Confession time. I haven’t decorated the house for Christmas since 2010…Brandon is the Christmas guy, so it made sense when the boxes appeared on the evening of Black Friday and he and the kids began decorating the tree and bookshelves. What didn’t make sense was my simmering resentment…
This post is Part 2 of a two part series. To read Part 1, click here.
The Unlooked-For Thing
Not many days after my discussion with Brandon about the possibility of working at Geneva Academy, the Lord spoke to me. I was driving down the road, singing along to a favorite worship song on my way to pick up Micah from school.
Ask for the unlooked-for thing.
I understood "the unlooked-for thing" to be the answer to our family's financial needs and the question as to how to use my musical skills and education.
God's word to me was the echoed encouragement of my friend Rebecca, who had prophesied earlier that year that God would find a use for my degree, but it may look differently than I thought.
Immediately, I prayed, "Lord, give me the unlooked-for solution. I'm watching."
The next day, I ran into Jarrod Richey (my friend and the music teacher at Geneva; see Part 1 for history) when I picked up Micah from school.
His greeting would've been ominous if I didn't know him. "The time has come."
I smiled and waited for him to explain.
There were two open teaching assistant positions which needed to be filled for the following school year. One was for Pre-K. The other was for elementary music. Jarrod said he'd love to have my help in music class and suggested I speak with Ed, the headmaster of Geneva. I assured Jarrod I would talk to Ed. Just probably not that day.
But as things turned out, I had business in the office and when I finished, Ed appeared. I mentioned what Jarrod had told me, shared my reservations about assisting in Pre-K and expressed interest in assisting in music. We set up an interview for the following day.
I remember getting into the car thinking, "What did I just do?" But the expected fear didn't follow. Actually, I was kind of excited.
Facing My Fears
I left the interview the next day with a job and mixed emotions.
I'd work where my kids went to school...awesome! I would help my husband bear financial burdens which had been his alone for the past five years...yay! I'd just signed away my kid-free writing time for the following school year...oh. I would put that expensive and time-consuming music education degree to good use...woohoo! But I didn't know whether or not I still loved music or if I even liked it anymore...yikes. And was I still good with kids? My own are one thing. But with other people's kids?
Over the summer, my mind was consumed with writing ministry training manuals for our Personal Prayer Ministry in Ruston—the prayer ministry which God used to bring spiritual, emotional and physical healing to me—preparations for my mission trip to Brazil and our family's return to The Island. I completely forgot about sign up for the annual Jubilate Deo Music Camp, which would take place the last week of July. Until Jarrod texted, asking why Micah wasn't signed up.
He graciously allowed me to sign up late, and then asked if I would be willing to help with the kindergarten and first grade class. I didn't think; I just said yes. Partly because I wanted to, but mostly because it terrified me. (I'm a strong believer in doing the thing that scares you.)
Would I be able to handle it physically? Would it reveal that I'd lost my touch with children? Would I realize that classroom music now bored me?
But I'd forgotten how Jarrod can scheme. He strategically placed me in the music classroom of Jo Kirk.
This woman, y'all...
I have no idea how old Jo is. I'm not going to guess in case she reads this post. What I will say is that she has more energy in her left thumb at her age than I have in my entire being. I'm sorry I don't have a video of her in action. She's amazing.
Do you see the rapt attention of these young children in the photos? She maintained that level of command for the duration of the camp. And we were in class for a minimum of two hours every day.
Jo masterfully managed the classroom. In her hands, the material was almost a living entity, which made all of us more alive. In a word, Jo Kirk is anointed to teach music, which is something more than simply being skillful. Before assisting her, I'd never seen the Holy Spirit so present in a classroom
Through Jo, God called me awake again. It happened the first day of camp. The music teacher within I'd buried long ago heard her name through layers of soil, tears of grief and withered dreams and climbed out of the casket.
My eyes filled with tears as I realized I was still fit for this. It was possible I'd been made for it.
Yes, I could do this. No one who felt so much passion for something could be entirely inept. Yes, I still loved teaching music. Yes, I still loved working with children. I gazed into their bright, captive faces, wiping away tears from my own before one of them caught me crying.
