Me Too: Part Seven

Me Too: Part Seven

Before I continue my story, let's review a few important steps on the path to inner healing.

God's Pursuit

No one goes anywhere with God unless first invited by the Holy Spirit. Ultimately, every healing story begins with God's desire for our wholeness, not our desire for wholeness. Apart from him, we don't even know we're broken. 

Confession

We have to agree with God that we're broken. Sometimes, we have to speak this agreement aloud in the presence of other believers.

Me Too: Part Six

Me Too: Part Six

What you believe matters.

A belief is like a seed. Throw it into the soil of the mind. Wait. In time, the belief yields the fruit of behavior. As the nature of the fruit depends upon the nature of the seed, so the nature of the behavior depends upon the nature of the belief. 

All beliefs bear fruit eventually, no matter how deep you bury them.

Me Too: Part Five

Me Too: Part Five

All healing is a process. It usually doesn't take place overnight. I've found that even instantaneous healings often include substantial backstory.

The reason for this is that healing isn't about healing. Healing is about relationship, as is everything in the kingdom of God.

Read 1 John. You'll see. It's all about God loving you, you loving God, and us loving each other. God is about relationship, so everything he does is about relationship.

Before I had this revelation, I knew the truth of it instinctively.

When I became so sick after the birth of my daughter, I clung to God for dear life. Inside of me resided this deep knowing that I would not survive without God. I needed him. More than I needed food, water, or sleep.

Me Too: Part Four

Me Too: Part Four

At age 10, I was caught in a tug-of-war between light and dark. God had delivered me out of childhood sexual abuse and experimentation. He pursued me and loved me. But the stain of what happened lingered in my soul.

I became an angry child. No one understood my outbursts of temper or why I was suddenly in trouble at school. Thankfully, Mom decided to homeschool my sister and me.

Me Too: Part Three

Me Too: Part Three

Particular consequences follow early childhood sexual abuse.

I remember always having a heightened sexual awareness--a sixth sense for anything sexual in conversation and entertainment. I could sniff out sexual lyrics in a song by age 6 or 7. Sex scenes in television and movies drew me in like the tractor beam on the Death Star.

I began to withdraw, carrying guilt and shame--not only because of what had been done to me, but because of my resulting interest in sex and accompanying sexual behaviors. (Forgive me. I have a strong aversion to the "m-" word.)

Me Too: Part Two

Me Too: Part Two

I turned five the summer before I entered kindergarten, making me the youngest in the class. I didn't care. I was excited to go to school. I'd loved pre-K.

The only blemish on the previous school year was the hailstorm that had made the sky go black, the windows break, and the teachers panic as they herded small children from the temporary buildings outside into the main building where we would be safer. I still remember that day and the cabbage patch doll I held when the teacher's face went white and she said we must do as she said and quickly. And while the hailstones that rained from the sky had been big enough to kill a small child had they hit her just right, I think I was in less danger that day than I was the day I entered my kindergarten classroom.

Me Too: Part One

Me Too: Part One

Those who have followed my blog for the last several years know that I don't spare my readers from the dark moments, and neither do I leave them there. We always find our way out again. Until recently, I couldn't have led anyone very far in this particular darkness, which is why I haven't told this story in the past.

If you choose to read this series, I'm going to take you to some places that may bring you to face your own darkness, but I'm also going to show you where God's light was in mine so maybe you can find him in yours. I'm going to tell you how he healed my deepest wounds in hope that yours might get healed in the process. If you're up for that kind of journey, keep reading. If not, file away the web address for a later time.

Before I begin, I feel it's important to state that my story isn't unique. In fact, it's tragically common. Furthermore, my personal experience isn't even close to the worst version of this story I've heard. I'm friends with people who have experienced much worse. You, reader, may have experienced worse.

The Power of Story

Stories are important.

At some level, we all know this. It's proven in historical records, ancient paintings on cave walls, handwritten books, and the fact that everyone likes a good movie.

The Bible is one large story told through many stories. Our lives are stories—full of “inciting events,” struggles to return to “normal world,” “turning points,” “all is lost” moments, plot twists, climaxes, and resolutions, all which lead to character development.

Our stories are particularly important, especially the stories which tell of our encounters with God. Revelation 12:11 tells us that we overcome by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of our testimony—the adventure romance/buddy story starring us and Jesus.

The world needs our stories. Eric Johnson of Bethel Church said in a recent sermon that he believes storytellers are the most powerful people in the world. Why? Because they have the power to shape the future by preserving the past.

I'm still amazed by the impact of my own story and by what God continues to do with it. And I love to hear the stories of others.

Today, I'm spreading the love. 

Meet my friend Marsha Carson.

I met Marsha online a little over a year ago. She was in the mast cell group on Facebook where I posted the story of my healing. While that blog post garnered a way bigger reaction than I'd anticipated (back then I had no idea how uncomfortable and angry people could become over the issue of healing...I know better now), it gave some people hope. Real hope.

Marsha was one of those people. This is her story.

I first met Jesus as a little girl.  I loved Him, but in my teen years, I began to question God. I turned my back on God and started experimenting with the occult.  By the time I graduated from college, I believed there was a force sort of like Star Wars. However, I never knew what to do about Jesus.

I began to have dreams at night in which I was worshiping God and praising Him like I did when I was a little girl. It took nine months of these glorious dreams before I finally thought, "I think I might be a Christian!" I immediately gave my life back to Jesus. I felt so loved that God would woo me back to Him in spite of my hardness of heart. He bypassed my conscious mind and went straight to my spirit. Thank you, Jesus!

I became ill in May 2011. I was living my dream of working with wildlife at a wildlife rehabilitation clinic. I loved it. But in May, I had a routine sore throat and cough that would not go away even with powerful antibiotics. 

By August, I was no longer able to work. Every breath was labored. Just walking across the room left me exhausted and gasping for air. I ended up on oxygen 24/7 and by the end of December, I was hospitalized, hooked to a ventilator, and placed in a medically-induced coma for 11 days. Twice, I thought I was dying.

I was unconscious and could only see blackness. I was scared, but Jesus appeared to me both times. I put my hand in His and said, "Jesus, I am with You wherever You want to take me, Heaven, hell, or alive."

I was filled with such peace both times. Then I woke up alive! I knew I was alive because Jesus wanted me to be alive! It never occurred to me to be upset about the fact that I couldn't move. I was too happy to be alive. 

After months of physical and occupational therapy, I learned to use my body again.

Marsha holding an owl right after leaving the hospital.

Marsha holding an owl right after leaving the hospital.

I was breathing well when I left the hospital, but soon after coming home, I was back to needing oxygen 24/7. None of the doctors knew why I couldn't breathe. In fact, my pulmonologist told me he did not know why I nearly died or why I was alive. I told him I knew why I was alive. I was given a miracle by Jesus. People I had never met had been praying for me.

It was during one of my follow-up visits after leaving the hospital that I realized I was highly allergic to environmental irritants. Car exhaust made my airways close. Over time, I discovered more and more triggers that made my airways close, including all kinds of smoke, fragrances, freshly mowed lawns, and my Great Dane.

I had asthma prior to this illness but never to this extent. My life suddenly became very small, scary, and filled with unease. I began to see cars as sleeping dragons that could wake up at any moment and threaten my ability to breathe. I avoided going anywhere unless absolutely necessary and tried to never leave my house alone. I never knew when my airways would start closing. I had to wear a mask just to walk outside and eventually had to carry EpiPens with me.

I was eventually diagnosed with severe GERD, which was causing lung damage. I also had a lung fungus cryptococcosis, most likely from working with one particular goose at the wildlife clinic. His name was Monty, and I loved him.  

As to what caused the severe reactions to everything around me, I was never diagnosed. No one knew what to do to help me.

During this time, I clung to God as never before. My mother had died from very similar symptoms just a few years prior. I began making "My Thankful Posts" on Facebook. Most days, I found something for which to give God praise.

God showed me things in my life that could no longer be a part of my life. He began a cleansing in me and purged things that hindered my walk with Him. One very simple thing God told me to give up was a TV show called Supernatural. I never watched it again. But that is just the surface of the things that God changed in me. He changed my desires and began a process of growing me in Him. I spent more time in prayer and yearned for more of God.

In February 2016, I found Melissa's blog and read how severe her illness was and how her very life was in danger constantly. As I read about her struggles, her dependence on God, and ultimate healing, I just knew that God was going to heal me. Her illness was far worse than mine. If God could and would heal her, I knew He could and would heal me as well. I wasn't sure when He would do it, but my faith was built up through her story.

