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.


Back to the Music

After nine months of needful rest, I'm baa-aaaaaack! And I thought, "Hey. A life update might be in order."

The Highlights:

  • I'm officially Facebook sober and in a much better place than I was in January. I really enjoyed my time away. So much so that I considered NEVER going back. There are things I am so. glad. I. missed. (Someone's saying "amen" somewhere.) And yet, it's time. It's as needful for me to return as it was for me to leave. So, hey y'all! *waves* (You can also follow me on Twitter.)
  • My marriage is the healthiest it's ever been. We've had some hard knocks this year, but the Lord has used them to bond us in incredible ways. Brandon has really grown in the Lord. It's thrilling to watch. I am humbled and grateful for the bad that has worked for good.
  • I had a GREAT summer. I felt almost good. Seriously. The best I've felt in more than four years. I ate tomatoes and watermelon. No insect stings of any kind. No emergencies. I even took a weekend trip to Baton Rouge to see my mentor Dixie Perry. I did exceptionally well. 
  • I gave the kids a few piano lessons this summer. I also taught Micah to read. Without losing my will to live. 
  • My annual end-of-summer health nosedive happened a bit early, but the plummet was less harrowing this time because A) I expected it and B) It wasn't as bad. The most annoying thing is I've begun reacting to sweet potatoes, and pardon my French, but that just sucks. 
  • I've been to church six times since June. I've only left sick twice (the last two times, actually), and each time I was only down for the rest of the day. Miraculous.
  • I sent out my novel to beta readers yesterday. All 17 of them. (What was I thinking?) Mom and Brandon read it. They loved it. But you know, they're partial, so we'll see what the others say. (You can read about my "writing a novel" experience here.) My current plan is to self-publish, which means I should have it out next spring or summer. It'll be a $2,000-$3,000 investment, so I will need you to buy a copy and tell your friends. Just putting that out there. 

 Recent Events:

  • Sara broke her arm last Wednesday. We have two fractures. Good times. We're just happy she gets to resume dance lessons next week...

    ...oh, and that the cast is pink.  

  • Micah is back to school and doing well. The dude has memorized two Robert Louis Stevenson poems, partitions like a whiz, and writes better than I do. We have to get him over this whole perfectionist thing though, or we will all lose our minds. Starting with me. (Prayers appreciated.)

A Journey Back into Community: 

About a month ago, I woke to a keen sense of loneliness. It had been lurking in the grass for some time, and then pounced all at once.

I spoke with Mom about it. She smiled and said, "Well, you've been in isolation--writing your book--for months. Now that you're done, the novel is gone, and you're left with the isolation."

"So, what do I do?" I asked.

"Tell people what you want. Invite them back in."

Even before this, God was speaking to me about community. He hit me with the topic in conversations, blog posts, writing advice, and Bible study.

But I wasn't sure what He meant for me to do. I mean...I'm a shut in. I risk anaphylaxsis every time I walk out of the house. I often return home sick.

What do you mean, God?

While He hasn't handed me "The Shut-In's Five Step Guide To Community," He's dropping a trail of breadcrumbs, and I'm doing my best to follow.

My next few posts will be a series about what I'm learning and what I'm doing with what I'm learning and my questions as I go.

Ten Years

I think about it often: A lesser man would have left me by now. You stay. You, with those big brown eyes, open arms, soft lips, and serving hands.

Like a phoenix, I'm born, I breathe, I burn. I'm remade from the ashes time and again. I have been no less than five different people in the decade we've been married, and you have loved them all.

"You're so weird," you say with a chuckle. God bless that chuckle because that chuckle means you think my weird is cute.

I think your weird is cute, too.

How do you always know when I need a laugh? A hug? A strong hand to hold mine? Your presence, your voice as my innards swell and lungs labor are a comfort and a tether keeping my feet tied to the world.

How do you do it all, Atlas? How do you manage the weight of the world on those broad, sexy shoulders?

