Our Story

I remember the moment I chose to marry Brandon Keith Keaster. It happened on Sunday, January 19, 2003, over a year before he asked me to be his wife.

The choice was both difficult and easy. You see, I loved two wonderful, God-fearing young men at the time. Either one would've made an excellent husband. I still believe that. But even as a teen, I was of the mindset to place myself where God was working and God had been working on getting B and I together for literally decades.

So even though my friend of many years had the daunting advantages of height and red hair--I've always been a sucker for a red-head--and the idea of hurting him hurt me more than words can say, I intentionally gave my heart to Brandon.

I've never regretted my decision.

Destiny At Work

My mom's mother and Brandon's mom's mother were friends long before either of us entered history. Maybe even before our moms did. His mom babysat my mom. His parents were the first unmarried people my mom ever saw kiss. And even though my parents moved to Monroe and his stayed in Marion our circles touched the whole time we were growing up. We just never noticed each other. Mostly because he's 5 years older than me and it would've been weird.

Interestingly, the first time he did notice me, I was dressed like a Bangladeshi bride. No joke.

In August of 2000, I was 16, and I'd just returned from a 6 week gig as a mission intern/au pair in East London where I'd befriended several Bangladeshi Muslim girls, exchanged stories of faith with them, and even shared the good news of Jesus with a group of Muslim women in a local mosque. My grandmother had invited me to her church to speak about my time in England. Her church was also Brandon's church.

I remember him from that night. I sang and he ran the sound board. I think he complimented my singing when he returned my cassette tape. My grandmother later told me he'd asked about me. I was flattered, but really didn't give it much thought. I mean, he was nearly 21 and I liked another boy.

This other boy was supposed to take me to the West Monroe High School homecoming dance a couple of months later, but he made the mistake of proposing to me and telling me not to tell my dad. Let's just say things didn't work out. But I had a dress and a cousin counting on me for a ride to the dance, so my grandmother and Brandon's grandmother schemed and asked Brandon to take me. He generously agreed.

Don't you just love awkward high school dance photos?

Brandon was a perfect gentleman. He genuinely enjoyed hanging out with a 16 year old and two 14 year olds for the evening. He was a sport about all the photos and even danced with me a little. Which, to this day, is kind of a big deal. He was respectful and kind. He opened all the doors for me and had me home before my 11pm curfew. He treated me like my dad would've wanted me to be treated.

That dance was my first date ever.

We emailed a couple of times afterward, but didn't see much of each other again until the summer of 2002, when I was asked to be the interim pianist at my grandmother's church. We'd see each other in passing at both services on Sundays, but on Wednesday nights, after the singing, I'd walk over to the youth room where he was. I'd sit for the lesson, then afterward the youth minister, the pastor's son, Brandon and I would head to the basketball court and play pickup games.

The basketball court is where I fell in love with Brandon. I was in denial about it a long time, but Wednesday night basketball games were the highlight of my week.

He played just right. He didn't take it easy on me, which I would've hated, but he was careful not to hurt me. Which actually only happened once, and he was so sorry that I was careful not to let him see the tears which formed from being clocked in the jaw so hard.

It was after the annual Hanging of the Greens service in December that I first began to suspect he had feelings for me. It was the way he placed the accompaniment track in my hand. Slowly. Lingeringly. And the way he looked at me.

But I played dumb.

"I'm too young for him," I told my parents. "I'm just imagining things because I'm lonely."

That year I'd suffered two major betrayals, one of which led to a literal threat on my life. One best friend went to college and the other got married. I was in pain and didn't want to risk more pain by falling for him and being disappointed.

What I didn't know is that he was testing the waters. Had he been less determined, I might've lost him by hiding my feelings.

The Power of an Inner Vow

The following weekend, I traveled down to New Orleans with my dad to the Louisiana high school football state championship games. West Monroe was playing and I had friends on the team. They played Evangel High School who had a star quarterback with the last name...get this...Booty.

I said out loud with my dad as witness, "I would never marry a man with the last name 'Booty.'"

And God laughed and laughed and laughed.

Normally, inner vows don't work in our favor, but apparently I'm a special case. 

A mere five weeks later, Brandon asked me to stay late at a youth event to play one-on-one with him. That's basketball, just to clarify. Don't be dirty.

We ended up talking late into the late that my grandmother drove 15 minutes from Farmerville to Marion to come find me. (I didn't have a cell phone back then.) But before Brandon and I parted ways, I asked him to my free movie for the week. (I worked at Tinseltown at the time and got two free tickets every week.) He offered to take me to get chocolate chip pancakes at the new IHOP by the mall. We made plans for the following weekend.

Sealed With a Kiss

I'm embarrassed to admit this, but here it is. Remember the other boy I loved? The tall red-head? I went out with him Saturday night to a thing and the next night went out with Brandon. I didn't tell either of them. I realize that's kind of terrible, but there were things I needed to settle for myself.

