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.

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."
"Why? I've already been baptized. Twice."
"It's weird. It doesn't make sense."
"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!

This Little Light of Mine

Licht / Light
Original image via Flickr Creative Commons courtesy of Herr Olsen

"No one, when he has lit a lamp, puts it in a secret place or under a basket, but on a lampstand, that those who come in may see the light." ~ Luke 11:33

Last week was a big week for me, and I wasn't quiet about it. Almost every day, I posted (to Facebook) some major event, a mile marker on my road to recovery.

On Tuesday, I took a walk in the cold with my little man while Sara was in her dance lesson. Within 25 minutes, I developed a headache and felt I was on the verge of a "crash." I hadn't really planned on a crash or what I would do in the event of one. It was just me and the kids a full half hour from home. But as I warmed up in the car, I said a quick prayer. The headache cleared. I could move my arms again with ease. As a bonus, on that same trip I was exposed to Lysol, and didn't have a major reaction. Believe me when I say this is BIG.

On Wednesday, I pumped gas. I couldn't remember the last time I'd done such a thing. Nor could I remember which side of the car the gas tank was on. Nor how to operate the credit card machine at the pump. But I figured it out. Brandon had admonished me to wear my mask and gloves. I did and had no problems. It made me feel like a grown up again.

On Thursday, this happened...

Nope. Not kidding.

The last movie I had seen in a theater was Les Miserables in December 2012, and I left that feature violently ill. Fast forward to January 7, 2016. We see STAR WARS, and I leave the theater in perfect health! I wore my mask on the way in and out of the theater and during the first half hour or so while people were eating. The theater wasn't crowded, it being the first showing of the day during the middle of the week three weeks after the movie's release. With plenty of space between me and my fellow movie goers, I was able able to enjoy most of the film mask free.

Only a few months ago, I doubted I would ever enjoy another movie in the theater. Which was a shame because before I got sick, movie dates were "our thing."

What I didn't post to Facebook is what happened after the movie...

Original image via Flickr Creative Commons courtesy of Daniella Segura

An Encounter with my Arch Nemesis


Several triggers have tried to kill me over the years, but nothing has come as close to success as "The Peanut." 

Back in 2013, I tried to make a healthy peanut butter for the kids. Big mistake. That little experiment sent me to the brink of death. I struggled to breathe, my blood pressure dropped, I couldn't think or communicate, and my body temperature plummeted to 94.1 degrees. I thought I would meet Jesus that day. 

Since then, I've had a couple of freak reactions to peanuts. Once, when I went through a frozen custard drive-thru. Another time when I kissed the kids after they'd eaten frozen custard. (Custard became a cuss word in this house, as you can imagine.)

Peanuts don't mess around. They carry a fine dust which easily disperses in the air and settles on things like napkins, custard cups, and hard surfaces. Trace amounts are enough to trigger the sensitive and allergic, and the reaction can be severe. Bad stuff goes down when peanuts and I are in the same room.

When it became clear that God was healing me, Brandon and I agreed we wouldn't experiment with triggers which have caused shock reactions. Secretly, I asked God to allow an accident to occur with each shock trigger, but only when my body was ready for it. 

God answered my prayer sooner than expected. 

After the movie on Thursday, B went into the hardware store where we buy local honey. At the entrance is a massive drum of peanuts in the shell. The honey shelf is right next to it. As are the paper bags.

Brandon returned to the car and placed our paper bag of honey in the backseat. Five minutes later, my face and tongue began to swell and my thinking went all...swimmy. 

I swore. Because I knew what it was and I thought it was going to be bad and we had just been on our first date in three years and it was going to end in an emergency. Or so I thought.

Brandon pulled over. I took my rescue meds. Brandon treated me. And I was fine

Usually, peanut reactions continue to worsen over the course of a half hour, and it takes me a week to recover. Brandon skipped hunting that evening to keep watch over me. I kept smiling at him, assuring him I was okay. I told him about my secret prayer. 

God wouldn't have let that happen before I was ready. He doesn't give good gifts just to yank them out of our hands.

