healing

The Strength of Family, The Kindness of Friends

The Strength of Family, The Kindness of Friends

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

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

Ten Quick Reasons to Download Ten Tools for Inner Healing

Ten Quick Reasons to Download Ten Tools for Inner Healing

It's been a while! For the past three months, I've been on a much-needed hiatus, sorting through soul issues I plan to discuss in the upcoming weeks. During that time, I also wrote an e-book, entitled Ten Tools for Inner Healing: A Learner's Guide to Wholeness. I'm excited to announce that I've made it available to you for FREE!

The book begins with a synopsis of my testimony and an explanation of how "healing prayer" was a major catalyst in my physical, emotional, and spiritual healing. From there, I share some things I've learned about inner healing and wholeness over the past two years as I've applied them to my daily walk with God and in ministry to others.

Me Too: Conclusion

Me Too: Conclusion

The pain of what happened is gone, but healing continues. Because relationship continues.

I’m still learning to trust God—really trust him. No matter what happens. This one is hard for me. You see, I was always where I was supposed to be when the bad things happened (and not just sexual abuse)—in my classroom, in my house, with family, at church, at work, at youth camp.

Not that I was perfectly behaved, but most of my foolishness took place after all the abuse and betrayals had occurred. Evil sought me out. Hunted me.

(Not that a woman’s foolishness or wisdom justifies or condemns the wrongful actions of others. Assault is assault, no matter where she was when it happened.)

At times, bad things happened because I did the right thing. Doing the right thing usually comes at a price.

Me Too: Part Seven

Me Too: Part Seven

Before I continue my story, let's review a few important steps on the path to inner healing.

God's Pursuit

No one goes anywhere with God unless first invited by the Holy Spirit. Ultimately, every healing story begins with God's desire for our wholeness, not our desire for wholeness. Apart from him, we don't even know we're broken. 

Confession

We have to agree with God that we're broken. Sometimes, we have to speak this agreement aloud in the presence of other believers.

Me Too: Part Six

Me Too: Part Six

What you believe matters.

A belief is like a seed. Throw it into the soil of the mind. Wait. In time, the belief yields the fruit of behavior. As the nature of the fruit depends upon the nature of the seed, so the nature of the behavior depends upon the nature of the belief. 

All beliefs bear fruit eventually, no matter how deep you bury them.

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.

 

Eleora: Upcoming Release and Other News

Map Designed by Misty McKeithen

I did it. 

After nearly four years and seven drafts, I turned in my manuscript to the typesetter/cover designer. Not that I'm finished or that it couldn't be better; but it's time to stop. 

My debut novel, Eleora, will release on Tuesday, May 2!

Printed copies will be available online at Amazon and Barnes & Noble. The e-book will be available through Kindle. Independent bookstores may order the book through Ingram Spark. I hope to have an audiobook available in the fall. (More details coming soon.)

Genre: New Adult Fantasy*

*I originally wrote Mara, my main character, to be 18 years old when the story begins, which would have classified the book as "Young Adult." While the sexual content of my novel is considered suitable for young adults, I hesitated to market the story to that age group due to certain thematic elements in the story (i.e. sex trafficking). I raised Mara's age to 20-21, thus classifying the novel as "New Adult." Parents, I encourage you to read the book and decide whether or not your teen reader is ready for it.

Note: Sex trafficking is something all teens need to be made aware of. Traffickers don't discriminate based on gender, race, or socio-economic status. Please research this topic, if you haven't already done so, and discuss it with your pre-teen/teen.

The Blurb

I don't yet have a book cover, but as I'm unable to contain my excitement any longer, I present to you the blurb (a.k.a. the hardest 200 words I've ever written):

Three seek the stone of power:
One to win her freedom.
One to exact revenge.
And one to seize control of the kingdom.

Orphaned in childhood, Mara has always done what is necessary to survive—even pledged herself to a sinister spirit named Rivka. When Mara’s sister is struck by a mysterious illness, Rivka offers Mara a choice—watch her sister die, or become a slave in exchange for the medicine needed to save her.

Mara sells herself to Zev, an old friend who shares her sordid history with Rivka. Motivated by revenge and a lust for power, Zev coerces Mara into a life of prostitution and espionage in order to find Eleora, the magical gemstone necklace guarded by the Council of Ambassadors. Trapped in a tangled web of Zev and Rivka’s schemes, Mara’s life becomes a never-ending spiral of seduction and treachery until a kind young healer on the Council unexpectedly offers her freedom. In her new life, Mara finds healing, friendship, and even love but knows she must rid herself of Rivka to be truly free.

Now Mara must choose whether to fulfill her oath and betray her new friends or double-cross Rivka and risk losing her sister forever.

Those who think blurb writing is easy should audition to write my next one.

The Story

I plan to write a post on how the story came about when I'm closer to the launch date. For now, it suffices to say that in many ways, it's my story. I wrote Eleora while I was sick. Many of the questions the story asks were my questions, and back then, my questions rendered from the blood, sweat, and tears of my journey with mast cell activation syndrome. 

Mara's struggle to receive love was (arguably, is) mine. Many of the scenes, characters, and quotes are inspired by real events, people, and things I've thought or said. Honestly, it's a little scary to put that out there for people to do with what they please. Because let's face it--people can be mean.

That being said, I think I've produced a rip-roaring fantasy adventure that some people will really love--questions, themes, and other deep stuff aside. Also, my words sound pretty. 

My Map

I'm still fangirling over the awesome map Misty McKeithen made for me. She exceeded my expectations when she took my lame sketch and designed what you see above. Check out her work on her website: http://mmck.weebly.com/

More on Misty in an upcoming post. 

 

Mast Cell Activation Syndrome Case Study

Many of you continue to visit this website because of my history with mast cell activation syndrome. About a year ago, my mother, Melanie Chapman, a clinical laboratory scientist who currently serves on faculty at the University of Louisiana at Monroe in the medical laboratory science department, wrote an article about mast cell activation syndrome and my case study. The article was never published due to funding problems with the publication, but she later developed the information into a presentation, which she has presented in Monroe and Baton Rouge, Louisiana. 

I had the privilege of hearing her present the study last week at the American Society for Clinical Laboratory Science/Louisiana and Mississippi Joint Annual Meeting in Baton Rouge. The information is very scientific and nerdy but also interesting and moving due to the human interest aspect.

I'm extremely proud of my mom and her work. If you would like to know more about the immunology of mast cell activation disease, you may view her presentation online here.

Stay tuned for the latest information on the release of Eleora!