I was ready to commit. The boy I chose, I would probably marry. Both nights, weighty thoughts occupied my mind. It wasn't just about the guys. It was about the futures. What was I willing to agree to? It was also about what God was doing. Where was his hand at work?

I had fun both nights. There was nothing wrong with the other boy. He was a perfect gentleman, a lot like B in that regard. And he obviously cared for me, but as I said goodbye to him that night I knew it would be for good. My only regret is that I didn't just tell him. But I was too selfish and immature back then.

The following night, Brandon picked me up at my parents' house and took me to IHOP. The pancakes were okay, but the highlight was Brandon spilling a glass of ice water into his lap. I guess I made him nervous. *grin*

At the concession stand, a friend from work mouthed, "Is that your boyfriend?"

I mouthed back. "Not yet."

She gave me a thumbs up. 

We saw Two Weeks Notice, which is still a good movie by the way. On the way out of the theater, he caught my hand. I still feel the thrill that rose in my stomach when I remember. He didn't let go the whole way home. Even when things got awkward with the standard transmission.

When Brandon dropped me off, he came inside to talk with my parents. I followed him back out again to say goodbye. Just before he left I was struck with a wild compulsion. After checking the kitchen window to make sure my dad wasn't watching, I kind of leaped forward and planted a hard, novice kiss on Brandon's lips.

My thought bubble: Oh! What am I doing? I've never done anything like this before. This isn't me. Oh God, please don't let my dad see...Who cares? His lips are so nice...

I surprised him--you should hear him tell the story--but no more than I surprised myself. You see, that was my first kiss. And it had always been my plan to save my first kiss for my wedding day. Oh, well.

Breathless, I released him, ran inside half-embarrassed and perched at the foot of my bed. I remember smiling--still in shock but also somewhat pleased with my gumption. I didn't know I could be so forward.

When I'd collected myself a little, I floated into Dad's office acting like a giddy drunk, and said, "I'm gonna marry that boy."

Dad kind of hung his head and sighed. "I know."

The Rest of the Story

It was the best decision I've ever made. Save the one I make every day to follow Jesus.

Brandon has saved my life many times over. I don't want to imagine where I'd be without him or if he hadn't married me when he did.

Like Jesus, he's loved me when he didn't like me. He's held me together when I was falling apart. When I was sick and had nothing to offer him except an uncertain future of caring for a part-time invalid, he stayed.

He makes me laugh. All the time. He messes with me and pesters and tackles and tickles. I secretly love this. Most of the time. 

He teaches me about real love every day. How to give it and how to receive it. For whatever reason, I have a hard time receiving. Thanks to him, I've gotten much better. He teaches me how to trust. How to confront. What I'm worth. In a world dominated by unsafe men, he reminds me some are still good.

Neither of us are perfect. Although...he's pretty darn close, if you ask me. Sometimes we're selfish, and we fight. But I'd make the same decision again and again and again.

Brandon Keith Keaster, I love you to the ends of the earth. I'm so glad you're mine and so thankful to be yours. I'm so glad you were my first date, first kiss, first everything. Oh, and I still love your lips. I'm sorry if that's too gross for public knowledge.

Here's to you, Superman, for the 12 years we've had and the 63 left to go. 

Promises and Chocolate Chip Pancakes

Chocolate Chip Pancakes
Original image via Flickr Creative Commons courtesy of EffingFoodie

Afternoon sun poured through the window, warming and brightening our white cotton sheets. I nestled against him and looked into his soft, brown eyes. Lacing my fingers through his, I asked the question I'd wanted to ask since it became clear God was healing me.

"Why did you stay?"

He blinked at me.

"I want you to be honest," I said. "I won't be offended. Was it for the kids? Because divorce would've been too expensive? Because it was the right thing to do?"

He tucked a wayward strand behind my ear and looked past me, lost in thought. "Leaving never crossed my mind. Preparing for your death--that was the hard part."

A shadow passed through his eyes. I knew the time he referenced. I didn't want to think about those days.

"But why?" I pressed.

His eyes locked with mine. "Well, I made promises in front of a room full of people. To you. To God. That's kind of a big deal. And besides"--the corner of his mouth twitched--"I like you a little bit."

Ladies and gentlemen, the man I married. 
Brandon Keaster, I don't tell you often enough how wonderful you are. So let me tell you now--you are wonderful

And clever! Clever enough to trick me into asking you on a date 13 years ago.

Thank you for the chocolate chip pancakes that night and for loving, honoring, and protecting me every day since. Thank you for keeping your promises when it's hard. My heart is yours forever.

Happy anniversary of the night I decided to be your wife, Superman. 
I like you a little bit, too. 