How do you work long days, bathe children, grocery shop, manage the property, pay the bills, help others, and save me every day? How do you live always dying, always denying yourself?  You swear to your own hurt, and you do not change (Psalm 15:4).

There must be Jesus in you.

As long as you channel Living Water, I'll never stop drinking you in. When you run dry, my well is yours. Always.

You've won my heart a million times over. Just like this Savior I know. I don't deserve either of you.

 World, you may keep your fallible currencies. I'll draw and spend from an eternal bank of love.

Happy anniversary, My Beloved. I could not have made a better investment over the last ten years than I have in you. Thank you for being a parable of Christ's love for me and His Church. Here is to many more years in this life and an eternity of them in the next, my Brother, my Friend, my Lover.....


And now 10 years in photos and song:

Something Else

I was about to give up and that's no lie
cardinal landed outside my window
threw his head back and sang a song
so beautiful it made me cry
took me back to a childhood tree
full of birds and dreams
from this one place I can't see very far
in this one moment I'm square in the dark
these are the things I will trust in my heart
you can see something else
something else
I don't know what's making me so afraid
tiny cloud over my head
heavy and grey with a hint of dread
I don't like to feel this way
take me back to a window seat
with clouds beneath my feet
from this one place I can't see very far
in this one moment I'm square in the dark
these are the things I will trust in my heart
you can see something else
something else
--Sara Groves, "From This One Place"

I am an artist. This should imply more than that I simply do artistic things. It should imply realities about my character, my friendships, my lifestyle, my worldview, my habits, my behaviors and the way I process stimuli. However, I find that artists are largely misunderstood by at least half of the world. To most non-artists, the whole lot of us are weirdos. To help you guys out, I've provided a little insight. Artists are driven by their art and their almost basic need to create. Our highs are very high, our lows are very low and all the in-betweens are few and short-lived. Balance is a difficulty, almost unattainable. Many artists are able to think and process thought logically and rationally, but at our core, we are reactive. We respond to the world mostly through a sieve of emotion, whether we want to admit it or not. And I don't want to admit it. I would love to think of myself as a rational, logical individual that is above filtering the world in its entirety through the way I feel. And sometimes, I would love my feelings to be a little sedated because I rarely view anything passively. I am an artist; therefore, I am passionate.

On a scale from high to low, I've been at a low recently. I can attribute my blues to several reasons, including: seasonal depression, the move, the crazy pace of the last couple of months, the vandalism, allergies, no exercise, too many sweets, missing my mommy and the most important two--learning hard "abundant" life lessons and little time and energy for my art.

My novel continues to burn in my heart. It will be written, but maybe not in the time frame I originally planned. Every time I have a free moment, I am so utterly exhausted that the only output of my brain is white noise, which is worse than useless when you want to write. To make matters worse, the little I do write is congested with so many grammatical, logical and spelling errors that I feel like I've lost my edge. Where is the former English major that rarely made these kinds of mistakes?

Words don't come to me anymore. It's like at age 25, I have the brain of 60 year old. (I'm fairly certain that Micah is eating my brain cells.) An artist is in a bad place when she feels disdain for her skills and abilities. I burn, yet I cannot make fire. The sticks are wet and the flint is dull.

Writing isn't my only art. I'm also a singer--a singer that is simply too busy to schedule a lesson or practice. And a singer that isn't singing is a singer that is miserable. A singer always has a song to sing. The only relief we get is in the act of singing. And I'm not singing. I sing lullabies, and hum along to Sara Groves, but I'm not singing. Mozart, Puccini, Verdi, Debussy and Handel are singing. I'm not singing. And so, this artist is sad.

On to my comment about "abundant" life lessons . . .