An Overdue Update

I'm stunned and a bit embarrassed by the fact it's been THREE MONTHS since my last post. I have nothing to say for myself.

It isn't that I don't have things to write about. Life is busy, rich, and full. I could post every day. I just haven't figured out how to manage everything. Exercise and blogging are particularly difficult to fit into my daily schedule. But that has to change. Soon. The blogging part, anyway.

It's platform building time.

But first, let's catch you up.

THE PHANTOM NOVEL

Back in December, my daughter came down with mono. Poor girl had a go of it, and I clocked lots of hours in the recliner holding her. Needing an occupation, I pulled out the manuscript of my novel, which I hadn't touched since September 2015.

The novel you either forgot about or gave up on because I haven't mentioned it in forever.

As with this blog, I hadn't meant for so much time to pass before picking it up again. But between an attempt to make the one novel into two (per the recommendation of three readers) and the inherent life changes which come with being miraculously healed of an incurable disease, it slept sad and alone in the files of my laptop for over a year.

I fiddled with a revised plot outline for the "first" novel two or three days before I realized I had no heart for that story. None. I couldn't make myself care.

I remember God saying, "Well if you don't care about it, no one else will."

Touche.

So I abandoned the 80k word NaNoWriMo draft I crafted a year prior and began the task of making my original novel work as one cohesive story. On January 6th of this year, I submitted my manuscript to an editor. She returned it last weekend. I'm now ready to make one last round of revisions before I'm done. And that, my friends, will be the easiest part of what's left of the process before my book is in your hands.

AAAAALL THE DECISIONS

Like most authors, I prefer to write my stories and leave the business side of self-publishing to someone else. Unfortunately, that isn't the way it works. When you self-publish, you ARE the business. For better or for worse, you make all the decisions.

Book title. Artwork. Blurbs. Biographies. Dedications. Cover design. Internal formatting. ISBNs. Publishing company title. Logo design. Budgeting. Marketing. Platform. Web site design. Core value statement. Wordpress themes. Photography.

Oh, and apparently I have expensive taste. Yikes.

Once upon a time, I needed to breathe into a paper bag when contemplating these things. Now I remind myself God's got this and it will all fall into place in due time.

HOW YOU CAN HELP

The next step is clear. I need my own online domain.

Very soon, my blog will undergo a change of address. I would LOVE for you guys to make the move with me. I need to build a following on the new website so I will have an audience waiting when I release my novel this spring. Everyone who signs up for my newsletter will receive a FREE unpublished short story. So that's fun.

MISCELLANY

Book stuff doesn't monopolize all of my mental real estate, believe it or not.

Superman and I are looking into starting another business this year. In addition to our day jobs. Don't worry, I fully realize the insanity of starting two businesses the same year, but we aren't getting any younger. If not us, who? If not now, when?

God has laid out a fresh vision for local ministry over the past few weeks. I'm stepping into more of a leadership role in our Personal Prayer Ministry in Ruston. There's also a new sister ministry in the inception stage. My future role in the new ministry is hard to guess at this time, but I suspect it will eventually be a significant part of my life.

I continue to enjoy my work at Geneva Academy, where my children attend school. The longer I'm there, the more I love the heart, the vision, and the people. My friend Jarrod Richey would like me to return next year as a part-time music teacher, particularly if I'm able to attend a Kodály methodology training this summer in Moscow, Idaho. I haven't yet decided what I'll do.

After I release my novel, I will write my autobiography, which will focus on my illness and healing. God says it's time to tell the whole story--a story most people haven't heard. I plan to finish the book this summer and release it in the fall. There's a possible children's book in the works as well.

Next month, my family and I will travel to Austin, Texas to spend some extended time with my best friend and her family and to share my story with their church community group. I look forward to our time there.

IN CLOSING

Feel caught up now? You're not. Not even a little bit.

I could tell you story after story about how God is working in my life, the lives of family members, the lives of friends and the various communities I'm a part of. The first church experience is my new normal. I see people healed, delivered, saved, and encouraged on a regular basis.

Over the past 14 months, it has been my delight to discover that God still works today as He did in the book of Acts. The very same way. I'm not a special case. God is actually as generous with healing now as He was in Jesus' day, if not more so. Nothing has changed except our expectations.

But even sweeter than the miracles I've seen is God's abiding presence in my life. He is everything, and without Him, miracles would be meaningless.

Today, I enjoy the intimacy with God I dreamed about as a young teen. On one hand, I'm satisfied. I don't need a thing this world offers. If on the off-chance I become rich and famous, okay. Great. If I don't, who cares? On the other hand, I know there's more of God to be had so I have to have more. And more and more and more and more. Like any good addict. I love that I serve an infinite God. Anything less would fail to satisfy.

Whatever happens over the next few months, sink or swim, He is all I need. It was true when I was sick. It's true now that I'm healed. That's the joy of serving a God who doesn't change in a world that never stays the same.

Musical Healing-Part 2

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?

Jubilate Deo

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.

Musical Healing-Part 1

When I was a kid, my favorite game to play was "Teacher." Guess who always played the teacher.

*grin*

I took things pretty seriously. So seriously, in fact, the other kids stopped wanting to play with me. I may or may not have wanted them to do actual school work and pay attention to my lectures.

I also loved music. Listening, singing, performing. I played the piano for years. So even though I'd fallen in love with writing in high school and even declared English as my original university major, it was no surprise to anyone when I switched my focus to music education.

Not long after changing my major, I took a piano pedagogy class and established my own private studio. I began with six little girls and big dreams.

Around the same time, the leadership of our small Baptist church in Marion, Louisiana asked me to begin a children's choir. They wanted the kids to perform a musical at Christmas. The project wasn't my idea, but I threw all I had into it. We not only performed. I wrote my own productions. Plural. As in one at Christmas, another at Easter, and another at the beginning of summer.

 My first children's choir.

 Here, I'm modeling three of the props used in my original (and hilarious) children's production of Joshua and the Jericho Thugs—gold chains, plastic crowbars and kazoos. That's right. Kazoos.

After three productions, I decided I wanted the kids to learn to read music, so we worked during the summer using recorders. Because—obviously—I’m a glutton for punishment, but also because I didn't know a better way.

My students loved me, shortcomings and all. (I was pretty fond of them, too.) Most of my private students caught my passion for singing and acting. Carson Richman, the tall girl standing at my right in the photo below, has been involved in choir and theater since she was in my studio. She joined the LSU theater program this fall. Sarah Katherine McCallum, the little brunette on my left has also stayed involved in music and theater. She now takes lessons from one of my vocal instructors, Dr. Claire Vangelisti at ULM, is involved in the Strauss Youth Academy for the Arts in Monroe, and was the fourth runner up at the Miss America Outstanding Teen pageant this year. I can't take credit for how incredible she is now, but I can take credit for the seed. Almost all of the students who came through my studio still actively enjoy music. Which was half my goal.

