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.

Medaling in Madagascar.

My friend and favorite superhero Bob Goff is a creative genius when it comes to loving people like Jesus. His gift is stopping to notice other humans in a way that makes them believe they matter.

For example, Bob travels to Uganda with his pockets stuffed with medals, so he can pin them on former LRA child soldiers, and say: “You are unimaginably important,” and make them believe it.

Bob Goff is the reason 160 foster kids in Madagascar are wearing medals around their necks today.

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In the extravagant, inefficient, upside down Kingdom of God, this is how love does:

A couple of years ago, I met Bob in Los Angeles. Probably like a million other people, I picked up the phone and dialed his number, which, like a lunatic, he listed in the back of of his NYT Bestseller Love Does. To my great surprise, he answered, and then squeezed me into his already tight schedule. Sitting in a cafe at Pepperdine University, Bob looked at me and said, in the most literal way possible, “how can I help YOU?”

I mean really, who does that?

At that time, I knew Bob had negotiated with the publisher of Love Does for an advance that would cover the construction of a school for former child soldiers in Gulu, Uganda. I also knew that he gave 100% of the proceeds from Love Does away. I’m sure that’s some of the reason there are more than 300 students there today.

What I didn’t know was, every time he goes to Uganda, he brings little, pin-on, military-style medals. So when he’s talking to a teenage boy, who was abducted then conscripted into a life of violence and depravity, he can pin one on him and say: God sees you and you are precious to Him.

You can’t imagine how many people need to hear that, and not just child soldiers.

So a couple of months ago in Texas, my colleagues and I were discussing how, in two-weeks time, anybody can reasonably expect to impact a bunch of neglected and abused girls in Madagascar. Ridiculous really – a total fools errand.

IMG_5078“We ought to take them swimming,” my partner said.

“Yah, and pin some medals on them.”

Sometimes when a thought bypasses my brain on it’s way out my mouth like that, I think God’s behind it.

I spent hours on-line looking for the kind of medals I imagined Bob was pinning on kids in Uganda, but I couldn’t find them. So I called my friend Kim, who owns Hometown Trophy and T’s – a mom and pop trophy shop in my town. I explained what I was doing and since she’s read Love Does, she said, “Yep, got it. Let me call you right back.”

Ten minutes later, her daughter Lindsey called and showed me, not a pin-on medal but a heavy Olympic-style medal with a crown on it. She offered to string a ribbon on it that matches the Malagasy flag and asked if we wanted anything inscribed on the back. Sure! Can you write beloved, chosen, precious, courageous and overcomer on them?

“You bet,” she said. Then she donated them – All 200 medals.

DSC01369It had been a hard, discouraging week in Texas. One where you think any second the alarm will sound, so the real player, the one who isn’t incompetent at your job, can step in and take over. As I’ve said before, sometimes I forget this thing I do isn’t all on me. 

The day Lindsey and Billy delivered those medals to Mercy Ships, I held one in my hand for a very long time. I turned it over and over and read the word Beloved engraved on the back.

The end of the story is this:

After Madagascar’s wildest pizza party, we had 35 medals left. Akany Avoko employs 40 staff.

The next day we walked back up the hill to Akany with 35 medals in my backpack, hoping for a solution to the obvious problem. I told Director Lalasoa, how much we wanted to give her staff those medals but we couldn’t imagine which five people would not get one.

“Wait, you have 35 medals in your bag?” she said.

“Yes.”

“I have five left over from last night, just sitting on my desk.”

“What? You have five medals sitting on your desk?”

“Yes.”

For those of you bad at math, that’s 40. Later that week, Lalasoa called her staff together, thanked them for their hearts and hung medals around their necks.

Life In the Restoration Business

Did I tell you guys I’m leaving for Africa in ten days? Well technically, I’m leaving for Madagascar – the island nation off the southeast side of the continent, near Mozambique. We’re leading a team of 10 to the Africa Mercy. They’ll stay for years, I’ll be back at the end of March.

Here’s what Madagascar looks like through the lens of our amazing ship photographer Ruben Plomp.

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I know. Torture. Right? Photo Credit: Ruben Plomp

As some of you know, I work for Mercy Ships an organization that runs the largest, non-governmental hospital ship in the world. Since last fall, the ship has been docked in Madagascar providing free surgeries – orthopedics, cleft palate, fistula repair and tumor removal – for people who lack access to such care. We’re in the restoration business and here’s just one of the amazing stories that came off the ship last week.

tumorCan you imagine the shame and rejection that comes with being a little boy with a huge cyst? Zakael can.

A few weeks ago, a guy named Mr. Sambany came to us with a 16 lb. tumor on his head and neck that he’d carried for almost 20 years. He walked three days to get to the ship. While our surgeons reviewed with him the dangers of removing such a large tumor, Mr. Sambany said he knew he might die, but he was already a “dead man” for the way he is treated.

Here he is post surgery.

Sambany We’re in the restoration business.

The surgeons, nurses, cooks, physical therapists, engineers, teachers who work on the ship are not just volunteers, they actually pay Mercy Ships to donate their time and skills. Most ask their communities for financial support to do it. What’s cool about that is, you can stay home and support someone working in Madagascar.  You can bring hope and healing to Mr. Sambany and Zakael from Kansas.

But when Christmas day looks like this in Madagascar, why would you stay in Kansas? If you want to help us in person. You can do that too.

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Crew in Santa hats! Photo Credit: Ruben Plomp

But if you decide to volunteer on the Africa Mercy long term, ten months or more, you get to come to Texas first for training.

And that’s where you will run into me.

They call me The Meddler.

They call me The Meddler.

Because it’s hardly just people with tumors and burns and birth defects that need hope and healing. There is so much broken in all of us, and where else in your life does anybody look you in the face and say:

“Do you realize your mouth is working against you?”

“Are you aware that what you heard as a child, contradicts what Jesus says about you?”

“Don’t you know who you are as a child of God? You are beloved, redeemed, precious, alive, whole, seated with Him, hidden in Him.

As a Jesus follower, I’m staking my life on this information, and the result has been radical and interesting. Stay tuned for the next month or so, and I’ll show you what I mean.

In Haiti last July, one of my team members asked what I get out of being away from Sam so much and traveling to hot, hard, sometimes dirty places with Christians who are in one moment really holy and in another totally freaking out.

“I get to watch God change your lives,” I said. I get to be in the restoration business too.