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!

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

Original image via Flickr Creative Commons courtesy of Michael Stern


It Begins

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

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

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


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

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

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

Asthma Inhaler
Original image via Flickr Creative Commons courtesy of NIAID

The Allergy Shots Experiment

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

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

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

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

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

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


The Descent

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The Plummet

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

(Note: Prayer changes things. Every time.)

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

Nutritional Therapy


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

Even still, my "safe foods" list dwindled.

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

As Brandon so eloquently put it, I was bulletproof.

The Big Leagues


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 The menu.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The End


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Weight: Part 4 of 4--Concerning Death and Dreams

"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

Have you ever thought about what the glory of God must be like? Paul describes it here in a physical sense. He describes it as heavy, far heavier than any pressure we can experience in this life. I imagine it to be unbearable, a pleasure so strong that it's excruciating. Even believers, being redeemed by Christ's blood, cannot look into the face of God and live. It would entirely sweep us away. So how will we be prepared to enjoy an encounter with a power beyond anything we can comprehend or stand . . . even in the next life? Hopefully, we will be given the great honor of experiencing the excruciating glory of God in life through the excruciating experience of suffering.

You may ask, "Why on earth would anyone hope to experience suffering?" That's a good question. In his book, Don't Waste Your Life, John Piper answers this way--

" . . . suffering with Jesus on the Calvary road of love is not merely the result of magnifying Christ; it is also the means. He is made supreme when we are so satisfied in him that we can 'let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also' and suffer for the sake of love. His beauty shines most brightly when treasured above health and wealth and life itself. He knew that suffering (whether small discomforts or dreadful torture) would be the path in this age for making him most visibly supreme. That is why he calls us to this. He loves us. And love does not mean making much of us or making life easy. It means making us able to enjoy making much of him forever--no matter what it costs." (p. 61-62)

As a long-distance runner begins by running short distances before running a marathon and as a body-builder must begin by lifting light weights before he becomes a champion, we are given a shadow of a taste of the exceeding weight of glory we will experience in eternity by walking with Jesus on the Calvary road of suffering in this life. We are building the muscle, if you will, that we need to bear this unbearable weight of glory,"to enjoy making much of him forever," which is what heaven is really all about. We should hope to suffer with Jesus so we can hope to enjoy the sensation of being knocked flat on our faces before an eternal, all-powerful God.

Of course, it is not natural for man to hope to suffer, but suffering comes in a fallen world whether or not we hope for it. Suffering will come, and when it does, we can either embitter ourselves against a holy, loving God, which is the natural bent of man, or we can lean into Him with all of our might, which is supernatural--the work of God in us. When we lean into Him rather than "jerking away" (if you are confused by the quotations here, read Part 1), He gives us everything we could possibly need. We, like the Apostle Paul, can live "as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything" (2 Corinthians 6:10).

But what do I know of this? Honestly, not much. But I do have a story to tell about the small portion of the Calvary road I have walked.

Those of you who know me personally are privy to the fact that I am basically allergic to the world in which I live. I have the normal allergies to grasses, pollens, molds and dust mites that a lot of people have, but I have several strange and obscure allergies, too--wheat, tree nuts, soy, dairy, corn, watermelon, kiwi, tapioca starch, guar gum, xanthum gum, teff flour (an encounter that negatively affected my health for the greater part of 2011), and pretty much all grains with the exception of rice. I bet you haven't even heard of some of that stuff, much less would know how to avoid it. When most people think of allergies, they think of stuffy or runny noses, coughing, watery and itchy eyes, etc. My allergies are more of the hives, full-body itching, hot flashing, inability to breathe variety, especially when it comes to wheat, nuts and certain types of grass. I've carried an Epi-Pen for 5 years now, and I know how to use it.

