Jesus Christ

The Strength of Family, The Kindness of Friends

The Strength of Family, The Kindness of Friends

The morning after the tornado came through, we were all a little dull from lack of sleep and that hollow feeling you get after a trauma. Brandon left early for work. Text messages rolled in from friends asking how they could help.

Foggy-brained and feeling lost without Brandon, I didn't know how to answer. I'd never cleaned up after a storm. Not a literal one, anyway. And so I thanked them and told them we were okay. Even if it wasn't true at the moment, it would be in a few days.

Finding Beauty in Brokenness: Talena Winters' Journey in Healing from Child Loss

Finding Beauty in Brokenness: Talena Winters' Journey in Healing from Child Loss

Have you ever experienced a moment where your world just broke?

Most of us have, to some degree or another.

For me, I had two such moments very close to each other. They changed my world, redefined almost everything I thought I knew about God, and through that, changed me.

The first, unfortunately, is not a story I can share publicly, because other people’s lives would be impacted. It’s enough to know that the moment happened on February 11, 2015, and triggered the deepest grief cycle of my life up to that point.

A little less than four months later, I was still deeply in mourning when my youngest son (who had just turned three) was killed because he’d thought it would be clever to dash out behind Daddy’s truck to “hide” as my husband was backing up.

Me Too: Part Two

Me Too: Part Two

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

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

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?"


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."



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."


"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."


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!'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!

Thoughts Under A Minnesota Sky

Note: This is a stream of consciousness post--a kind of self-sermon. It was my intention to write about my diagnosis. This is what happened instead.

God's faithfulness is best measured by time.

I have been saying it and believing it for almost two years now. We like to think God works instantly like wifi and 4G. We want to believe we can short order our desires and have them placed before us steaming hot and just how we like them in ten minutes' time.

But look at Abraham.
Look at Joseph.
Look at Moses.
Look at Job.
Look at David.
Look at Paul.
Look at Jesus Himself.

God is no short order cook. He's an artist. And He works best over time. Lots and lots of time.

Under an endless, bright blue sky all things infinite come to mind--God, His love, His wisdom, His goodness, His faithfulness, His grace, His mercy, His power. Time. Me--though I am as finite as I am infinite and as lowly as I am glorious.

A marvel--"I am poor and needy; yet the Lord thinks upon me" (Psalm 40:17).
His thoughts cannot be numbered. Infinite thoughts.
He feeds me and rests me and works me over. And over and over and over.
And even when I don't feel Him, hear Him, or see Him, He hasn't forgotten me because even if He could, there I am--my name, my essence inscribed on the palms of His hands (Isaiah 49:16).

Oh, infinite love!

I am canvas. He is Artist. And all we have is time. Lots and lots of time.

Waiting isn't the wonder. The wonder is that He is able to paint something so complete and beautiful, something resembling His Son, upon a damaged canvas with limited hues over a single lifetime. Or less.

Here under infinite sky shouting out to me the glory of God, I step back and admire His handiwork. I see order. I see beauty. I see design and attention to detail. I see faithfulness.

The Artist comes to work every day.

I don't know where the work is going, but after years I can look back and see the progress. I catch a glimpse of the destination even if I remain uncertain of the plan. The strokes could transform the portrait any number of ways, but in them I see foreshadows of glory. Healing. Wholeness. Christ-likeness. Christ-withness.

The time has passed slowly for me. But two years, ten years, a lifetime--these are just drops in an infinite bucket.

Things may go faster without anxious twitching, but that isn't a promise.

And don't be satisfied with thumb twiddling in the meanwhile because proper waiting shouldn't be idle. Watch. Expect. Cooperate!

Cooperation in forms of gratitude, joy, and loving service yield the best work, but The Artist has a way of redeeming strokes we throw askew. I should know.

Cooperation is learned by fully facing The Artist. Observe Him. Learn Him. Admire Him. Experience His wildness and find it beautiful. Allow Him to see all the damage, all the flaws, all the shortcomings, and present them to Him. To know Him and be known by Him are the keys to deep-soul smiles, ceaseless thank yous, calloused hands, and a tender heart.