The timing of this little accident was so perfect. It happened before I shared a meal with my prayer group last Friday, which gave me extra confidence even though they were careful to accommodate me. More importantly, it happened before the White As Snow Gala for Project 41, which I will attend on the 22nd.
 (Purchase your tickets here.)

Now we know--even if the worst case scenario happens I'm not going to die. Brandon will be able to relax and enjoy instead of worrying about me the whole time. To an extent. And I'll be brave enough to try the food after all these weeks of asking God to allow me to eat it without issue. 

(I'll let you know how that goes.)

Sharing the Light

I realize my constant praise reports may annoy some of my FB friends. I get it. Ecstatically happy people can be irritating. My sick friends may think to themselves, "What about me?" Been there, done that. I know exactly how you feel. 

But after carefully cataloging the descent, it would be seriously neglectful not to document the rise. Don't you think?

My heart is to encourage. For four years, I've been a walking reminder that life can go terribly wrong. That joy can be found in the midst heartache when you lean into Jesus. Now I'd like to be a walking reminder that God hears and answers prayer. I want to be a parable of resurrection. So I continue to display my candle on a lampstand that others may see the light. I pray others will join me with their own healing stories.

Candle lights
Original image via Flickr Creative Commons courtesy of Esteban Chiner

Healing is Contagious

The people who have walked with me through the darkness are the most affected by the light. Maybe more so than me. When you've watched your wife/child/mother/friend fighting for her life against a supposedly incurable, progressive disease, it does something to you when the tragedy is rewritten with hope.

My doctor and friend, Carolyne Yakaboski, often shakes her head in wonder. My parents grin over my latest experiments. Fear loosens its grip on my Superman as he learns to trust and believe. Sara asks me to take her to Sonic so she can play on the playground. 

"Soon," I say. 

But Micah...oh, man. 

Micah is a sensitive kid. He doesn't always show his emotions (as opposed to Sara who wears her heart on her sleeve and wants everyone to participate in whatever she's feeling at the moment). But he feels deeply. Mom reminded me the other day that Micah was adjusting to a baby sister when I got sick. That's a lot of life change for a sensitive little guy. 

Micah has only a couple of memories of me when I was well. He has lots of memories of me in bed. Of being passed around from caretaker to caretaker. Of my absence. He'll be seven next month. I've been sick for over half his life. 

The other day when I told him I would start picking him up from school some days, a gap-toothed smile spread across his face. Tears filled his eyes until one slipped out and ran down the side of his freckled nose. "You made me cry, Mama."

"Does that make you happy?" I clarified. 

He nodded, and I kissed that little nose.

Not long ago, he told my mom with wide, serious eyes, "God has finally heard our prayers."

Lately, he's been praying for other sick people we know with confidence. He believes. And he's been...I don't know. Happier. Almost as happy as when he was a baby.

Mom and I talked as we watched the kids play one day last week. "This is going to stay with him his whole life," she said. "He'll never forget what God did for you. It will shape his relationship with Him forever."

My story probably won't have the same impact on you as it does on my husband and son. But because there's a chance it will shape your view of our good, good Father...

This little light of mine
I'm gonna let it shine
"Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house." (Matthew 5:15)

The Power of Worship

Worship changes things.

The posture of a soul. The climate of a household. The complaints of the body. There's all kinds of healing to be found in turning from ourselves and the concerns of the moment to behold the beauty of God.

I used to have episodes. Spells, I called them. In the evenings, when I was tired, drained, and weary of discomfort, I'd still have to cook. Cooking seemed a monumental task in those moments. Impossible. Living felt impossible.

Arthritis made it difficult to peel vegetables. Phantom stakes drove into the fibromyalgia points in my neck and shoulders. Heat radiated from my skin, tender to the touch. A tension headache would form, unable to be helped by medication or essential oils. I was too sensitive. Still am. And the worst part was the dark cloud which hung over my head, weighing me down.

Either the pain isn't as bad now or I'm used to it. Maybe both. The cloud still visits me sometimes. 

But God (a lovely pair of words, don't you think?) is faithful. He speaks into the cloud. Through the storm of pain and discouragement, I feel Him. Nudging me, reminding me. I'm here. Reach for me.