Over the past 13 months, the Lord has restored to me the joy of His salvation. He has accomplished this in stages. The process began with Micah's birth, continued with a conference, and flourished as I found a mentor and a prayer partner with whom I gladly share this journey. They have been teaching me about the core of the Christian faith. When Jesus came to this earth, He came to give us life. Not an average, mundane existence that ends in vanity, but a meaningful, abundant life. A life worth living. And I would just like to say transparently and honestly that abundant life isn't always comfortable or pleasing. Sometimes it is very unwelcome. To live abundantly, we must become like Christ, and we do so through the continual, unrelenting work of the Holy Spirit, a work that only begins after we have believed upon the person and godship of Jesus Christ, and have submitted ourselves to Him. Let me repeat myself--this process is often unwelcome. It is unwelcome because we can't beat the human out of us, and that human absolutely loves to rise up against the Holy Spirit and do what it wants to do--sin. Allowing the Spirit to work love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness and self-control into our character is painful. There is no step 1-2-3 formula. There is no habit we can make that will magically bring us to any of these. It is submission. And submission is often the antithesis of passion. And I am passionate.

My prayer partner and I have been focusing on the whole point of Christianity, which is to become like Jesus. This is the goal of Christianity, not heaven. A wise pastor once said, "We are not being prepared for a place, but for a Person. The person of Jesus Christ." Becoming like Him, means that first and foremost we must be humbled. And humility doesn't come naturally to an artist, or a scientist, or a mathematician, or a mechanic or a toilet scrubber. It doesn't come naturally to any person, really. I take pride in my art. I take pride in my intelligence. I take pride in my ability to win any argument I wish to win. I take pride in most things. And I should not. Pride is the opposite of Jesus Christ. Being the prideful little twit I am, God saw fit to humble me under His wise and humorous, good hand.

As I mentioned above, we recently moved into a new, slightly larger home. Brandon has been hard at work remodeling the place, bringing it as up to date as possible on a budget. I haven't been able to help much due to my general helplessness and lack of know-how in reference to all things handy and mechanical. I felt that my contribution to our home would be my decorating vision for the house--eclectic and awesome. But I had forgotten something that my husband remembered. Years ago, before moving from our tiny first home was a thought in our minds, I told Brandon that when we moved into a larger house, he could have a room to hang his deer heads and other various stuffed and mounted carcasses that he deemed necessary for man room. Well, he thought this slightly larger home was the larger home I was referring to. It wasn't, but oh well. So, what room does he choose for his three deer heads, two turkey fans, duck pictures, eagle figurines and fishing paraphernalia? The living room. The most central room to our home. The room through which all souls must pass to get to the bathroom, studio or kitchen. I consented to the deer heads, encouraged him to limit himself to three themes and demanded veto power. About 3 weeks ago, Brandon began to give me ultimatums about decor in other parts of the house--I couldn't get new dining table chairs, we were keeping the ugly record/8 track player and he was keeping the gosh-awful, random picture of a man carrying a dead duck through the snow to a barn for some unknown reason, framed in the ugliest, bulkiest most disgustingly masculine frame you can gather from the very worst of your worst nightmares. By the way, I don't like ultimatums. Or ugly pictures.

It was the picture that sent me over the edge. The night he told me he was keeping it, no matter what, was a Friday night. All week, I had been running after my son and helping my sister with her twins. I was too tired to want to fight about it. I said nothing that night and went to sleep. The next morning, I was folding clothes after breakfast, and I said something a little short to him. His response? "You're just mad 'cuz I'm keeping the picture."

Have you ever felt anger in your toenails? I did. In that moment. I felt anger in my toenails, in my blood, in my bones, in my organs, and everywhere in between. The anger did not come from the picture alone. The picture had help. There were a lot of undisclosed behaviors and comments that I let slide without saying a word. But the picture was the proverbial straw. You know. The one that broke the camel's back. A better analogy in this case would be the last seismic shift before the eruption of Mt. St. Helen's.