Part of me knew there was more to give them, but I lacked the skill set to give it, I didn't know how to acquire the skill set, and I ran out of time to figure it out. I became happily distracted with the joys of motherhood in 2009 and scraped by until I became not so happily distracted with the grim realities of chronic disease in 2011. 

I kept hoping to get my disease under enough control to teach again, but after two years of frequent anaphylactic reactions, arthritis, carpal tunnel, fibromyalgia, brain fog, and necessary isolation followed by a diagnosis of Mast Cell Activation Syndrome—which is incurable—my hopes died and my inner music teacher with them. Like died died.

I laid her to rest in a locked box, buried her, mourned at the funeral, threw a few flowers on the grave and moved on. It hurt too much to dwell on the loss. Apparently, God wanted me to write. I wasn't supposed to teach music. I was never that great at it anyway, I told myself. So it was just as well. 

Meanwhile, my friend Jarrod Richey was doing some exciting things with music education. I met Jarrod in music school at Louisiana Tech. We sang in choir together and both earned our degrees in Music Education. 

He went on to earn his Master's in Choral Conducting at ULM and later his complete certification in Kodály methodology. A few years ago, he was hired as the music teacher at Geneva Christian Academy, a small Classical Christian school in Monroe, Louisiana.

Jarrod had been preaching the advantages of Classical Christian education since before Micah was born, so I became interested in the school. When the time came to make a decision about Micah's kindergarten year, I was too sick to investigate the school in person, so I sent my mom.

She reported the school would be an excellent choice based upon the educational approach alone. But when she observed Jarrod teach music to the little ones, she knew it was the right school. "I wept," she said. 

The summer before Micah started school, Jarrod put together a Christian music camp called Jubilate Deo. Excited about the opportunity, I enrolled Micah...who came down with viral tonsillitis the second day of camp and couldn't continue. But I heard great things. 

Micah began school at Geneva that fall. He would come home and absently sing the folk songs he learned in music class. I loved it. Because my Music Methods college professor was Kodály trained, I understood and appreciated what Jarrod was aiming to accomplish. Over the course of the year, Micah became a tuneful singer. I'd get papers every once in a while of dictated rhythms he'd copied down. Keep in mind—he was in kindergarten

Every now and then, I would run into Jarrod at the school. "When God heals you, you've got to come help me up here," he would say. 

I'd smile and think to myself, "That would be nice." 

The following summer, I sat in the back row of the Jubilate Deo Music Camp concert, my mask veiling my slack-jawed expression. I couldn't believe my ears. In five days—five days—Jarrod and his staff had put together an outstanding program. 

I, too, wept. 

And then about three months later, God began to heal my body. 

First, reactions to things I touched disappeared. Then my outdoor temperature reactions. Then my airborne triggers. Then my food reactions. Then my pain and arthritis. Then my energy returned. As much energy as can be expected of a 30-something mom of young kids, anyway. By April 2016, I lived like everyone else. Contrary to scientific explanation and medical prognosis. A miracle had taken place. 

God began bringing all of me back to life. I enjoyed renewed intimacy with Him. I was the healthiest I'd ever been. Everything that had died—my personality, my gifts, motherhood, friendship, community, ministry—wasn’t only coming back. It was coming back better.

Except for music. I was done with all of that. You can't be away from music for five years and expect to be any good at it. I didn't even know if I would like teaching music again. Besides, I was going to be a writer.

Sometimes, I think God gets his kicks by proving me wrong. 

This past spring, I was blindsided one night by an intense longing to lead others in worship. I'd never felt that before. What did it mean? 

My classically-trained, non-belting voice doesn't fit the current worship style of the Church. I sound more like a retro Disney princess than a pop star. Most worship choruses aren't even in a singable range for me. And I've always thought strong singers should be dispersed throughout the congregation to encourage and serve weaker singers. Because the congregation was never meant to be a crowd of spectators, but an army of worshipers. 

My call wasn't to the stage. I knew that much. But I couldn't make sense of it. 

Around the same time, I was wrestling with my future. I was well. There were expectations. What should I be doing? Writing, obviously. But I wasn't writing! Not anything that would make money anyway. And I was thinking more and more about music and what I was supposed to do with my gifting and education. A lot had been invested there.

One day, we were driving home from church and Brandon said something like, "Why don't you talk to Jarrod about the tuition discount for Geneva teachers and see what kind of deal they might make us?"

I'm embarrassed to admit this, but...I wigged. I totally wigged. 

"What are you talking about? I can't teach! I've been away from music for five years. Five YEARS!!!  I don't even like it anymore. I'm a writer. If you need me to work, I'll write!"

I was terrified. Terrified to give up my writing dream. Terrified of trying to resuscitate something that was long dead. Terrified I wouldn't love teaching or music or the classroom anymore. Terrified to fail. Terrified that working would pull me away from the ministries I was involved in and had grown to love. Terrified, I tell you.

Despite my overreaction, Brandon remained calm. "Well...if you plan to make money by writing...you probably need to actually...write."

*a series of tiny explosions in my brain*

*eye twitches*

I'm not going to admit my response to that. But in summary, the truth hurts and pain makes me angry. 

Even though our conversation didn't end well that day, I continued to wrestle privately. Because here's the thing—God often speaks through my husband, and I never want to tell God "no" again. Not about anything. Not even the small things only He and I know about. All I want to say for the rest of eternity is "Yes...yes...yes."

Here's what I knew—Brandon would like me to work part time to help pay for the kids' tuition. I needed an occupation while the kids were in school. I felt an inexplicable draw toward music and leading worship. But I wanted to write, and teaching would interfere with writing. And who knew if Jarrod had been serious anyway?

"Lord," I remember saying, "I don't know what to do or what you're doing. But I trust you. I'll do whatever you say. Just make things as clear as I need them so I can obey."

And you know...He did. 

To be continued...

See You in Sao Paulo, Part 3

  Click here to read Part 1. Click here to read Part 2.


Fun Fact: Sao Paulo is the largest city in Brazil and the 11th largest city in the world. It's almost the size of NYC and almost twice the size of Rio de Janeiro where the Olympics will be held in a few weeks. 

***


I lay awake in bed, unable to stand it any more. Obviously, Brandon needed my help. "So...has God given you a word for me?"