I always begin with prayer. I ask for help with plain words, sometimes gasped, depending on the level of discomfort. But help doesn't always immediately come.

I move on to gratitude. I reflect on God's kindnesses. They're always there, even in the midst of the ashes. Eventually, with eyes to see and practice, you don't have to look very hard.

A couple of years ago, I thanked God for the strength to stand at the kitchen counter. Back then, I didn't take that strength for granted. Then, maybe I thanked Him for the squash in my hands, which would bring nourishment to me and my family. The infant clinging to my ankles. The little boy bouncing off the furniture. The husband on his way home from work. The messy house.

Gratitude penetrates the cloud, but it doesn't always chase it away.

So then I preach to my soul. Words hidden in my heart find their way to my tongue, sounding from my pulpit at the kitchen sink.

"Why are you cast down, O my soul? Why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him for the help of His countenance." (Psalm 42:5)
"...If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?" (Romans 8:31-32)
 Be bold. Be strong. The Lord your God is with you.
The cloud begins to lift.

But worship is the ace in the hole. It not only dissipates the cloud; it often relieves my physical discomfort. Or at least makes it less important.

Saturday night, I had a bad case of the ickies. You know what I'm talking about. I was all out of sorts, self-conscious about stupid things, and grumpy about having to figure out what to do with the pound of bison I'd thawed. My family was in a funk, too, and not the fun kind.

I remembered my ace, and decided to make it my first play.

Everyone was watching TV, so I grabbed my iPod, stuffed in my earbuds, and turned up a favorite worship album. I sang softly as I cooked and folded laundry, and you know what? I wasn't the only one helped. The atmosphere of our home shifted.

I've learned to expect that. Which is why worship has become my go to remedy for maladies of all kinds.

One night last week, Sara threw a major hissy fit right before bedtime. Girl's got a temper.

  I know you wouldn't believe it looking at this precious face.
But yeah...

I'm a firm believer in not going to bed angry, so I asked God how to help her. Silent prayers in the rocking chair weren't doing the trick, and she was too hysterical to pray herself. I sang a few of her favorite hymns. It helped, but she continued to thrash and cry, inconsolable.

I asked her to sing with me. We sang her current favorite, "At the Name of Jesus." Then she calmed enough to look up at me and say, "I wanna sing 'Jesus on da Cross.'"

I combed my fingers through her downy curls. "I don't know that one, Love. Will you teach it to me?"

Sara sang the following words to a simple melody which made the former music teacher in me proud. She made me repeat the phrases, which helped me to remember the lyrics long enough to copy them down in my journal:

Jesus on da cross...
His name is glorious...
He won da victory for us...
He died on da cross...
So He could save us...

Not a bad little song. And in the process of singing it, her anger evaporated. I tucked her into bed peaceful and content.

Now I wonder how many of my own passions I can reprocess into worship. Fan of experiments that I am, I'll be trying it out in the weeks to come.

In the meantime, what about you? Have you experienced the healing power of worship? Post your story in the comments below so we can all marvel at the healing weapon God has given us.

"Make a joyful shout to God, all the earth!
Sing out the honor of His name;
Make His praise glorious.
Say to God,
'How awesome are Your works!..."
(Psalm 66:1-3)

Weight: Part 3 of 4--Sara Elizabeth

(Photos courtesy of Jolly Tucker Photography.)

"Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory . . . . " --2 Corinthians 4:16-17

You may not be able to tell from the photos, but Sara Elizabeth has been a rather demanding infant. For the first few days after her birth, I thought maybe, just maybe, I would have a placid, flexible baby who would soon be sleeping on her own through the night. I thought I deserved one like that after Micah, the child who didn't sleep for 8 months. What I thought I deserved and what I got were two very different things. Little did I know, Girlfriend was just making sure I wouldn't give her back before revealing her true colors.