P.S. Give up already. I'm never gonna find a better man than you.


Love in the Little Things

Love is written in both sweeping gestures and humble details. We read it in atoning blood and flowering rose, in declarations of lifelong commitment and daily kisses. We need the weight of the former, and repetition of the latter to fill us up and make us strong. In love, the little things matter--

like "happy food,"

holding hands at the dinner table,

slow walks on hard days,


a freshly plowed field ready to grow nourishing food,


a pile of beloved comfort items offered to a sick mamma,

the sacrifice of a relaxed Easter morning to worship with the church-starved shut-in,

the simple gift of a handkerchief.

As with the steady drip drop of water onto solid rock, these little things leave a lasting impression where love collects into pools. Like the story of that handkerchief.

I remember the day I received it. On September 27, 2011, my Nona had just been diagnosed with breast cancer, which served me a double blow. The realization that the rock and matriarch of our family who never caught a cold had cancer was an impossible shock; the trauma of losing my Grandmommy to breast cancer eight years prior had awoken from slumber. I was six weeks away from giving birth to Sara, and mentally shaming myself for lamenting over Braxton Hicks contractions and sciatic pain when there was cancer in the world. And my dear friend, Ellie Blackburn, had just given birth to her fourth child.

That mild autumn night, I took advantage of Brandon's free evening. I left Micah in his capable hands, and drove the thirty something miles from Farmerville to Lincoln General Hospital in Ruston, Louisiana to meet my friend's tiny new addition. I meant to distract myself from my own troubles by entering into someone else's joy. But that is not what happened. Instead, my friend abandoned her joy to enter into my troubles--much like Someone Else I know.

When we found ourselves alone, she asked me how I was doing, and without meaning to I selfishly poured out my burdened heart at the side of her hospital bed. Weary though she was, she listened intently and passed me a soft, white handkerchief which I thoroughly saturated. A handkerchief is not typically a thing one borrows, but when she told me it had belonged to her grandmother, I offered to return it after a good washing. Ellie told me to keep it.

I used it once or twice after that, but it has mostly lain forgotten in my purse for two and a half years--until I needed it last month when I said goodbye to a dear friend who was stolen away by cancer. Crying into that handkerchief by Jenny's graveside, I was simultaneously far stronger and more broken than I ever could have imagined when I cried at Ellie's bedside--a recipe which yielded many more tears. I needed that little white cloth. It was such a comfort to me even in its smallness. The reminder of Ellie, who now lives hundreds of miles away, earned a smile from me that day. When it was time to set my face right after the service so I could embrace Jenny's family and say my goodbyes, I stuffed it into my coat pocket and forgot about it--

Until I had need of it again a few days later. I didn't need it for me. The kind of crying I was doing following Jenny's death required hand towels. A dainty handkerchief can only hold so much snot. I needed it for someone else--another dear friend who also lives hundreds of miles away. Madonna, a friend from college, was in town for a rare visit. We had a nice--if brief--time together at Jubilee Farm after not having seen one another for over a year. There was a private soul-baring, tear-inducing moment in the car as I drove her to where she was staying. Madonna apologized for getting emotional, which made me grin because it's something I would do--something I did that night in Ellie's hospital room. I told her not to apologize. I was honored that she would and could cry in my presence. I told her I wanted to be a safe place for her. I hope to be a safe place for all my friends. For strangers even. 

And then she asked for a tissue. Drat. I don't carry tissue because I'm allergic to it. I could only offer her fast food napkins my dad had stuffed into my glove compartment several months ago during one of our road trips to Baton Rouge. My handkerchief remained soiled in my coat pocket at home.

As Madonna wiped her eyes with the roughest, least durable paper in existence, I told her the story of my handkerchief--the friend who gave it to me and how it had brought comfort to my sore heart one night in a happy hospital room and one sad, sunny day by my Jenny's grave and how sorry I was I couldn't offer it to her. I made a promise--"The next time this happens, I'll be ready. I'm going to order some handkerchiefs for this very thing."

And I did. I "won" a set of ten pretty hankies on Ebay two days later.

It took some careful work getting the fragrance and stiffness out of them without having a reaction, but I managed. When I was done, I enclosed my favorite of the lot--the one with the embroidered pink flowers pictured here--in a package I mailed to Madonna. Late though it was in getting to her, I hope it brings her some comfort and reminds her that I'm thinking of her and praying for her. I carry the other nine hankies in a plastic bag in my purse, ready to give them away to anyone who has tears to dry and a heart to be heard. 