The waiting isn't over, and won't be until the Artist is done. Until the naked canvas is fully clothed. Until I am moved to The Gallery where all His perfect and finished work resides.

Basking in the glow of divine faithfulness and childlike obedience under a Minnesota sky with an Infinite Companion is the sweetest euphoria. Even if the waiting isn't over.

 Because the truth has been lived--the Prize can be had in the waiting.

 And His faithfulness is best measured by time.

Mayo Clinic Trip: Naked Edition

"Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord,
and whose hope is the Lord.
For he shall be like a tree planted by the waters, 
which spreads out its roots by the river,
and will not fear when heat comes;
but its leaf will be green,
and will not be anxious in the year of drought,
nor will cease from yielding fruit.
The heart is deceitful above all things,
and desperately wicked;
who can know it?
I, the Lord, search the heart,
I test the mind,
even to give every man according to his ways,
according to the fruit of His doings."
-Jeremiah 17:7-10

"If I was a tree," I told Mom as I looked up at its crown, "I would want to be this one."

Our bench sat in its shade. The roots sank thick and sturdy into soft, lakeside soil. Its trunk stood fat and strong at the bottom, and reaching skyward, one became two, became three, became four. Supple boughs hung from brave limbs growing away from Mother, and came to life as the wind rushing off the water proposed a dance. We were mesmerized by the waltz. Sway, two, three. Sway, two, three. How many long seasons of nakedness, of bone-crushing winters she must have endured by the water waiting, waiting to achieve such poise and grace. 

Why must she be naked in winter? I want to know for it seems the Lord requires the same vulnerability from me, and the winter has been long. Ten years I have been sick, frightfully so for two. We began planning this trip six months ago, and here we are waiting, waiting over a long, holiday weekend for test results, for the next step. 

But I am like a tree in Louisiana, shedding its clothes in stages, hanging onto my last layers well into winter. I've been fearful to expose too much, afraid of being hurt. I did not know this about myself until last night when God showed me in the quiet and vulnerability of a bath. It has taken all this waiting to really see myself.

When friends asked why I was going to Minnesota, I would say, "Out of obedience to God," which was true. God made it plain I was to take this trip though I could not see the benefit. In my mind, diagnosis was unlikely and the odds of tolerable treatment options were dismal. I planned and prepared out of duty and love for God, but I dared not hope. Hope leads to disappointment, and disappointment after disappointment wears on a soul.

After the encounter with Arthur on Wednesday, I felt hopeful for the first time. The first time. I met with Dr. Park the next day, and left him feeling that maybe my new found hope was justified. He would check for systemic mastocytosis while doing some gentle "fishing."

And then Friday came along, and pressed the hope right out of me. 

The day was long. I woke before 5 with a twinge in my stomach telling me the day ahead would not be like the day before. I prayed, tried to push it aside, and left the hotel at 6 am. Six in the morning, y'all. The day began with blood work, a necessary photo, and "checking" in the dermatology department. An appointment could not be scheduled until June 23, so I was encouraged to wait to be fit in. I was seen quickly--probably because it was Friday.

Though the doctor was very kind and professional, the appointment was kind of degrading. The hospital gown--if one could call it that--was a joke. I was entirely unclothed and entirely unprepared for such a thorough exam which concluded with no clinical findings of cutaneous mastocytosis, a skin biopsy nonetheless, and a psych referral for anxiety. Apparently, my mask had raised a red flag.

After dropping off my 24 hour urine sample, Mom and I made our way to the psychology department. I had been warned by a friend ahead of time to not resist this appointment. It wasn't too bad. A nice lady asked me many, many questions, which led to the sharing of my story for the next hour. 
The "container of shame"

She peered at me keenly from behind her glasses. "This illness has left you disabled, hasn't it?"

I hadn't thought about it that way. "I suppose it has."

"Do you feel sad, depressed, or hopeless?"

