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!

See You in Sao Paulo, Part 1



In less than three months, I'll put this bad boy to good use. On September 22, 2016, I fly to Sao Paulo, Brazil. The whole thing is still so crazy to me. How does a girl go from being a shut-in with an incurable disease to flying out of the country to tell people about the goodness of God in less than a year?

If you've been reading a while, you know part of the story. Today, I want to share the rest of it because it's a story worth telling. But it'll take more than one post.


"To love is to be vulnerable..." C. S. Lewis, The Four Loves


I can't talk about Brazil without first talking about my friend, Erica Weller.

I'll begin by saying I did not plan on this friendship.

Friendship is hard for me. I learn to love people and they leave. Three of my best friends live out of state. And after Jenny...well...I wasn't really looking to let someone new get that close again. But God has a way of obliterating our attempts at self-protection and giving us something better.

Erica was instrumental in the story of my healing. The first time I met her (November 8, 2015) God gave her a very personal word for me through the story of the woman with the bleeding issue.

I'll never forget how nervous she was. She wiped sweaty palms on her jeans, took a deep breath, and told me I had that woman's faith--at a time I felt too tired to have that woman's faith or anyone else's--and prophesied that I would be healed "at the molecular level."

Something happens when someone speaks a word given to them by the Holy Spirit and the person the word is for receives it.

A few weeks later during my prayer session, Erica witnessed the moment she had prophesied.

"God places the lonely in families; he sets the prisoners free and gives them joy." Psalm 68:6

 

I fell hard and fast for the new family that helped rescue me and took me in. Each person has a special, unique place in my heart and I can't talk about how much I love them without getting weepy, so mostly I don't. I just love them. But there was a locked up room inside of me I never intended to give anyone access to again. Not even them.

And like an idiot, I invited Erica out for coffee. I planned for a 1-2 hour visit. We were there 4 hours.

When it was past time to leave, she suddenly looked as nervous as she had the night we met. "You know how you said you wish you could see blind and deaf people healed and people raised from the dead and all that?"

I nodded. My healing had taught me the true meaning of the word "impossible" is "God's playground," and I was ready to see more of it.

"Why don't you come on a mission trip to Brazil with me where that kind of stuff happens every night?"

I nearly fell out of my chair. At once, I was slammed with intense longing, a long list of reasons it would never work out and a gentle electric pulse which washed over my skin as if to say, "Listen. Take her seriously. This is important."

The trip would last two weeks and would cost $3,400. Our group would help support us, but couldn't bear the full financial burden of us both. 

I promised to think and pray about it, but warned her that I'm not fond of leaving my children, that money was an issue and Brandon wasn't likely to go for it. And by "not likely to go for it" I meant "no way would he go for it."

I didn't breathe a word to him when I arrived home that night. I'd been married long enough to know timing was important. 

That time my friends tried to give my trip away...


The next night, Brandon attended the Siegmunds' group with me. Tim, Erica's dad, asked me about the trip. I told him to keep his mouth shut because I hadn't talked to B. Then during the meeting he proceeds to offer an open invitation to "any young person" who would like to go. Dude was trying to give my trip away before I'd even had a chance to mention it to my husband!!!

Really??? 

If that weren't enough, he announces it again after worship while we were all standing in the kitchen grazing. Then Bruce pipes up and tries to give my trip to one of the college guys who comes sometimes. 

 Again...really???

While said college guy would be a wonderful choice, it was my trip. (Never mind that I had no logical reason to feel so territorial.)

I waited for Brandon to step out of the room and said under my breath--just loud enough for the people standing closest to me to hear--"I'm going to Brazil."

I had no idea how it would work out or even whether or not I really wanted to go, but somehow I knew what I'd said was true.



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!

Baptized in the Buffalo River


For nearly 20 years, I canoed the Buffalo River almost every May/early June--usually the week after Memorial Day--until my illness made an apparent end of the tradition. My last trip was in 2011. That year a long-time family friend died on the river--an event which hurt me in a way I can't quite explain.

The Vision


My family and I made plans to float last year. That trip was supposed to be a sort of redemption, and I was looking forward to it, sick and all.

A few days before we left, the Lord gave me a vision during my time with him. I saw myself baptized in the Buffalo River. By Brandon.

I knew the vision wasn't purely symbolic. It was something God wanted me to do. But in typical Melissa fashion, I argued with him.

"That's crazy. I'm not doing that."
*Nudge*
"Why? I've already been baptized. Twice."
*Nudge*
"It's weird. It doesn't make sense."
*Nudge*
"That water's cold, God. And you know how I react to the cold."
*A warm flood of peace*

Then I recalled Namaan. The leper who was healed by dipping in the Jordan seven times. Who wouldn't do it at first because it seemed too strange. And then like Peter I exclaimed, "Okay! I'll do it! Feet, hands, head and all!"

But the rains didn't stop last year and the river "came a flood." No one was allowed on. Basically, last year's trip was the story of the previous four years. I remember my disappointment. Another to add to the pile.

"Next year," I said to comfort myself.

Little did I know I'd experience radical, miraculous healing in every part of my being a few months later.

Making Sense of What I Saw


I have this insatiable drive to understand things. Even things I know are mystery.

Since the vision came, I've been trying to reason out why God would want me to be baptized again. Why, God? Why now? Why here? Why this way?

I mean, I've always been a believer. I can't remember a time in which I didn't love God or believe in Jesus. Belief has been a constant in my life.

That being said, there has been a seismic shift in my faith in the past few years. No one who knows me well could miss it. The entire landscape has changed. Everything looks different because of what's happened underneath the surface. But isn't that what's supposed to happen in times of intense sanctification?

Is the baptism some kind of symbol of redemption? To wash away the rubble of the last few years? Why be baptized in the Buffalo River by Brandon with only a handful of witnesses as opposed to in a church before a congregation by a pastor? I have several pastors in my life. Why not have one of them do it?

Washed in the Water of the Word

In search of answers, I plunged into the Word and early Church history. What I found is that the early Church treats baptism very differently than people of my church tradition.

Throughout the years, I've heard the metaphor that baptism is like a wedding ring. "The ring doesn't make you married. It's just a symbol of the marriage that's already happened."

After my research, I find the explanation a little...insipid.

Keeping within the marriage metaphor, I would like to submit the idea that baptism is less like a wedding ring, which is a mere symbol of marriage, and more like the marriage ceremony itself, which is more like a sign. A sign defined as a visible expression of a spiritual reality. Something to help we humans understand something important is happening in the spiritual realm.

A ceremony doesn't make you married any more than baptism makes you a Christian, but it's definitely something more than a symbolic bauble. In a marriage ceremony, something real happens. Vows--whether verbal or non-verbal--are exchanged between husband and wife, the couple and God, and the couple and the community. The action seals the reality.

The way I see it, baptism isn't a wedding ring. It's the wedding itself.

Why I Believe This Way:


1) Old Testament law presents us with ceremonies which point to ultimate salvation in Jesus Christ. These ceremonies include ritual washing in order to be "clean." Proselytes were initiated into the Jewish people by baptism as a symbol of "cleanness." Ezekiel  mentions a washing for cleansing which God performs as a sign of His covenant with his people (16:6-14). As part of the law, symbols are important. God gave them to us to help us recognize the Christ. But in Matthew 15, Jesus clearly states what goes on in the heart is far more important than the outward symbol.

(Unfortunately), we all know people who have run around on their spouses with their wedding rings on. That's what the Pharisees in Jesus' day were trying to do. They looked married but didn't act like it, which is why John the Baptist threw a hissy fit when the Pharisees came to be baptized in Matthew 3. They wanted to wear the ring without making the commitment.

2) Scripture is clear that believer's baptism is categorically different from Old Testament symbols. For example, the flood in Noah's day is the accompanying antitype to baptism (1 Peter 3:18-22). Noah and his family were "saved through water."

We know from Romans 10 that baptism isn't a prerequisite for salvation, but it has to be more than a simple symbol. 1 Peter 3:21 says, "There is also an antitype [of Noah's ark] which now saves us--baptism (not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God), through the resurrection of Jesus Christ..."

According to scripture, baptism isn't the means of salvation, and yet it saves us by answer of a good conscience toward God--a mysterious paradox which kind of makes my brain explode.

3) Baptism wasn't considered optional in the early Church. You don't see believers professing without baptism. It goes hand in hand.