In May of 2016, a pastor from Peru came to our church and preached. He made the statement that someone was thinking they could not go on a mission trip due to their health. That was exactly what I was thinking! The moment he said that, I knew God was going to heal me that very day.

I could hardly wait for the pastor to give the call for me to come down and be prayed for! As soon as he did, I practically ran down the aisle. I had read Melissa's blog not long before and was so ready to be healed! When they anointed me with oil and prayed over me, I knew I was going to walk out of the church with no mask on and never have to wear it again. And that is exactly what happened.

God also delivered me from fear. I did not realize how much fear I was carrying until God healed me and the fear went away.

Now I go outside without ever even thinking about a mask. I leave my car running when I go through a drive through. I have even walked right up to a fire barrel and put something in the fire with absolutely no breathing problems. I can be outside when the grass is being mowed and never even think about it. I live my life breathing well outside completely mask free and even more importantly, free of fear.

Jesus was there at my darkest hour and gave me peace. The fact that I am alive today is an absolute miracle. God just topped it off by healing me so I can go outside without a mask and without fear. One of my prayers right now is for God to fill me to overflowing with the love of Jesus so that everyone I come in contact with is touched by the love of Jesus. It's a journey, but it's truly my desire. 

What a wonderful reminder of God's presence and care in every moment of our lives! What a picture of grace! Thank you Marsha for sharing your powerful story with us!

If you have been touched by Marsha's story and would like to leave her a message, leave a comment below.

 

Eleora Book Launch and A Few Favorite Things

The culmination of a love affair with story, a lifelong dream, hard work, perseverance, and heaping helpings of God's presence and relentless grace arrived at my doorstep on Wednesday afternoon, May 10, 2017. It was an exciting moment, even if it didn't fully sink in.

A storm of unwelcome news, heartbreaking events, exhausting days, and weighty decisions distracted me from the joy of holding my book for the first time. Still, the event broke through the clouds of an otherwise bleak week. What a precious gift.

And what can I say about these precious little joy bombs?

They were so excited with me. And so concerned when I found a typo on the back cover of my sample copy. I love these two. They teach me so much about life, God, and how to love people. Like how to...

Rejoice with those who rejoice,
and weep with those who weep.

As I've turned my burdens over to Jesus and gotten some sleep (praise run), I've been able to enter into book release and end-of-school-year related excitement.

Favorite Things

1. Friends texting and posting selfies with Eleora.

2. Sara made her own "Eleora book." How cute is that?

3. The book release party my parents threw for me.

4. Superman's dessert making skills. He is systematically learning to make all my favorite desserts. His lemon ice box cake and chocolate pie are slap yo mama good. The other desserts pictured aren't his, so I didn't try them, but I hear they were amazing as well.

5. Visiting with friends and family at the party.

6. Also, my pink and purple unicorn hair. So. much. fun. Props to my sister Hannah for the awesome job she did. And no, I'm not rebelling or having a midlife crisis. I like it, okay?

7. Seeing reviews pop up on Amazon.

8. Hearing that people who don't even know me actually like the book.

9. Finding out that people who don't often read are reading my book.

10. My friend Emily's reaction texts to the story. You should all pray for a friend like Emily (pictured above). Seriously, she is one of the bravest and best, having stuck with me in sickness and in health and now sending me sweet and hilarious reactions as she reads.

What Now?

My first summer objective is to physically, emotionally, and spiritually recover from the last few weeks. This looks like spoiling myself with lots of sleep, time outside, fun with the kids, fiction only, a family vacation to the mountains, a birthday getaway with Superman to NOLA, and plenty of time with the Lord.

I need to schedule book signings and contact a few local bookstores about stocking my novel. I don't know a ton about marketing and book promotion, so I'll be learning as I go. (Experiences, ideas, and helpful articles are welcome.) I'll keep everyone updated on upcoming events here and on my new author page on Facebook. Like me.

I'm currently in the planning phase of the sequel to Eleora. Ready or not, I'll start writing the first week of June. I want draft one DONE by the end of summer.

In the midst of R&R and book shenanigans, I'll also be learning all I can about homeschooling. To my great surprise and evolving delight, we've decided to educate our kids at home next school year. Home school wasn't in the plan books--mine anyway--but when the Lord extended the invitation to try it, I couldn't refuse. More on that later.

Meanwhile, you can help this fledgling author in the following ways:

1. Buy my book

2. Read it.

3. Review it. Amazon, Goodreads, and More Than A Review are all good places to review a book.

4. Share book-related posts, my author page, my website, etc. on social media.

5. Tell people about the book. Word of mouth is powerful and inexpensive marketing. If the people you tell are authors or church leaders or are involved in publishing or sex-trafficking ministry, this is especially helpful. Reviews from moderately well-known to well-known individuals are HUGE for baby authors like me.

6. Buy a copy for a friend.

7. Download the book on Kindle Unlimited for free. Every download helps.

 

Thank you so much for all the love and support! A girl couldn't ask for better friends and family.

 

 

 

 

 

Eleora: Upcoming Release and Other News

Map Designed by Misty McKeithen

I did it. 

After nearly four years and seven drafts, I turned in my manuscript to the typesetter/cover designer. Not that I'm finished or that it couldn't be better; but it's time to stop. 

My debut novel, Eleora, will release on Tuesday, May 2!

Printed copies will be available online at Amazon and Barnes & Noble. The e-book will be available through Kindle. Independent bookstores may order the book through Ingram Spark. I hope to have an audiobook available in the fall. (More details coming soon.)

Genre: New Adult Fantasy*

*I originally wrote Mara, my main character, to be 18 years old when the story begins, which would have classified the book as "Young Adult." While the sexual content of my novel is considered suitable for young adults, I hesitated to market the story to that age group due to certain thematic elements in the story (i.e. sex trafficking). I raised Mara's age to 20-21, thus classifying the novel as "New Adult." Parents, I encourage you to read the book and decide whether or not your teen reader is ready for it.

Note: Sex trafficking is something all teens need to be made aware of. Traffickers don't discriminate based on gender, race, or socio-economic status. Please research this topic, if you haven't already done so, and discuss it with your pre-teen/teen.

The Blurb

I don't yet have a book cover, but as I'm unable to contain my excitement any longer, I present to you the blurb (a.k.a. the hardest 200 words I've ever written):

Three seek the stone of power:
One to win her freedom.
One to exact revenge.
And one to seize control of the kingdom.

Orphaned in childhood, Mara has always done what is necessary to survive—even pledged herself to a sinister spirit named Rivka. When Mara’s sister is struck by a mysterious illness, Rivka offers Mara a choice—watch her sister die, or become a slave in exchange for the medicine needed to save her.

Mara sells herself to Zev, an old friend who shares her sordid history with Rivka. Motivated by revenge and a lust for power, Zev coerces Mara into a life of prostitution and espionage in order to find Eleora, the magical gemstone necklace guarded by the Council of Ambassadors. Trapped in a tangled web of Zev and Rivka’s schemes, Mara’s life becomes a never-ending spiral of seduction and treachery until a kind young healer on the Council unexpectedly offers her freedom. In her new life, Mara finds healing, friendship, and even love but knows she must rid herself of Rivka to be truly free.

Now Mara must choose whether to fulfill her oath and betray her new friends or double-cross Rivka and risk losing her sister forever.

Those who think blurb writing is easy should audition to write my next one.

The Story

I plan to write a post on how the story came about when I'm closer to the launch date. For now, it suffices to say that in many ways, it's my story. I wrote Eleora while I was sick. Many of the questions the story asks were my questions, and back then, my questions rendered from the blood, sweat, and tears of my journey with mast cell activation syndrome. 

Mara's struggle to receive love was (arguably, is) mine. Many of the scenes, characters, and quotes are inspired by real events, people, and things I've thought or said. Honestly, it's a little scary to put that out there for people to do with what they please. Because let's face it--people can be mean.

That being said, I think I've produced a rip-roaring fantasy adventure that some people will really love--questions, themes, and other deep stuff aside. Also, my words sound pretty. 

My Map

I'm still fangirling over the awesome map Misty McKeithen made for me. She exceeded my expectations when she took my lame sketch and designed what you see above. Check out her work on her website: http://mmck.weebly.com/

More on Misty in an upcoming post. 