I wasn't born like this. I was born with allergies, sure, but not with this excessively long list of food allergies. When I was 20 years old, I began to react to one food right after the other. I had to completely change the way I ate and lived. I made several mistakes while I was learning, and these mistakes weren't very forgiving. Benadryl has been a life-saver multiple times. I've been known to drink a significant portion of Children's Benadryl to avoid using my Epi-Pen so I could thereby avoid the hospital. An account of my closest brush with death can be found here.

I had gotten pretty good at protecting myself. I had learned which foods were safe at which restaurants. I had learned not to eat at social functions. I had learned not to even have wheat flour in the house. My last severe mistake was in January 2011. I was doing pretty darn good. And then, a new allergen presented itself.

I can't know for sure, but I think the first severe manifestation of this new allergy occurred during labor. I believe the reaction I suffered after being given my epidural was my first big reaction to sulfa/sulphites. Some of you may know that sulphites can be found in wine, which is easy enough to live without, and sulfa is easily enough avoided if you have a sharp doctor and pharmacist (which I have). But as the most extraordinary thing about me is the extraordinary way I react to allergens, I have proven to be far more sensitive to the stuff than others I know who share this allergy.

One Friday in January, in the midst of Sara's bout with RSV, I had an unique opportunity to do some pampering. Brandon had taken Micah out of the house. Sara was sleeping soundly in her swing. I took a long, hot shower, and then decided to use a facial mask I had been wanting try out. I caked it on, nice and thick, not bothering to be conservative with my use. When I had my face and neck covered, my skin began to tingle. I thought it was probably normal, just an effect of the mask. Then, my skin began to burn unpleasantly. Hmmm . . . . I didn't think a mask should burn. And then, I couldn't get the thing off fast enough. I scrubbed quickly, my face and neck feeling like they had been splashed with acid. When I got all of it off, I kept dousing my face with cold water. It didn't help. I applied a facial lotion, aloe vera gel, a calming lotion . . . nothing was easing the burning sensation. I did finally read that the facial mask contained sulfur, and decided to take a couple of Benadryl tablets for good measure. A few minutes later, I noticed that my chest was tightening and my tongue was swelling. The Benadryl wasn't working! After quickly checking with my Aunt Suzonne who is a nurse, I took 50mg more Benadryl. The next step was my Epi Pen, and I had no one but a dependent infant within half an hour of me to haul my butt to the hospital. God heard my pleas, and the 100mg of Benadryl in my system eased my breathing and reduced the size of my tongue.

This incident was the first time I found that I could not make skin contact with the allergen at hand. I can make my son a peanut butter and jelly sandwich with whole wheat bread, but the sulfa cream prescribed for Sara's diaper rash proved to be life threatening. I wore protective gloves, and still had a violent reaction while using it. I'm using cloth diapers with cloth liners for Sara. The other day, I saw a clean cloth liner on the floor in the laundry room. I picked it up, and threw it in the laundry basket with the other clean cloths. It had been contaminated with the sulfa cream, but it had been washed and dried. The single second that my fingertips touched the liner was enough contact to tighten my airways. That's it! A second. And then, there is the extensive list of foods and pharmaceutical drugs I must completely avoid. I had only thought that learning to live without wheat was difficult. I hate to use words like this, but avoiding everything I must in order to live safely is going to be impossible. The list is far too long with far too many possibilities for error to avoid everything completely. I must read every label of everything I put into my mouth or touch. If I eat food someone else has prepared for me, I'll be taking a major risk. A night out on the town could easily prove to be the last night of my life. That sounds dramatic and ridiculous, especially to me who prefers to avoid the dramatic and ridiculous outside of books and off the stage, but it's true. This is my new reality. And to be honest, for the first time in my allergic life, I am terrified.

I have begun to understand that my life is in danger. This one is bad. My dreams of raising my children and having a long, full life with my husband are under terrible threat. I look into the faces of my babies and begin to cry because I'm afraid I won't be allowed to look at them long enough to satisfy me. My soul tears in two when I think of the worst. My children need me. No one else can love them like I do. When Brandon talks of the future, I feel uncomfortable because I know that I might not be in it. These are the best years of my life. I don't want to die.