4) In early Church tradition, baptism was a very big deal. New believers weren't immediately baptized. Baptism was an initiation into the Church which took place some time after the believer professed faith in Christ. For Romans, to be baptized was treason. The act was a statement that they were willing to die for their faith.

Before believers were baptized, they were educated in the Christian faith and received deliverance ministry. Time tested their commitment. The primary reason this practice was lost is due to infant baptism, which I don't care to argue for or against here. (For more information, read McDonnell and Montague's Christian Initiation and Baptism in the Holy Spirit: Evidence from the First Eight Centuries.)

5) John the Baptist described his baptism as a baptism of repentance--the action of turning from sin toward God, resulting in forgiveness. Baptism for the forgiveness of sins is already something more than Old Testament washing, and John says, "I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance, but [Jesus] who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire" (Matthew 3:11).

I believe this verse indicates something major is happening at the moment of baptism. Something invisible to us and very visible in the spiritual realm.


My Conclusions

 

I concluded from my research that my baptism was about something more than redemption. I believed something would happen at the moment of my baptism. I wasn't sure what. I'm still not entirely sure. But here are a few of my thoughts:



1) It was about redemption.

In the years since my last trip, I went through fire and water, but God brought me out to rich fulfillment (Ps. 66:12).

If you look at the background in the photo, you see signs of a flood. The flood that kept me from being baptized last year. Devastation that swept away everything which wasn't firmly rooted in the soil.

When we came to this place on the river, the Holy Spirit leapt inside of me. I knew it. I'd seen it. Had there been no flood, this picture would be the exact match of what I saw in the vision last year.

In my life, had there been no flood, there would've been no baptism. Because there would've been no death. And without death, there's no resurrection.



2) In that moment, I fully identified with Christ.

I identified with him in a way I couldn't at ages 6 and 10. I took on his name. I took on his person. I made a cosmic declaration--"For better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, forsaking all others. Even unto death."

In short, I got married.





3) He laid me low and raised me up something new (2 Cor. 5:17).

Y'all, I'm different. I'm alive in a way I've never been. Let the whole world know. I. am. new.




4) When my Superman baptized me, I received his blessing upon my ministry. 

When I first told Brandon he was going to baptize me--see how I did that?--he looked at me as if I'd lost my mind. "Me? Baptize you?" he asked.

Silly boy. He still has no idea how powerful his spiritual authority is. He has no idea how his words sink into my skin. How his gospel love saves me every day. How his prayers change the whole atmosphere of our home. How when he prays for me and the kids, things happen.

God is calling me to things bigger than either of us. If I'm going to do them, I need more than Brandon's reluctant approval. I need his blessing. It isn't optional.

 (Don't you just love Sara's enthusiasm in the background? So sweet!)

Here's the bottom line--I believe God led me to do this in this way, and I obeyed. Period. The end. At the end of the day, I can only guess at the reasons he wanted it done. 

I felt his approval as I rose up out of that icy water, and I now feel ready for this next season of my life. Whatever it looks like. 

P.S. The trip was loads of fun, by the way. Truly, the Lord is restoring the years the locusts have eaten (Joel 2:25). 




My little handsome.

"Dis is da best day eva!"
"I'm bow-wed." (I'm bored.)

It had been too long. Major thanks to Superman who let me fish all day while he paddled. 
I caught a good one, y'all. And I'm not talking about the fish. 
Brandon taught me to always give the first fish of the day a smooch. 
That day I caught 5 smallmouth and 3 sunfish. Fun day!







Just a Spoonful of Peanut Butter

Peanuts
Original Image by Daniella Segura via Flickr Creative Commons


These little buggers may look like benign legumes to you, but something inside me twinges when I look at this picture. Even now. 

I stopped eating peanut products in April 2012 when my health was spiraling out of control. Back then, everything I ate brought on an allergic-type reaction. These reactions were growing stronger and stronger, and peanuts carried a reputation. Instinct told me to stay away. 

Peanut butter remained a staple in our home until April 2013. I was on a “make aaaaaaall the things” kick and decided to try my hand at making peanut butter—trans-fat and corn syrup free. 

I soaked my peanuts for the recommended 12 or so hours. Then I slow-roasted them in the oven for 24 more hours. Once they were thoroughly dried, I threw them into the Ninja with coconut oil, salt, and honey and let her whirl. But something happened.

The notch at the top of the blade didn’t center the lid. The force with which the blade was spinning caused the notch to cut into the lid and throw hot bits of plastic into the peanut butter. By the time I realized what was happening, so much plastic had mingled in, there was nothing to do but throw it all out. 

I cried.

As 36 hours of work and roughly $20 of product went into the trash, I noticed my ears were itching. I scratched them as well as I could and went about my business. 

Later that evening, I opened the trash can to throw something away. I pressed down, smelling peanuts. The reaction was instantaneous. 

My throat swelled. I began wheezing and coughing. I couldn’t think or see straight. I don’t remember getting into the bed.

In the flashes of memory I do recall, I’m lying in bed in our dark bedroom. My throat feels thick and hot. It’s hard to breathe. Brandon holds my hand murmuring pleas. I know I may not live, but I’m peaceful. If I die in that dark room, I’ll wake in a sea of Light. 

There’s a thermometer. Brandon takes my temperature and tells me my body temp is 94 degrees. He warns me if I lose consciousness, he’ll give me Epi and take me to the hospital. He knows I hate Epi. And hospitals. 

He makes me talk to him. I want him to leave me alone. Let me drift. But he’s so scared. The fear in his voice pulls me back. I return to myself. 

Not for me. Not for the kids. For him. 

I don’t remember rallying. I have no recollection of what else transpired that night. I only remember how awful I felt the days after. Like I’d been hit by a truck. 

After that, peanuts were banned from the house.

A year later, I had another near-fatal reaction after an accidental exposure to trace peanut particles. I wanted to treat the kids to frozen custard. We went through the Eskamoe's drive-thru. I was in the passenger seat. The reaction wasn’t as fast this time. 

We drove home. When I stepped out of the car, my legs didn’t feel right. My heart was working too hard. My head went fuzzy. And then my throat tightened. I almost fainted before I made it to the bed. 

This time, Brandon performed our at-home rescue treatment (EDT) Dr. Carolyne Yakaboski had discovered and taught us the previous summer. I didn’t get quite as bad this time around, but was down nearly a week afterward. 

What was alarming was the infinitesimal amount of peanut that had triggered such a strong response. 

We became super cautious. Whenever the kids came home with candy, B searched them with TSA standard scrutiny. Micah’s teachers probably thought we were half-mad with some of our requests. But I assumed a c’est la vie attitude about it all because—what else was there to do? 

I had one other reaction to trace peanut particles in May 2015. That was my last anaphylactic reaction ever. 

God began healing me in November 2015 after a miraculous moment in a prayer session. Over the next few weeks, I tested one trigger after another

In early January, I had a mild reaction after breathing in peanut particles. B brought the reaction under control with minimal effort and miraculous speed, but the old trauma was relived. Even after I had successfully tested all the old foods that were once dangerous to me, I continued to avoid peanuts.  

Enter Sara, my four-year-old daughter. 


A couple of weeks ago, I had a new friend over. I told the story of how God miraculously healed me, finishing with, “I can go wherever I want now. I eat just about everything. Except for peanuts. I’m still a little scared of peanuts.”

Sara dropped her crayon and turned to face me. 

“Why are you scared of peanuts, Mama? Der just peanuts, and Jesus healed you. You should just go over to Grandma and Pops’ and eat some. I don’t understand why you’re scared. You’re not scared of anything.”

I blinked. 

The kids had been coloring. I had no idea they were even listening, much less attentively. But let me tell you something—I had no. doubt. the Holy Spirit had spoken to me through my child. 

When I picked my jaw off the floor, I said, “Well…maybe I will.”

But see…there was still the trauma to deal with. Fortunately, I had the tools. Ever since my prayer session last November, I've implemented the techniques to address issues of forgiveness and emotional trauma whenever they arise.

Two days later, I recalled the night I lay dying in my dark bedroom. I asked Jesus to show me where he was. He appeared at Brandon’s side. Jesus knelt with him, a hand on his shoulder. 

I smiled. I knew he’d been there. 