 

Mast Cell Activation Syndrome Case Study

Many of you continue to visit this website because of my history with mast cell activation syndrome. About a year ago, my mother, Melanie Chapman, a clinical laboratory scientist who currently serves on faculty at the University of Louisiana at Monroe in the medical laboratory science department, wrote an article about mast cell activation syndrome and my case study. The article was never published due to funding problems with the publication, but she later developed the information into a presentation, which she has presented in Monroe and Baton Rouge, Louisiana. 

I had the privilege of hearing her present the study last week at the American Society for Clinical Laboratory Science/Louisiana and Mississippi Joint Annual Meeting in Baton Rouge. The information is very scientific and nerdy but also interesting and moving due to the human interest aspect.

I'm extremely proud of my mom and her work. If you would like to know more about the immunology of mast cell activation disease, you may view her presentation online here.

Stay tuned for the latest information on the release of Eleora!

An Overdue Update

I'm stunned and a bit embarrassed by the fact it's been THREE MONTHS since my last post. I have nothing to say for myself.

It isn't that I don't have things to write about. Life is busy, rich, and full. I could post every day. I just haven't figured out how to manage everything. Exercise and blogging are particularly difficult to fit into my daily schedule. But that has to change. Soon. The blogging part, anyway.

It's platform building time.

But first, let's catch you up.

THE PHANTOM NOVEL

Back in December, my daughter came down with mono. Poor girl had a go of it, and I clocked lots of hours in the recliner holding her. Needing an occupation, I pulled out the manuscript of my novel, which I hadn't touched since September 2015.

The novel you either forgot about or gave up on because I haven't mentioned it in forever.

As with this blog, I hadn't meant for so much time to pass before picking it up again. But between an attempt to make the one novel into two (per the recommendation of three readers) and the inherent life changes which come with being miraculously healed of an incurable disease, it slept sad and alone in the files of my laptop for over a year.

I fiddled with a revised plot outline for the "first" novel two or three days before I realized I had no heart for that story. None. I couldn't make myself care.

I remember God saying, "Well if you don't care about it, no one else will."

Touche.

So I abandoned the 80k word NaNoWriMo draft I crafted a year prior and began the task of making my original novel work as one cohesive story. On January 6th of this year, I submitted my manuscript to an editor. She returned it last weekend. I'm now ready to make one last round of revisions before I'm done. And that, my friends, will be the easiest part of what's left of the process before my book is in your hands.

AAAAALL THE DECISIONS

Like most authors, I prefer to write my stories and leave the business side of self-publishing to someone else. Unfortunately, that isn't the way it works. When you self-publish, you ARE the business. For better or for worse, you make all the decisions.

Book title. Artwork. Blurbs. Biographies. Dedications. Cover design. Internal formatting. ISBNs. Publishing company title. Logo design. Budgeting. Marketing. Platform. Web site design. Core value statement. Wordpress themes. Photography.

Oh, and apparently I have expensive taste. Yikes.

Once upon a time, I needed to breathe into a paper bag when contemplating these things. Now I remind myself God's got this and it will all fall into place in due time.

HOW YOU CAN HELP

The next step is clear. I need my own online domain.

Very soon, my blog will undergo a change of address. I would LOVE for you guys to make the move with me. I need to build a following on the new website so I will have an audience waiting when I release my novel this spring. Everyone who signs up for my newsletter will receive a FREE unpublished short story. So that's fun.

MISCELLANY

Book stuff doesn't monopolize all of my mental real estate, believe it or not.

Superman and I are looking into starting another business this year. In addition to our day jobs. Don't worry, I fully realize the insanity of starting two businesses the same year, but we aren't getting any younger. If not us, who? If not now, when?

God has laid out a fresh vision for local ministry over the past few weeks. I'm stepping into more of a leadership role in our Personal Prayer Ministry in Ruston. There's also a new sister ministry in the inception stage. My future role in the new ministry is hard to guess at this time, but I suspect it will eventually be a significant part of my life.

I continue to enjoy my work at Geneva Academy, where my children attend school. The longer I'm there, the more I love the heart, the vision, and the people. My friend Jarrod Richey would like me to return next year as a part-time music teacher, particularly if I'm able to attend a Kodály methodology training this summer in Moscow, Idaho. I haven't yet decided what I'll do.

After I release my novel, I will write my autobiography, which will focus on my illness and healing. God says it's time to tell the whole story--a story most people haven't heard. I plan to finish the book this summer and release it in the fall. There's a possible children's book in the works as well.

Next month, my family and I will travel to Austin, Texas to spend some extended time with my best friend and her family and to share my story with their church community group. I look forward to our time there.

IN CLOSING

Feel caught up now? You're not. Not even a little bit.

I could tell you story after story about how God is working in my life, the lives of family members, the lives of friends and the various communities I'm a part of. The first church experience is my new normal. I see people healed, delivered, saved, and encouraged on a regular basis.

Over the past 14 months, it has been my delight to discover that God still works today as He did in the book of Acts. The very same way. I'm not a special case. God is actually as generous with healing now as He was in Jesus' day, if not more so. Nothing has changed except our expectations.

But even sweeter than the miracles I've seen is God's abiding presence in my life. He is everything, and without Him, miracles would be meaningless.

Today, I enjoy the intimacy with God I dreamed about as a young teen. On one hand, I'm satisfied. I don't need a thing this world offers. If on the off-chance I become rich and famous, okay. Great. If I don't, who cares? On the other hand, I know there's more of God to be had so I have to have more. And more and more and more and more. Like any good addict. I love that I serve an infinite God. Anything less would fail to satisfy.

Whatever happens over the next few months, sink or swim, He is all I need. It was true when I was sick. It's true now that I'm healed. That's the joy of serving a God who doesn't change in a world that never stays the same.

Musical Healing-Part 2

This post is Part 2 of a two part series. To read Part 1, click here.

The Unlooked-For Thing

Not many days after my discussion with Brandon about the possibility of working at Geneva Academy, the Lord spoke to me. I was driving down the road, singing along to a favorite worship song on my way to pick up Micah from school.

Ask for the unlooked-for thing.

I understood "the unlooked-for thing" to be the answer to our family's financial needs and the question as to how to use my musical skills and education.

God's word to me was the echoed encouragement of my friend Rebecca, who had prophesied earlier that year that God would find a use for my degree, but it may look differently than I thought.

Immediately, I prayed, "Lord, give me the unlooked-for solution. I'm watching."

The next day, I ran into Jarrod Richey (my friend and the music teacher at Geneva; see Part 1 for history) when I picked up Micah from school.

His greeting would've been ominous if I didn't know him. "The time has come."

I smiled and waited for him to explain.

There were two open teaching assistant positions which needed to be filled for the following school year. One was for Pre-K. The other was for elementary music. Jarrod said he'd love to have my help in music class and suggested I speak with Ed, the headmaster of Geneva. I assured Jarrod I would talk to Ed. Just probably not that day.

But as things turned out, I had business in the office and when I finished, Ed appeared. I mentioned what Jarrod had told me, shared my reservations about assisting in Pre-K and expressed interest in assisting in music. We set up an interview for the following day.

I remember getting into the car thinking, "What did I just do?" But the expected fear didn't follow. Actually, I was kind of excited.

Facing My Fears

I left the interview the next day with a job and mixed emotions.

I'd work where my kids went to school...awesome! I would help my husband bear financial burdens which had been his alone for the past five years...yay! I'd just signed away my kid-free writing time for the following school year...oh. I would put that expensive and time-consuming music education degree to good use...woohoo! But I didn't know whether or not I still loved music or if I even liked it anymore...yikes. And was I still good with kids? My own are one thing. But with other people's kids?

Jubilate Deo

Over the summer, my mind was consumed with writing ministry training manuals for our Personal Prayer Ministry in Ruston—the prayer ministry which God used to bring spiritual, emotional and physical healing to me—preparations for my mission trip to Brazil and our family's return to The Island. I completely forgot about sign up for the annual Jubilate Deo Music Camp, which would take place the last week of July. Until Jarrod texted, asking why Micah wasn't signed up.

He graciously allowed me to sign up late, and then asked if I would be willing to help with the kindergarten and first grade class. I didn't think; I just said yes. Partly because I wanted to, but mostly because it terrified me. (I'm a strong believer in doing the thing that scares you.)

Would I be able to handle it physically? Would it reveal that I'd lost my touch with children? Would I realize that classroom music now bored me?

But I'd forgotten how Jarrod can scheme. He strategically placed me in the music classroom of Jo Kirk.

This woman, y'all...