I thought how to answer, and smiled when the words came. "You know, I used to, and I probably still would if it weren't for Jesus. But because of Him, I take joy in my life, and even though my life is small, I feel like it's valuable."

At the end of the appointment, the psychologist and a psychiatrist sat down with me. Were they concerned about anxiety? No. Depression? Nope. They wanted me to see a specialist of behavior modification for my migraines. Migraines. I was baffled. Yes, I have migraines. Yes, they persist, but they don't make the top 10 list of my most pressing complaints. Weird appointment. But they recommended Silver Lake Park to us, so it wasn't a completely wasted visit. 

Afterward, I was starving and on the brink of collapse. We ate lunch in "our" little courtyard, and made our way to The Quiet Room. The Quiet Room is this magical, sound-proofed space filled with hospital grade recliners and darkness. Mom and I both took an overdue nap. A half hour later, I woke with a start feeling strongly my next appointment would be the most discouraging of the day. I prayed and braced myself.

"Our" courtyard. So peaceful and empty. Mask not required.

We waited a long time to see the gastroenterologist, and when we were finally called back I was underwhelmed to say the least. The doctor did not listen to me. I don't think he read my chart. He recommended a gastric emptying test, an endoscopy and a colonoscopy. I asked if he would do a stain for mast cells. He gave me a blank look, and assured me he would biopsy anything which looked abnormal. He had no clue what I was talking about, and had already made up his mind I had Celiac sprue. He asked me for my departure date. I told him Friday the 30th. I left his office with test schedules and instructions for the gastric emptying test, which required me to eat bread, milk, and eggs and drink radioactive water. The scopes were scheduled for the 30th, which would require me to stay another weekend. 

I was so tired at this point, all I could do was let the information crush me. 

The doctor ordered immediate blood work to test for Celiac disease. As I trudged back to the Hilton Building, I was so defeated I knew the only solution was a song. Not really caring if anyone overheard, I sang softly:

Jesus, Jesus, how I trust Him,
how I've proved Him o'er and o'er.
Jesus, Jesus, precious Jesus,
O, for grace to trust Him more.

After labs, we were finally free to leave. While Mom and I waited for the shuttle back to the hotel, she put her remaining brain cells to good use. I could only nod in agreement. No gastric emptying test. Duh. And the scopes--if necessary--could be done at home. Genius! I high-fived Mom for still being able to think. By the time we returned to our room, it had been an 11 hour day at Mayo. I have no idea how I managed it. 

Grace, grace, God's grace. 

Over the weekend, test results trickled in, all coming back normal. I can see all results on Mayo's Portal application, which allows patients to see consult notes, test results, appointments, etc. online. I've trembled inwardly each time I've pulled up my information, feeling a mixture of relief and frustration with each normal lab. I couldn't help but wonder what those trembles meant. 

On Sunday, we went to Silver Lake. Our thoughts and hearts were still as we watched feathered mothers teach their tiny flocks self-sufficiency. 

I read Psalm 1 and Jeremiah 17 aloud to Mom as we gazed at the tree by the water. My tree. Softly, so softly, God began to speak. Through creation and His word, He whispered subtle truths and made connections in my mind. It wasn't until I was naked and alone that He grabbed me by the shoulders. 

I opened my records again on my iPod in the bath, heart beating fast. And suddenly, I knew. I had been lying to myself. The heart is deceitful above all things. We don't even know our own selves. Until God shows us. 

I have been telling everyone I don't know what I want to come of this trip and diagnosis doesn't matter. But if that were true, my heart wouldn't pound so every time I access my records. All along I've been saying, "I don't know what I hope for, so I will hope in God." But what does that mean, really? Here's the truth--I have not allowed myself to want anything too much because I'm afraid of disappointment. Disappointment hurts.

Stoicism may look like faith, but it's a fake. Faith requires risk. Stuffing desires is not risk; it's self protection. It's the very opposite of faith. 

Can I truly claim with Job, "Though You slay me, yet I will trust You" if I don't give God the opportunity to make me bleed, if I don't put my desires on the altar (Job 13:15)?