I asked Jesus for the lie I believed about that situation. He said nothing.
I asked for the truth. Silence.
“So what do you want me to do?”

Jesus hands me a jar of Peter Pan peanut butter. Red label.

Okay, then. 

As instructed, I walk over to “Grandma and Pops’.” What do they have in their pantry? Red-labeled Peter Pan peanut butter. Enough for one spoonful.

The kids weren’t around, which was good. If something went wrong, I didn’t want them to know. Especially little Sara. But I had enough faith to walk across the yard without rescue medication and to ask Mom to video my little experiment. 

I opened the peanut butter jar and sniffed. Nothing happened. Good sign.
I scooped a generous helping into the spoon, scraping the sides.
Go big or go home, right?

I silently freaked as I drew the spoon up to my mouth, then opened wide. 

This is what happened:



So yeah...I eat peanut products now. The thing that almost killed me--more than once--I eat.

Someone recently asked me how I had the courage to do it. I wouldn't have without the encouragement of the Holy Spirit through my daughter combined with the encouragement of Jesus.

Without God's help, it would've been too scary. While my daughter may have delusions of grandeur about my supposed fearlessness, I can assure you--I feel fear just like everyone else. Lots of it. It just doesn't control me anymore.

I ate a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for dinner this week. It was delicious. 

Jesus still heals, y'all. Never doubt it. 

A Breakup Letter to Fear

 journals
Original Image by Meagan via Flickr Creative Commons

This month, I taught a journaling class to the women of Project 41's Esther's Academy. I'm unlikely to forget the experience.

These girls are amazing--a visible testimony of the power of Jesus Christ to transform a life.

In the brief time I've known them, they've become my heroes. Though aware they're still deep in process, they continue to lean into Jesus day after day. In the face of failure, discouragement, and fear of the unknown, they continue to walk in victory.

You don't often encounter courage like theirs.

Almost from Day One, they allowed me to participate in their struggles, hangups, and hardships. Who does that?

Their vulnerability inspired my own. I committed myself to complete each assignment along with them and share a little of what I'd written at each class.

Two weeks ago, I asked them to write a letter. For therapeutic purposes.

They chose the recipient. The letter could be addressed to a friend or enemy--living or deceased. It could be to God or to a part of themselves--past, present, or future.

The chief requirement was honesty. Grit.

I think I struggled with my letter more than they did. I couldn't decide on who to write it to. Who I needed to write it to.

So I asked the Lord about it.

Over the course of the week, through various circumstances, He revealed a part of myself I thought we'd handled.

In a way, we had handled it. It no longer mastered me, but it was still there.

Fear. 

A year ago, I physically trembled every time I stepped outside. Back then, the whole world seemed out to get me. And it kind of was. Wasps, ants, heat, cold, random crop dusters loosing herbicides over nearby fields. So many things...

My case of "the shakes" ended several months ago. Then the Lord further dealt with my fear during my prayer session. But apparently, it left behind a few personal belongings in the nightstand drawer so we'd have an excuse to see each other again.

So I wrote Fear a breakup letter the morning before class. I'm good at breakup letters.

(Fun fact: I once wrote a breakup letter for a friend of mine. The recipient was my husband. We started dating six months later.)



Dear To Fear:

We've been together a long time, but you haven't been a very good friend. You've bullied me until I'm afraid of everything. Even things I used to enjoy.

I still can't relax when I go outside. I'm too busy thinking about where the wasps are. I want to go outside and not think about blankety-blank wasps!

I want to write without neurosis. To imagine teaching again without feeling nauseated. To speak when the Spirit leads without fear of being wrong. To obey God about leading worship without flashbacks to every musical mistake I've ever made. Without worrying that people won't like my voice because it's different than the current preferred style.

Thanks to you, I'm afraid to fail, afraid to succeed, afraid to be noticed, and afraid to be ignored. I am a hot, crazy mess.

I'm tired of trying to please you. You set impossible standards and never stop raising the bar. In short--you're a bitch, and I don't like you.

So go. We're done. I'm pretty committed to this whole God thing, in case you haven't noticed. I love Him. I'm in love. And He loves me--succeed or fail. He fulfilled every standard you've set. Neither performance nor popularity define me. I'm His. His is who I am.

Consider this my resistance. I'm already submitted to God. All that's left is for you to flee. I command you to go in Jesus' name.

Sincerely,
Melissa K.



Now, you may write this off as a silly exercise. But let me tell you what's happened since I wrote this thang:


  • I'm writing again. Not my novel, but I'm writing.
  • I've talked to my small group leader about leading worship. 
  • I've reached out to a friend who's willing to teach me how to accompany praise and worship choruses. I hope to meet with her next week and start leading worship this summer.
  • I feel easier about the idea of teaching music again if that's where God leads me.
  • I'm not constantly looking for wasps when I go outside. Sometimes, I don't think of them at all.
  • The chronic cold and sinus issues I've had for two months dried up the day I wrote that letter. 

Coincidence? Make of it what you will. In the meantime, I'm enjoying the extra drawer space. 







Missed Kicks, Flower-Pickers, and Dingbats

I was 17 years old when I "surrendered to the ministry." 

My reformed friends have no idea what I'm talking about.

This was a Baptist kid thing. And as a Baptist and a female, my options were limited. I could either be a missionary, a Sunday school teacher, or a minister of women. (Deaconesses and lady preachers are the unicorns of the Baptist church.)

I was under the impression you had to a be a professional Christian to really be used by God. I had yet to learn that God uses mothers and fathers, teachers and artists, plumbers and computer engineers, businessmen and farmers to advance his kingdom.

In my mind, you were either a star player or a flower-picker. There was no in-between.

A lot of us think this way, which is why us ordinary folk are content to stroll along the outskirts of the action. Leave the SportsCenter highlights to the pros. Am I right?

Don't answer. It was a rhetorical question.

Last Saturday, I watched my son play his first soccer game. I honestly thought he'd be a flower picker.

Just keeping it real. He's new to the sport and--like his mama--he kinda lives in his own little world most of the time. And well...doesn't he look like a flower picker to you?




Imagine my surprise when the whistle blew and I saw this...


I never thought I'd be that mom, but I was jumping up and down, clapping, and whooping. Not because he scored a goal. He didn't. And not because he got it all right. He didn't (see above photo). But because he threw himself into the fray.

I wasn't nearly as proud of Micah's success as I was his effort. His willingness to try. Did I care that he missed the ball on a couple of kicks? No! I had the time of my life watching him miss those kicks.



May I submit that God feels the same way about us? And that maybe he has a way of using our missed kicks?

As I mentioned before, I'm a flower-picker type. A frequent flyer to La-La Land. And don't ask me to multitask. More often than not, it goes wrong.

I know, I know...women are supposed to be phenomenal multitaskers. Blah, blah, blah. Yeah...no.

Last week, I attended Project 41's monthly Worship Night. It was an amazing night. I just love it when the Holy Spirit drops. There's a holy weight to the air. A sweetness in the atmosphere. It's good stuff.

Anyway, one of the worship leaders dedicated a song to "two very special ladies" and encouraged us all to sit back and soak it in. But as I closed my eyes and settled back onto the sofa, my friend nudged me and asked me to pray for her headache. I was happy to.

But I could only give the song a half ear at best. For whatever reason, the song I heard was "Just a Closer Walk with Thee."

My friend's headache improved, but hadn't completely gone away when we moved into a time of prayer. So I announced her headache to the group. (Beware of being my friend.)

She sat in the chair in the center of the room, and I took a front row seat from which I watched God love on her through the people around her.


In the midst of the outpouring, I had a vision of Jesus walking her through a garden, pointing out the flowers, showing her how beautiful they were. With the vision, he gave me a song to sing for her.

My pulse raced and heart pounded. I may be a singer, but this kind of thing always makes me nervous. So I asked everyone to join me as I sang, "In the Garden."

The following day, my friend thanked me for the song. She said, "When they sang it the first time, I wasn't sure it was for me. I thought they meant two other ladies. But when you sang it, God showed me it was for me."

I blinked. Wait, whaaaa????

I had no idea the worship leaders had already sung that song. At first, I argued with her. "They sang 'Just a Closer Walk with Thee,' not 'In the Garden.'"

A third friend and the worship leader who'd led the song confirmed it. With droll grins.

Nope. "In the Garden."

Awkward. All I could do was laugh. I can be such a dingbat. 