Silence.

I poked him. "Well?"

Brandon groaned. "A word about what?"

I tried to play it cool. "I don't know...a word about anything."

He was so still, but I could almost hear the whirl of his mental cogs. "Not that I know of."

"Okay then." I rolled over and shut my eyes.

I felt his confusion, but it was late and we were tired so he let it go. 

No answer is still an answer, I reminded myself. If God didn't act, I wouldn't go. Plain and simple. I thought God was prompting me, but maybe He wasn't. I'd been wrong before.

Two days passed. The sun set on March 26, and Brandon hadn't said anything. A significant part of me was relieved. I wouldn't have to leave my kids, my Superman or my comfort zone. I could love Jesus and who He loves right here in north Louisiana. I wouldn't have to go to the trouble of raising funds and getting a passport and defending my decision to judge-y moms like me. I wouldn't have to prep two weeks of meals to feed my family while I was gone. Whew! Bullet dodged.

I hoped Erica wouldn't be too disappointed. I tried to convince myself I wasn't.

On Easter morning, I pushed thoughts of Brazil aside and threw myself into Easter things. I didn't slow down until that night when I went to a home group meeting in West Monroe led by Neil and Mei Powers, Whit Bass and others. (Shout out to my West Monroe peeps!)

I wanted to meet Neil and Mei who had prayed for my healing back in 2013 when things didn't look so good and to relax in God's presence after a busy day. But I wasn't allowed to relax. Which had nothing to do with sharing my testimony and praying for people. That's my idea of a good time.

No. The reason I couldn't relax is that people would not shut. up. about Randy Clark, Global Awakening and Brazil. They had no idea I'd just spent two weeks fasting to find out whether or not I would go. They had no idea I was even considering it. They were just excited about the work God was doing there.

Every time someone mentioned Brazil, etc., it felt as if a pin pricked my heart. Finally, I broke and asked for prayer.

I told everyone how a friend had asked me to go, how I'd fasted for two weeks, about the sign I'd requested, what had happened during the fast and the very important thing which hadn't.

Everyone joined me in prayer that God would move in Brandon's heart within the next few hours if I should go on this particular trip. They never questioned whether or not I should go to Brazil. Just the timing.

Before I left that night, I witnessed God heal a broken tooth on the spot. So how hard could it be for Brandon to encourage me to go?

I arrived home and found Brandon watching TV. I cuddled up next to him on the couch, half-expecting him to say something about Brazil. He took my hand and gave it a squeeze. "How was group?"

"Really good," I said. "We prayed, and God reconstructed a dude's broken tooth."

"Awesome."

"Yeah..."

Apparently, the gold digger rerun was riveting.

As I drifted off to sleep that night, I asked God to give Brandon a dream or a vision or something. If nothing happened before we got out of bed the next morning, the trip wouldn't either. As it was, I was almost two days past the original deadline I'd given God.

(Note: God doesn't always respect your deadline.)

Sunlight streamed through our bedroom window, casting a glow upon our white sheets. Brandon glanced up from his phone and kissed my cheek, scratching me with his whiskers. I waited a long time before speaking. "Do you have a word from the Lord for me?"

Slowly, his eyes traveled to mine. "That's the second time you've asked me that."

"Yes...well?"

"What am I supposed to say?"

I was surprised. I'd really, truly expected something. Oh, well. I stretched, preparing to rise. "That answers my question."

"What question?"

"Whether or not I'm going to Brazil." I then explained the sign I'd asked for during my fast.

A long pause. And he says, "The reason I haven't said anything is because I thought it was already decided you were going."

Really????

Remember the night Tim and Bruce tried to give my trip away? When Tim announced they would help sponsor Erica and another young person to go to Brazil, Brandon assumed Tim was talking about me and it was a done deal. So what that my name was never mentioned. Brandon "knew" I was going before I told him Erica had asked me.

No lie. It's reasoning skills like this that leave me in a constant state of bewilderment. And I'm expected not only to follow said reasoning but to pull it out of thin air.

"Why does my opinion matter anyway?" he asks.

*eye roll* "You're ridiculous. Full disclosure? I wasn't sure I wanted to go, and I needed your help, input and blessing."

He grinned pure mischief. "Full disclosure? Both times you asked me if I had a word from the Lord, I thought of Brazil."


He asked for the day to think and pray. I agreed and took the kids on an outing. I returned that evening, expectant. But in typical Brandon fashion, he wouldn't give me a straight answer until I'd lost my temper for him. (I don't know whether he's an adrenaline junkie or just insane, but the man thinks it's fun to make me angry.)

He fought a grin, then grew serious. "Selfishly, I don't want you to go, but I believe God does. And who am I to stand in His way?" Brandon went on to say he'd been reminded of the word God had given him for 2016--"Trust."

I blinked. This is not the man I married.

Something really big had happened. Something crazy. Something only God could do. The man who'd flipped his lid when I went on a two-night choir tour had blessed a two-week international mission trip. Without any pressure from me. Knowing he'd have two kids to care for in my absence!


Prayer...it's powerful.

***

Pico do Jaragua aerial shot Sau Paulo 2010 by chensiyuan

Erica and I will be gone September 22-October 4, 2016 with a group led by Randy Clark through his organization Global Awakening. Our trip is called “Lighting Fires.” We’ll partner with the local church and engage in “power evangelism,” which is what happens when evangelism meets the miraculous. We’ll be trained, equipped and set loose to carry out the Great Commission of Jesus—
 “And [Jesus] said to them, ‘Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature . . . And these signs will follow those who believe: In my name they will cast out demons . . . they will lay hands on the sick and they will recover.” ~Mark 16:16-18
We'll receive training each morning, do street ministry in the afternoons and participate in evening meetings during which people will receive healing and decide to follow Christ. People are healed every night! Cool, huh?

Just a year ago, I believed the "Missions" chapter of my life might be closed for good. How a girl goes from being a shut-in with an incurable disease to being healthy enough to go on an international mission trip in less than a year, I don't know. But wow. Just...WOW! And yay God!

Erica and I invite you to partner with us financially in the mission to bring the Good News to all the world. Please make all checks payable to ChristSource Ministries, write "Brazil Mission Trip" in the memo, and mail to 301 E. Alabama Ave. Ruston, LA 71270 by July 14. ChristSource is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. Your donation is tax-deductible. If you are unable to support us financially, please partner with us through prayer. Thank you!