Here is my honest desire--I want answers, and I want them desperately. 

Suddenly, I was pouring out my heart to the Savior as I sat in the bath, physically and spiritually naked and vulnerable before Him. And it felt good. Nakedness felt wrong in the dermatologist's office where I was being meticulously examined for flaws by indifferent, clinical eyes. In that hotel bathroom, I was being looked upon with the greatest love of the universe by eyes which see me as perfect and radiant. The love made me bold.

For the first time in two years, I begged God for an answer. I pleaded that I would not return home empty-handed. I sobbed with the psalmist in desperation, "Let me not be ashamed!" (Psalm 25:20) For I would be ashamed if I have come up here for nothing, risking my small measure of health and abandoning my family for ten days on a fool's errand. I reminded Him I had prayed for Him to be glorified. "How can you be glorified unless I am given an answer?" I cried through tears. I know my sight is limited and my wisdom is small, but I just can't see it. 

I. am. terrified. It is so scary to make these admissions to myself, more so to make them public. I am standing stark before you, feeling all the cold of uncertainty in my own Winter of Wait. But here is what I know--God brought me up here. God has led me to this terrifying place of risk, trust, and honest faith, and God wants you to see it. There must be a purpose. There just has to be! I don't know what that purpose is exactly, but I know the purpose is good. I know it will showcase His Son.

God gave me these desires. I didn't go looking for them, so I believe He will answer me. I am so, so afraid. But I believe.

Lord, I believe! Help my unbelief! (Mark 9:24)

"Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, and whose hope is the Lord" (Jeremiah 17:7).

Maybe one day I'll attain to the strength and grace of that tree. For now, I'm going out on a limb. 

In Jesus' name, I believe.

Now let's see what He will do. 

I'm Not Dead

Well, I may be brain dead. I've been walking around like a zombie for the past few weeks. I'm getting more sleep than I had been, but the mind just isn't what it used to be. That makes me sound 80. Let me explain. I never used to forget things. If there was the slightest chance I would, it didn't matter because I at least remembered to write everything down--to-do lists, a calender of events, shopping lists, etc. I'm a listy kind of girl. If something was lost, I knew where it was. If something was important, it never was lost. No longer is this the case.I now lose my lists. My information retrieve was impressive, as was my overall intellectual prowess. A few months ago, I didn't make grammar mistakes. I just didn't. I read all the time. Now, I'm lucky to read a couple of pages a day.

This week alone I left my purse in two public locations. God is good because it should have been stolen at the first location. I failed to pack my diaper bag appropriately twice. In a letter to friends, I wrote "know" in the place of "no," and "to" in the place of "too." That is very out of character. Or it was. Brandon thinks I have early on-set Alzheimer's or dementia or a brain tumor, and he worries that I should be doing crossword puzzles and sudoku instead of spending every waking moment mothering. He called my mom the other night voicing his worries to her. She assured him that my disease is common and the only treatment is the passage of time. She also assured him that crossword puzzles wouldn't help.

Nine months ago today, my life changed. And mostly for the better. However, there are negative side effects to being a mother, especially if the mother has a lot of other responsibilities, and honestly, what mother doesn't? I am a growing follower of Jesus, a motivated, but imperfect wife, a increasingly clever cook, a launderer and maid, a voice student, a chorus member, an enthusiastic music teacher, an untalented accompanist, secretary, book keeper, a Sunday School teacher, daughter, sister, friend. And I want to be a writer too. My novel hasn't made much progress because my muse refuses to return unless the apparent void between my ears is replaced with firing synapses. I need to clear out my hat closet, but which ones to throw out? As I sigh over the uselessness of my brain, I am also sighing at the speed of Micah's growth and development. Each day, he is able to more than the day previous. Fortunately, he just became mobile and he's not very fast yet. Just wait, Brain. Your entire capacity will be spent figuring out how to keep Micah from electrocuting and pulling chairs and tables on top of himself.

