’s hard not to think its all on me and the other team leader. Because when a question is asked we’re expected to answer it, even if we don’t know, which is usually the case. So we ignore our jet lag and bob and weave like crazy, and in that it’s easy to forget, it’s not all on us.   

On our first morning in Madagascar, I sat in the little gazebo on the hill watching the rain soak the flowers, the ducks and the green valley below, and I totally panicked.

I knew Stefan had to leave early to hustle a thousand supplies in the muddy street markets and I’d be left to begin the day, not just with my team but with the 30 Malagasys who showed up to work with us. 

And you know people don’t want to admit this, but it’s hard to make new friends, especially as adults, especially in a foreign country with at least four foreign languages, jet lag and 100% humidity. It’s awkward and terrifying and I knew my team and the 30 or so locals would look to me to say something meaningful, unifying, inspiring, motivating and holy to start the day. 

“Jesus, help! You know I’m inadequate for this,” I prayed in my gazebo as the school kids ran by giggling and chirping “Bonjour Madame.”

“I know.”

“I don’t know how to lead all these people.”

“Why don’t you just bring them to me and let me lead them?”

“Oh. Ok, that’s a good idea.”

So that morning I quit believing it’s all on me and I laid it all on Him. Five minutes later we were singing together, first in English and then Malagasy, and the rivers of awkward began to run off us. Then someone on my team produced an inflatable globe. One by one we tossed it around, pointing out where we live: Madagascar, The Netherlands, The US, Switzerland, and everybody shared, through a wonderful Malagasy translator, one thing each of us loves.  

Malagasys, by the way, love to sing and play music. At this moment, there is a wedding outside my window where they are doing just that. 

Maybe this doesn’t sound like a big deal, but for the thousandth time since I came to Mercy Ships I was in over my head, and the God I serve extended his righteous right hand and pulled me out. He promises to do that for anyone who asks, but if we remain hermetically sealed inside a world we can easily handle, we never give him the chance to prove it.  

Later today we’ll walk up the hill, through the muddy markets and chaos to Akany Avoko, a home for abandoned, abused and homeless girls. We’re going with our pockets full of fingernail polish.  

And maybe we’re not saving the world here in Madagascar, but maybe nobody asked us to. Perhaps God is just asking us to engage the world in a way that’s way over our heads, so we have to keep reaching for him. 

A Sunday Thought from Dr. Keller

/home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/7c4/38797130/files/2014/12/img_4747.jpgTim Keller is a Presbyterian minister in New York City, a fantastic author and one of my heroes, mostly because he says things like this:

A life of religious legalism is always distasteful to those outside the faith. The moralist will be smug (they are the good people); oversensitive (their goodness is their righteousness so must not be undermined); judgmental (they need to find others worse than them in order to be good); and anxious (have they done enough?)

Worse, irreligious people look at and dislike the God who moralists claim to represent. Paul is thus arguing to the Jews: You were called to be a light to the world, you think of yourselves as bringing light to those who are in darkness and yet the world finds your religion totally unattractive? Don’t you see that therefore you must have misunderstood it?

We need to pose ourselves the same challenge: Is our church community and are we as individuals attractive? Is our humility, love in hard situations, grace under pressure and so on obvious for others to see? Are we living as an advertisement for God or as a “Keep clear” sign? Only the gospel produces churches and people who commend God to the world. Moralism cannot.

Excerpted from –Romans 1-7 For You. By Tim Keller