It was with these thoughts I went to bed the night I reacted to the sulfa cream while wearing my protective gloves. I was awash in despair. I prayed and cried myself to sleep that night, hugging Sara tighter to my chest than usual. And that night, God gave me a dream. Before I relate the dream, I want you to understand that I am not special in any way. I have never before been given a dream, much less the ability to understand it. Normally, I'm just like everyone else and I just have dreams, but this one was different.

The dream began with unimportant prologue. All I can remember early in the dream is that I was running from something, but I didn't know what it was. The important part of the dream began with me, hiding in a safe house, with white, blank walls and empty spaces. I had two protectors with me--one felt like Brandon, the other felt much less important, but the faces were hazy. I was getting dressed for some unknown reason. I wasn't going anywhere, but I was looking especially pretty. I was sitting on a bed, putting on a pair of red ballet flats when two figures passed by an open window outside the next room, into which I could clearly see. I saw one of the figures stop abruptly. I'm not sure how, but I knew that he had smelled me. He turned to face me through the window. I can't quite say that we made eye contact because he didn't have eyes, but we were trapped in each other's gaze nonetheless. He was huge, a towering giant of a man. But he wasn't a man. His head was like that of a bison or a wildebeest or something of that nature. (Think The Chronicles of Narnia here, but we aren't talking about a good animal.) He was dressed in all black, and he radiated all things terrible. He left the space of the open window, and I knew he was coming for me. My protectors knew he was coming, too. The one who did not feel like Brandon ran to the front door. He tried to stop him, but after The Beast knocked down the door, he flung my first protector aside as if he were nothing at all. His footsteps thundered slow and deliberate toward me. The Brandon-ish protector said, "Don't be afraid. I'll protect you." I believed he would try. I just didn't believe that he actually could. The Beast now stood before me. I was on the ground, scooting away from him in fear. I was covered in a cold sweat. He raised his huge fist into the air. I knew he was about to deliver a blow, and when he did, it would kill me. I was seconds from my death, and the protector in the room with me would only be able to stand there and watch. As the creature's fist swung toward me, a magical, blue force field appeared out of nowhere in front of me, deflecting The Beast's blow entirely. The Beast stared without eyes at the force field in a wild rage. Suddenly powerless to hurt me, he walked back to the broken front door. Before he walked out, he turned back and caught me once again in his cruel gaze. He did not speak, but his message was burned into my brain--"You escaped this time, but I'll be back again and again until I get you." With that, he left. I realized that I was no longer safe, even in hiding. I decided to leave my safe house. I was leaving my protectors behind, and about to walk as far I could into the wide, open horizon that stretched before me, but my protectors followed. One plead, "Let us go with you! We will find a way to protect you." I said, "No. No one can protect me." The protector replied, "What about the force field?"

I gave some response that is muddy in my brain because this is the point at which I began to wake up.

Later that morning, I couldn't get the dream off of my brain. I was consumed with morbid thoughts, taking the dream as a bad omen--an omen that meant I didn't have many days left. But in my sadness, I reached out to the Lord. I prayed. I combated fear with scripture I had memorized. I worshiped. As I did these things, God impressed upon my spirit that I needed to write out the dream in my journal.

I put Micah down for his nap, and I did so. As I wrote out the dream, God gave me its meaning!

I looked pretty in the dream because the time frame represented the best years of my life---the years I'm living now. I was in a safe house because I was trying to hide away, but the blank walls spoke of an empty life. My two protectors were Benadryl and Epi Pen. The one that felt like Brandon was the Epi Pen. These protectors are ultimately unable to protect my life. The Beast figure is, of course, death. Death is pursuing me. It is coming after me. It won't stop. It will smell me out again and again and again. But as the protector asked, "What about the blue force field?" Well, it was God. God turned death away. He turned it away because He, and no one else, gets to decide the number of my days.