Check out Micah's new feats below. It's hilarious and well worth the time.

Things I Love In No Particular Order

Being greeted by a toothless, grinning, red-headed baby boy every morning (I will miss it when any one of these adjectives change.)

The sound a hardback book makes when you open it for the first time

The smell of ink on paper (of any age--new is my favorite)

Reading and studying the Bible with no time pressures

The tingle of warm sunshine on my skin, and the way it lasts even after I go back inside


The scents of Fall--spices, dank earth, hints of wood smoke in the air

The weight and feel of a book in my hands (What? I like books.)


New school supplies

Daisy, my rat terrier


A strong cup of Community Coffee with a dash of Hershey's Chocolate Caramel creamer by International Delight

Holding a sleeping baby

Being able to eat a gluten-free doughnut every morning without getting fat (This will change when I stop breastfeeding.)


The rush of adrenaline during exciting books (If you have no idea what I'm talking about, check out The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, a book I want to help make the New York Times bestseller list. Then, read her sequel Catching Fire.)

The feel of my husband's strong, welcoming arms and firm chest after a hard day; his smell

Teaching whatever; a student's success


Listening to my Aunt Mary tell stories about her childhood

Performing on stage

My church

Making new friends; visiting old ones

Talking to Mom in person or over the phone

Exchanging dry humor with my dad

Finding common ground with my sister

Reminiscing good times

My friends and family

Grace, Redemption, Mercy

The Lord Jesus Christ

Growing old with the love of my life. Happy birthday, Brandon.

Cease from Anger and Do Good

When you have a positive experience of any kind, there is an inevitability that something or someone will come along to ruin it for you, usually sooner than later. This is especially true if the positive experience was spiritual. Every time I have an encounter with God, that encounter is challenged. Maybe this is good for us, the way things should be. I mean, how do you know what you felt was real unless you are tested? But, oh man! Sometimes the test can be a real pain in the butt!

This past weekend, I had the privilege of attending the Beth Moore simulcast with a precious friend from church. I must be honest--when I agreed to go, I agreed for the same reason I might consent to eat cabbage--I know it's good for me even if I gag a little as it goes down. I know this isn't a healthy view of events such as these. That's not the point. I went. I learned. I changed. I have never been so happy to have my presumptions and prejudices proven wrong in my entire life. I gloried in my wrongness. I learned so much last weekend, but the lesson that has lingered most clearly in my mind was not taught in Beth Moore's absurdly large classroom. It was taught in a one on one tutoring session with God . . .


Last week, I spent several hours preparing a studio policy for my piano and voice students. It was good. It was close to fool proof. I felt secure that no one could take advantage of me after signing this bad mamma jamma. Thursday night, I had a meeting at my house for my students and their parents. The policy was signed by everyone, and I even had one family pay, which I was super excited about as I had in my policy in THREE separate places that all monies paid were NONREFUNDABLE. I already had $60, and I hadn't even taught lesson number one! Yay! Surely this family was serious! Surely they would be excellent clients! I said goodbye to everyone, excited about what possibilities laid in store for my new students. That was prior to my weekend with Beth Moore.

*Back to the tutoring session with God*

Less than 24 hours after the completion of the simulcast, a test literally came knocking on my door. Brandon and I had to teach children's church Sunday morning, and we were cutting it close with the time. I had just finished blow-drying my hair, hadn't yet put on my make-up and was not yet completely dressed. The doorbell rang. I looked at him and asked incredulously, "Who is ringing our doorbell on Sunday morning?" He shrugged, and answered the door while I began to flatiron my hair.

I heard someone ask to see me, but I knew my man would take care of it and send them away so we could make it on time for church. He said, "She's getting ready for church right now," and he began closing the door. The woman stepped over the threshold, ignoring my husband. I side-stepped out of the bathroom into the hall so I could see who this impertinent person was, and realized that I had never seen her in my life. I thought to myself, "Who does this stranger think she is? She's going to make me late, and people are depending on me."