I have no idea how old Jo is. I'm not going to guess in case she reads this post. What I will say is that she has more energy in her left thumb at her age than I have in my entire being. I'm sorry I don't have a video of her in action. She's amazing.

Do you see the rapt attention of these young children in the photos? She maintained that level of command for the duration of the camp. And we were in class for a minimum of two hours every day.

Jo masterfully managed the classroom. In her hands, the material was almost a living entity, which made all of us more alive. In a word, Jo Kirk is anointed to teach music, which is something more than simply being skillful. Before assisting her, I'd never seen the Holy Spirit so present in a classroom

Through Jo, God called me awake again. It happened the first day of camp. The music teacher within I'd buried long ago heard her name through layers of soil, tears of grief and withered dreams and climbed out of the casket.

My eyes filled with tears as I realized I was still fit for this. It was possible I'd been made for it.

Yes, I could do this. No one who felt so much passion for something could be entirely inept. Yes, I still loved teaching music. Yes, I still loved working with children. I gazed into their bright, captive faces, wiping away tears from my own before one of them caught me crying.

Back to the Music

About a month later, Micah, Sara and I arrived at Geneva for our first day of school. I knew that day God had led me to that particular job in that particular place for this particular time. I found that Jarrod was every bit as anointed to teach music as Jo. His manner is different but just as effective. I understood why my mom wept the day she'd observed him two years prior.

Jarrod possesses the balance of skill and passion I long for. He has a vision to shape students into skilled, joyful worshipers, and has the administrative support to be successful at it. His aim? Kingdom advancement.

This talented, visionary man is content to work in obscurity because he can do more for the Kingdom in a school like Geneva than he can in a more visible position at a university. And also because he loves children. I hope you let that melt you for a moment.

His program is what I dreamed of having as a student in college and realized I couldn't have when I student taught...at least not within the public school system. What I had desired and tried to do as a private music teacher, he's doing. Music is taught as a language. By the time they graduate, students speak, sing, read and write it fluently. The high-schoolers do things I struggled with in college.

In this environment, I find myself dreaming again. Dreaming and asking questions. What is the call upon my life? Does it include music long-term? Or am I here for a season to help Jarrod become more of who God has called him to be? Because this guy will produce his own curriculum, write his own children's songs and become a master teacher before it's over with.

In case I'm here long-term, should I go for that Level 1 Kodály certification this summer? How involved does God want me to be in the program? How does all of my gifting work together practically? I'm a wife, mother, writer and minister of the Gospel, too. Is it possible to have it all? Is that what's best? Is that what God wants?

For now, God remains silent, but I sense his amused smirk upon me. He has secrets yet to be revealed. I'm going to like them whatever they turn out to be because His plans are always good, but for now I must rest in the mystery of the in-between place.

Regardless of what the future looks like, my questions have been answered. My desires have been met. I still love music. I still love children. They like me okay, too. In a very real way, I'm leading worship because worship is a way of life. Worship is taking joy in all of God's good gifts. It's working heartily as unto the Lord. It's learning to sing in all circumstances, even when you don't feel like it, and discovering the emotion doesn't have to shape the doing but the doing can shape the emotion. When the Holy Spirit is in it, anyway. 

And yes...I can still teach. I began co-teaching with Jarrod this week in preparation for his absence on Thursday. I'll sub for him. So far, I've only spent a few minutes with each class, but I remember the motions. As Brandon told me months ago, I'll be fine. It's just like riding a bike.

I love it when he's right.

Look at me! I'm tuning fork official!

I know this is a long post, but may I just take a moment to mention what a humbling, marvelous year this has been? A year ago, God sent me to the Siegmund group who took me in as I was in my weary, broken state. They loved me, ministered to me and became my new family. (Here I go, getting all weepy about them again.) God used them to heal me—in body, soul and spirit.

The Lord renewed my intimacy with Him. He stretched and wrecked me and guided me into uncharted waters. He brought the dead places back to life. I was baptized and blessed by my Superman. I ate peanut butter again. Prophecies were fulfilled. Callings were answered. Friendships formed, renewed and developed. I wrote books! (Training manuals count.) God sent me to Brazil! I'm teaching music again!

And I deserve none of it.

It's all grace. Precious, reckless, limitless grace. Grace greater than sin, sickness, death and everything the devil threw at me to prevent this —abundant life.

Thank you, Jesus. Thank you, thank you, thank you. Thank you. All I am belongs to you. You've won me. Oh, how you've won me. Again and again and again. Whatever you ask, the answer is yes. YES! I will echo it back to you. "Yes and amen. Yes and amen. Yes and amen." Today, tomorrow and throughout eternity.

Musical Healing-Part 1

When I was a kid, my favorite game to play was "Teacher." Guess who always played the teacher.

*grin*

I took things pretty seriously. So seriously, in fact, the other kids stopped wanting to play with me. I may or may not have wanted them to do actual school work and pay attention to my lectures.

I also loved music. Listening, singing, performing. I played the piano for years. So even though I'd fallen in love with writing in high school and even declared English as my original university major, it was no surprise to anyone when I switched my focus to music education.

Not long after changing my major, I took a piano pedagogy class and established my own private studio. I began with six little girls and big dreams.

Around the same time, the leadership of our small Baptist church in Marion, Louisiana asked me to begin a children's choir. They wanted the kids to perform a musical at Christmas. The project wasn't my idea, but I threw all I had into it. We not only performed. I wrote my own productions. Plural. As in one at Christmas, another at Easter, and another at the beginning of summer.

 My first children's choir.

 Here, I'm modeling three of the props used in my original (and hilarious) children's production of Joshua and the Jericho Thugs—gold chains, plastic crowbars and kazoos. That's right. Kazoos.

After three productions, I decided I wanted the kids to learn to read music, so we worked during the summer using recorders. Because—obviously—I’m a glutton for punishment, but also because I didn't know a better way.

My students loved me, shortcomings and all. (I was pretty fond of them, too.) Most of my private students caught my passion for singing and acting. Carson Richman, the tall girl standing at my right in the photo below, has been involved in choir and theater since she was in my studio. She joined the LSU theater program this fall. Sarah Katherine McCallum, the little brunette on my left has also stayed involved in music and theater. She now takes lessons from one of my vocal instructors, Dr. Claire Vangelisti at ULM, is involved in the Strauss Youth Academy for the Arts in Monroe, and was the fourth runner up at the Miss America Outstanding Teen pageant this year. I can't take credit for how incredible she is now, but I can take credit for the seed. Almost all of the students who came through my studio still actively enjoy music. Which was half my goal.

Part of me knew there was more to give them, but I lacked the skill set to give it, I didn't know how to acquire the skill set, and I ran out of time to figure it out. I became happily distracted with the joys of motherhood in 2009 and scraped by until I became not so happily distracted with the grim realities of chronic disease in 2011. 

I kept hoping to get my disease under enough control to teach again, but after two years of frequent anaphylactic reactions, arthritis, carpal tunnel, fibromyalgia, brain fog, and necessary isolation followed by a diagnosis of Mast Cell Activation Syndrome—which is incurable—my hopes died and my inner music teacher with them. Like died died.

I laid her to rest in a locked box, buried her, mourned at the funeral, threw a few flowers on the grave and moved on. It hurt too much to dwell on the loss. Apparently, God wanted me to write. I wasn't supposed to teach music. I was never that great at it anyway, I told myself. So it was just as well. 

Meanwhile, my friend Jarrod Richey was doing some exciting things with music education. I met Jarrod in music school at Louisiana Tech. We sang in choir together and both earned our degrees in Music Education. 

He went on to earn his Master's in Choral Conducting at ULM and later his complete certification in Kodály methodology. A few years ago, he was hired as the music teacher at Geneva Christian Academy, a small Classical Christian school in Monroe, Louisiana.

Jarrod had been preaching the advantages of Classical Christian education since before Micah was born, so I became interested in the school. When the time came to make a decision about Micah's kindergarten year, I was too sick to investigate the school in person, so I sent my mom.

She reported the school would be an excellent choice based upon the educational approach alone. But when she observed Jarrod teach music to the little ones, she knew it was the right school. "I wept," she said. 

The summer before Micah started school, Jarrod put together a Christian music camp called Jubilate Deo. Excited about the opportunity, I enrolled Micah...who came down with viral tonsillitis the second day of camp and couldn't continue. But I heard great things. 