Back to the Music
About a month later, Micah, Sara and I arrived at Geneva for our first day of school. I knew that day God had led me to that particular job in that particular place for this particular time. I found that Jarrod was every bit as anointed to teach music as Jo. His manner is different but just as effective. I understood why my mom wept the day she'd observed him two years prior.
Jarrod possesses the balance of skill and passion I long for. He has a vision to shape students into skilled, joyful worshipers, and has the administrative support to be successful at it. His aim? Kingdom advancement.
This talented, visionary man is content to work in obscurity because he can do more for the Kingdom in a school like Geneva than he can in a more visible position at a university. And also because he loves children. I hope you let that melt you for a moment.
His program is what I dreamed of having as a student in college and realized I couldn't have when I student taught...at least not within the public school system. What I had desired and tried to do as a private music teacher, he's doing. Music is taught as a language. By the time they graduate, students speak, sing, read and write it fluently. The high-schoolers do things I struggled with in college.
In this environment, I find myself dreaming again. Dreaming and asking questions. What is the call upon my life? Does it include music long-term? Or am I here for a season to help Jarrod become more of who God has called him to be? Because this guy will produce his own curriculum, write his own children's songs and become a master teacher before it's over with.
In case I'm here long-term, should I go for that Level 1 Kodály certification this summer? How involved does God want me to be in the program? How does all of my gifting work together practically? I'm a wife, mother, writer and minister of the Gospel, too. Is it possible to have it all? Is that what's best? Is that what God wants?
For now, God remains silent, but I sense his amused smirk upon me. He has secrets yet to be revealed. I'm going to like them whatever they turn out to be because His plans are always good, but for now I must rest in the mystery of the in-between place.
Regardless of what the future looks like, my questions have been answered. My desires have been met. I still love music. I still love children. They like me okay, too. In a very real way, I'm leading worship because worship is a way of life. Worship is taking joy in all of God's good gifts. It's working heartily as unto the Lord. It's learning to sing in all circumstances, even when you don't feel like it, and discovering the emotion doesn't have to shape the doing but the doing can shape the emotion. When the Holy Spirit is in it, anyway.
And yes...I can still teach. I began co-teaching with Jarrod this week in preparation for his absence on Thursday. I'll sub for him. So far, I've only spent a few minutes with each class, but I remember the motions. As Brandon told me months ago, I'll be fine. It's just like riding a bike.
I love it when he's right.
Look at me! I'm tuning fork official!
I know this is a long post, but may I just take a moment to mention what a humbling, marvelous year this has been? A year ago, God sent me to the Siegmund group who took me in as I was in my weary, broken state. They loved me, ministered to me and became my new family. (Here I go, getting all weepy about them again.) God used them to heal me—in body, soul and spirit.
The Lord renewed my intimacy with Him. He stretched and wrecked me and guided me into uncharted waters. He brought the dead places back to life. I was baptized and blessed by my Superman. I ate peanut butter again. Prophecies were fulfilled. Callings were answered. Friendships formed, renewed and developed. I wrote books! (Training manuals count.) God sent me to Brazil! I'm teaching music again!
And I deserve none of it.
It's all grace. Precious, reckless, limitless grace. Grace greater than sin, sickness, death and everything the devil threw at me to prevent this —abundant life.
Thank you, Jesus. Thank you, thank you, thank you. Thank you. All I am belongs to you. You've won me. Oh, how you've won me. Again and again and again. Whatever you ask, the answer is yes. YES! I will echo it back to you. "Yes and amen. Yes and amen. Yes and amen." Today, tomorrow and throughout eternity.
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.
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.
I will hedge up your way with thorns,
And wall her in,
So that she cannot find her paths.
But not overtake them;
Yes, she will seek them, but not find them.
Then she will say,
‘I will go and return to my first husband,
For then it was better for me than now.'
I'll share one of my recent favorites. But first, a little backstory...
During my illness, pain was a significant problem for me. I had arthritis, fibromyalgia, and carpal tunnel, which stole any joy I took in playing the piano. So I stopped. My piano has stood mostly silent for the past few years, serving as little more than a fixture to remind me of times gone by.