The week after I lost half of my weight in blood, I began to notice some troublesome patterns forming. First of all, she liked to eat every 60 to 90 minutes, which roughly translates into a schedule of eat, burp, diaper change, eat, etc. I was doing almost nothing but feeding this child! When Micah needed to eat or use the bathroom, I would often have to lug Sara with me, managing my tasks with one arm. As if her outrageous feeding demands weren't exhausting enough, she refused to sleep at night. For two weeks straight, my sleeping hours were from 8:30 to 11:30 pm and from 6:30 to 8:00 am. Two naps do not equal the rest of a good night's sleep. When she was three weeks old, I gave up the dream of a baby who would miraculously start sleeping at night, and we began to co-sleep in the bed in her nursery. Sleep transformed me into a new woman. More than two months later, the two of us are still in that bed, leaving the master bed (because it is a water bed and therefore unsafe for young babies) to Brandon and Daisy. And then there was the colic . . . Micah had colic, so I was hoping we could manage to escape it a second time. It turns out that I'm very good at guessing wrongly. When Micah was a baby, his screaming hours were reasonable . . . . textbook even--3 to 6pm. From week two, she screamed every single night from about 5 or 6pm until around midnight. No lie. Everyone in the house was suffering from anxiety. Micah would have full out anxiety attacks most nights of the week. He would wake, crying out in a panicked wail until someone went to him. Often, I would spend the evening with Sara, and Brandon would tend to our son. It was seven kinds of awful. Car rides in the evening were hellish. A thirty minute trip could take 2 hours because we would have to stop several times to console our children, one the cause of the other's inconsolation. These things continued for weeks.

Sara was three weeks old when she had her first bout of illness. She caught a cold from Micah. She was horribly congested, which affected her eating and sleeping. There isn't much one can do medication wise for an infant of three weeks, so we just suffered through it.

As bad as these things were, they were manageable. We survived. Miraculously, I was even happy. I say that my happiness has been miraculous for several reasons. Having a baby can often throw a woman into a deep depression, especially someone like me who struggles with depression anyway. I almost always have seasonal depression. It had come to be "that time of year." I had three strikes against me with the fairly difficult circumstances with which I was contending, but I was inexplicably content. Sure, I was loving being a full-time stay at home mom, taking care of my babies without interruption, but that couldn't be the reason I was doing so well. Something wonderful and mysterious was happening. My happiness shared a strange correlative relationship with the difficulty of my circumstances. Here's the thing, though--while my happiness seemed to share a relationship with my circumstances, my circumstances had absolutely nothing to do with it.

Little by little, day by day, my relationship with the Lord was blooming. I had been craving a special quiet time to hide away and pray each day. I wasn't getting it, of course, so I started to pray while I was doing housework. I prayed out loud so Micah would know that I was talking to Jesus, and that he wasn't to interrupt unless he needed something or had something very important to say. I wanted a quiet half hour to devote to Bible study, but sacrificing the sleep wasn't really an option. I was too sleep deprived as it was. Instead, I slowly learned to make the most of the sitting time I had during Sara's feedings to read, meditate, study or memorize God's word. My time with the Lord was no longer under the structure or stricture of a rushed half hour where I would hurriedly try to check off all the intended items on my nice, neat, Christian girl, to-do list. Instead, my time with the Lord was becoming my entire day.

And then, a grueling gut-check came: a test to see whether or not I was all in with this God thing or if I was just happy to do it while things were "manageable."

Sara began to have a troubling cough after the start of the New Year. She also began projectile vomiting at several feedings. I knew it couldn't be allergies because she was a breastfed baby. Nothing had changed in my diet, so I knew the problem must have had something to do with her. Brandon and I decided she should go to the doctor.

Every winter, a few passed around illnesses strike fear in the hearts of mothers of very young children everywhere, and Sara had caught one of them--RSV. I knew of several young infants who had to be hospitalized for this virus, so I was rightly afraid. In addition to RSV, Sara had a double ear infection. On January 6th, we began a medication routine that included an antibiotic, a probiotic, and an at-home breathing treatment. Micah was also sick with a sinus infection. I had to take care of two sick babies during Brandon's busiest time of year at work. I was worried. I was stressed. But I took my cares to the Lord, and He took care of me.

