The Power of Story

Stories are important.

At some level, we all know this. It's proven in historical records, ancient paintings on cave walls, handwritten books, and the fact that everyone likes a good movie.

The Bible is one large story told through many stories. Our lives are stories—full of “inciting events,” struggles to return to “normal world,” “turning points,” “all is lost” moments, plot twists, climaxes, and resolutions, all which lead to character development.

Our stories are particularly important, especially the stories which tell of our encounters with God. Revelation 12:11 tells us that we overcome by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of our testimony—the adventure romance/buddy story starring us and Jesus.

The world needs our stories. Eric Johnson of Bethel Church said in a recent sermon that he believes storytellers are the most powerful people in the world. Why? Because they have the power to shape the future by preserving the past.

I'm still amazed by the impact of my own story and by what God continues to do with it. And I love to hear the stories of others.

Today, I'm spreading the love. 

Meet my friend Marsha Carson.

I met Marsha online a little over a year ago. She was in the mast cell group on Facebook where I posted the story of my healing. While that blog post garnered a way bigger reaction than I'd anticipated (back then I had no idea how uncomfortable and angry people could become over the issue of healing...I know better now), it gave some people hope. Real hope.

Marsha was one of those people. This is her story.

I first met Jesus as a little girl.  I loved Him, but in my teen years, I began to question God. I turned my back on God and started experimenting with the occult.  By the time I graduated from college, I believed there was a force sort of like Star Wars. However, I never knew what to do about Jesus.

I began to have dreams at night in which I was worshiping God and praising Him like I did when I was a little girl. It took nine months of these glorious dreams before I finally thought, "I think I might be a Christian!" I immediately gave my life back to Jesus. I felt so loved that God would woo me back to Him in spite of my hardness of heart. He bypassed my conscious mind and went straight to my spirit. Thank you, Jesus!

I became ill in May 2011. I was living my dream of working with wildlife at a wildlife rehabilitation clinic. I loved it. But in May, I had a routine sore throat and cough that would not go away even with powerful antibiotics. 

By August, I was no longer able to work. Every breath was labored. Just walking across the room left me exhausted and gasping for air. I ended up on oxygen 24/7 and by the end of December, I was hospitalized, hooked to a ventilator, and placed in a medically-induced coma for 11 days. Twice, I thought I was dying.

I was unconscious and could only see blackness. I was scared, but Jesus appeared to me both times. I put my hand in His and said, "Jesus, I am with You wherever You want to take me, Heaven, hell, or alive."

I was filled with such peace both times. Then I woke up alive! I knew I was alive because Jesus wanted me to be alive! It never occurred to me to be upset about the fact that I couldn't move. I was too happy to be alive. 

After months of physical and occupational therapy, I learned to use my body again.

Marsha holding an owl right after leaving the hospital.

Marsha holding an owl right after leaving the hospital.

I was breathing well when I left the hospital, but soon after coming home, I was back to needing oxygen 24/7. None of the doctors knew why I couldn't breathe. In fact, my pulmonologist told me he did not know why I nearly died or why I was alive. I told him I knew why I was alive. I was given a miracle by Jesus. People I had never met had been praying for me.

It was during one of my follow-up visits after leaving the hospital that I realized I was highly allergic to environmental irritants. Car exhaust made my airways close. Over time, I discovered more and more triggers that made my airways close, including all kinds of smoke, fragrances, freshly mowed lawns, and my Great Dane.

I had asthma prior to this illness but never to this extent. My life suddenly became very small, scary, and filled with unease. I began to see cars as sleeping dragons that could wake up at any moment and threaten my ability to breathe. I avoided going anywhere unless absolutely necessary and tried to never leave my house alone. I never knew when my airways would start closing. I had to wear a mask just to walk outside and eventually had to carry EpiPens with me.

I was eventually diagnosed with severe GERD, which was causing lung damage. I also had a lung fungus cryptococcosis, most likely from working with one particular goose at the wildlife clinic. His name was Monty, and I loved him.  

As to what caused the severe reactions to everything around me, I was never diagnosed. No one knew what to do to help me.

During this time, I clung to God as never before. My mother had died from very similar symptoms just a few years prior. I began making "My Thankful Posts" on Facebook. Most days, I found something for which to give God praise.

God showed me things in my life that could no longer be a part of my life. He began a cleansing in me and purged things that hindered my walk with Him. One very simple thing God told me to give up was a TV show called Supernatural. I never watched it again. But that is just the surface of the things that God changed in me. He changed my desires and began a process of growing me in Him. I spent more time in prayer and yearned for more of God.

In February 2016, I found Melissa's blog and read how severe her illness was and how her very life was in danger constantly. As I read about her struggles, her dependence on God, and ultimate healing, I just knew that God was going to heal me. Her illness was far worse than mine. If God could and would heal her, I knew He could and would heal me as well. I wasn't sure when He would do it, but my faith was built up through her story.

In May of 2016, a pastor from Peru came to our church and preached. He made the statement that someone was thinking they could not go on a mission trip due to their health. That was exactly what I was thinking! The moment he said that, I knew God was going to heal me that very day.

I could hardly wait for the pastor to give the call for me to come down and be prayed for! As soon as he did, I practically ran down the aisle. I had read Melissa's blog not long before and was so ready to be healed! When they anointed me with oil and prayed over me, I knew I was going to walk out of the church with no mask on and never have to wear it again. And that is exactly what happened.

God also delivered me from fear. I did not realize how much fear I was carrying until God healed me and the fear went away.

Now I go outside without ever even thinking about a mask. I leave my car running when I go through a drive through. I have even walked right up to a fire barrel and put something in the fire with absolutely no breathing problems. I can be outside when the grass is being mowed and never even think about it. I live my life breathing well outside completely mask free and even more importantly, free of fear.