After the dream interpretation, this is what I recorded in my journal:

"'He knows the days of the upright, and their inheritance shall be forever.' --Psalm 37:18

[God] can turn away death or send it at His will. I have not been given the knowledge of my life's length. Each breath is a gift from the Lord, and I am as likely to die in a car crash as I am of anaphylaxis. Just because I am weaker than the next person doesn't mean that my life will be shorter. I am weak because God wants me to know that His grace is sufficient for me; His strength is made perfect in my weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9). So, I can boast gladly in my infirmities that the power of Christ may rest on me.

And there is the possibility that I could die. Soon. From a reaction. From an accident. From a murder, even. And what of it?

'Shall we indeed accept good from God, and shall we not accept adversity?' --Job 2:10

And what about this?: 'And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.' --Romans 8:28

If this verse is true, it must also be true that for the Christian, death is good.

'For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard-pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better.'--Philippians 1:21-23

So why the fear? Why the heartbreak? Why the agony of feeling my chest ripped open at the thought of dying? It's because I don't want to leave my man. It's because I want to raise my kids. It's because I am convinced that no one can love them like I can. Because I want to witness their lives in all their stages. Mostly, it's that I know I can never drink in enough of their sweet, baby faces to ever be satisfied. But why do I think Jesus' face would be any less sweet? His would be 1,000 times sweeter! Why do I think no one else could care for my little loves like me? Jesus cares 1,000 times more than I ever could! A long life with my husband would be a grand gift, but nothing compared to the eternity I will have with my Ultimate Groom.

This dream is not to be a thing that haunts me, although it will. It is a reminder of who is really in control of my destiny. It is a reminder that each breath is a gift. It is a reminder that death, though scary, is gain. So, let The Beast find me, again and again and again. I won't be leaving this earth until God's preordained time, and then I will be with Him, safe and completely satisfied in Him.

Funny, I guess, that I just wrote the ending to my dream--I am going to live my life, not in fear or in hiding, but out in the open and full to the hilt until the blue force fields come to my rescue no more, and I wake from death's final blow in the arms of my Savior."

I ended my entry here.

Here's the thing--we all live in a place of uncertainty. I'm just hyper-aware of that fact right now. Sometimes, while I'm holding Sara or playing with Micah or kissing Brandon, I take a deep drag of oxygen, and silently thank God for that one, special breath. I take a little more joy in the fact that I have almost no alone time because who would want to spend their last day or moment alone? I'm enjoying one on one time with my children more because I feel the pressure of getting the housework done much less. I'm leaning on God moment by moment, because in reality, He orders their number anyway. I have nothing to fear because nothing can separate me from his love (Romans 8:38-39), not allergens, not anaphylaxsis, not pain, not car crashes, not murder, not anything. And I can fulfill my purpose in life or death.

The purpose for my existence is to be glad in God and help as many others to be glad in God as possible. I hope this post encourages you in some way toward that gladness, the greatest gladness to be had in this life and the next. To know that gladness, you have to know my Jesus, and the only way to do that is to accept Him for who He says He is--He claimed to be the God of the Universe and the, meaning the only, Savior of our souls. He is not merely a good teacher. He is more! It comes down to this--believing Jesus, which is the only faith that has any value. If you can't believe this, but want to, don't worry. You don't have to contrive faith of your own, on your own. Faith is a gift! Ask God for it, and He will give it to you! If you have any questions about a life lived for Jesus, I want to talk to you. Email me at We'll talk.

If you have a relationship with Christ, but aren't in a place where death seems to be gain, that's also okay. I have some recommended reading for you:

1) The Gospels of The Bible. Jesus is the key to death being gain. Start there, then move to the letters of Paul. The Apostle and Saint understood what it meant for death to be gain more than anyone else ever has.

2) Don't Waste Your Life by John Piper.

3) King's Cross by Timothy Keller.