For awhile, Sara seemed to get better. Out of sheer stupidity and ignorance, we stopped her breathing treatments, thinking she was well. We got out of the house for a couple of days one week in the middle of January, just long enough to soak in a little bit of much-needed social interaction and to spread our illness to another child. Then, the RSV came back with a vengeance. I took Sara to the doctor for a third time in the span of a few days. She was much worse. She was put on round-the-clock breathing treatments of two kinds, which required me to get up at 3am every night. She was also put on a third round of antibiotics, an oral steriod, an antihistamine and two prescription creams for the terrible diaper rash she had developed from all of the antibiotics. This time, I was truly alarmed. I prayed desperately that God would keep us out of the hospital.

For days and days, I spent most of my time giving medications that were spit out or puked up, administering treatments, changing diarrhea diapers, cleaning up vomit after each of Sara's feedings, and consoling and crying with my baby girl whose stomach was cramping violently due to the antibiotic. I was also trying to give Micah some much-needed attention, keep the laundry going, make sure we had clean dishes and food to eat. From the moment my feet hit the floor each morning, I was running all day long.

During this time, I felt completely overwhelmed. I was exhausted. I was grumpy. I was stressed out. I was lonely. I was anxious about my daughter. Rather than let these feelings slowly drive me bonkers, I turned these feelings into prayers.

There is a passage from the Psalms that I memorized when Micah was a baby.

"Trust in the Lord, and do good.
Dwell in the land, and feed on His faithfulness.
Delight yourself also in the Lord,
and He will give you the desires of your heart.
Commit your way to the Lord,
and He will act."
--Psalm 37: 3-5

I made a conscious decision to completely trust Him, whatever happened. I could rest in the fact that God is faithful and good. If we were to go to the hospital, He wouldn't leave us to go through it alone. I recalled all of the times He had proven Himself faithful in the past, and memory by memory, my fears were put to rest. The word "commit" in verse 5 actually means to "roll your cares upon" or "repose in." I visualized a physical rolling of my cares upon my God, my Rock, and as I did so, God filled me with peace and joy. While I very much desired for my child to be well, my chief desire came to be constant fellowship with Him, and boy, did He DELIVER!!!! I find it almost amusing that what David was telling me to delight in became the desire of my heart. It also became clear to me that while, yes, I desperately needed my child to be well, my greatest need was His constant presence in my life. This, my greatest need, He tended to first. And I am so abundantly grateful that He did.

My days have been long and difficult, but also full of joy and peace. I haven't been getting much sleep, but I am being given rest. As the pressure has increased, I have leaned harder into Jesus. And God has been good. He has practically pummeled me with encouragement.

A couple of weeks ago, I began following two blogs by two sisters in Christ who were undergoing their own suffering. One is facing an undiagnosed illness that will probably affect the rest of her life. This girl PREACHES, and she speaks my language! Check her out, and be encouraged! The other blog is authored by a girl who became a widow at the age of 21, about a year after she and her husband were married. She is incredibly transparent and genuine. You should also check out her testimony here. God has also sent me scriptures, songs and books to speak truth and comfort into my life. My biggest source of comfort has been the old hymn, "Be Still My Soul--"

"Be still my soul, the Lord is on your side.
Bear patiently the cross of grief or pain;
Leave to thy God to order and provide,
Through every change, He faithful will remain.
Be still my soul, thy best and heavenly Friend
through thorny ways leads to a joyful end . . .
Be still my soul, the winds and waves still know
the voice who ruled them when He dwelt below."

I just love that, especially the last line.

One month into Sara's illness, she is much better. She finished up her antibiotic yesterday. We probably have another month of breathing treatments. We are still in the thick of it, but no longer in any danger of an extended hospital stay. For now, we are staying in, trying to keep the germs to ourselves and avoid any new ones. The other day, I noticed that somewhere in the middle of our RSV saga, Sara outgrew her colicky stage. Praise the Lord! In a few weeks, she will be old enough to sleep train. Sometimes, she makes it 2 hours or more between feedings. Things are getting better, but in no way do I plan to let go of what I have gained. It is simply too good.

Not that I could let go, anyway. Now, more than ever, I am having to to cling to Jesus. Sara hasn't been the only one fighting for her health, and she is now doing much better than I am.

Happy 3 Month Birthday to my sweet baby girl!