Micah began school at Geneva that fall. He would come home and absently sing the folk songs he learned in music class. I loved it. Because my Music Methods college professor was Kodály trained, I understood and appreciated what Jarrod was aiming to accomplish. Over the course of the year, Micah became a tuneful singer. I'd get papers every once in a while of dictated rhythms he'd copied down. Keep in mind—he was in kindergarten

Every now and then, I would run into Jarrod at the school. "When God heals you, you've got to come help me up here," he would say. 

I'd smile and think to myself, "That would be nice." 

The following summer, I sat in the back row of the Jubilate Deo Music Camp concert, my mask veiling my slack-jawed expression. I couldn't believe my ears. In five days—five days—Jarrod and his staff had put together an outstanding program. 

I, too, wept. 

And then about three months later, God began to heal my body. 

First, reactions to things I touched disappeared. Then my outdoor temperature reactions. Then my airborne triggers. Then my food reactions. Then my pain and arthritis. Then my energy returned. As much energy as can be expected of a 30-something mom of young kids, anyway. By April 2016, I lived like everyone else. Contrary to scientific explanation and medical prognosis. A miracle had taken place. 

God began bringing all of me back to life. I enjoyed renewed intimacy with Him. I was the healthiest I'd ever been. Everything that had died—my personality, my gifts, motherhood, friendship, community, ministry—wasn’t only coming back. It was coming back better.

Except for music. I was done with all of that. You can't be away from music for five years and expect to be any good at it. I didn't even know if I would like teaching music again. Besides, I was going to be a writer.

Sometimes, I think God gets his kicks by proving me wrong. 

This past spring, I was blindsided one night by an intense longing to lead others in worship. I'd never felt that before. What did it mean? 

My classically-trained, non-belting voice doesn't fit the current worship style of the Church. I sound more like a retro Disney princess than a pop star. Most worship choruses aren't even in a singable range for me. And I've always thought strong singers should be dispersed throughout the congregation to encourage and serve weaker singers. Because the congregation was never meant to be a crowd of spectators, but an army of worshipers. 

My call wasn't to the stage. I knew that much. But I couldn't make sense of it. 

Around the same time, I was wrestling with my future. I was well. There were expectations. What should I be doing? Writing, obviously. But I wasn't writing! Not anything that would make money anyway. And I was thinking more and more about music and what I was supposed to do with my gifting and education. A lot had been invested there.

One day, we were driving home from church and Brandon said something like, "Why don't you talk to Jarrod about the tuition discount for Geneva teachers and see what kind of deal they might make us?"

I'm embarrassed to admit this, but...I wigged. I totally wigged. 

"What are you talking about? I can't teach! I've been away from music for five years. Five YEARS!!!  I don't even like it anymore. I'm a writer. If you need me to work, I'll write!"

I was terrified. Terrified to give up my writing dream. Terrified of trying to resuscitate something that was long dead. Terrified I wouldn't love teaching or music or the classroom anymore. Terrified to fail. Terrified that working would pull me away from the ministries I was involved in and had grown to love. Terrified, I tell you.

Despite my overreaction, Brandon remained calm. "Well...if you plan to make money by writing...you probably need to actually...write."

*a series of tiny explosions in my brain*

*eye twitches*

I'm not going to admit my response to that. But in summary, the truth hurts and pain makes me angry. 

Even though our conversation didn't end well that day, I continued to wrestle privately. Because here's the thing—God often speaks through my husband, and I never want to tell God "no" again. Not about anything. Not even the small things only He and I know about. All I want to say for the rest of eternity is "Yes...yes...yes."

Here's what I knew—Brandon would like me to work part time to help pay for the kids' tuition. I needed an occupation while the kids were in school. I felt an inexplicable draw toward music and leading worship. But I wanted to write, and teaching would interfere with writing. And who knew if Jarrod had been serious anyway?

"Lord," I remember saying, "I don't know what to do or what you're doing. But I trust you. I'll do whatever you say. Just make things as clear as I need them so I can obey."

And you know...He did. 

To be continued...

Our Story

I remember the moment I chose to marry Brandon Keith Keaster. It happened on Sunday, January 19, 2003, over a year before he asked me to be his wife.

The choice was both difficult and easy. You see, I loved two wonderful, God-fearing young men at the time. Either one would've made an excellent husband. I still believe that. But even as a teen, I was of the mindset to place myself where God was working and God had been working on getting B and I together for literally decades.

So even though my friend of many years had the daunting advantages of height and red hair--I've always been a sucker for a red-head--and the idea of hurting him hurt me more than words can say, I intentionally gave my heart to Brandon.

I've never regretted my decision.

Destiny At Work

My mom's mother and Brandon's mom's mother were friends long before either of us entered history. Maybe even before our moms did. His mom babysat my mom. His parents were the first unmarried people my mom ever saw kiss. And even though my parents moved to Monroe and his stayed in Marion our circles touched the whole time we were growing up. We just never noticed each other. Mostly because he's 5 years older than me and it would've been weird.

Interestingly, the first time he did notice me, I was dressed like a Bangladeshi bride. No joke.

In August of 2000, I was 16, and I'd just returned from a 6 week gig as a mission intern/au pair in East London where I'd befriended several Bangladeshi Muslim girls, exchanged stories of faith with them, and even shared the good news of Jesus with a group of Muslim women in a local mosque. My grandmother had invited me to her church to speak about my time in England. Her church was also Brandon's church.

I remember him from that night. I sang and he ran the sound board. I think he complimented my singing when he returned my cassette tape. My grandmother later told me he'd asked about me. I was flattered, but really didn't give it much thought. I mean, he was nearly 21 and I liked another boy.

This other boy was supposed to take me to the West Monroe High School homecoming dance a couple of months later, but he made the mistake of proposing to me and telling me not to tell my dad. Let's just say things didn't work out. But I had a dress and a cousin counting on me for a ride to the dance, so my grandmother and Brandon's grandmother schemed and asked Brandon to take me. He generously agreed.

Don't you just love awkward high school dance photos?

Brandon was a perfect gentleman. He genuinely enjoyed hanging out with a 16 year old and two 14 year olds for the evening. He was a sport about all the photos and even danced with me a little. Which, to this day, is kind of a big deal. He was respectful and kind. He opened all the doors for me and had me home before my 11pm curfew. He treated me like my dad would've wanted me to be treated.

That dance was my first date ever.

We emailed a couple of times afterward, but didn't see much of each other again until the summer of 2002, when I was asked to be the interim pianist at my grandmother's church. We'd see each other in passing at both services on Sundays, but on Wednesday nights, after the singing, I'd walk over to the youth room where he was. I'd sit for the lesson, then afterward the youth minister, the pastor's son, Brandon and I would head to the basketball court and play pickup games.

The basketball court is where I fell in love with Brandon. I was in denial about it a long time, but Wednesday night basketball games were the highlight of my week.

He played just right. He didn't take it easy on me, which I would've hated, but he was careful not to hurt me. Which actually only happened once, and he was so sorry that I was careful not to let him see the tears which formed from being clocked in the jaw so hard.

It was after the annual Hanging of the Greens service in December that I first began to suspect he had feelings for me. It was the way he placed the accompaniment track in my hand. Slowly. Lingeringly. And the way he looked at me.

But I played dumb.

"I'm too young for him," I told my parents. "I'm just imagining things because I'm lonely."

That year I'd suffered two major betrayals, one of which led to a literal threat on my life. One best friend went to college and the other got married. I was in pain and didn't want to risk more pain by falling for him and being disappointed.

What I didn't know is that he was testing the waters. Had he been less determined, I might've lost him by hiding my feelings.

The Power of an Inner Vow

The following weekend, I traveled down to New Orleans with my dad to the Louisiana high school football state championship games. West Monroe was playing and I had friends on the team. They played Evangel High School who had a star quarterback with the last name...get this...Booty.

I said out loud with my dad as witness, "I would never marry a man with the last name 'Booty.'"

And God laughed and laughed and laughed.

Normally, inner vows don't work in our favor, but apparently I'm a special case. 

A mere five weeks later, Brandon asked me to stay late at a youth event to play one-on-one with him. That's basketball, just to clarify. Don't be dirty.

We ended up talking late into the night...so late that my grandmother drove 15 minutes from Farmerville to Marion to come find me. (I didn't have a cell phone back then.) But before Brandon and I parted ways, I asked him to my free movie for the week. (I worked at Tinseltown at the time and got two free tickets every week.) He offered to take me to get chocolate chip pancakes at the new IHOP by the mall. We made plans for the following weekend.