"Ms. Keaster?" the woman asked. As she was over twice my age, I knew this little visit was most likely in reference to my studio. With as much dignity as one could muster when they look worse than they would if they had just rolled out of bed, I answered, "Yes."

She introduced herself as one of my student's grandparents, and told me that her grandchild would not be able to take lessons this year. I asked if anything was wrong because I liked this particular child a good bit and had enjoyed teaching her during the month of July. The woman said that the child was fine, that she was going through "some life changes," which I thought was unreasonably vague. Naturally, this student was the one who had already paid for the month, and naturally, the woman asked for the money back. She was not the guardian that had accompanied my student on Thursday night, so I told her that I had gone over the policy the night that I was paid, and according to my policy, all monies paid are nonrefundable. I also said that I would think about it and get back to her, but I couldn't do anything about it at the moment. I was late for church. She then returns with, "As it wasn't due until her first lesson, I figured we could get the money back." She exited my home with a huff. Had her tone not been abrasive, I still would have been considerably more than irritated for the following reasons. One, I had spent a good amount of time on that policy, thank you very much. Two, I had basically read it to everyone and forced them to sign it before leaving the meeting on Thursday night. Three, she did not call to give me any warning about this visit. Four, she picks SUNDAY FREAKING MORNING to pull this little stunt. Finally, she didn't have to take that tone with me as she left. She bombarded me, while looking gosh-awful mind you, and I told her I would think about it . . . AGAINST MY POL-I-CY.

I'll be honest again. I didn't even fight to keep my temper in check. I began ranting to my husband at the top of my lungs, completely put out--We were late! She made me late! She came into my house without permission! She demanded money that was no longer hers! She got snippety on her way out! I ranted as we ran out the door. I ranted as we began driving down the road. I called someone at church to let them know we would be late. I also asked this dear one to say a prayer for me because I knew that I was in no shape to teach little kiddies about the Lord at that point. I hung up, and ranted some more.

About the time we left the town of Farmerville, words from Psalm 37, the passage we had studied only the day before, came to my mind like a slap to the face. It was as if the Lord said, "Melissa! Get a grip!" The words were "cease from your anger and forsake wrath," and "trust in Me, and do good." I stopped ranting for a moment, and chewed on that thought. I knew what I would do. I would do good. I would give the woman her money back. I knew that was what God was telling me to do, and I would do it. But I could still be mad about it, right? WRONG!!!! "Cease from anger," He whispered again, "forsake wrath." And then I was given a gift . . .

an image . . . a mental picture of what I must have looked like to that woman when she came through my door. And I'm passing this gift on to you because you won't fully understand why I did what I did next unless you see it for yourself. Understand that with this particular hair cut I look like this after flatironing my hair. This is how the public at large sees me on a day to day basis--

So, against the desires of my ego and self-respect, here is what I looked like when she saw me last Sunday morning--

Or better yet, scary hair with my "angry" face.

And that, my friends, is why Brandon and I laughed our heads off all the way to church, and were more than ready to teach our little kiddies when we arrived. And that, my friends, is how I forsook wrath, and took pleasure in doing some good.

A Letter to My Son

My dearest Micah,

Six months ago today, I watched as you entered the world, a moment that changed my life. I will never forget it. You came out all purpled with the cord wrapped around your neck. My heart stopped beating until you let out the most remarkable wail for a thing so tiny. Dr. Pennebaker held you up so I could see. Your brows were furrowed, the corners lips turned down, your delicate eyelids closed. The light in the room hugged your tiny frame and beamed outward, a true reflection of all that I was feeling in that glorious moment. I never believed in “love at first sight” until I met you. And not only did I love you, for the first time in my life, I loved someone naturally, thoroughly more than I loved myself. I knew then I would do anything for you, and in six months that feeling has not faltered, only grown.