Jesus was there at my darkest hour and gave me peace. The fact that I am alive today is an absolute miracle. God just topped it off by healing me so I can go outside without a mask and without fear. One of my prayers right now is for God to fill me to overflowing with the love of Jesus so that everyone I come in contact with is touched by the love of Jesus. It's a journey, but it's truly my desire. 

What a wonderful reminder of God's presence and care in every moment of our lives! What a picture of grace! Thank you Marsha for sharing your powerful story with us!

If you have been touched by Marsha's story and would like to leave her a message, leave a comment below.


A Breakup Letter to Fear

Original Image by Meagan via Flickr Creative Commons

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

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

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

You don't often encounter courage like theirs.

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

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

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

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

The chief requirement was honesty. Grit.

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

So I asked the Lord about it.

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

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


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

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

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

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

Dear To Fear:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Melissa K.

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

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

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

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 Coward vs. The Fear

We returned to our trailer on Jubilee Farm two weeks ago today. After 27 days of being away from home, I drove northward from the city of West Monroe in a state of ecstasy. There were many comforts I enjoyed while staying with my parents--a large kitchen, a jacuzzi bathtub, live-in help, and delightful company--but truly, there is no place like my place.

I nearly skipped through the doorway of my little house, laughing in delight. Then I cried. I attempted a needed afternoon nap, but I couldn't control the tears. Sleep eluded me. After the unexpected tsunami of happiness receded, I found an old enemy lurking on the shore. As I relished my soft bed and searched for drowsiness, The Fear reached into my chest and took hold of my heart. The very part of me which had been pounding with hot joy only moments before found itself suddenly frozen and bound in place by black, winding tentacles.

The presence of The Fear made no sense at all. God had crowned the day with goodness. I was resting my tired, aching body in a room bathed in brilliant afternoon sun. I was breathing in familiar, safe scents I had missed for well nigh a month. And yet, there he was haunting me. Alone, he whispered. You are home, but now you are alone.

It was an absurd lie. Brandon was sitting in the living room with Sara even as he hissed.

He persisted. Your mother will begin teaching soon. Hunting season is on the horizon. Your well of helpers is about to dry up, and you will have to navigate your life alone feeling as you do.

Well, sleep was out of the question, thank you very much. My first tactic against The Fear was the least effective. Distraction. I turned on the television. The Fear continued to whisper, but he had to compete with my favorite digitally recorded programs.

Inevitably, the time to prepare dinner arrived. I sighed, turning off the TV. The Fear still had my heart in its icy hold. Alone, alone..... It would have been nice if he had left me alone. I was going to have to fight.

I began with my favorite weapon. "The Lord is my light and my salvation. Whom shall I fear? The Lord is the strength of my life. Of whom shall I be afraid?" I recited Psalm 27:1 silently.

You know you aren't ready to parent your children and manage your home when you can't even manage yourself.

"Fear not for I am with you. Be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you. Yes, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand (Isaiah 41:10)," I countered, again in my mind. "God will grant me either strength or help. So there." I almost stuck out my tongue.

The Fear was quiet for awhile, but he would not release me, and I could not wriggle out of his grasp. I prepared and ate dinner his prisoner, alternately praying and reminding myself of things that are true and real. By the time I began working on the dishes, I was growing tired of the struggle. I doubled my efforts by preaching to myself aloud.

"Why are you cast down, O my soul? And why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him for the help of His presence (Psalm 42:5). Grace, grace. Sufficient grace. Your grace is sufficient for me (2 Corinthians 12:9)."

Brandon raised his eyebrows, but otherwise did not respond. The man is difficult to weird out these days. He has seen and heard too much. I remembered the promise of James 5:16 ("Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed."), and offered him context.

As I told him of The Fear and how he had presented himself after a high moment and proceeded to attack immediately without a scrap of reverence for my joy, I realized something: this always happens. Any time I am allowed even a moment of celebration--a good day, an answered prayer, a marked improvement, a memory made, a personal victory....especially if I share that celebration with others--rain is sure to flood my parade. For every happiness, there is an equivalent assault. Such an observation is sufficient to make anyone afraid. Sometimes, the rain comes in the form of a setback. Other times, it presents itself as an emergency. That day, The Fear came to call. I loathe that guy, but I can always choose whether or not I will play host to him. Because I'm sick, it's easy to make a pet of him--feed him, shelter him, excuse his mess--but I must turn him away every time he comes to my door. A moment of fear is only a weakness. Granting it entry is sin.

The Fear's tentacles slipped a bit when I shared my plight with Brandon. I continued to preach from the pulpit of my kitchen sink. I could breathe again. I recounted truths about God's abiding presence. My soul remembered it was never alone. I declared that I would be bold and courageous because God is always with me. I almost felt brave. I listened to my Worship Mix playlist on shuffle and sang the lyrics like a battle cry. It wasn't pretty, but it was effective. The Fear eventually fled as quickly as he had appeared.

The Fear will come looking for me again because he knows me. He is aware of my weakness. I am The Coward. I am afraid of many things--setbacks, wasps, spiders, fire ants, needles, clowns, balloons, peanuts, perfume....I'm afraid of being sick because being sick is hard. I'm afraid of dying because I don't want to abandon my people. I'm afraid of getting well because I will have to become something new, and change may be the scariest thing of all. But I am a child of The True King, and victory is already mine. My destiny is secure. God knows what I need, and He delights to give to me. He is perfect love; perfect love casts out fear.

When I bathe in truth and bask in the presence of The King, I am brave. I am strong. Yes, fear is a weakness. But as with all weaknesses, it is also an opportunity to lean into Christ and draw from His endless stores of strength, courage and joy.

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 keastemom@live.com. 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.