Opportunities for grand gestures are rare. You get married once, and then you prove your love every day in dying little deaths to give life to another. You birth a child, and then you spend the next umpteen years forgetting yourself as you intentionally observe, notice, and appreciate all the little things that make up the ever-growing human carrying around your DNA. Jesus Christ gave His life for us once, but never stops saving the soul who wants Him. He draws near. He enters in. He keeps count of every toss in our bed, every sigh of our soul, every tear that falls from our eyes--caused by everything from cancer to pregnancy discomforts--and stores them in a bottle (Psalm 56:8). He has accomplished the big things--covenants and coming and death and resurrection--but He never stops wooing us with the small. He is the most observant Lover. There isn't a detail He could miss.

I remember once marveling to my cousin and family photographer, Morgan Tucker, that God seemed to care about and provide for all the details of our family photography sessions. She laughed and sagely responded, "God cares about pictures because we care about pictures."  

It's true, you know. Jesus cares about the little things because we do. He created us to appreciate them, after all. It is in these little things that we learn to ground ourselves in the rich soil of His love so that when big storms come we stay firmly planted. 

This Man inspires me and sets my heart aflame. I want to love like He loves. I want to smell like Him and feel like Him. I want people to think of Him when they are with me. So I will prepare nourishing meals, fold and put away his underwear, read her favorite book for the hundredth time, look into his eyes when he asks his questions, pray for those I cannot otherwise serve, and keep hankies on hand to catch the unexpected tears of strangers and friends. I will ask God to give me joy in the doing so the love hits its mark.

There are no grand gestures here, and I will never love as perfectly as I would like. I will fail, repent, repeat, but I will never stop aiming. For His sake. And the "I love yous" I sing will be soft, humble songs. They won't earn me any applause, which is good. In this the hearers know it's all for them and not at all for me. The goal of real love isn't to impress, but to leave an impression. It is to help a soul feel its value and a spirit catch a foretaste of the infinite love of our Lord. 

The world is more beautiful when we love in the little things like chocolate pudding and handkerchiefs and open ears and hearts. May we love as we are so gloriously loved.  

Valentine from God

Last night as I prayed for "my people," God laid three ladies on my heart. One is in the midst of a painful separation. Another is a hard-working single mom. The third is operating as a single working mother while her husband is serving in the military. He finishes his one year of service in August.

Valentine's Day can be unpleasant. For every blissfully happy couple, there are three more trying to piece back together their shattered hopes and dreams.

If you have been hurt, this valentine is for you. If you have been broken beyond repair, this valentine is for you. It's for you whether you're blissfully happy, married 50 years, terribly lonely, or thriving in singleness. Whether you love this holiday or hate it, this valentine is for you. If you know Jesus, read it as a love letter. If you don't, allow me to introduce you to this amazing Man I love. I pray you'll love Him, too.

For ET, NB and JB. 
You ladies have my deepest respect and affection. 

Dear Beloved, 

I have loved you with an everlasting love. (Jeremiah 31:3)

I am your Husband. (Isaiah 54:5)

I am yours and you are Mine. (Song of Solomon 2:16)

As the bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so I rejoice over you. (Isaiah 62:5)

See—I have inscribed you on the palms of My hands. (Isaiah 49:16)

You are the apple of my eye. (Psalm 17:8)

I know the number of hairs on your head. (Matthew 10:30)

I keep your tears in a bottle. (Psalm 56:8)

Behold--what manner of love I have bestowed on you that you should be called My child! (1 John 3:1)

I chose you before the foundation of the world. (Ephesians 1:4)

I have demonstrated My love toward you by dying in your place even when you hated Me. (Romans 5:8; 1 John 4:9-11)

Because you are in Me, you are not condemned. (Romans 8:1)

You are perfect in My sight—beautiful and glorious, without spot, wrinkle, or blemish. (Ephesians 5:27)

If you are Mine and your heart condemns you, do not listen. I am greater than your heart, and I know all things. (1 John 3:20)

I want you to comprehend the width and length and depth and height of My love so you will be filled with My fullness. (Ephesians 3:18-19)

Nothing—neither death nor life, nor angels nor demons nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other thing in all of creation can separate you from My love. (Romans 8:38-39)

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you. Raging rivers cannot overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned. I am the Lord your God, your Savior. I am with you and always for you. (Isaiah 43:2-5)

I have set you as a seal upon My heart, as a seal upon My arm. My love is stronger than death. Many waters cannot quench it, nor can floods drown it. (Song of Solomon 8:6-7)

I am always near. I rejoice over you with gladness! I will quiet you with My love. You fill My heart with song! (Zephaniah 3:17)

With exquisite joy, I look to our wedding day! You will be resplendent dressed in My righteousness. Your heart will be filled with rapture! Your tears, pain, and sorrow will be but a distant memory, and we will be together forever! (Revelation 19-22)

Hold fast to Me for I am your life. (Deuteronomy 32:47)

I will never let you go. (John 10:28)

May you know how much you are treasured this Valentine’s Day and every day. (Deuteronomy 14:2)