. . . . to be continued in Part 4: Concerning Death and Dreams

Weight: Part 1 of 4--A Birth Story

"Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory . . . . " --2 Corinthians 4:16-17

I last wrote three months ago. Since then, much has changed. My family has changed. A bright and beautiful new soul is with us. Micah is no longer an only child, but a very important big brother. Brandon is now responsible for the living of four. This responsibility has not been easy, which will be explained in a later post. He and I both are learning how to be good parents to two children, each child unique in personality and needs, each one dear and precious to our hearts and in the sight of God. My own life has taken several drastic changes, but I will get to that. My four part story begins with joyous circumstances, filled with hope, happiness and invaluable blessing! And yet, something was missing . . . . something I did not know was missing. Something I could not miss until I needed it in order to survive.


I was a bundle of nerves as Brandon and I approached the hospital. I hadn't slept well the night before, and had only managed a short nap that afternoon. It was midnight, and I knew my chances of being able to sleep on the stiff hospital bed to which I was soon to be strapped were slim. In my mind, it didn't matter terribly, for I was certain I would have this baby by early morning, and I could rest then. Boy, was I wrong . . . .

I was chained to my prison (I really hate those beds) by 12:45 a.m., and put on Pitocin at 1:30. I calculated that I should be in heavy labor by 5:00 a.m., and finished by 9. I was too excited to sleep. Brandon and Mom had no trouble snoozing away. I watched from the bed of torture a little enviously.
The night slowly dragged by, highlighted by an occasional visit from the nurse, the horrid blood pressure cuff going off every 15 minutes and contractions that were becoming increasingly regular, but not strong enough to do any good. I finally became bored with the monotony, and managed a brief snooze around 6:30 a.m. I awoke less than an hour later, feeling annoyed. I was behind schedule! I hate being behind schedule!

At 8:00 a.m., my OB came and broke my water, and gave me some highly undesirable news--I had not progressed all night long. She tweaked a few things for me so I could get going, told me I was good to get my epidural, and left. Remembering my labor with Micah, I immediately requested my epidural. I am not a fan of pain. During the hour I waited for the anesthesiologist, I became agitated. I felt that I couldn't stay on that bed a moment longer, much less on a heap of wet, chafing towels until the baby came . . . but I had to. I was no longer allowed to get up. My sweet Aunt Suzonne, a former OB nurse, came to my rescue. She changed out my towels, trying to get me comfortable. Even after this, I still wanted to call the whole thing off, and try again later. If only that had been an option. My contractions were getting stronger, I was soaking my towels again, and I really just wanted to scream from the irritation of it all. Instead, I prayed, remembering the Source of my help, and somehow managed to stay where I was without losing my mind.

Finally, the anesthesiologist came. I told him that he was a very welcome sight. He went through his list of questions, which must be the most annoying questions ever asked to a woman. I just wanted my blankety-blank epidural! He noticed my impatience, and smiled knowingly. "Let's get to it, then," he said.

Here, I think I made my mistake. I didn't know it was a mistake at the time, and I don't think my anesthesiologist knew the consequences of it. When I felt the pressure of the needle, my body instinctively jerked away from the needle. Then, the anesthesiologist said something that has reverberated in my brain over and over again for the last three months, "When you feel the pressure, don't jerk away. Lean into me." Too late. Damage done. But I wouldn't know it until a little later. For the moment, I enjoyed the sensation of pain and agitation leaving my body. I relaxed, asked the nurse to tell my family to return, and closed my eyes. I slept. Can I get an amen?

I'm not sure how much time lapsed, but when my eyes opened at the creak of my room's door, I noticed that I was still alone. After the nurse checked me out, I asked her to find my family. A few minutes later, they returned, all a little anxious about me. They had been waiting over an hour to hear from the nurse.

Around 11 a.m., a troubling sensation began on my chest, spreading to my arms, stomach, legs and lips. I was itching. I told Brandon, Mom and Aunt Suzonne what was going on. As I am the queen of allergies, we decided to notify the nurse so I could get something for it. Now this reaction seemed like a bad thing at the time. I was miserable for a bit. Based on my allergic history, I was a little afraid the itching could progress to something worse. But the Benadryl I was given took care of my symptoms, and I slept deeply for over an hour. That sleep was a gift, let me tell you, because it helped me get through what was coming. Once again, my strange allergies saved the day! Thank you, Jesus!