These books have been great encouragements to me in the last few months through trial after trial.

Let me tell you this--it is a struggle to stay in the mindset of death being gain. It is a work of the Holy Spirit. The devil loves to come around, stirring up fear and anxiety when he can, so I need your prayers. Please pray for my peace, first and foremost. I also need God's protection as I navigate this major life change. I cannot avoid every mistake, but it would be nice to avoid some.

Also, I am not suicidal. If you see me out cold on the pavement and not breathing, please find my mini purse inside my diaper bag at the top, get out my Epi Pen and stab me in the leg. Do it for me, for my husband and for my kids. Thank you.

Finally, I want you to know that as bad as this is (and everything else in the last three months has been), I am thankful that this bad thing has happened. It is being worked for my eternal good and hopefully, for the eternal good of others, as well. This horrible, scary, light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for me a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory. And that is a very, very good thing.

In Everything . . .

I haven't written in awhile. I could excuse myself in a number of ways, but the truth is I haven't felt like it. The plan was to write a post about our family trip to the Buffalo River which took place the first week of June. I even began mentally composing it the moment we arrived. It should have begun:

"I love coming to these mountains year after year. After better than 16 trips to and through the Ozarks, they almost feel like a second home. Each time I travel through, it's different. I've seen these mountains as a frozen world covered in a snowy blanket, and I've seen them alive with life as Spring draws to a close and Summer prepares for its grand entrance. This year, the cicadas are present and many, and as we exit the vehicle, we are met with their welcoming screeches which come at us in boisterous, rolling waves."

The post was supposed to begin this way, tell a lovely story about Micah's first float on the river, and end with a pleasant sentiment. But tragedy struck and sucked away all of my desire to tell that story. Smaller, yet significant, traumas bookending the trip left me a little dull and lifeless. I didn't quite have a case of writer's block. It felt more like writer's hangover. I had become drunk with the heavy and strong drink of bad things happening and the possibility of other bad things happening, and I couldn't quite get my head clear enough to sort it all out. After a little time--time to view the events of the past few weeks with some distance and biblical perspective--I think I'm finally ready to tell the story. I no longer feel any apprehension about sharing the story because the news and papers had no problem sharing the story, and did so incorrectly, might I add. Besides, they left out all of the good parts. So here goes--

I love coming to these mountains year after year. After better than 16 trips to and through the Ozarks, they almost feel like they belong to me, a second home. Each time I travel through, it's different. I've seen these mountains as a frozen world covered in a snowy blanket, and I've seen them alive with life as Spring draws to a close and Summer prepares for its grand entrance. This year, the cicadas are present and many, and as we exit the vehicle, we are met with their welcoming screeches which come at us in boisterous, rolling waves. I missed the undercurrent moans, forewarning me of the day to come, but I was unable to miss that the day was hot and alive.

The group joining my family was a lovely mix of old friends and new. Souls I had loved as a young child when my family attended Central Baptist Church were mixed with newer friends and brand new faces. Derek Crockett, who I had wanted to marry when I was 3 years old, had his two boys along with him. James Liner hugged my neck, and told me how much Micah reminded him of me as a toddler. My parents' long-time friend, Leo Honeycutt, was there, and as always, provided excellent food and comic relief for everyone. In all, there were 29 people with us, and the mix of people was perfect. However, the meeting of new faces would have to wait until later. Micah and I were exhausted after the long trip, and needed an early bedtime in preparation for the even longer day on the river.

The next day dawned bright and clear. The water was the prettiest I had seen it in a long time. The sunlight pouring from the heavens revealed pleasant shades of blue and green in the deeper pools, and the water was just right for carrying a two-year-old on his first float. Micah excitedly climbed in the canoe with expectant cries of "Catchy fish! Catchy fish!" It promised to be a very good day. (And allow me to interpose here that it truly was.)