I'd committed the musical equivalent of a missed kick. (A difficult thing for a musician.) But that "missed kick" made my friend feel more loved than she would've felt otherwise.

There are a lot of ways to live surrendered to the ministry. 

 

The key is to live more surrendered to God than to self. To be more afraid of someone missing out on God's love than of looking like an idiot.

Some of us are star players who get paid to score goals and get kicked in the shins. Most of us...aren't. I'm not. But that doesn't mean I should leave all the work to the pros. We're a body. A team. There's a place for us all.

Which means there's a place for flower-pickers, too. Pick flowers to the glory of God! There's a time and a place for that ministry. I should know. Just be ready for the ball when God sends it your way.

Engage. Take risks. You may miss a few kicks, but God is an ever-proud papa. He cheers every effort in His name. You may be a dingbat, but His laughter is kind. And you can trust Him to turn even your failures for good.

Uncaged


"He placed me in a little cage,
Away from gardens fair;
But I must sing the sweetest song,
Because He placed me there.
Not beat my wings against the cage,
If it's my Maker's will;
But raise my voice to heaven's gates,
and sing the louder still."

Last Christmas, Mom gave me this beautiful image, painted by our talented cousin Lisa Wilkes. I was still a shut-in when Lisa finished it, but she refused to paint the bird in a cage. She wanted me free. What a lovely, prophetic gift.

Today, this little bird is free indeed, which was her Maker's will all along. Mysteriously...paradoxically, my cage was the key to my freedom. (Think Hosea 2.)

Therefore, behold,
I will hedge up your way with thorns,
And wall her in,
So that she cannot find her paths.
She will chase her lovers,
But not overtake them;
Yes, she will seek them, but not find them.
Then she will say,
‘I will go and return to my first husband,
For then it was better for me than now.'

My heart was a harlot if there ever was one. But--thanks be--God is a determined lover. And His crazy, stubborn love is freedom. 

Hessed love taught me to fly. 

So, if you were wondering--no, I wasn't frightened away. You don't survive what I have to turn tail and hide in a corner when people don't like what you say. I've just been...busy.

Busy living life. 
Having fun. 
Eating in restaurants. 


That's right. I'm eating corn chips. 
With high-histamine, nightshady salsa.

Vacationing with the fam.
 
 We saw Moses at the Sight and Sound Theater. Great show!
I ate the roasted almonds. Mostly because I could. 
But also because of the smell. Mmmmm.....

Shopping. Check my $2.40 find from Banana Republic. That's right--two dollars and forty cents. *drops mic*
(That duck head sticking out of mine...*snort*)

*picks mic back up*
Dating my Superman. 
Doing fun stuff with the kids and crying like a baby because I can. 
Girls' night. (Who am I?)
Prayer group. 
Daily adventures with Jesus. 

I'll share one of my recent favorites. But first, a little backstory...

During my illness, pain was a significant problem for me. I had arthritis, fibromyalgia, and carpal tunnel, which stole any joy I took in playing the piano. So I stopped. My piano has stood mostly silent for the past few years, serving as little more than a fixture to remind me of times gone by.

Lately, quiet calls summon me back to music, most of which I've been able to muffle with practiced excuses--
"That's something I used to do."
"That was my old life."
"It's been four years, and I wasn't all that great to begin with."
"I've lost my dexterity."
"I want to focus on writing now." 

Which, of course, translates into, "I'm scared to death I'll fail." 

But when Mom came to me on behalf of a friend whose mother had just died, a friend who'd prayed for me over the years, my excuses didn't matter. Besides, if I didn't step in, my sick dad and has-never-sung-for-a-crowd-in-her-life mother would be left to sing a duet to canned music, and I couldn't have that. 

So I dusted off the keys. Opened a hymnal. And lo and behold, my brain recalled the old language. My hands remembered what to do. What's more, I managed to sing and play at the same time. 

Miracles happen every day, folks.

On the ride to Winnsboro, I tried not to think of past funeral performance debacles. The words of a former professor echoed in my mind--"Music is a service profession."  

This is service, not performance. It's an expression of love, not a reflection on myself.

We arrived 15 minutes before go time, which in music world is the same thing as arriving late, and were ushered into a small, enclosed room, invisible to the attendees. I sighed relief. 

Two reasons:
1) Singing in the face of grief is hard for me. I just...can't. I'm too empathetic to keep it together.
2) I prefer invisible service. Nothing says, "I love you" quite like doing something for someone that no one else knows about. Which I suppose I'm ruining now...

Oh, well. I have a point.

We all served above our abilities. I hadn't accompanied anyone since 2011 and I played...well. Not perfect, but well. Mom has never sung so beautifully in her life. Dad's cold? Helped him sing the strongest bass line he's managed since his neck surgery several years ago. And God surprised us with a gift. The funeral director who oversaw the music is an outstanding tenor. He sang along with us.

Y'all, God isn't looking for professionals; He's looking for people to say "yes." In our weakness, He shows Himself strong.

On the way home, I felt God smile, pat my head, and say, "Good job, Baby Girl." 
I live for that, just so you know.

An update:

 

These days I eat what I want and do what I want. I'm medication free. My pain's gone. My energy's back. Most nights, I sleep like a baby. And I *ahem* use the bathroom like a normal person now.  

Brandon's in a fun season. I love watching him grow and exercise his faith. Second to being God's child, being Brandon's wife is the highest honor I enjoy on earth. 

I plan to get back to writing--the dollar-earning variety--soon. I'm still trying to figure out where it fits with the rest of my responsibilities. But I'm determined to give this writing career thing a real shot before I agree to head back to the classroom. Which means I have to sell a few books by this time next year. So yeah...feel free to peer pressure me back into the habit. I'm still debating whether I should work on my short story collection or my novel. I don't feel there's a wrong choice, but there might be a more strategic one.

Pretty soon, I'll move my blog to my own domain. You can support me by subscribing and sharing when I do. 

For the month of April, I'm teaching a journaling class for Project 41's Esther's Academy. Enjoying that. Love the awesome women in the program. After the class ends, I'll focus on developing the prayer ministry for P41 and nurturing my friendships with the women. 

I fall more in love with my new family all the time. When I think of the gift God has given me in them, I get weepy. Every time. Two of the women have become good friends of mine. I'll travel to Brazil with one of them in September. The Lord has called me to short term international mission work for the first time in 16 years. I'm thrilled and terrified. 

But ya know...that's life with Jesus. In or out of the cage.



 

Here for the Comments--My Response to the Response to My Food Journey Miracle Post

My recent post about my struggle with food received an overwhelming response. Not all of it positive.

I posted my story in the mast cell groups on Facebook. While most who took the time to read were encouraged and/or happy for me, some just weren't.

I don't blame them. Not at all.

Mastocytosis/Mast Cell Activation Disease affects every aspect of human life. There's no square inch it doesn't attempt to claim. To make matters worse, there's no cure, so it's a disease without much hope. Outside of Jesus, anyway.

And let's face it, Jesus causes trouble wherever he goes.

I thought I'd address a few of the comments made, not because I believe the people who made them will read my response but because you may need to. Some of the questions the comments imply may resonate with you. 

And deep down, who doesn't love a good Facebook debate?



The Comments


"I can't believe I wasted time reading this"


As someone who has battled MCAD, this comment translated as, "I came here looking for real hope, and you gave me a fairy tale." Do you feel the despair in that? Doesn't your heart break just a little? Mine does. 


To this commenter, I would offer this quote by G. K. Chesterton: "Fairy tales are more than true; not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us dragons can be beaten." 

Jesus slayed the ultimate dragon when he gave his life on the cross. His life was for us, and His life makes us whole. In mind, body, and spirit. God is on mission to redeem it all.


"Unless you have a disease that can be cured by...science...we are all stuck with mast cell. Some people needs their meds to live. This gives false and dangerous hope to people. Unbelievable... I have seen firsthand what a supposed cure can do folks. Putting the word cure on an illness known to be incurable except for periods of remissions can and does cause false hope. Wording is everything. There was no disclaimer...only stating cure. If anyone and I include myself in this.. Wants to say what is helping them as far as diet, supplements Et al then cool, but, unless it has been medically verified as a cure with accompanying information this becomes another blog with the supposed miracle cure. As a scientist, I aware people for reasons still poorly understood can heal. Hope is good. Proclaiming you have a cure without science not so much"


I agree--"wording is everything"--though even the best of us get it wrong from time to time. But the careful reader will notice I never used the word "cure" in my story. Rather, I spoke of healing. Why? Because I want to be clear. While medication, diet, and lifestyle modifications helped, these things did not end my disease. Jesus did. He healed me.