See You in Sao Paulo, Part 1



In less than three months, I'll put this bad boy to good use. On September 22, 2016, I fly to Sao Paulo, Brazil. The whole thing is still so crazy to me. How does a girl go from being a shut-in with an incurable disease to flying out of the country to tell people about the goodness of God in less than a year?

If you've been reading a while, you know part of the story. Today, I want to share the rest of it because it's a story worth telling. But it'll take more than one post.


"To love is to be vulnerable..." C. S. Lewis, The Four Loves


I can't talk about Brazil without first talking about my friend, Erica Weller.

I'll begin by saying I did not plan on this friendship.

Friendship is hard for me. I learn to love people and they leave. Three of my best friends live out of state. And after Jenny...well...I wasn't really looking to let someone new get that close again. But God has a way of obliterating our attempts at self-protection and giving us something better.

Erica was instrumental in the story of my healing. The first time I met her (November 8, 2015) God gave her a very personal word for me through the story of the woman with the bleeding issue.

I'll never forget how nervous she was. She wiped sweaty palms on her jeans, took a deep breath, and told me I had that woman's faith--at a time I felt too tired to have that woman's faith or anyone else's--and prophesied that I would be healed "at the molecular level."

Something happens when someone speaks a word given to them by the Holy Spirit and the person the word is for receives it.

A few weeks later during my prayer session, Erica witnessed the moment she had prophesied.

"God places the lonely in families; he sets the prisoners free and gives them joy." Psalm 68:6

 

I fell hard and fast for the new family that helped rescue me and took me in. Each person has a special, unique place in my heart and I can't talk about how much I love them without getting weepy, so mostly I don't. I just love them. But there was a locked up room inside of me I never intended to give anyone access to again. Not even them.

And like an idiot, I invited Erica out for coffee. I planned for a 1-2 hour visit. We were there 4 hours.

When it was past time to leave, she suddenly looked as nervous as she had the night we met. "You know how you said you wish you could see blind and deaf people healed and people raised from the dead and all that?"

I nodded. My healing had taught me the true meaning of the word "impossible" is "God's playground," and I was ready to see more of it.

"Why don't you come on a mission trip to Brazil with me where that kind of stuff happens every night?"

I nearly fell out of my chair. At once, I was slammed with intense longing, a long list of reasons it would never work out and a gentle electric pulse which washed over my skin as if to say, "Listen. Take her seriously. This is important."

The trip would last two weeks and would cost $3,400. Our group would help support us, but couldn't bear the full financial burden of us both. 

I promised to think and pray about it, but warned her that I'm not fond of leaving my children, that money was an issue and Brandon wasn't likely to go for it. And by "not likely to go for it" I meant "no way would he go for it."

I didn't breathe a word to him when I arrived home that night. I'd been married long enough to know timing was important. 

That time my friends tried to give my trip away...


The next night, Brandon attended the Siegmunds' group with me. Tim, Erica's dad, asked me about the trip. I told him to keep his mouth shut because I hadn't talked to B. Then during the meeting he proceeds to offer an open invitation to "any young person" who would like to go. Dude was trying to give my trip away before I'd even had a chance to mention it to my husband!!!

Really??? 

If that weren't enough, he announces it again after worship while we were all standing in the kitchen grazing. Then Bruce pipes up and tries to give my trip to one of the college guys who comes sometimes. 

 Again...really???

While said college guy would be a wonderful choice, it was my trip. (Never mind that I had no logical reason to feel so territorial.)

I waited for Brandon to step out of the room and said under my breath--just loud enough for the people standing closest to me to hear--"I'm going to Brazil."

I had no idea how it would work out or even whether or not I really wanted to go, but somehow I knew what I'd said was true.



To be continued...




Erica and I will be in Sao Paulo, Brazil September 22-October 4, 2016 with a team led by Randy Clark through his organization, Global Awakening. We invite you to partner with us financially in the mission to bring the Good News to all the world. Please make all checks payable to ChristSource Ministries, write "Brazil Mission Trip" in the memo, and mail to 301 E. Alabama Ave. Ruston, LA 71270 by July 14. ChristSource is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. Your donation is tax-deductible. If you are unable to support us financially, please partner with us through prayer. Thank you!

Just a Spoonful of Peanut Butter

Peanuts
Original Image by Daniella Segura via Flickr Creative Commons


These little buggers may look like benign legumes to you, but something inside me twinges when I look at this picture. Even now. 

I stopped eating peanut products in April 2012 when my health was spiraling out of control. Back then, everything I ate brought on an allergic-type reaction. These reactions were growing stronger and stronger, and peanuts carried a reputation. Instinct told me to stay away. 

Peanut butter remained a staple in our home until April 2013. I was on a “make aaaaaaall the things” kick and decided to try my hand at making peanut butter—trans-fat and corn syrup free. 

I soaked my peanuts for the recommended 12 or so hours. Then I slow-roasted them in the oven for 24 more hours. Once they were thoroughly dried, I threw them into the Ninja with coconut oil, salt, and honey and let her whirl. But something happened.

The notch at the top of the blade didn’t center the lid. The force with which the blade was spinning caused the notch to cut into the lid and throw hot bits of plastic into the peanut butter. By the time I realized what was happening, so much plastic had mingled in, there was nothing to do but throw it all out. 

I cried.

As 36 hours of work and roughly $20 of product went into the trash, I noticed my ears were itching. I scratched them as well as I could and went about my business. 

Later that evening, I opened the trash can to throw something away. I pressed down, smelling peanuts. The reaction was instantaneous. 

My throat swelled. I began wheezing and coughing. I couldn’t think or see straight. I don’t remember getting into the bed.

In the flashes of memory I do recall, I’m lying in bed in our dark bedroom. My throat feels thick and hot. It’s hard to breathe. Brandon holds my hand murmuring pleas. I know I may not live, but I’m peaceful. If I die in that dark room, I’ll wake in a sea of Light. 

There’s a thermometer. Brandon takes my temperature and tells me my body temp is 94 degrees. He warns me if I lose consciousness, he’ll give me Epi and take me to the hospital. He knows I hate Epi. And hospitals. 

He makes me talk to him. I want him to leave me alone. Let me drift. But he’s so scared. The fear in his voice pulls me back. I return to myself. 

Not for me. Not for the kids. For him. 

I don’t remember rallying. I have no recollection of what else transpired that night. I only remember how awful I felt the days after. Like I’d been hit by a truck. 

After that, peanuts were banned from the house.

A year later, I had another near-fatal reaction after an accidental exposure to trace peanut particles. I wanted to treat the kids to frozen custard. We went through the Eskamoe's drive-thru. I was in the passenger seat. The reaction wasn’t as fast this time. 