Lately, quiet calls summon me back to music, most of which I've been able to muffle with practiced excuses--
Which, of course, translates into, "I'm scared to death I'll fail."
But when Mom came to me on behalf of a friend whose mother had just died, a friend who'd prayed for me over the years, my excuses didn't matter. Besides, if I didn't step in, my sick dad and has-never-sung-for-a-crowd-in-her-life mother would be left to sing a duet to canned music, and I couldn't have that.
So I dusted off the keys. Opened a hymnal. And lo and behold, my brain recalled the old language. My hands remembered what to do. What's more, I managed to sing and play at the same time.
On the ride to Winnsboro, I tried not to think of past funeral performance debacles. The words of a former professor echoed in my mind--"Music is a service profession."
This is service, not performance. It's an expression of love, not a reflection on myself.
Oh, well. I have a point.
Y'all, God isn't looking for professionals; He's looking for people to say "yes." In our weakness, He shows Himself strong.
These days I eat what I want and do what I want. I'm medication free. My pain's gone. My energy's back. Most nights, I sleep like a baby. And I *ahem* use the bathroom like a normal person now.
Brandon's in a fun season. I love watching him grow and exercise his faith. Second to being God's child, being Brandon's wife is the highest honor I enjoy on earth.
I plan to get back to writing--the dollar-earning variety--soon. I'm still trying to figure out where it fits with the rest of my responsibilities. But I'm determined to give this writing career thing a real shot before I agree to head back to the classroom. Which means I have to sell a few books by this time next year. So yeah...feel free to peer pressure me back into the habit. I'm still debating whether I should work on my short story collection or my novel. I don't feel there's a wrong choice, but there might be a more strategic one.
Pretty soon, I'll move my blog to my own domain. You can support me by subscribing and sharing when I do.
For the month of April, I'm teaching a journaling class for Project 41's Esther's Academy. Enjoying that. Love the awesome women in the program. After the class ends, I'll focus on developing the prayer ministry for P41 and nurturing my friendships with the women.
I fall more in love with my new family all the time. When I think of the gift God has given me in them, I get weepy. Every time. Two of the women have become good friends of mine. I'll travel to Brazil with one of them in September. The Lord has called me to short term international mission work for the first time in 16 years. I'm thrilled and terrified.
But ya know...that's life with Jesus. In or out of the cage.
Some are a life sentence.
Which is easier to bear?
A small cell or the chair?
A cage or a casket?
No one knows
and both are hard
on the sick one and the watchers.
Some of us die in here,
but I believe
there is a key
an early release.
Or so I've been told
by the Prison Ward
who is kind and good and wise and hard.
The door will open
when the cell has done its work
and the bars have made me free.
Or so I believe.
But all I see
are steel and concrete.
Spare walls and a lonely lock
mock my faith.
I smell sky and pine.
Sun shafts through the window.
Voices chuckle and cluck,
a murmur through stone,
a reminder of what I'm missing,
a promise of what's to come.
But the Warden visits me--
and this place has be-come
"For a while," He corrects.
So I believe.
These days I'm either enjoying my freedom or recovering from it.
I'm not complaining. I'm adjusting.
I LOVE the season I'm in, but it isn't easy.
God has given a magic thread to every believer. His name is the Holy Spirit.
The Spirit knows the mind of the Father, who has written my story. He leads me where I should go. Many times, I don't understand where He leads, but if I will hang on and press on, I'll find my way. And maybe, just maybe, I'll be able to lead a Curdie or two to the safety of God's arms along the way.
I appreciate your prayers as I adjust.
I'm so happy right now. It may seem I don't need prayer. That assumption is incorrect.
I have so many questions. I don't know where the thread is taking me, and my feet are dragging half the time. I long to write, but can't manage it, which is kind of frustrating. As I'm able to focus less on myself, my eyes open to the devastation around me. While the miracle does my family good, the last four years have also left a mark. We're all kind of damaged, and now it's time to pick up the pieces and rebuild. Reconstruction is hard work.