The fit I threw was impressive. We refer to it now as the "grand mal hissy fit." And that is what it was. "NO!" I shouted with fervor and tears! "Just NOOO!! You will NOT keep that $@*% picture. It is god-awful and I HAATE it!" I threw folded laundry, I kicked the laundry basket, I pounded my fist on the table. I'm not sure what else I said. The anger had me. I do remember storming off to another room, slamming the door and silently daring him to come in. I think he waited until my breath returned to normal before approaching me. I told him through livid tears, that I was not sorry. That I felt better. And what is so terrible is that something that should have made me feel guilty, made me feel good. When it was over, we joked about it a bit, then he said, "So I guess now isn't a good time to tell you that I'm giving the picture to my dad." I would have been mad all over again had I not expounded all of my energy upon my tantrum. Instead, I scavenged for a little humor in the situation, and comforted myself with the fact that I had indeed, won again. Or so I thought.

God began dealing with me over the fit. I began to feel a little guilty that I had behaved like an adolescent, but I still wasn't willing to do the thing I knew in the cobwebby part of soul that I knew I must. I met with my prayer partner, Ellie, the following Wednesday as always, and against everything my mind was screaming at me, I confessed the full ordeal to her. As I confessed, the Lord made evident to me that He wanted me to do something I had never done before in an argument I cared anything about--lose.

In my 5 years of marriage, 7 years of loving Brandon, I had never lost a fight that I cared about. As the testament of the worst parts of myself spilled from my lips, I felt conviction, I felt the challenge and then I felt the anger. After meeting with Ellie and praying with her, I should have been right as rain, correct? Well, I wasn't. I then turned my anger from Brandon and the picture to the Lord. I neglected Him on purpose. Refused to submit my will to His. How dare He ask me to LOSE?
Those days of purposeful neglect were the darkest, most miserable days of my existence. I think this is because I had so recently tasted the sweetness of friendship with Him. I missed Him like crazy, but I wouldn't release my will. I hit a new low, and all of my insecurities prowled around for the kill. I realized in it all that I had recently prided myself on my faithfulness to God. Where was it now? He teaches me something that I don't want to learn, and I pout at Him like a toddler.

Fortunately, God never quits on us. If we are His, nothing can pluck us from His hand. Nor can we simply walk out. We are there forever.

The following Sunday night, we had prayer and communion at church. Rather than praying in groups, our pastors led us in a time of individual confession. The verses from Psalm 51 resonated through my spirit like a bell. "Restore to me the joy of your salvation" . . . "create in me a clean heart" . . . "sustain me with a willing spirit." Willing. A willing spirit. In that moment, in that word, my soul found peace. I found peace because I chose to lose. Not because I wanted furry necks and heads to dust for the rest of my life, or because I wanted 3 sets of eyes to follow me around wherever I go or an ugly picture hanging in my living room, but because I wanted to do what God wanted me to do, because I loved Brandon more than I hated deer heads or ugly pictures, and because choosing to lose makes me more like Jesus.

"Then Jesus said to His disciples, 'If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it."--Matthew 16:24-25

Of all possible applications, whoever imagined home decor?
(Before big things, we must be faithful in the small.)

So, the Lord and I have been enjoying one another again for a week. It's nice to have my Friend back. It's so silly that I was the one who pushed Him away. I've told Him about all of my anxieties about my "arts." He knows. He understands. He cares. And so He gave me a cardinal that would sing a glorious song to me (see Sara Groves lyrics above). He gave me the gift of this verse--
John 1:42--"Now when Jesus looked at Peter, He said, You are Simon the son of Jonah. You shall be called Cephas" (which is translated, a Stone.)"

You are now all confused. Let me explain.

Peter's destiny was to become a foundation, a cornerstone of the Church of Jesus Christ. So, when Jesus looked at him, though He knew all of his failures, He only saw who Peter was as God had created him to be in combination with who he would become through the work of the Holy Spirit. Peter would sink when he stepped out on the water, he would fall asleep when Jesus needed him to pray the most, he would cut off a guard's ear, he would deny Jesus three times the night before His death, and he would fail to recognize his Friend and Savior after He rose again. But Jesus saw a rock. Jesus saw his destiny.