We drove home. When I stepped out of the car, my legs didn’t feel right. My heart was working too hard. My head went fuzzy. And then my throat tightened. I almost fainted before I made it to the bed. 

This time, Brandon performed our at-home rescue treatment (EDT) Dr. Carolyne Yakaboski had discovered and taught us the previous summer. I didn’t get quite as bad this time around, but was down nearly a week afterward. 

What was alarming was the infinitesimal amount of peanut that had triggered such a strong response. 

We became super cautious. Whenever the kids came home with candy, B searched them with TSA standard scrutiny. Micah’s teachers probably thought we were half-mad with some of our requests. But I assumed a c’est la vie attitude about it all because—what else was there to do? 

I had one other reaction to trace peanut particles in May 2015. That was my last anaphylactic reaction ever. 

God began healing me in November 2015 after a miraculous moment in a prayer session. Over the next few weeks, I tested one trigger after another

In early January, I had a mild reaction after breathing in peanut particles. B brought the reaction under control with minimal effort and miraculous speed, but the old trauma was relived. Even after I had successfully tested all the old foods that were once dangerous to me, I continued to avoid peanuts.  

Enter Sara, my four-year-old daughter. 


A couple of weeks ago, I had a new friend over. I told the story of how God miraculously healed me, finishing with, “I can go wherever I want now. I eat just about everything. Except for peanuts. I’m still a little scared of peanuts.”

Sara dropped her crayon and turned to face me. 

“Why are you scared of peanuts, Mama? Der just peanuts, and Jesus healed you. You should just go over to Grandma and Pops’ and eat some. I don’t understand why you’re scared. You’re not scared of anything.”

I blinked. 

The kids had been coloring. I had no idea they were even listening, much less attentively. But let me tell you something—I had no. doubt. the Holy Spirit had spoken to me through my child. 

When I picked my jaw off the floor, I said, “Well…maybe I will.”

But see…there was still the trauma to deal with. Fortunately, I had the tools. Ever since my prayer session last November, I've implemented the techniques to address issues of forgiveness and emotional trauma whenever they arise.

Two days later, I recalled the night I lay dying in my dark bedroom. I asked Jesus to show me where he was. He appeared at Brandon’s side. Jesus knelt with him, a hand on his shoulder. 

I smiled. I knew he’d been there. 

I asked Jesus for the lie I believed about that situation. He said nothing.
I asked for the truth. Silence.
“So what do you want me to do?”

Jesus hands me a jar of Peter Pan peanut butter. Red label.

Okay, then. 

As instructed, I walk over to “Grandma and Pops’.” What do they have in their pantry? Red-labeled Peter Pan peanut butter. Enough for one spoonful.

The kids weren’t around, which was good. If something went wrong, I didn’t want them to know. Especially little Sara. But I had enough faith to walk across the yard without rescue medication and to ask Mom to video my little experiment. 

I opened the peanut butter jar and sniffed. Nothing happened. Good sign.
I scooped a generous helping into the spoon, scraping the sides.
Go big or go home, right?

I silently freaked as I drew the spoon up to my mouth, then opened wide. 

This is what happened:



So yeah...I eat peanut products now. The thing that almost killed me--more than once--I eat.

Someone recently asked me how I had the courage to do it. I wouldn't have without the encouragement of the Holy Spirit through my daughter combined with the encouragement of Jesus.

Without God's help, it would've been too scary. While my daughter may have delusions of grandeur about my supposed fearlessness, I can assure you--I feel fear just like everyone else. Lots of it. It just doesn't control me anymore.

I ate a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for dinner this week. It was delicious. 

Jesus still heals, y'all. Never doubt it. 

A Breakup Letter to Fear

 journals
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.

Fear. 

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.

Sincerely,
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. 







Uncaged


"He placed me in a little cage,
Away from gardens fair;
But I must sing the sweetest song,
Because He placed me there.
Not beat my wings against the cage,
If it's my Maker's will;
But raise my voice to heaven's gates,
and sing the louder still."

Last Christmas, Mom gave me this beautiful image, painted by our talented cousin Lisa Wilkes. I was still a shut-in when Lisa finished it, but she refused to paint the bird in a cage. She wanted me free. What a lovely, prophetic gift.

Today, this little bird is free indeed, which was her Maker's will all along. Mysteriously...paradoxically, my cage was the key to my freedom. (Think Hosea 2.)

Therefore, behold,
I will hedge up your way with thorns,
And wall her in,
So that she cannot find her paths.
She will chase her lovers,
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.'

My heart was a harlot if there ever was one. But--thanks be--God is a determined lover. And His crazy, stubborn love is freedom. 

Hessed love taught me to fly. 

So, if you were wondering--no, I wasn't frightened away. You don't survive what I have to turn tail and hide in a corner when people don't like what you say. I've just been...busy.

Busy living life. 
Having fun. 
Eating in restaurants. 


That's right. I'm eating corn chips. 
With high-histamine, nightshady salsa.

Vacationing with the fam.
 
 We saw Moses at the Sight and Sound Theater. Great show!
I ate the roasted almonds. Mostly because I could. 
But also because of the smell. Mmmmm.....

Shopping. Check my $2.40 find from Banana Republic. That's right--two dollars and forty cents. *drops mic*
(That duck head sticking out of mine...*snort*)

*picks mic back up*
Dating my Superman. 
Doing fun stuff with the kids and crying like a baby because I can. 
Girls' night. (Who am I?)
Prayer group. 
Daily adventures with Jesus. 

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--
"That's something I used to do."
"That was my old life."
"It's been four years, and I wasn't all that great to begin with."
"I've lost my dexterity."
"I want to focus on writing now." 

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. 

Miracles happen every day, folks.

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.

We arrived 15 minutes before go time, which in music world is the same thing as arriving late, and were ushered into a small, enclosed room, invisible to the attendees. I sighed relief. 

Two reasons:
1) Singing in the face of grief is hard for me. I just...can't. I'm too empathetic to keep it together.
2) I prefer invisible service. Nothing says, "I love you" quite like doing something for someone that no one else knows about. Which I suppose I'm ruining now...

Oh, well. I have a point.

We all served above our abilities. I hadn't accompanied anyone since 2011 and I played...well. Not perfect, but well. Mom has never sung so beautifully in her life. Dad's cold? Helped him sing the strongest bass line he's managed since his neck surgery several years ago. And God surprised us with a gift. The funeral director who oversaw the music is an outstanding tenor. He sang along with us.

Y'all, God isn't looking for professionals; He's looking for people to say "yes." In our weakness, He shows Himself strong.

