On July 3 I began to experience a dull pain in my left side. It was a Sunday and during Church while standing to sing, I was overcome with a clammy cold sweat and had to sit down. This continued throughout the day until I finally went to see the doctor who scheduled me for an ultrasound. Within one week, my world went from busy, planning speaking engagements and the Honduras conference, to one sentence: Pelvic Mass, rule out ovarian cystadenoma or cystadenocarcinoma. Carcinoma—cancer. I was immediately scheduled with a local ob/gyn who scheduled me for more tests—blood work to test for tumor markers—all labeled “CA,” and a CT scan. For the following week as far as I knew, and based on my doctor’s grave concern and sense of urgency, I was looking into a place that was going to be new territory for me—unchartered territory; fearful territory. I wouldn’t even let myself say the “C” word.
For the past seven years I have been in what I can only call a sort of “boot camp” training period with God as the Master Sergeant and me as the trainee. Boot camp isn’t really an accurate description though; more like intensive discipleship, one on one with the Master Discipler—Jesus Christ Himself. For some reason He has invited me into this place where He seems to intensely desire that I know Him, believe Him, trust Him and love Him at deeper levels than I ever imagined possible.
I have always had my favorite role models and mentors—Corrie ten Boom, Amy Carmichael, Elizabeth Elliot, George Mueller, Oswald Chambers, A.W. Tozer, Andrew Murray, Madame Guyon, Brother Andrew, and marveled at their faith and their utter dependence on Jesus for every single thought. Theirs wasn’t just a happenstance walk—theirs was a deliberate walk in truth—they had a God and they were all in for Him. Back before I even had a walk with Him, in the days when I knew he was calling me, I remember saying, “Yes, but I don’t want to be a Sunday Christian, listening to someone else talk about You in sermons or reading about You from books and the Bible. I have to know You.” I had already tried it the other way and walked away disillusioned and discouraged with what I saw and heard. It had to be real for me, or nothing at all. He had to be real in every circumstance of my life, not just on Sunday mornings.
Maybe because my mentors and teachers were such radical believers—daring to take God at His word, walking out to the edge of a precipice then walking right off the edge because they trusted Him that much—I dared to believe that the God I wanted to know was that kind of God—not just for the book of Acts and for those brave men and women I read, but for me, personally. I wanted Him. I didn’t want what He could give me, or what blessings I could count up at the end of the week, I wanted HIM. When He said that He was all the fullness of the Godhead bodily and that the mystery of all of the ages was fulfilled in Him, and that mystery is “Christ in us, the hope of Glory” I knew that I had to have everything He wanted me to have of Himself, and it wasn’t going to be a thimbleful of that ocean, it was going to be the ocean.
Well, He took me up on my thimbleful of faith and my naïve, shaky bravado and we have been on a wild ride together since. That was 1989. In 2011 I wrote a book on the latest of these journeys of trust—my husband’s dementia and passing. In the book, I wrote of the sharp edges of learning to abide in Christ. I held nothing back, exposing my complete lack of faith at times, my absolute failures to abide and to be a loving caretaker, my falling off many cliffs into panic and fear. In this book, as I tell people, you will find not a woman of great faith—definitely not a Corrie ten Boom—but you will find a God who is there, a loving Shepherd Who continually picks up His beloved sheep and sets her back on her feet and then gently guides her down this path—not into greater strength, but into greater weakness because He meant it when He said that His strength was perfected in my weakness. He meant that. And so, in the book there are the tumblings and there are the triumphs when the abiding life proves to be beyond my wildest imagination. There are the humblings and the harvests. The humblings precede the harvests—always. Always, always, the question would surface “Can you trust ME?”
One of the most precious things I learned during those long nights, lying awake in the night watch as thoughts invaded my sleep like a star wars galactic battle, was that He also meant it when He said to fix my mind on Him only and His peace would guard my heart and mind in Christ Jesus. My kids could mimic those star war sounds perfectly and I could hear them as the incoming fighter jets of terrifying thoughts shot through my mind sending my peace careening down into the darkness. So, really God? If I fix my eyes on You (Isa. 26:3), You will give me perfect peace (Shalom Shalom)? And in reality, my images of the star wars-like battle wasn’t my imagination at all—it was really warfare. The “fiery darts” of the enemy described in Eph. 6 were reality. The warfare was a battlefield over my mind. It was dead serious. I have written before about this particular battle and I have spoken many times about it and I find a peculiar thing when I speak about it. The response many times is “Well I tried it and it didn’t work.”
To risk using another analogy from a worldly movie I can’t resist quoting Yoda, “Try not—Do!”
We don’t “try” the abiding life and then give up when it “doesn’t work.” The abiding life is Christ Himself, abiding as exactly Him-Self within me. We don’t “give Him a try” and then give up. This is where the battle is fought and won. This is where He is conforming us into His image. This is where He proves Himself faithful even when we are faithless. This is where Job wrestled out his faith in the God He proclaimed to believe. Job was God’s trophy in the end. We are His trophies! “But thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ Jesus” (2 Cor. 2:14). But this isn’t going to happen overnight in one session of flaming missiles. This is a life-long journey, one step at a time.
One step—incoming missle: panic and fear! “I take that thought captive in obedience to Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5).
Incoming missile: huge debts to be paid, no money! “Whatsoever things are true…think on these things.” Jesus, You are the only truth I have, I think on You, not on the problem.
Incoming missile: Test result—rule out carcinoma! “Whatsoever things are of a good report..think on these things.” Lord Jesus, You are the good report, I will fix my mind on You, not on the bad report and I count on You for the peace that You promise will guard my heart and mind.
Whereas I wrestled with unbelief during John’s illness—which, by the way, God had used to expose to me this wadge of an obstacle in my walk with Him in the first place—this time there was absolutely no wrestling. This time I was immediately enveloped in an other-worldly peace such as I have never experienced. This time instead of fear, there was such a sense of expectancy at what God could possibly be up to now, that I was almost breathless with anticipation.
After all was said and done, the report came back—Benign!
Somehow I think that no matter how the report came back, I was no longer the same person I had been a few weeks prior. There had been some kind of transaction between me and my Shepherd in another dimension and I knew that He was smiling, even laughing. There had been no battle this time. Only triumph. No matter what the report—there had been triumph in the Heavenlies because my Shepherd had already won the battle and this time I knew it going in.