"I'd like to give my view on this as an atheist (and I know a lot of you are already placing labels on me for using that word, but please do not prejudge). I do not believe in prayer or a supreme deity that has the ability to heal us....but...I do believe that prayer can certainly be viewed as a form of meditation and there has been verifiable scientific study done on the effects that meditation has on the body. The most recent National Geographic has an article on the mind body effects of being in nature...scientific data. Including changes in EEG brain waves and drastic reduction in cortisol levels in the body. Doctors are actually writing "prescriptions" to patients to spend time in a natural setting for healing purposes. From my own personal experience, I can slow my heart rate purely by relaxing my body (I suffer from SVTs) and to some extent slow the progression of Mast Cell attacks the same way. This has been seen by multiple ER docs while I was hooked up to monitors. Then there is the whole epigenetics issue. Scientists have shown that these switches can flip back and forth quickly to stimuli and rapidly affect how our body reacts...or over reacts. She is not claiming to have been healed overnight. Nor did she do nothing but pray, she also modified her diet and tried other avenues of improving her symptoms. I believe placing this is the realm of religion is what is bothering some of you, but if you look deeper and place what she is saying in a more scientific framework, maybe you can understand better..."

I appreciate this person for coming to my defense. Truly. She was kind when others were not. Elsewhere, she chastened those who left--in her words--"incredibly rude comments," some of which were deleted by the moderator. That being said, we aren't on the same page. 

2015 was a rough year for me. Though I continued to lean into the Lord day after day, my thoughts weren't always positive. During the weeks before I was healed, I struggled with restlessness, guilt, anxiety, and shame. I was tired, beaten to a pulp by this monster of a disease. My mind did not heal itself. Jesus healed me.

"I always have to wonder, if you are "cured", perhaps the diagnosis was incorrect all along."


I expected this one from the beginning. Before Jesus healed me, I told Brandon and my mom that when He did it, people will say I never had the disease. People tend to reject what they don't understand.

But MCAD isn't a diagnosis doctors toss to the masses like beads and candy at a Mardi Gras parade. It's difficult to obtain, which is why I had to travel all the way to Minnesota to get it. 

While I'm sure God had more purposes for my Mayo Clinic adventure than I can imagine, I understand at least two--Gastrocrom (a medication which allowed me to eat without absolute misery) and that diagnosis. He wants the world to know no disease is incurable when it comes to Him. 


"I'm happy for you Melissa. It seems like your body has calmed down by making nutritional changes. The jury is still out on mast cell disorders, so thinking positive is a good thing. My fear however would be that your overzealous claiming of healing might turn around and bite you - should you regress, relapse, get triggered again etc. I've seen many women in this group already speak of going years "ok" than not ok. For me, EVERYTIME I have gone there - psychologically, emotionally etc and believed "I'm completely better now!" Or "I'm finally coming out of this!" --WHAM. I've been sent back to reality. So I learned to be "cautiously optimistic" and to speak about "improvement" and not black or white declarations that only kick my ass later. Just my share/2 cents. Mast cell (so far) keeps me humble."


I totally understand the warning. I've been in remission. And yes--I thought I was better, then BAM! But this isn't remission. I'm healed. Thank you, Jesus! 

"I am taking this with a grain of salt..be careful with the word "cure." Glad you feel better..please be respectful of all here. Religion, politics cross over many people's comfort level. And seems to imply we are all in the same boat and all able to pray our way to wellness. That is simply not the case. And can lead to blaming those who don't believe to the degree you do or in your religion. Makes me squirm a bit...got my armor on for the replies with this one..I will remove this post if the comments become attacks or too controversial."


Writers, to publish is to give readers permission to quote things you never said and infer meaning you never intended. 

Now let's discuss the idea of "pray(ing) our way to wellness..."

If anyone could've earned healing by faith, prayer, or specialness, it would've been Jenny. 




Before her, I'd never encountered such indomitable faith. Oh, how she loved our Lord! How she sought Him! She was humble enough to seek prayer wherever she went. Churches, communities, and even Dodie Osteen prayed for her healing. Until a few weeks before her death, Jenny believed she would live. Not hoped. Believed.

The woman was so magnetic that people sense her pull in photos. People who didn't want to like her couldn't help themselves. Few love others like she did. She was often the sickest person in the waiting room at MD Anderson, yet she stopped and prayed for people every visit. People who got to live. Before she let hospice put her into an induced coma, she prayed for and blessed everyone at her bedside. She sent me a goodbye text telling me how much she loved me. Jenny went out thinking of and serving others.

If we could achieve our own wellness, Jenny would've been here to celebrate her daughter's fourth birthday four days ago. But after two years of intense suffering, she died. 

Did I survive because I'm so much better than her? Because my faith is stronger? Absolutely not. And if my prayers achieved all that, Jenny would still be here.

This commenter didn't need her armor. She got no argument from me. 

Healing can't be earned. It can only be received.

"I am glad you are doing better, but to claim that God healed you leaves a lot of Christian people who are dealing with the same thing out. I find it distasteful that God would pick and choose you and leave everyone else to suffer. I think there are are too many variables to leave it to "God fixing everything".... Could have been shots finally registered in your system after all that time, anxiety dying down after postpartum time frames end, allowing you belly time to heal after a severe infection.... Ect.... Too many variables to leave it at "God chose to heal me over everyone else."


This commenter doesn't understand my God. And frankly, I don't either.

Human inclination is to fear what we can't control and to dismiss what we don't understand. 

We can't control God, nor can we understand him. So we fear and dismiss him. We explain him away.

And guess what--I've done it, too. 

I have no idea why I lived and Jenny died. I have no idea why some are healed and others suffer all their lives. But that doesn't mean God didn't heal me. And it doesn't mean He doesn't want to heal others. 



Truth be told, these thoughts aren't all that unrelated to some of my own, which have led to questions. Lots and lots of questions:



  1. Did Jesus ever turn anyone away in the gospels? Did He ever say, "No, I'm not going to heal you. It's my will for you to be sick. Your illness brings me glory?"
  2. Does illness bring glory to God? OR is it possible to suffer with something that doesn't glorify God in such a way that God is glorified anyway? Isn't that kind of the spirit of Romans 8:37?
  3. Does God send illness? Is sickness of God? Or does the enemy send sickness and then God uses it for His own purposes with the intention of drawing us to Himself and with a heart to deliver us from it and all lesser loves? 
  4. Does God want us to cuddle our sickness and hold onto suffering because He worked it for good in our lives? Do we need sickness to maintain our sanctification? Should we? Or do we just need Jesus
  5. Is sickness the best way to experience the nearness of God? If so, what does that say about the saints in the Bible? They weren't sick. Are sickness and pain the only ways to cultivate humility and dependence?
  6. Can we best fulfill the Great Commission when we ourselves are sick?
  7. If it was God's will for people to be sick, wouldn't Jesus have been going against God's will by healing them? Wouldn't we be going against God's will every time we prayed for healing?
  8. In Scripture, Jesus doesn't only heal believers. Many he healed weren't believers when he healed them. Some left him, healing in hand, without a thank you. So what does it mean that He didn't do many mighty works in Nazareth because of their unbelief (Matt. 13:58; Mark 6:5,6)? What role does faith play?
  9. The mission stated over and over again in the Gospels is to preach the gospel and heal the sick. Preach the gospel and heal the sick. Preach the gospel and heal the sick. When Jesus sent out the twelve, he told them, "Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out demons. Freely you have received, freely give" (Matt. 10:8). This doesn't sound like a pick and choose kind of God. So what's the deal?
  10. Could the gap between what we see in Scripture and our experience be our fault? As in the fault of the Church? If so, what does this say about our will versus God's will? If not, does the God who is the same yesterday, today, and forever carry out his will differently now than he did in the first century?