On the way home, I felt God smile, pat my head, and say, "Good job, Baby Girl." 
I live for that, just so you know.

An update:

 

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.



 

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

 Wall_Food_10229
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 odd...my 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.

Discovery


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.

Uh...no 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.

 

Floxed


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.




Bulletproof

 

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.


Adjustments

Alone
Original image via Flickr Creative Commons courtesy of Vincent van der Pas

My parents' friend Gary Bulloch says this true thing--"Life is a series of adjustments."

We adjust from childhood to puberty, from young adulthood to marriage, from marriage to parenthood, from parenthood to empty nesting, and from empty nesting to the winter years of life with lots of adjusting in between. It seems like the moment we find our groove, the music changes and we have to adjust again. 

I hesitate to say I'd become comfortable with illness. (It's difficult to become comfortable with a disease which tries to kill you on a regular basis.) But being sick was my normal. 

A few weeks ago when I began to heal, Tim, a new friend of mine told me I wouldn't heal all at once because everyone around me had to adjust to the fact that their wife/daughter/mother/friend was getting better. And he's right. But they're not the only ones.

I'm adjusting, too.

It's kind of surreal that three months ago I was a shut in and now I'm going to events. 





Note: Project 41's White As Snow gala went very well, the most successful gala to date. We learned a lot, raised support for the ministry, and yes--I ate the food (!!!!!) Side effects were extremely mild. The night was a personal celebration for my family and me. 

Remember this poem I wrote a year ago?:

Some diseases are a death sentence.
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
for me,
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
Home.
"For a while," He corrects.
So I believe.  


Well, the cell has done its work, apparently. The bars have made me free. The Warden has thrown open the prison gates, and while He hasn't exactly tossed me out, it's very clear He doesn't expect me to stay inside. Nor do I want to. I'm ready to bust outta here, yo!

But there's this very real rehabilitation period to contend with. 

I'm learning to live in the world again. (There are people out here!) I'm asking big questions. (i.e. "What now?") I'm doing things. Going places. It's weird.

And my body hasn't quite caught up with my to-do list. 

  Lazy monkey
Original image via Flickr Creative Commons courtesy of Alan Bloom

These days I'm either enjoying my freedom or recovering from it.


Chronic fatigue, pain, and food sensitivities are still things as I pick up Micah from school, take Sara to her dance lesson, undertake my own housework, shop, go to church, visit with friends I haven't seen in forever, attend prayer meetings and events, and accept ministry opportunities. All in addition to what I was already doing.

Except I don't have much time to write. Not fiction anyway. My journal, however, sees lots of action. 

 I filled up this guy in two months!

Thus, my writing goals for the year may not be possible. 

I'm not complaining. I'm adjusting


It's difficult transitioning from a slow waltz (not that I've ever been that graceful) to a cha-cha. Even if the change is a blast. 

Moms, you know what I'm talking about. How great is it when your youngest transitions from two naps to one? But that free hour you had in the morning to drink coffee while it was still warm? Gone. Vamoose.

Or that moment you're done with diapers, but then you have to ask the kid whether or not she needs to pee every 15 minutes and haul her to the bathroom umpteen times a day whereas before you could change a diaper every three to four hours and you were good. (Yeah, I cried, too.)

C'est la vie. 

I LOVE the season I'm in, but it isn't easy. 

 

What do people expect of me now that I'm out and about? What does Brandon expect? What do the kids expect? What do I expect?

Does a writing career still fit into my life? I hope so. I want it to. But for now I feel that living real life is more important than writing made up life, and I don't have energy to do both. 

Most importantly, what does God expect of me? 

The Lord hasn't given me a copy of A Former Shut-In's Guide to Engaged Living in 5 Easy Steps. For now, I have only three hints to go on, and none of them are cut and dried:

1) "And she served them" (Mark 1:31). When Jesus healed Peter's mother-in-law, she didn't stay in bed. She got up and served Him. 

This is the word the Lord gave me in 2012 not long after my illness began to really present itself. This last chapter of my story was always going to end with my healing. I was given my marching orders three years before it happened. Service, not ease, is God's expectation of me. Of course, service can wear many hats. 

My family is the most important recipient. It's time to seize the things sickness stole from me. It's time to show up, take some of the enormous burden Superman has carried on his shoulders these long years, and clean my own bathrooms for goodness' sake. (God bless my mother in law for keeping my house from falling to chaos. Debbie Keaster, you are THE BEST.)

2) Limits. Everybody loves boundaries. Even kids. We think we don't, but we do. Limits make us feel safe. 

God has flung open the doors of my cage, and I'm so thankful. There's also a part of me that's glad I still have to count spoons. Because it reminds me--"I can do anything, but not everything."

When I was a prisoner, I talked about all the things I wanted to do when I was free. I wanted to sing in a choir again. I wanted to join that Flannery O'Conner short story class at Auburn Avenue. I wanted to be involved with this ministry and that ministry. Oh! And that one! I wanted to take Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu with Micah. I wanted to teach music lessons, offer cooking classes, and write novels. 

Yeah, right. 

I'm pretty sure the limits of 24 hours in a day and I don't know...SLEEP may disallow all that nonsense. Not that any of those things would be a bad way to spend time...unless I tried to do it all. 

Most days, I manage the things I was doing before I was better (child-rearing, cooking, dishes, laundry, homework, baths, bedtime routine, etc.), a little exercise, and maybe one outing before I'm ready to crash. 

Mondays are my rest days. On Monday, I. just. can't. (See monkey picture above.) I'm done. Stick a fork in me, and whatever you do, don't ask me to do anything extra.

3) A magic thread. In George MacDonald's fantasy for children, The Princess and the Goblin, Princess Irene is given a ring by her fairy godmother. Attached is a magic thread which is promised to always lead her safely back to her fairy godmother. 

One night, goblins enter little Irene's bedroom. She puts on the ring and follows the thread outside into the mountain wilderness, trusting it to guide her into the arms of her godmother. When it leads her into the dark caves, which are home to the goblins, she doubts and tries to feel her way backward. But behind her, the thread disappears. She can only go forward.

So onward she goes--through darkness, danger, and even a wall of rock--until she finds her friend Curdie who is held prisoner by the goblins. Irene rescues Curdie, and leads him out of the caves. At the end of her thread, she finds her godmother, as promised. 

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.









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...

Peanuts
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 Extra Bowl of Ice Cream

 20130208_FebruaryFood_058.jpg
Original image via Flickr Creative Commons via Nathan Cooke
Some rights reserved.