The young boys and teenage girls splashed and smiled and tried to tump each other's canoes. The adults relaxed and laughed as they tried to ease into impossibly cold, mountain water. Micah enjoyed dipping his hands in the water off the side of the canoe, taking turns in our laps, and throwing rocks from the canoe into the water until he finally, after a serious effort to fuss himself out of the need of a nap, surrendered into a quiet sleep in my arms.

I watched children and adults alike leap off of Jim's Bluff, and laugh heartily as they surfaced the icy water. It was my turn to laugh when I watched my middle aged parents succumb to peer pressure, and swim out to deeper waters for this photo op.

Later in the day, our group stopped at the trail head to Hemmed-in-Hollow Falls, a beautiful feature on the upper leg of the Buffalo River. Because I was pregnant and Micah was two, our little family stayed behind to enjoy swimming and fishing as we watched the majority of our group disappear into the foliage. Micah couldn't have been happier with our choice. He found the largest rocks he could manage, picked them up grunting, "Heaby," and joyfully tossed them back into the water. He also reeled in a couple of Daddy's catches, and even kissed a fish!

While we were having a good time at the riverside, everyone else was having a good time up at the falls.

When our group returned from their hike, they all made their way back to their canoes. It was getting late. Everyone was getting tired, but we were all in good spirits. The day had been a beautiful blessing.

This is the point of the story where I want to close with a warm, fuzzy, "happily ever after" ending. This is also the part of the story where things from my limited, human perspective go wrong . . .

Brandon likes to be in the back of our canoe caravan because he likes to take his time and fish. We watched the canoes pass safely through a small set of very ordinary rapids one by one until only a handful of canoes were left. James Liner and his young partner had some difficulty with the rapids, and flipped the canoe. Brandon and I didn't see it flip, but we caught a canoe paddle and other paraphernalia as it drifted downstream. Another couple helped them right the canoe, and get back on course. As they paddled past us, I noticed a cut above Mr. Liner's eye. He had bumped his head against something. I asked him if he was alright, and he grinned, saying he was fine. There was no reason to doubt him.

Over the next half hour, Micah grew a little fussy. It was his dinnertime, and he hadn't gotten a good nap that day. Every time the canoe jarred a little against the rocks, he became uneasy. One such bump sent him over the edge into a full-fledged wail, which confirmed my decision that we would stay at the camp the next day so he could rest.

It was immediately after this incident that we saw them. We saw the three standing, performing CPR first, all from our group--a nurse and her husband, one of Mr. Liner's nieces. Then I saw other canoes from our group banked on the shore, their inhabitants sitting stock still with faces blank. And then I saw him. I knew at once who it was even though he wasn't the right color. I knew at once that he was no longer with us. And while we have no way of knowing what happened for certain, my brain quickly jerked back to the cut above his eye.

Micah wailed until Brandon shoved us to the bank. A small miracle, Micah immediately hushed himself and grew still and content in my arms. Without a word, Brandon joined the party performing CPR. Tears formed in my eyes, spilling down my cheeks. I may have been the only one blubbering there like a baby, and that is a little embarrassing, but I was hyper-aware of the fact that Mr. Liner's son and nieces were watching and what this would mean for my dad who had loved this man for most of his adult life. My heart broke for hearts breaking. Brandon called for one of my Epi-pens. I tossed it to him. It was no use.

I watched five people, Brandon included, from our group perform CPR for an hour while we waited for help we weren't sure would come. They breathed heavy, and pumped hard. I wept. I prayed. I tried to figure out how help would come. There was no place for a helicopter to land.

Micah remained calm and happy though it was well past his dinnertime and nearing his bedtime, so happy that I was sure it was a God-thing. God was good.

Tami, one of Mr. Liner's nieces, remained strong while she called out to him, hoping he could still hear her. God was good.

Eventually, help came trickling in from downstream. God was good.

There was a sense of peace that fell on all of us, and we let the knowledge that James was no longer with us sink in, yet in a silent pact, kept working and praying for the sake of his family. God was good.