In Summary:


Notice I have all these fabulous questions and no easy answers. I can't offer a satisfactory response to any of them because God is mystery. But here's what I make of my experience with the information I have at this time:

God did not send my sickness. Neither did He waste it. God used my physical sickness to rescue me from sickness of mind, body, and spirit. My sickness was the fastest, most efficient way for God to do this and make me usable. My sickness did not glorify God; I glorified God by leaning into Him through it. God never smiled at my pain; He smiled at what I did with it.

The enemy sent my illness and used it to try and kill me. Again and again and again. He did this because I'm dangerous. He failed because God didn't allow it. God is sovereign.

And yet other dangerous, usable people die. I don't know what this means. But I do know God is sovereign. He is the head of all principality and power (Col. 2:10). Not a moment of this storm was outside of his perfect control, and his character and attributes do not change with circumstance.

God healed me. God used prayer to heal me. My healing would not have happened outside of persistent, fervent, expectant prayer. My prayers. Prayers of family, friends, and elders. The prayers of many.

These prayers kept me alive, kept me close to Jesus, and helped me navigate the path laid out for me. The path led me to a group of people who operate in the Spirit of God. They saw my plight, had compassion, and rescued me through more fervent prayer. They had faith for me when I didn't have it for myself. Enough faith for me to expect something to happen.

My healing was intrinsically tied to deliverance, which was brought about in a personal prayer session (Sozo), a ministry of the group mentioned above.

My healing glorified God. My liberation unleashed more of the Holy Spirit into the world. Now whole and operating in the power of the Holy Spirit, I can better fulfill the mission--preach the gospel, heal the sick and brokenhearted, proclaim liberty to the captives, help the blind to see, liberate the oppressed, cast out demons, raise the dead. Make disciples. Make disciple-making disciples. 

I'm called to give as freely as it has been given to me. Which, you gotta admit, has been pretty freely, so I best be serious about this, yo. 

The miraculous bolsters faith in the miraculous. My prayers are not what they once were because I now believe in the impossible. I ask for impossible things. I believe for impossible things. The impossible has become my new normal.

I know that not everyone I pray for will be healed and delivered, but what do I lose by praying? What do I lose? Time? Energy? Who cares? I get God! Even when the miracle doesn't come. And now that I know it might, by the grace of God I'll never stop asking.

I want to do this thing in such a way that if I'm wrong I'll be the most pitiful fool who ever walked the earth and when I see my Jesus face to face I'll have nothing to regret. And who knows? Maybe one day I'll get to see God do something REALLY cool like raise somebody from the dead!


So yeah...that's where I stand. At the moment, anyway.

Now that I've closed my most recent Facebook debate, let a new one begin. And in the spirit of full disclosure, if you comment, especially if that comment is nasty or despondent, you'll be put on a list and prayed for. You've been warned.






Food--The Struggle (It's Been Real, Folks)

 Wall_Food_10229
Original image via Flickr Creative Commons courtesy of Michael Stern

 

It Begins


My first systemic reaction to a food happened right after Christmas in 2004. Brandon, my family, and I were vacationing in Branson and were watching a movie. Along with everyone else, I was popping pistachios.

Then something odd...my ears swelled, grew hot, and began itching. My throat followed suit. I put the pistachios away, popped a Benadryl, and didn't think about the experience again for over a year.

Over the course of 2005, I  sometimes felt unwell after I ate--weirdly sleepy, grumpy, bleh--so I began The Maker's Diet with my parents to clean up my eating. That seemed to help. For a while.

Discovery


Then in early 2006 (a particularly stressful time in my life), itching, hives, swelling, shortness of breath, etc. became common during and after meals. I don't know why it took so long for me to stop living in denial, but eventually I was able to associate the way I felt with food.

Within a few weeks, I eliminated wheat, dairy, corn, soy, and tree nuts from my diet, and I stabilized. For a while.

Spring came with a case of hay fever from HELL. I went about either drunk, sneezy, coughy, sleepy, and sensitive to light and noise or knocked out cold by Benadryl. I wish I were kidding.

Asthma Inhaler
Original image via Flickr Creative Commons courtesy of NIAID


The Allergy Shots Experiment


So I saw an allergist. He prescribed daily Claritin, Singulair, and an inhaler along with weekly injections to treat my environmental allergies. (He didn't want to touch my food allergies. They scared him.) I improved. For a while.

A few months into treatment, my allergies worsened. I became increasingly sensitive to the foods I knew I was allergic to. New foods piled onto the "no-no" list. If I had to walk across campus while staff was mowing grass? Asthma attack guaranteed. And then I began reacting to the allergy shots themselves.

At first, it was just localized swelling and itching at the site of injection. No big deal. Normal, even. Later, I had systemic itching. Oh well. Pop a Benadryl. Whatever. After that, full body rashes. Not pretty, but not life-threatening. Go back to the office. Get a steroid shot. Go home.

The day my tongue and throat swelled was a different matter. After an in-office dose of Benadryl failed to bring my symptoms under control, I was given an injection of Epi. The nurse told me this was normal. That some people need Epi every week after injections.

Uh...no thank you.

When I became pregnant with Micah, I used my pregnancy as an excuse to stop treatment, and I never went back. And I got better. For a while.

EpiPen Auto Injector
Original image via Flickr Creative Commons courtesy of Greg Friese

 

The Descent


After pregnancy, things went back to normal...but worse. In June 2009 when Micah was three months old, a few soggy chow mein noodles hidden in a sub par chicken salad sent me to the ER. That episode ended with two Epi injections and a frustrating 10 days of steroids during which this breastfeeding mama had to pump and dump several times a day. Good times.

The next eventful moment happened in January 2011. Brookshire's began carrying pre-made gluten free muffins in the bakery, so Brandon brought some home as a treat. Which they were...until two hours later.

Guys, I'm not a puker. I have a gag reflex of iron. I once went 10 years without a good purge. Even now, I have to be pretty sick to toss my cookies, but that day...I tossed my muffins. Again and again and again and again.

In two hours I puked 11 times. That may be more times than I've puked in my life outside of that day. Each heave was so forceful I was sure something would hemorrhage. Every time it ended, I collapsed onto the floor beside the toilet unable to move.

I don't know how to describe that level of misery except to tell you that I wanted to die. I prayed the Lord would take me. No other pain, no other emergency has ever caused me to pray that prayer.

There was no relief. I couldn't pick myself off the cold bathroom tile. I think Brandon eventually did it himself after he jumped a few flaming hoops to get me the anti-nausea medicine I needed.

Unfortunately, I believed my little puke-a-thon was the stomach virus of the apocalypse. My mistake.

As my friend Tim said the other night, "What you believe matters."

Once recovered, I ate another muffin. Two hours later, I start puking again. As if the first mistake wasn't enough, I used the anti-nausea medicine too soon, thereby trapping the offending substance (teff flour) inside my body, which forced it to run its course.

Take my word when I tell you this was a bad decision.

A few days after this, I caught an actual stomach virus, then another virus, then the flu. Then I got pregnant. Oh boy.

I stayed sick until week 26 of my pregnancy (which amounts to six months of constant illness), at which point I perked up. Until I had Sara.

During labor, I had a systemic reaction to the epidural, which didn't even work in the end. Man, oh man, was she worth it, but dude...

 

The Plummet


After her birth, I wasn't the same. I knew something was wrong. Suddenly, it wasn't just what I ate. It was what I touched. What I breathed. But I couldn't think about me. I had a sick baby to take care of.

Things spun out of control. I couldn't safely administer Sara's medicine because I reacted to it upon skin contact. I lost several more foods. Anaphylaxsis became a common occurrence. I lived off Benadryl. And I bought a medical alert bracelet because I never knew what would happen, when, where, how, or why.

When God healed Sara of RSV and her chronic ear infections, I snapped. Like a twig.

One afternoon, I ate a coconut macaroon for a snack and immediately had an anaphylactic reaction. The next morning, I awoke to pain. Tissue pain. Muscle pain. Bone pain. All of it. Pain which never left. Which I still have to this day, to a lesser degree.

I began to reject all food. Even water made me ill. After several days of being unable to eat and too slow to drink, I dehydrated and had to be given IV fluids.

Elders from our church prayed for me. Within a couple of days, I was able to eat again, but everything gave me trouble. I might eat one thing one day and reject it the next.

We struggled for months to figure out what to do. We tried fasting, supplements, liquid nutrition, amino acid powder. I dropped a lot of weight very quickly. I remember wondering if I would die of starvation.