Last spring, I wrote this scene in which Declan (a healer) entices Mara (an ex-prostitute and recovering alcoholic) to eat by making ice cream, a rare treat in my medieval-esque world. The ice cream is shared six ways among the three women and the three men of the household, so everyone gets just enough. But when Mara finishes her portion, Declan quietly takes her empty bowl and replaces it with his full one.

After I wrote this, I asked the Lord, bold as brass, "Will you give me an extra bowl of ice cream?"

It wasn't that I didn't have enough. I had Him. But in the midst of sickness, injustice, grief, and loneliness, I wanted assurance that God was kind.

Now, I know "kind" doesn't always mean "nice." God isn't nice. Or safe.



But as Mr. Beaver will tell you, He is good, and that's sort of the same thing.



Rather than immediately serve up my request, God opened my eyes to the ice cream I already had--
a healthy marriage
two sweet ginger kids
toys on the floor
enough to eat
a warm house
hot detox baths
joy in writing
daily grappling matches with an almighty Sovereign
long naps and angel's food in the shade of a broom tree

But just because God didn't immediately answer my prayer the way I wanted Him to doesn't mean He said, "No."

Fast forward seven months...

He places lonely little me in a family of believers, the kind of Christian fellowship I've craved all my life. This family accepts me. God burdens their hearts for my sake, and they, in turn, plead my case before Him. I learn about their personal prayer ministry. I apply. I become their first recipient, and God uses that experience to free me from spiritual bondage I thought I'd never be rid of, to heal me of the emotional damage of the past, and to unravel this crazy illness one symptom at a time. 

I've written about how God healed my hands. Only two weeks later, there's more to report!

On December 3, it was 37 degrees. I experimented with my tolerance to outdoor temps. Here's a summary of how that went:


The video I took this morning...mainly for the entertainment of Madonna Gil and Torey Pop Morgan. You're welcome. ;)
Posted by Melissa Chapman Keaster on Thursday, December 3, 2015
(Hope you enjoyed the up close shot of my nostrils...*face palm*)

Now, 37 degrees is a far cry from 20 degrees, which was the temp the day I first reacted to the cold, but I fully expect to be fine when it gets that cold again. It seems to be what God is doing.

Last week, I woke up at 6am (or earlier) four days in a row and saw Micah off to school each day. Last year, that wouldn't have been physically possible. Even with naps. 

I also ate half a cookie *gasp* from a package. Granted, it was gluten-free and processed in a peanut-free facility, but I'm still calling it a win because my tongue didn't swell, I didn't cough, and my mouth didn't immediately fill with tiny sores. That being said, my original chocolate chip cookie recipe tastes better for anyone who wants to know.

Even with all this momentum, I didn't expect what happened this past Saturday. God's faithfulness was on full display. 

Some of you may know Stan and Stacey Thomason. Brandon and I met them not long after we began going to Crossroads in January 2008. Stacey and I bonded over our love for Jesus and real food, and though circumstances have kept us apart for the past several years, we've stayed in touch. One of the reasons for this is that back in 2009 the Lord gave me a word for her at a Beth Moore conference. 

During worship, God impressed upon my heart that Stacey would one day be a mother and that I needed to tell her. I did not want to do this. For several reasons. 

A) It was the first time God had ever given me a word to tell someone. New territory=lots of doubt and fear.
B) I was unworthy. Back then, I was in the early stages of recovery from a 5 year rebellion against God. Who was I to deliver any kind of message from Him?
C) I knew Stacey's deep desire for a child. I also knew her difficulties in having one. God in heaven, what if I was wrong? 

But somehow, I knew I must speak, as terrified as I was. I turned to her, touched her shoulder, and swallowed. "Stacey, I don't know how or when, but you will be a mother. God wanted me to tell you that."

(For the record: If I'd known then what I know now, I probably would've stated that differently. But there's grace for the young and stupid.)

We waited almost six years. Each time hope glimmered, I rejoiced. With each hope deferred, I grieved. I prayed. And, of course, I wondered if I'd spoken out of turn. What if my words had been for harm?

And then last year about this time, Stacey texted me a photo of an ultrasound. There she was--Miss Rinnah Nalon--growing in her brave birth mother's belly, awaiting the arms of a woman who would love her more than life.

Saturday was the celebration of Rinnah's official adoption.

And as if that wasn't good enough...

We arrived at the start of things. On the way inside, I noticed it was just us and one other family. I looked at the mask in my hand, then up at Brandon. "Mind if I try to go without it?"

He agreed after I promised to put it on the moment I felt myself getting sick. 

That moment never came.

I don't understand. There were candles burning. The scent of perfume wafted to my nose now and again. Two weeks ago, candles and perfume still bothered me. Even when the place began to fill up, I was fine

Before we left, I stole Stacey away into a corner where she and I marveled over God's incredible faithfulness. Brandon captured the moment for me.


How's that for an extra bowl of ice cream?

On the way home from the celebration, I asked Brandon, "Can I try church tomorrow?"

His hand went straight for his heart. 

"Please?"

He agreed. 

The next day, I enjoyed an entire church service MASK-FREE. Nearly three years have passed since the last time that happened. I alternated between tears of joy and ecstatic squeals in Brandon's ear--"I'm doing greeeaat!"

At the end of the service, we took a selfie to commemorate the extra extra bowl of ice cream: 

Superman,
You are so brave and awesome to put up with my experiments after the horrors you've lived. Thank you, thank you for believing with me. Most men would've left long ago, but you've stayed. Enjoy God's reward, my love, as He restores to us the years the locusts have eaten.

Brandon and I agree. I won't experiment with triggers that have caused shock reactions. That means no pesticides, no peanuts, and no latex. If I'm accidentally exposed to one of these triggers and I'm fine, PRAISE THE LORD, but I won't go looking for trouble.

I'm not completely mask-free yet. I dropped off Sara at dance yesterday without my mask and regretted it. Something (Lysol maybe?) had been recently sprayed in the area. Not fun, but I didn't react as I once would have. Also, freshly mowed grass and gasoline are apparently still problematic. 

But dude! I can go to church without wearing a mask!!!! And I'm going to try Christmas gatherings this year!
"Trust in the Lord and do good. Dwell in the land and feed on His faithfulness." (Psalm 37:3)
I hope you'll feast with me this Christmas. There's plenty of "ice cream" to go around, even in the darkness of this world. Turn off the news for half a second. Leave the fate of humanity in the hands of our able and almighty God.

Here's a spoon. Dig in!




The Power of Worship

Worship changes things.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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