Sealed With a Kiss

I'm embarrassed to admit this, but here it is. Remember the other boy I loved? The tall red-head? I went out with him Saturday night to a thing and the next night went out with Brandon. I didn't tell either of them. I realize that's kind of terrible, but there were things I needed to settle for myself.

I was ready to commit. The boy I chose, I would probably marry. Both nights, weighty thoughts occupied my mind. It wasn't just about the guys. It was about the futures. What was I willing to agree to? It was also about what God was doing. Where was his hand at work?

I had fun both nights. There was nothing wrong with the other boy. He was a perfect gentleman, a lot like B in that regard. And he obviously cared for me, but as I said goodbye to him that night I knew it would be for good. My only regret is that I didn't just tell him. But I was too selfish and immature back then.

The following night, Brandon picked me up at my parents' house and took me to IHOP. The pancakes were okay, but the highlight was Brandon spilling a glass of ice water into his lap. I guess I made him nervous. *grin*

At the concession stand, a friend from work mouthed, "Is that your boyfriend?"

I mouthed back. "Not yet."

She gave me a thumbs up. 

We saw Two Weeks Notice, which is still a good movie by the way. On the way out of the theater, he caught my hand. I still feel the thrill that rose in my stomach when I remember. He didn't let go the whole way home. Even when things got awkward with the standard transmission.

When Brandon dropped me off, he came inside to talk with my parents. I followed him back out again to say goodbye. Just before he left I was struck with a wild compulsion. After checking the kitchen window to make sure my dad wasn't watching, I kind of leaped forward and planted a hard, novice kiss on Brandon's lips.

My thought bubble: Oh! What am I doing? I've never done anything like this before. This isn't me. Oh God, please don't let my dad see...Who cares? His lips are so nice...

I surprised him--you should hear him tell the story--but no more than I surprised myself. You see, that was my first kiss. And it had always been my plan to save my first kiss for my wedding day. Oh, well.

Breathless, I released him, ran inside half-embarrassed and perched at the foot of my bed. I remember smiling--still in shock but also somewhat pleased with my gumption. I didn't know I could be so forward.

When I'd collected myself a little, I floated into Dad's office acting like a giddy drunk, and said, "I'm gonna marry that boy."

Dad kind of hung his head and sighed. "I know."

The Rest of the Story

It was the best decision I've ever made. Save the one I make every day to follow Jesus.

Brandon has saved my life many times over. I don't want to imagine where I'd be without him or if he hadn't married me when he did.

Like Jesus, he's loved me when he didn't like me. He's held me together when I was falling apart. When I was sick and had nothing to offer him except an uncertain future of caring for a part-time invalid, he stayed.

He makes me laugh. All the time. He messes with me and pesters and tackles and tickles. I secretly love this. Most of the time. 

He teaches me about real love every day. How to give it and how to receive it. For whatever reason, I have a hard time receiving. Thanks to him, I've gotten much better. He teaches me how to trust. How to confront. What I'm worth. In a world dominated by unsafe men, he reminds me some are still good.

Neither of us are perfect. Although...he's pretty darn close, if you ask me. Sometimes we're selfish, and we fight. But I'd make the same decision again and again and again.

Brandon Keith Keaster, I love you to the ends of the earth. I'm so glad you're mine and so thankful to be yours. I'm so glad you were my first date, first kiss, first everything. Oh, and I still love your lips. I'm sorry if that's too gross for public knowledge.

Here's to you, Superman, for the 12 years we've had and the 63 left to go. 

The Island: The Return

My first trip to Little Gasparilla Island was in 2010. We went with one of my besties, Danielle Dorey, who I'd met during my Frontliners internship the summer of 2003.

 Baby faces.

Micah was a baby, and I was a happily married stay-at-home mom/part-time private piano and voice teacher. And I'd just scored a lead role in the community theater's Fall musical-comedy. Life was pretty good. And the trip? A-maz-ing. I'd fallen in love with that little slip of sandy earth and planned to return as soon as I could.

What I didn't realize then was the bit of heaven we'd enjoyed there was the calm before the storm. There was crazy theater drama for the next two months. (Not all the good kind.) A miscarriage. A major onslaught against my health in January 2011 followed by a difficult pregnancy and a semi-traumatic labor and delivery.

My health continued to deteriorate, but I never let go of the dream of returning. I felt God had given it as a promise to go with my healing. I would say to Brandon, "When I get well, we're going back, you know."

And when I was lying on what could've been my death bed, he'd say, "Don't forget. When you get well, we're going back to the island." To remind me I couldn't die yet. We had plans.

When my healing began, we mentioned a return trip, but as time came to make preparations I realized we were too short on cash to press the issue. Besides, I was going to Brazil in September.

But my Superman is one sly guy and he's earned his nickname many times over.

As we drove home from the Ozarks on my birthday, my phone rang. It was Danielle. Because it was my birthday, I expected nothing more than a wish. Which I received. Then she said, "Brandon, God and I have a surprise for you."

My thought bubble: Brandon...God...Danielle...can't be a baby...hmmm....

"How would you like to come down to the island next month?"

After a momentary lapse of cognition, I flipped.

I laughed. I cried. I bounced up and down in my seat. I couldn't believe it. And yet I could. Brandon has always been too good to me.

I sneaked a glance at him. Tears shimmered in his eyes. Softy. He knew what this meant to me.

I thanked Danielle. I thanked B. I thanked God. I was so stoked. Only a few days before I'd asked Sara, "If we could go anywhere in the world together, where would you want to go?"

"Da beach," she'd said with a grin. She'd never been and it had been so long since our last beach trip, Micah didn't remember. They were so excited when I told them.

Brandon explained we would drive to Georgia first to see our friends James and Erica Kordsmeier, then drive down to Tampa and leave from there for the island with the Doreys. We'd be gone 11 days.

The drive to Georgia was smooth and pleasant. God placed two people in my path to pray for along the way, which was fun. Our time with the Kordsmeiers was too short but very sweet.

Then came our reunion with the Doreys. It had been six years since I'd seen my friend face to face and yet--because of phone calls, texts, Facebook and the goodness of God--it was as if no time had passed. Except for the three extra kiddos, dark circles under our eyes and a few gray hairs. But whatevs.

The next day, we made our way south along Florida's west coast. I was antsy to get to the island, but also a bit fearful. Would it be as incredible as I remembered? Or had I blown a nice experience out of proportion in my mind?

I stepped out of the truck and smelled bay water. A hot breeze ruffled my unruly hair. I smiled and forgot all fear of disappointment.

Samantha, Danielle's sister gave some of us a boat ride from the marina to the island.

Weston and Sara ready to go "motor speed."

Before I knew it, we were there. And yes--the magic I remembered still hovered over the island. Not quite ripe sea grapes and coconuts graced the trees. Birds called out to one another. A dog barked in the distance. The kids played in the sand and I enjoyed the quiet rush of the breeze through the foliage while we waited for the luggage to be unloaded onto the golf cart.

Then it was a race to get to the beach.

One of the things I love about Little Gasparilla is the low population. There are no condominiums. Just beach houses. There's no fighting for chair space. You don't have to watch your stuff. You can leave it out all day if you want. No one will bother it. And your kids are easy to spot. Behold...

The kids enjoyed the beach as much as they thought they would. They enjoyed each other more than I thought they would.

Here we have a Weston...the cutest fish you'll ever meet.

FYI: You can't keep this 4-year-old out of the water. 

Micah was afraid of the water, but enjoyed the beach. 

I taught Sara to body board...kind of. 

 Instead of a vanilla latte made by Kurt Pendergrass, Kurt Pendergrass taught me to make my own. Turns out, I'm not a bad barista.

Kurt also took B fishing again...

and on our first evening, took us all out on a dolphin cruise.

The kids enjoyed the local wildlife. 

One morning, I woke early to pray and enjoy the sunrise, which was pretty glorious. The sunsets were as spectacular as I remembered.

 Check out that green ray!

But nothing could beat the company.

This trip to the island was a lot more work than the last. That's what happens when you add three littles to the mix. Especially when the party includes a high-adventure, adrenaline junkie, perpetually ravenous two year old. 

Meet Titus. Chances are, he's "hungee." 

Kudos to Danielle and Ryan who somehow keep him fed.

I didn't have a lot of alone time with Jesus while we were gone, but the constant prayer of my heart was, "Thank you...thank you...thank you...thank you..."

I was overwhelmed by generosity. Of my husband, who sacrificed vacation days usually set aside for hunting. By my friends who offered us a free place to stay and great company. Of the Pendergrasses and Danielle's sister, Samantha, who came down both Sunday and Wednesday to make coming and going fun, easy and inexpensive. Of the Lord. 