I awoke when a nurse I hadn't yet seen came bustling in, telling me that my OB wanted me to get things going. After checking me, I was still only 4.5 centimeters dilated and only 70% effaced. It was 12:45 p.m. at this point. I was way behind schedule. The nurse sat me straight up in the bed of torture, but I was okay with it. I had rested, and was ready to get things rolling.

After a short while, I began feeling things I didn't think I should be feeling. Pressure. Light pressure became heavy pressure, which became pain. It wasn't long before I was feeling everything. I punched my magic epidural button, but nothing happened. I called for the anesthesiologist. I watched the clock closely until he arrived, punching my useless magic button every 15 minutes. He finally came and gave me a bolas, but after a very brief period of relief, the pain came back, and naturally, was worsening.

I cried, prayed and puffed. I had NOT signed up to do this naturally. I had nothing to prove, no strange desire to "feel everything." I hate pain. I am NOT a fan, I tell you! Have you ever felt so much pain that you couldn't even make a coherent sentence? All I could do was breathe deeply, in and out, and cry, "Jesus! Jesus! Jesus!" During a brief break in between contractions, I managed one thought--"If Jesus could suffer so much worse for His children, I can suffer this little bit for my child." And so I determined that I would bear the pain, no matter how bad it became.

Finally, I found that I could not help but push--my body was just doing it on its own. At 4:50 p.m. (again, way behind schedule), they had me ready to go with an audience of uncomfortable size. There were at least 7 people in that room. It may as well have been one hundred the way it felt, but I was too distracted by the pain to worry too much about it.

You know the women in movies who cry out, wringing wet with sweat? That was me. I had heard you get relief when you push, and maybe you do get a little bit of relief from the contractions, but I'm here to tell you, I did not feel relieved. Maybe relief is reserved for women who deliver small babies with small heads. I knew I had to do this quick, or I was going to run out of energy, so I threw everything I had into it. The nurse told me in code to quit making noise. Had I had any extra effort to give her, she probably would have gotten a piece of my mind, not at all in code, but I had to focus or I wasn't going to make it, and I didn't want a C-section.

I felt it when she crowned, but I needed a breather to prepare me for that last push. Then, with a ripping sensation I had never wanted to feel and never want to feel again, out she came to the accompaniment of my cries, "Ow! Ow! Ow!"

And then I heard her cry. Gravity shifted, centering on her little being. She was placed in my arms which brought a little relief to my pain. I cried as I held her, feeling equal parts joy and desire for the repair work to be done. I felt everything. I tried to focus now on the sweetness of holding my daughter, and not on what was happening below.

She was different than Micah, covered in a white, waxy coat. Her legs had the most scrumptious rolls of baby fat. Her face was round and beautiful, her lips a perfectly shaped rosy pout. Her eyes were wide pools of endless happiness. I did not know I had been incomplete until I held her. I did not know that I needed this baby girl until I took her in with every sense I had. My heart expanded to make room for this tiny soul, and for the hour I was given with her right after birth, I utterly lost myself. It was wonderful.Sara Elizabeth Keaster was born November 7, 2011 at 5:07 p.m. weighing 8 lbs., 4 oz., measuring 21 inches long.

Later that night, my little family gathered together for the first time. My Nona and Papaw brought Micah to meet his baby sister, and we all waited eagerly for the nurse to deliver her to our room.
(Photo courtesy of Jolly Tucker Photography.)

The moment we came together as a family of four was one of the most beautiful moments in my life, something I will treasure in my heart forever. My sweet cousin, Morgan Tucker, was there to capture a few images that can better explain the sheer rapture of the moment than any words I can write. Enjoy!--

I am abundantly grateful for the glorious sweetness of that time, for dark and dangerous clouds were gathering, and rain was on the horizon. It was the calm before the storm, and what a storm it has been.

. . . . to be continued in Part 2 of 4: Provision