Everyone thinks their baby is the most beautiful, gifted baby in the world, but I know for a fact that you actually are. You were a lovely newborn, something very rare, but your beauty has only increased with each new day. Today, you have large, expressive eyes that fall somewhere between brown and gray, and they are framed by long, curling lashes. You have beautiful red hair that curls slightly at the tips when it is damp from sweat or your bath, a feature especially ordered by your Grandma. You have the sweetest heart-shaped little face, decorated with a cleft chin. You have Grandma’s elf ear, Daddy’s lips, Mommy’s forehead, and Grandpa Boyce’s stout physique. You are marvelously unique and beautiful, crafted by the Creator’s loving hand. You are as wonderful in character as you are in body. You are a sweet, easy going, contented baby, full of laughter and smiles for everyone whether young or old. You go along with whatever we throw at you—new people, bottles or breast, varying feeding times and bedtimes--whatever. We can take you anywhere, which is why we’ve taken you with us on two different vacations. You have captured everyone’s heart with your sweetness, which is a good thing because you love, love, love attention and cry when you don’t get it. One of my favorite things you do is that you wake up so happy from your naps. I won’t even know you’re awake until I hear your gentle coos from your crib. It’s one of my favorite sounds in the world. The only damper on your pleasant moods is your awful tummy aches. We have them mostly under control with medication, but you still have trouble from time to time.

In addition to being beautiful and darling, you are a quick learner. You were holding your head up a bit before we even came home from the hospital. You were rolling over both ways on your one month birthday. At three months, you were smiling, laughing, cooing, crowing, jumping (in your jumper), and standing with a little help. You were razzing, babbling, and creeping on your tummy at four months. At five months, you had mastered “da-da,” “ma-ma,” “dub-dub” and squealing, as well as sitting up without help, and copying some movement. You could also locate, pick up, and play with a toy. You can almost put your own pacifier in your mouth. Today, you are well on your way to crawling, as you can push up your chest and get up on your knees, albeit not at the same time (see video below and forgive Mommy for getting a little too excited about things). You have Grandma and Pops thinking you’ll be a genius, but don’t worry, there’s no pressure.

It’s true you have accomplished several physical feats, but you are also a well-traveled and experienced baby. You have been to or traveled through Louisiana, Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida. You have visited the mountains and the beach. You are a good traveler and you really like the sand and ocean! You’ve been swimming. I think you like it. You’ve seen three movies in the theater. You enjoy television, especially Baby Einstein DVDs. You like books, your cloth book in particular, which you can play with and attempt to eat. You’ve been to several of Mommy’s voice lessons, you enjoy playing the piano with mommy (see video below), and although you have heard everything from pop to country to classical to rock to hymns to rap, your favorite song is “Roll Over,” which indicates your flawless musical taste. Your food palate is slightly less extended than your musical one due to your mommy’s allergies. Thus far, you have only had breast milk, goat milk, pear juice, rice cereal and avocado (see video below). Your favorite is avocado, which your daddy is super excited about—he sees lots and lots of guacamole in his future. You’re on this kick where you like to touch, pet, scratch, and taste everything. You are fascinated by the textures of blue jeans, Mommy’s skin and Daddy’s hair.

Micah, you are the only person in the world that I am happy to see at any hour of the day or night. You are the only person in the world that incites me to cry with him when he has a tummy ache. You are the only person in the world that can make this feministic go-getter want to stay home with her child instead of pursuing a career. You are the only person in this world that makes being a stay-at-home mom feel like my real job. You’ve been doing all of this learning, but you’ve also been doing a lot of teaching. You have taught your mommy to slow down, enjoy the moment and not be anxious for things to come. You have taught your mommy to be patient, something no one has ever been able to teach her. You have taught your mommy how to love sacrificially, unconditionally and without bounds. You have given her a glimpse into the heart of our Heavenly Father, into His great, great love for His children. You have brought more joy, light and laughter into our home than I could have ever imagined, and no matter what I give of myself, it will never measure up to what you have given me. Thank you, little one, “for the gladness you have brought me as I have walked these heavy miles.” You have made life oh so sweet. I love you.

All of me,


P.S. I have a few bits of advice to give you before I’m done.