So yeah...keep praying! And thank you for all the prayers that have come before. I hope you, too, are reveling in the miracle God has performed. You're part of it, after all. I hope it reveals an attribute of God you never noticed before, and leads you to marvel before His throne.
As I said to a friend this morning, prayer is never wasted time. And it's the perfect answer to every adjustment life throws at us.
I'm trying to describe the place I vacationed last weekend. Little Gasparilla Island is a tiny barrier island off the west coast of Florida (Tampa side). Here is an aerial photo:
Little Gasparilla is about a 15 minute boat ride from the mainland. It's long and skinny, and situated very closely to Gasparilla Island, its big sister. I can't speak for that big sister, but the little sister is enchanting.
We arrived on a hot, miserable Friday afternoon. Our Little Red cried the entire boat ride across the bay because he didn't care for the heat, the life jacket or the delayed nap. As soon as we docked, the crying stopped. (I say it was the magic.) We were greeted by a flock of fiddler crabs at the end of the pier, waving their hellos to my sleepy son. We loaded the golf cart with our luggage, and took the short walk to the beach house where we'd be staying. Even in the heat, I was already falling in love.
We took it slow that afternoon. Micah napped. The boys rested. I rested and explored a little. I discovered that you can hear the waves pounding the sand from the front porch of the little house.
I discovered that the front yard was home to a fair sized gopher turtle.
I discovered that the walk to the beach takes less than one minute, and that I had more fingers than beachmates on this island . . .
and that's including the birds.
The only sensible thing to do about meals on the island is to bring them to the island. My uber smart and experienced friends began meal planning back in June. They knew they'd be planning around a daddy with Crohn's Disease, a mommy with a ridiculous list of allergens, and a baby who can be a little tricky to nourish at times. Danielle and Ryan did a great job with planning as you can see . . .
Danielle's dad graciously took my husband and Ryan out into the bay to catch the dinner you see in the second picture. Brandon loved the fishing, and there is something fulfilling in bringing home the bacon, frying it up and feasting upon it, even if it's fish instead of bacon. That dinner was shared by us, Danielle and Ryan (our sweet friends who brought us out there), Danielle's family, their friends and their college Sunday school class. Sharing good food with old friends and new acquaintances you will be spending eternity with . . . well, that's fulfilling, too.
Other magical moments include:
Feasting upon mangoes grown on the island.
Spending a rainy day out on the screened in porch, alternately reading and napping, listening to the ocean and the pitter patter of raindrops hitting the roof and sand in the background of our dreams . . . taking in the briny scent of the island air . . . the cool breeze caressing our skin.
Watching a storm approach, yell, "Sike!" and then dance around us . . .
Shell hunting in between storm cells . . .
Observing Micah as he makes peace the with the sand that threatens his balance, and as he makes friends with it later . . .Staying up late to talk with friends, and rising to a lazy morning and a big breakfast . . . .
Kurt Pendergrass's amazing vanilla lattes made out of Puerto Rican coffee and goat milk (just for me!) . . .
Micah's long and peaceful naps . . .
The outdoor showers . . .
And finally, the most magical moments of all . . . gathering for the sunsets . . .
and the sunsets themselves . . .
I wrote a poem about those sunsets, but it doesn't do them justice. I'll share it with you, anyway--
There is a certain sense of serenity
at sunset on the beach.
Splendor in abundance
from sputtering sea foam to eternal sky;
blues and greys, gold in rays
spin purple, rose, scarlet, fire in the heavens.
Fire in the heavens should not be,
but clouds and sea sing it it back to me.
Lovely echoes, the final throes of day
giving way to new music.
And with a sigh,
that fiery sphere sinks like a stone
into its bed of sputtering sea foam,
conceding into afterglow.
-Melissa Keaster 8/13/10
When you finally leave a place this magical, you carry a little of that magic back home with you. As I sit here writing this, reflecting upon last weekend, my heart beats in rhythm with the waves, and my eyes pool with sea water. And if I close my eyes, the salty drops drip down my face, but I can see that final sunset, smell the island air, hear the ocean lulling me with its steady, "hush, hush, hush," and feel the warmth of knowing that heaven will somehow be better than this.