Finally, a group of EMTs poured out of a tiny pig's trail that, wonder of wonders, led straight to our beach, and took over. God was good.

A lot of people sit in the camp of "death is natural" because everyone dies. I, however, see death as the ultimate reminder that all is not right with our world. We were not created to die. Death is man's greatest judgement, an enemy. All the while, it is very good to know that God never abandons us, even in death. His presence was near us the entire day, but especially near in the moments of death. I must remember, as we all should, "See now that I, I am He, and there is no god besides Me; It is I who put to death and give life. I have wounded and it is I who heal" (Deuteronomy 32:39), and I must remember that God is good.

The next day, almost everyone in our group departed for home, overwhelmed by tragedy or necessity. I was in mourning, and the words that Tami, one of Mr. Liner's nieces, spoke to someone else expressing their condolences--"It's okay. God numbers our days"--rang louder in my ears than the screeching cicadas outside. It didn't feel okay. I opened the book I was reading, hoping to distract myself from the events of the day before, the images and sounds I will never be able to erase from my memory. This is what I read--

"I know there is poor and hideous suffering, and I've seen the hungry and the guns that go to war. I have lived pain, and my life can tell: I only deepen the wound of the world when I neglect to give thanks for early light dappled through leaves and the heavy perfume of wild roses in July and the song of crickets on humid nights and the rivers that run and the stars that rise and the rain that falls and all the good things that a good God gives. Why would the world need more anger, more outrage? How does it save the world to reject unabashed joy when it is joy that saves us? Rejecting joy to stand in solidarity with the suffering doesn't rescue the suffering. The converse does. The brave who focus on all things good and all things beautiful and all things true, even in the small, who give thanks for it and discover joy even in the here and now, they are the change agents who bring the fullest Light to all the world. When we lay the soil of our hard lives open to the rain of grace and let joy penetrate our cracked and dry places, let joy soak into our broken skin and deep crevices, life grows. How can this not be the best thing for the world? For us? The clouds open when we mouth thanks." --from One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp.

Out of my sadness and temptation to see this trip as, well . . . the worst trip ever, here was this call to leave behind the despair of death and find life by offering thanks. I recognized this to be not only a call for the moment, but for the long term. I also realized that I wasn't only to offer thanks for the good that had happened, but also the "bad."

"In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God." --1 Thessalonians 5:18 (Italics mine.)

I found it difficult to do so, but I thanked God for everything I could think of--Micah's safety, fish to catch, the hot sunshine, the cold water, rocks to throw, every one of James' smiles, the quick and quiet nature of his death, CPR, EMTs, pig trails and every glimpse of God I could find in the details. As promised, I felt more alive with each offering.

Learning to be thankful for everything is a scary thought for me, a thought that has kept me a little pensive and sober for the last few weeks. What if something even more terrible happens, and I am required to say, "The Lord gives and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord?" That thought puts a chill in the bones.

The good thing is that God knows where I am, and only asks that I begin learning to give thanks for everything, including the good and the bad, in a place where the good and the small dwell. For now, I can give thanks for fresh blueberries, the rain that poured from the heavens earlier this week, the sun that warms the world, Micah's smile and the gentle kicks of the baby girl growing in my belly.

That's right! I haven't officially stated this on the blog--It's a girl!!!

While these things are all pleasant, everyone has to start somewhere. I'm glad my Father knows that I am but dust, and brings this challenge to my door in a relatively sunny season.

What happened is still hard. I no longer think about it every day, but I think about it often. If I close my eyes and see things I don't want to see, I consciously recall Mr. Liner's smiles and laughter earlier in the day. I remember that he no longer suffers, but lives in a place where the only tears are happy ones. I remember the memories made on the river that day with my family and friends that can't be stolen away by the shadow of death. I remember that God is good, I say a prayer for the Liner family, and I give thanks . . . for everything.