1) Go ahead and mouth as much as you like. It’s a part of your learning process. Just please stay away from the books. You’ll want to read them someday, and never mind the bit I read you from Ezekial a few weeks ago. The only books that taste like honey are the ones God will hand you Himself.

2) Never equate your size with your ability.

3) Regardless of what other parents do, I’m not going to puff you up with nonsense about abilities you don’t actually have in the name of building your self-esteem. I probably won’t even let you win very often, specifically at Boggle. It will be all in the name of love. I can’t have you making a jackass of yourself on national television. You are a child of God, born with a unique set of gifts and purpose. Find your value in Him, and that will be enough.

4) Cling to your innocence. It is far too undervalued in our culture.

5) Strive for balance in all things. Avoid dogmatism at all cost.

6) Don’t be afraid of failure. It’s an everyday part of life. Without risk, there is no reward.

7) Find humor in everything, especially the crappy parts of life. It’s there; I promise, and it will lighten your load when times get tough.

8) Don’t be embarrassed by your last name. You come from good stock, and it will build character.

9) Adulthood isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Enjoy your childhood.

10) Seek God first. Keep your heart pure and tender. Read your Bible every day. Pray about everything. In God alone will you find joy, peace, comfort and hope. Times are only getting harder from here, and you’re going to need Him. He is the only One who will never fail you.

Patience, Patience, Patience

Patience. It is a quality that people generally lack. Most would say that they wish they were more patient. Some people think that patience is a birthright—few have it; most don’t--while other people think of it more as a cosmic trinket from God that they can magically and instantly own. This view is popular among Christians. It is requested of Him often in many prayer circles. There once was a time that I belonged to this group. I quickly learned that I did not really want “the gift” patience, and I now pity those who ask for it without understanding or sincerity.

Galatians 5:22 tells us that patience is a fruit of the Spirit. My translation actually uses the synonym “longsuffering.” I like the term longsuffering because anyone with an average intelligence quotient can dissect and rearrange the word into “suffering long.” Suffering long and producing fruit both require a couple of key ingredients—time and nurture. The reason most people flippantly pray for patience or offer the excuse, “I’m just not a patient person,” is because they do not understand the nature of patience. Patience is not something to be received beautifully gift-wrapped and easily opened. Rather, it is something to be earned through much focused practice and the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives.

The focus must be on the goal. The only sensible reason to become patient is to be more like Jesus Christ. I see no other rational motive. What other benefit is there in being patient? Patience is not good for self. It does not make us feel better. The cost is not really worth simply being a better person. There are other ways to do that. To become more like Jesus, we must seek Him through the only means with which He has provided us—His word and prayer, and then live as He has commanded us. The focus must be on the goal, for attempting to live the life to which He calls us is difficult, and we will fail miserably if we rely on our instincts. Our instincts are self-seeking, which is why most people are disappointed with the results of their request for this illusive thing. What most people actually want when they ask for patience is the absence of conditions that try their patience, but to request such a thing in front of others or even in private would reveal the worst about themselves. Few of us want to confront such depravity. In reality, to ask for patience is really to ask for the opportunity to practice patience. These opportunities are rarely pleasant. They come in the form of heavy traffic when late, an abrasive personality, a repeated offense, a surrender of our own agendas. The time to pray for patience is not at a moment when there is nothing to try it, but at the very moment of our need. Our reaction to these learning opportunities is what will produce patience, and our only hope of responding well is in remembering God’s patience with us, and calling upon the Holy Spirit.

I will not often use this blog as a soap box. The only reason I chose to write about this topic today is because I have had several opportunities to practice patience in the last 48 hours, and I have mostly failed. I need to confess, refocus and recommit. I am beginning to think that having a child is the fruition of all those well-intended but ill-conceived prayers for patience, for Micah has given me more opportunities to practice patience in these last three months than I have known over my entire 25 years. I have won some, and lost some. While I do not always enjoy denying myself or relinquishing my plans to meet his needs, I find the classroom of parenthood a pleasant one, and as long as I can keep properly focused upon the Great Teacher, I have much to gain.