In September 2012, we learned of the GAPS diet, which is a gut-healing diet. I followed it to perfection, practically living off broths and soups. And it was enough. For a while.

 

Floxed


I won't go into the details of how it happened--you can read the story here--but after being poisoned by a fluoroquinolone drug, my issues worsened. This is when I had to stop drinking coffee and wearing make-up. I lost a ton of foods at once and had to begin wearing a mask every time I ventured into public. Even normal, natural scents like lavender essential oil sent me into respiratory distress. Anaphylaxsis became even more common. As in "three to five times a week" common.

I remember at least two instances during that time in which my spirit separated from my body, allowing me to see everything outside of myself. I remember deciding at least three times to live rather than depart to my Lord for the sake of Superman at my bedside.

In early June 2013, I found myself in another crisis. I again ended up in the ER. This time, we all wondered whether or not I would survive.

My family called a prayer meeting on my behalf, which resulted in God saving my life in a really cool way. For the summer, I was able to eat anything that grew in our garden. Even watermelon, which I hadn't been able to eat in years.

(Note: Prayer changes things. Every time.)

When the summer ended, so did my freedom. I lost all the foods I had enjoyed over the summer and several more, and had one final crisis in December. Fortunately, I was able to stay out of the hospital that time.


Nutritional Therapy

 

I enlisted the help of my friend Jennifer Nervo of 20 Something Allergies in February 2014. She had just become a licensed nutritional therapist. With her help, I gained stability in my diet by following a low-histamine Autoimmune Paleo plan on a four day rotation, which is every bit as complicated as it sounds. I couldn't eat a wide variety of foods, but for the first time since I became ill, I was eating enough.

Even still, my "safe foods" list dwindled.

In summary, food has been a struggle, and the struggle's been real. 


I always knew God would heal me, but part of me doubted my food allergies would be included in that healing. I mean, they've been around for a decade.

When I imagined being well, I imagined going around mask-free and fearless. Having my old energy back. An absence of pain. Even the ability to eat the things I could before I was really sick.

But then Jesus showed up, and all this impossible stuff started happening. First my hands. Then the way I tolerated cold temperatures. Then no more mask because fragrances no longer affected me as they once did.

I couldn't help myself. I asked, "Why not my food allergies?" If Jesus could heal all the other symptoms, he could heal those too.

One day, I tried a bite of a gluten-free cookie. Just to see what would happen. Nothing happened. Then I tried goat milk. Again, nothing. Then eggs. Nothing.




Bulletproof

 

When I no longer required a mask, I told Brandon I wanted to attend the Project 41 White As Snow gala on January 22. (Project 41 is a ministry for sex-trafficking victims and prostitutes in Ouachita Parish. The gala is their big fundraising event each year. Contact me if you're interested in joining the prayer team.)

One morning not long after buying the tickets, I was praying through the Lord's Prayer. (I often use it as a guideline and personalize it to fit the needs of the day. Martin Luther style.) When I got to "give us this day our daily bread," I felt the Holy Spirit say, "You have not because you ask not." And I knew in some mysterious way He wanted me to ask for permission to eat the food at the gala and if I did, He would allow it.

I began telling people--Mom, Brandon, my prayer group--"Just you watch. I'm gonna eat that food and be fine. No matter what it is."

Sure enough, I enjoyed grilled chicken, candied carrots, seasoned green beans, twice-baked potatoes (with cheese and pseudo bacon bits), and two bites of cheesecake (no crust) that I didn't have to cook. Without issue.

As Brandon so eloquently put it, I was bulletproof.


The Big Leagues

 

My stomach wasn't too happy the week following the gala. I had a fair amount of GI inflammation, nausea, intestinal pain, and bloating. Which--granted--isn't all that bad considering what I've been through, but still...

I figured God had given me a free pass for that one night and I'd have to wait a bit longer for complete healing. No big deal. I can be patient.

My prayer group met on Friday night. They asked for testimonies of miraculous healings, which we've been seeing in a steady stream since December. I shared my story again for those who hadn't heard it and for those who wanted to hear it again, during which I mentioned I was believing God for complete healing of my food allergies.

When I got home that night, the Holy Spirit whispered to my spirit, "You haven't asked to be able to eat the food tomorrow."

I'd planned to attend a bridal luncheon in honor of my cousin's fiance the next day. A meal would be served. Honestly, partaking hadn't even occurred to me. Neither had requesting permission to do so.

"Okay, Lord. I would love to eat the food tomorrow. If it would please you, will you allow me to enjoy it?"

I lacked the assurance I felt before the gala, but was content to leave the matter in the Lord's hands. I knew I would know whether or not the food was for me when I saw it. No matter what, I was thrilled just to attend. I hadn't seen my Chapman cousins in years.

 The menu.

Long story short(er): I. ate. it. all. (Minus the orzo and cheesecake crust.)

I knew the moment that fabulous salad was placed before me, it was meant for me and I would be fine.


I even took a bite of the orzo pasta, mistaking it for rice. (I didn't read the menu carefully.) That mistake might have killed me three years ago and would've required Epi and an ER visit in 2009 and 50-100mg of Benadryl as far back as 2007.

But that day my face swelled a little bit. Basically, the equivalent of a sneeze. I didn't even flush.

Mom and I laughed and laughed and laughed throughout the entire meal, which may have been slightly inappropriate, but we couldn't help it. We were absolutely drunk on the joy of the Spirit. (We may have cried a little, too.)

What happened was impossible. The food was delicious. And that cheesecake? The best thing I can remember eating in 10 years. Hands down.

"Thank you, Jesus. Thank you, Jesus. Thank you, Jesus," was the song of my heart which accompanied each bite.


The End

 

The night after the luncheon, I renewed the habit of praying over each meal (in addition to Sara's sweet blessing), thanking God and praying it would heal and nourish my body and the bodies of my family.

This habit accomplishes several important things at once:
  1. It reminds me food is a gift, not a right.
  2. It reminds me of the Giver.
  3. It's a declaration of dependence upon Father for all sustenance. 
  4. It forces me to be a good steward of what I put into my body, which is the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19), and reminds me that "all things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful" (1 Corinthians 6:12).
  5. Each bite becomes joyful worship (1 Corinthians 10:31).  
Here's what has happened since:

 
 Oatmeal and goat milk for breakfast yesterday morning. 
I hadn't eaten oatmeal in four years. Brandon left
some in the pot, and I just knew it was for me!

A little coffee to go with my Jesus time this morning. 
First time in three years.
Lawful, not helpful, but oh so yummy.

Omelet with farm fresh eggs, onion, bell pepper, spinach, and goat cheese.
Not low histamine and definitely not AIP approved.
Should've made me flush, sneeze, and itch for the rest of the day, but I'm good.


After my bowl of oatmeal yesterday morning, I said it out loud and posted it to Facebook: I don't have Mast Cell Activation Disease anymore. I'm healed.
 
What a delight eating has become! I can sit before my plate with gratitude, joy, and confidence. No fear. I've been eating foods I haven't enjoyed in years without a hint of discomfort, even when I kind of expect it.

For so long, food was an enemy. No more.

I've been healed of an "incurable disease" by my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. I no longer claim MCAD. All my online biographies have been changed (see below). I humbly and enthusiastically accept the gift the Lord is pleased to give--healing of body, mind, and spirit.

Just one month and a couple of days into 2016, the Lord has proven His word to me. This is the Year of Abundance, indeed.


Adjustments

Alone
Original image via Flickr Creative Commons courtesy of Vincent van der Pas

My parents' friend Gary Bulloch says this true thing--"Life is a series of adjustments."

We adjust from childhood to puberty, from young adulthood to marriage, from marriage to parenthood, from parenthood to empty nesting, and from empty nesting to the winter years of life with lots of adjusting in between. It seems like the moment we find our groove, the music changes and we have to adjust again. 

I hesitate to say I'd become comfortable with illness. (It's difficult to become comfortable with a disease which tries to kill you on a regular basis.) But being sick was my normal. 

A few weeks ago when I began to heal, Tim, a new friend of mine told me I wouldn't heal all at once because everyone around me had to adjust to the fact that their wife/daughter/mother/friend was getting better. And he's right. But they're not the only ones.

I'm adjusting, too.

It's kind of surreal that three months ago I was a shut in and now I'm going to events. 