Wow...just wow. 

I'd done nothing to deserve such a gift. Yet it was freely given. Grace, grace...marvelous grace. 

Grace was the golden thread running through every detail. From the ability to even go to the hospitality of friends. Down even to the storm patterns. Each day, storms threatened to come down upon us, but danced around instead. On the day we left, all the Floridians agreed, we'd get wet on the boat ride back to shore. But no. The clouds parted. We sat on damp towels and enjoyed the cool air in our faces...

...and on the drive back to Tampa, a reminder that God always...always...keeps His promises.

The Best Night of My Life

Life holds several great moments. Memorable vacations, holidays and birthdays. Graduations. Engagement. Your wedding day. The births of your children. My personal highlight reel is pretty spectacular, despite my desert years. So maybe the other night wasn't really the best night of my life, but it was pretty darn close.

Jesus had me like...

I don't remember how many people I've led to the Lord. Not that many, but enough to lose count and no one recently. On Monday, August 1, 2016, I had the indescribable privilege of leading both of my children to the Lord.

Bet I don't forget that.

The moment took me by surprise. For several reasons. First, I was tired and kind of grumpy. Ten minutes prior, Micah had thrown a fit because I let Sara lick a drop of honey off my finger and not him. So like any good descendant of Juanita Chapman, I lectured him on the general unfairness of life--I may or may not be guilty of having mentioned starving kids in Africa--and reinforced my refusal to be held hostage by a standard of equality.

Ain't. happenin'.

So Micah didn't even like me when we sat down for our bedtime reading and devotional. Fortunately, Shel Silverstein loosened things up a bit before we got into real things.

But there's also my whole deal with the famous "sinner's prayer." Before my Baptist friends cry heresy, let me explain. 

I've seen way too many people pray a magic "save me from hell" prayer, go on like nothing happened and convince themselves they're Christians. The ABCs saved them. Once saved, always saved. Nothing to worry about.

While there's nothing inherently wrong with the ABCs or the sinner's prayer, unless there's friendship with God which leads to genuine transformation from the inside out, there's a decent possibility that nothing happened. At least, nothing that lasted. 

For myself, I don't believe I had a moment of salvation. Rather, it happened in stages and is--arguably--still happening. 

"But he who endures to the end shall be saved." ~Matthew 24:13

Thus, I've always encouraged my kids toward relationship with Jesus and operated under the assumption they belong to Him unless proven otherwise as they exercise their free will over time. While I encourage prayer, I've never encouraged "asking Jesus into your heart." But what do you do when your kids realize they're sinners and want to be rescued?

Apparently, you revisit your roots. But I'm getting ahead of myself. 

God's gonna do what God's gonna do. 

 

God loves to prove me wrong. He loves to surprise me, and he loves to give me good things in spite of myself. (Not too different from that husband of mine.) So despite the fact I was far from a suitable frame of mind, the Holy Spirit dropped in my living room Monday night. 

We opened our copy of Thoughts to Make Your Heart Sing* to the entry entitled "Friend of Sinners."

 *Seriously, if you have littles, get this book.



The following conversation went something like this--

Sara's brow furrowed. "Why does Jesus love sinners, Mama?"

I straightened. They don't usually ask questions about the Bible story. I love questions. "Well, he loves people and all people are sinners. God made us all to be like Him. To be His friends. But we disobeyed Him and ruined everything. Thankfully, God sent Jesus to live with us and to die to pay for our sin so we don't have to. When we believe in Him, we aren't sinners anymore. We're the righteousness of God. Because I count on Jesus for salvation, I'm the righteousness of God."

Micah stretched his body forward and looked at me intently. "Are we sinners?" He pointed to himself and Sara.

I smiled. My son was having a light bulb moment and there was a holy weight in the air. "Yes. Until Jesus lives inside of you."

Micah blinked tears from his big brown eyes. "I want Jesus to live inside of me. I don't want to be a sinner anymore."

Sara's eyes grew bright and she bounced in her seat. "Me too! Me too!"

So I led them in a carefully worded prayer. Never mind that I almost broke a sweat trying to accommodate my personal biases. (Feel free to laugh. I'm ridiculous.)

When it was over, I sang hymns which celebrate salvation. The kids leaped from the couch and danced joyfully to the thin melody sounding from my hot and swollen throat.

Immediately after, Micah wanted to tell his favorite person in the world--his Nona.

This, my friends, is the Gospel. 

 

The Gospel tells the truth about our sad state, but with hope. It convicts, but doesn't scold. It doesn't condemn, but woos. It's about love, not fear. The motivation is less about avoiding hell and more about enjoying heaven on earth through right relationship with our Creator and Savior. It's about discovering the greatest Beauty of the universe and telling everyone so they can appreciate Him, too. It makes us dance for joy because we were once lost and are now found.

Micah and Sara invited Jesus into their lives because they want to be His friends. They want to know Him.

Before heading to bed, Micah asked me, "Mama, will I be able to hear God now?"

"Yes, Baby. When you read the Bible, when you pray, when you listen for Him, He'll speak and you'll hear."

Again, tears filled his eyes. (I love that boy's tender heart.) "Do you hear from God?" he asked me.

"Yes, Love. All the time. And you will, too." Then I laid hands on him, asked God to fill Micah with his Spirit and to give him all the gifts He gave to me.

Seeds Sown

 

For years, I've sat with Micah and Sara day after day, night after night telling them of my Jesus. I've read the stories, sung the songs, praying all the while that it would matter. I've asked God time and again to help me live in such a way that they would want a life with Jesus for themselves. What an honor to lead these precious ones to Him.

I now can see the first hint of green peeking above the soil. And I know--my real work has just begun.


See You in Sao Paulo, Part 3

  Click here to read Part 1. Click here to read Part 2.


Fun Fact: Sao Paulo is the largest city in Brazil and the 11th largest city in the world. It's almost the size of NYC and almost twice the size of Rio de Janeiro where the Olympics will be held in a few weeks. 

***


I lay awake in bed, unable to stand it any more. Obviously, Brandon needed my help. "So...has God given you a word for me?"

Silence.

I poked him. "Well?"

Brandon groaned. "A word about what?"

I tried to play it cool. "I don't know...a word about anything."

He was so still, but I could almost hear the whirl of his mental cogs. "Not that I know of."

"Okay then." I rolled over and shut my eyes.

I felt his confusion, but it was late and we were tired so he let it go. 

No answer is still an answer, I reminded myself. If God didn't act, I wouldn't go. Plain and simple. I thought God was prompting me, but maybe He wasn't. I'd been wrong before.

Two days passed. The sun set on March 26, and Brandon hadn't said anything. A significant part of me was relieved. I wouldn't have to leave my kids, my Superman or my comfort zone. I could love Jesus and who He loves right here in north Louisiana. I wouldn't have to go to the trouble of raising funds and getting a passport and defending my decision to judge-y moms like me. I wouldn't have to prep two weeks of meals to feed my family while I was gone. Whew! Bullet dodged.

I hoped Erica wouldn't be too disappointed. I tried to convince myself I wasn't.

On Easter morning, I pushed thoughts of Brazil aside and threw myself into Easter things. I didn't slow down until that night when I went to a home group meeting in West Monroe led by Neil and Mei Powers, Whit Bass and others. (Shout out to my West Monroe peeps!)

I wanted to meet Neil and Mei who had prayed for my healing back in 2013 when things didn't look so good and to relax in God's presence after a busy day. But I wasn't allowed to relax. Which had nothing to do with sharing my testimony and praying for people. That's my idea of a good time.

No. The reason I couldn't relax is that people would not shut. up. about Randy Clark, Global Awakening and Brazil. They had no idea I'd just spent two weeks fasting to find out whether or not I would go. They had no idea I was even considering it. They were just excited about the work God was doing there.

Every time someone mentioned Brazil, etc., it felt as if a pin pricked my heart. Finally, I broke and asked for prayer.

I told everyone how a friend had asked me to go, how I'd fasted for two weeks, about the sign I'd requested, what had happened during the fast and the very important thing which hadn't.

Everyone joined me in prayer that God would move in Brandon's heart within the next few hours if I should go on this particular trip. They never questioned whether or not I should go to Brazil. Just the timing.

Before I left that night, I witnessed God heal a broken tooth on the spot. So how hard could it be for Brandon to encourage me to go?

I arrived home and found Brandon watching TV. I cuddled up next to him on the couch, half-expecting him to say something about Brazil. He took my hand and gave it a squeeze. "How was group?"

"Really good," I said. "We prayed, and God reconstructed a dude's broken tooth."

"Awesome."

"Yeah..."

Apparently, the gold digger rerun was riveting.

As I drifted off to sleep that night, I asked God to give Brandon a dream or a vision or something. If nothing happened before we got out of bed the next morning, the trip wouldn't either. As it was, I was almost two days past the original deadline I'd given God.

(Note: God doesn't always respect your deadline.)

Sunlight streamed through our bedroom window, casting a glow upon our white sheets. Brandon glanced up from his phone and kissed my cheek, scratching me with his whiskers. I waited a long time before speaking. "Do you have a word from the Lord for me?"

Slowly, his eyes traveled to mine. "That's the second time you've asked me that."

"Yes...well?"

"What am I supposed to say?"

I was surprised. I'd really, truly expected something. Oh, well. I stretched, preparing to rise. "That answers my question."

"What question?"

"Whether or not I'm going to Brazil." I then explained the sign I'd asked for during my fast.

A long pause. And he says, "The reason I haven't said anything is because I thought it was already decided you were going."

Really????

Remember the night Tim and Bruce tried to give my trip away? When Tim announced they would help sponsor Erica and another young person to go to Brazil, Brandon assumed Tim was talking about me and it was a done deal. So what that my name was never mentioned. Brandon "knew" I was going before I told him Erica had asked me.

No lie. It's reasoning skills like this that leave me in a constant state of bewilderment. And I'm expected not only to follow said reasoning but to pull it out of thin air.

"Why does my opinion matter anyway?" he asks.

*eye roll* "You're ridiculous. Full disclosure? I wasn't sure I wanted to go, and I needed your help, input and blessing."

He grinned pure mischief. "Full disclosure? Both times you asked me if I had a word from the Lord, I thought of Brazil."


He asked for the day to think and pray. I agreed and took the kids on an outing. I returned that evening, expectant. But in typical Brandon fashion, he wouldn't give me a straight answer until I'd lost my temper for him. (I don't know whether he's an adrenaline junkie or just insane, but the man thinks it's fun to make me angry.)

He fought a grin, then grew serious. "Selfishly, I don't want you to go, but I believe God does. And who am I to stand in His way?" Brandon went on to say he'd been reminded of the word God had given him for 2016--"Trust."

I blinked. This is not the man I married.

Something really big had happened. Something crazy. Something only God could do. The man who'd flipped his lid when I went on a two-night choir tour had blessed a two-week international mission trip. Without any pressure from me. Knowing he'd have two kids to care for in my absence!


Prayer...it's powerful.

***

Pico do Jaragua aerial shot Sau Paulo 2010 by chensiyuan

Erica and I will be gone September 22-October 4, 2016 with a group led by Randy Clark through his organization Global Awakening. Our trip is called “Lighting Fires.” We’ll partner with the local church and engage in “power evangelism,” which is what happens when evangelism meets the miraculous. We’ll be trained, equipped and set loose to carry out the Great Commission of Jesus—
 “And [Jesus] said to them, ‘Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature . . . And these signs will follow those who believe: In my name they will cast out demons . . . they will lay hands on the sick and they will recover.” ~Mark 16:16-18
We'll receive training each morning, do street ministry in the afternoons and participate in evening meetings during which people will receive healing and decide to follow Christ. People are healed every night! Cool, huh?

Just a year ago, I believed the "Missions" chapter of my life might be closed for good. How a girl goes from being a shut-in with an incurable disease to being healthy enough to go on an international mission trip in less than a year, I don't know. But wow. Just...WOW! And yay God!

Erica and I invite you to partner with us financially in the mission to bring the Good News to all the world. Please make all checks payable to ChristSource Ministries, write "Brazil Mission Trip" in the memo, and mail to 301 E. Alabama Ave. Ruston, LA 71270 by July 14. ChristSource is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. Your donation is tax-deductible. If you are unable to support us financially, please partner with us through prayer. Thank you!






See You in Sao Paulo, Part 2


Click here to read Part 1.

 View of Sao Paulo
View of Sao Paulo
Image by Kalexander2010 via Flickr Creative Commons

It was nearly midnight when Brandon and I drove through Farmerville on our way home from the Siegmunds'. I let the words fall softly. As if speaking them too loudly might shatter the small-town quiet and any possibility there was of going. "Just so you know...Erica asked me to go with her to Brazil."

He said nothing. I said nothing else. No decision had to be made until the end of March, so I didn't mention the trip again.

We left a few days later for a week in Branson with the family. While away, I came to two realizations:

First, I wouldn't go if Brandon didn't fully support the trip. Reluctant consent wouldn't satisfy me. I refused to twist his arm or wrestle him down with the force of my will. He'd have to approve my going. Bless it.

And that was almost impossible. He'd always taken my overnight absences as a personal affront. Furthermore, I'd broken trust in the past, so him encouraging me to leave the country for two weeks would require an act of God.

Second, I wasn't sure it was right to go. Let me explain.

  • I have this thing about wasting church resources on sending American missionaries to foreign countries to do things locals should be doing. To put it mildly, it annoys me. Don't spend thousands of dollars to fly across the world and steal construction and babysitting jobs from the people you're supposedly helping. Send the money. Equip the missionaries. Put the locals to work. The end. Not all "mission trips" look like this, but too many of them do.
  • I'm against evangelizing an area only to abandon it days later. Again, it's a waste of resources because there's no one left behind to sustain a move of God. I can't take part in anything of the sort in good conscience. Been there. Done that. Threw away the t-shirt. 
  • Confession: In the past, I've judged mothers who leave the mission field at home to go to the mission field abroad. My kids are the most important disciples God will ever assign to me. I'm called to steward my time with them well. Is it right to leave them to serve people I'll never see again?
  • Finally, to go would be to leave others with the burden of caring for my kids. Could I ask such a thing after all they'd done for me while I was sick?

On March 13, I began a two week fast to seek God's heart on the matter because--ultimately--His opinion is the only one that carries real weight.

I asked God to give me assurance about going in the form of the most impossible thing I could think of--that my husband, Brandon Keaster, would not only allow but encourage me to go to Brazil without me making any attempt to convince him that he should. If God wanted me to go, He'd have to tell B, and He'd have to do it by March 26, which was the day Global Awakening began accepting applications for the trip.

I prayed to this effect day after day. Brazil was never mentioned by either of us.

One night near the middle of the fast, I'd almost convinced myself that God wasn't acting because it was wrong for me to leave the kids. Maybe I was sinning by even entertaining the thought. (Mom guilt is no joke.) And even if I wasn't, did I want to leave my kids for two weeks? (No.) Could I?

My eyes watered at the thought. I remembered how much those 10 days in Minnesota hurt.

I sat down with Micah and Sara at bedtime and opened the Bible to our place in the book of Mark (10:23-31). After a brief note from Jesus about how all things are possible with God, verses 29-30 read--

So Jesus answered and said, "Assuredly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My sake and the gospel's, who shall not receive a hundredfold now in this time--houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions--and in the age to come, eternal life..."

Tears welled in my eyes. Jesus answered the concerns of my heart right out of his word in the exact moment of my need.

Afterward, I learned more about the kind of work Erica and I would be doing in Brazil. We'd partner with the local church to preach the gospel and pray for the sick. There would be no job stealing from the natives. I discovered Randy Clark isn't a one hit wonder kind of guy. His ministry, Global Awakening, has established roots in Brazil. Finally, I spoke with my parents, in-laws and grandmother. They agreed to help with the kids if God gave me the sign I asked for.

Only one thing remained. If Brandon woke one morning from a dream in which clouds parted, the sun shone, and a booming voice told him to ship me off to Brazil for two weeks, I knew the money would come. Money was a non-thing compared to what I'd asked.

But the days tripped along, one after another and Brandon said nothing.

To be continued... 


Erica and I will be in Sao Paulo, Brazil September 22-October 4, 2016 with a team led by Randy Clark through his organization, Global Awakening. We invite you to partner with us financially in the mission to bring the Good News to all the world. Please make all checks payable to ChristSource Ministries, write "Brazil Mission Trip" in the memo, and mail to 301 E. Alabama Ave. Ruston, LA 71270 by July 14. ChristSource is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. Your donation is tax-deductible. If you are unable to support us financially, please partner with us through prayer. Thank you!