Note: Project 41's White As Snow gala went very well, the most successful gala to date. We learned a lot, raised support for the ministry, and yes--I ate the food (!!!!!) Side effects were extremely mild. The night was a personal celebration for my family and me. 

Remember this poem I wrote a year ago?:

Some diseases are a death sentence.
Some are a life sentence.
Which is easier to bear?
A small cell or the chair?
A cage or a casket?
No one knows
and both are hard
on the sick one and the watchers.
Some of us die in here,
but I believe
there is a key
for me,
an early release.
Or so I've been told
by the Prison Ward
who is kind and good and wise and hard.
The door will open
when the cell has done its work
and the bars have made me free.
Or so I believe.
But all I see
are steel and concrete.
Spare walls and a lonely lock
mock my faith.
I smell sky and pine.
Sun shafts through the window.
Voices chuckle and cluck,
a murmur through stone,
a reminder of what I'm missing,
a promise of what's to come.
But the Warden visits me--
and this place has be-come
Home.
"For a while," He corrects.
So I believe.  


Well, the cell has done its work, apparently. The bars have made me free. The Warden has thrown open the prison gates, and while He hasn't exactly tossed me out, it's very clear He doesn't expect me to stay inside. Nor do I want to. I'm ready to bust outta here, yo!

But there's this very real rehabilitation period to contend with. 

I'm learning to live in the world again. (There are people out here!) I'm asking big questions. (i.e. "What now?") I'm doing things. Going places. It's weird.

And my body hasn't quite caught up with my to-do list. 

  Lazy monkey
Original image via Flickr Creative Commons courtesy of Alan Bloom

These days I'm either enjoying my freedom or recovering from it.


Chronic fatigue, pain, and food sensitivities are still things as I pick up Micah from school, take Sara to her dance lesson, undertake my own housework, shop, go to church, visit with friends I haven't seen in forever, attend prayer meetings and events, and accept ministry opportunities. All in addition to what I was already doing.

Except I don't have much time to write. Not fiction anyway. My journal, however, sees lots of action. 

 I filled up this guy in two months!

Thus, my writing goals for the year may not be possible. 

I'm not complaining. I'm adjusting


It's difficult transitioning from a slow waltz (not that I've ever been that graceful) to a cha-cha. Even if the change is a blast. 

Moms, you know what I'm talking about. How great is it when your youngest transitions from two naps to one? But that free hour you had in the morning to drink coffee while it was still warm? Gone. Vamoose.

Or that moment you're done with diapers, but then you have to ask the kid whether or not she needs to pee every 15 minutes and haul her to the bathroom umpteen times a day whereas before you could change a diaper every three to four hours and you were good. (Yeah, I cried, too.)

C'est la vie. 

I LOVE the season I'm in, but it isn't easy. 

 

What do people expect of me now that I'm out and about? What does Brandon expect? What do the kids expect? What do I expect?

Does a writing career still fit into my life? I hope so. I want it to. But for now I feel that living real life is more important than writing made up life, and I don't have energy to do both. 

Most importantly, what does God expect of me? 

The Lord hasn't given me a copy of A Former Shut-In's Guide to Engaged Living in 5 Easy Steps. For now, I have only three hints to go on, and none of them are cut and dried:

1) "And she served them" (Mark 1:31). When Jesus healed Peter's mother-in-law, she didn't stay in bed. She got up and served Him. 

This is the word the Lord gave me in 2012 not long after my illness began to really present itself. This last chapter of my story was always going to end with my healing. I was given my marching orders three years before it happened. Service, not ease, is God's expectation of me. Of course, service can wear many hats. 

My family is the most important recipient. It's time to seize the things sickness stole from me. It's time to show up, take some of the enormous burden Superman has carried on his shoulders these long years, and clean my own bathrooms for goodness' sake. (God bless my mother in law for keeping my house from falling to chaos. Debbie Keaster, you are THE BEST.)

2) Limits. Everybody loves boundaries. Even kids. We think we don't, but we do. Limits make us feel safe. 

God has flung open the doors of my cage, and I'm so thankful. There's also a part of me that's glad I still have to count spoons. Because it reminds me--"I can do anything, but not everything."

When I was a prisoner, I talked about all the things I wanted to do when I was free. I wanted to sing in a choir again. I wanted to join that Flannery O'Conner short story class at Auburn Avenue. I wanted to be involved with this ministry and that ministry. Oh! And that one! I wanted to take Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu with Micah. I wanted to teach music lessons, offer cooking classes, and write novels. 

Yeah, right. 

I'm pretty sure the limits of 24 hours in a day and I don't know...SLEEP may disallow all that nonsense. Not that any of those things would be a bad way to spend time...unless I tried to do it all. 

Most days, I manage the things I was doing before I was better (child-rearing, cooking, dishes, laundry, homework, baths, bedtime routine, etc.), a little exercise, and maybe one outing before I'm ready to crash. 

Mondays are my rest days. On Monday, I. just. can't. (See monkey picture above.) I'm done. Stick a fork in me, and whatever you do, don't ask me to do anything extra.

3) A magic thread. In George MacDonald's fantasy for children, The Princess and the Goblin, Princess Irene is given a ring by her fairy godmother. Attached is a magic thread which is promised to always lead her safely back to her fairy godmother. 

One night, goblins enter little Irene's bedroom. She puts on the ring and follows the thread outside into the mountain wilderness, trusting it to guide her into the arms of her godmother. When it leads her into the dark caves, which are home to the goblins, she doubts and tries to feel her way backward. But behind her, the thread disappears. She can only go forward.

So onward she goes--through darkness, danger, and even a wall of rock--until she finds her friend Curdie who is held prisoner by the goblins. Irene rescues Curdie, and leads him out of the caves. At the end of her thread, she finds her godmother, as promised. 

God has given a magic thread to every believer. His name is the Holy Spirit.

The Spirit knows the mind of the Father, who has written my story. He leads me where I should go. Many times, I don't understand where He leads, but if I will hang on and press on, I'll find my way. And maybe, just maybe, I'll be able to lead a Curdie or two to the safety of God's arms along the way.

I appreciate your prayers as I adjust. 


I'm so happy right now. It may seem I don't need prayer. That assumption is incorrect.

I have so many questions. I don't know where the thread is taking me, and my feet are dragging half the time. I long to write, but can't manage it, which is kind of frustrating. As I'm able to focus less on myself, my eyes open to the devastation around me. While the miracle does my family good, the last four years have also left a mark. We're all kind of damaged, and now it's time to pick up the pieces and rebuild. Reconstruction is hard work.

So yeah...keep praying! And thank you for all the prayers that have come before. I hope you, too, are reveling in the miracle God has performed. You're part of it, after all. I hope it reveals an attribute of God you never noticed before, and leads you to marvel before His throne.

As I said to a friend this morning, prayer is never wasted time. And it's the perfect answer to every adjustment life throws at us.









Promises and Chocolate Chip Pancakes

Chocolate Chip Pancakes
Original image via Flickr Creative Commons courtesy of EffingFoodie

Afternoon sun poured through the window, warming and brightening our white cotton sheets. I nestled against him and looked into his soft, brown eyes. Lacing my fingers through his, I asked the question I'd wanted to ask since it became clear God was healing me.

"Why did you stay?"

He blinked at me.

"I want you to be honest," I said. "I won't be offended. Was it for the kids? Because divorce would've been too expensive? Because it was the right thing to do?"

He tucked a wayward strand behind my ear and looked past me, lost in thought. "Leaving never crossed my mind. Preparing for your death--that was the hard part."

A shadow passed through his eyes. I knew the time he referenced. I didn't want to think about those days.

"But why?" I pressed.

His eyes locked with mine. "Well, I made promises in front of a room full of people. To you. To God. That's kind of a big deal. And besides"--the corner of his mouth twitched--"I like you a little bit."


Ladies and gentlemen, the man I married. 
 
Brandon Keaster, I don't tell you often enough how wonderful you are. So let me tell you now--you are wonderful

And clever! Clever enough to trick me into asking you on a date 13 years ago.

Thank you for the chocolate chip pancakes that night and for loving, honoring, and protecting me every day since. Thank you for keeping your promises when it's hard. My heart is yours forever.

Happy anniversary of the night I decided to be your wife, Superman. 
I like you a little bit, too. 

P.S. Give up already. I'm never gonna find a better man than you.