And He sees mine. He sees me not as a rock, for that was someone else's destiny; but as a perfected artist, a perfected me, not the epic fail I am today.
He can see something else. And that is a very, very good thing.

Maybe if I look hard enough, I can see something else in this picture.

Moving On

We will live here at 150 Sunflower Drive, Farmerville, Lousiana for three more days, and I never expected to feel so sad about it. I am really surprised by the nostalgia that seems to physically attack me as I pack all our belongings in prescription medicine and milk boxes. (My husband is a pharmacist at a grocery store.)

The truth is that I was afraid of this house when I first saw it. I remember the creepy feeling in my gut when we walked in and saw that the master bedroom had a deadbolt on it that could lock someone in the room. I remember how much I disliked the old man who sold us the house. I remember my extreme feelings of irritation at the outrageous amount of awful wallpaper the previous owners had put up and at the fact that they had stained the light-colored carpet with orange wood polish in many places. I also remember the hideous bathroom with it's black linoleum countertop and floor, brown oak cabinets, and cream, maroon and silver wallpaper. And when we finally decided that it was all we could possibly afford as we had no down payment and Brandon would be the sole breadwinner while I attended college, I still wasn't happy about it.

It became ours the day before I forever changed my name, and our family moved us in while we were off on our honeymoon. When we returned home, my husband scooped me up, and carried me over the threshold. Then began the task of making the house a home. We began with removing the gosh-awful wallpaper, and creating lots of passionate memories--passionate love and passionate fights, in cycles. We bought new furniture and borrowed some old. We unpacked and found places for all of those wedding gifts, some useful, some bizarre. A year later, we brought home a rat terrier puppy who pissed all over that light colored carpet, adding to the stains. And a year after that, we ripped up that stained carpet and laid down laminate flooring with our ridiculous tax refund, and from that point on, there never was a question of where Daisy was in the house. You can hear her loudly clicking her toenails from any spot within the prescribed 1,000 square feet.

This place saw old friends move away and the beginning of new, lasting friendships. It saw plenty of card games, plenty of chicken and hamburger dinners cooked on the George Foreman (I didn't know how to cook back then), dinner parties established right in front of the door (we have no official dining area), slumber parties (my guests would happily sleep on our living room furniture or air mattress), the beginning and expansion of a piano/voice studio, several strange diet attempts (the most radical being the elimination of gluten when I discovered my wheat allergy), and multiple Christmas parties. These walls witnessed three major heartbreaks, a university transfer, and a church change. They witnessed alternating periods of mania and depression from my end and a strong, steadfast love and growth from Brandon's end. They witnessed lots of laughter and soul-wrenching sobs and the pain and joy found in finding comfort in one another's arms. They witnessed lots of self-discovery--Brandon and I not only loved each other, we liked each other, too; I didn't want to be an English professor. I wanted to stay home with my future children, give lots of children the gift of music, and write a bit on the side; Brandon found that he was not only cautious, but adventurous, too and embarked on an spec-house adventure; I discovered that I loved the stage; Brandon discovered that major changes aren't always bad.

And then Micah was born. Here was a soul alive for the first time, and as a result, my soul found life again. My heart for the Lord had grown cold during the years of my college education, and when Micah came into the world, I experienced Him afresh. Over the past year (Micah turns 1 year old on Friday), this home has been more full with laughter and life than I would have thought possible when we bought this creepy thing five and a half years ago. Micah has grown from a tiny, squinty-eyed infant who could do nothing but eat, sleep and poop into a little boy who can say 8 words, light up the world with his belly laugh and captivate everyone in a room by his red-headed, fireball presence. And I was almost a dead soul that was about as unhappy as a person can be because I had tasted the joy of the Lord and had lost it. Then, by God's grace and infinite mercies, I slowly found my way back to the heart of the Lord and am once again experiencing the life He intends for all people--abundant life.

And this place saw it all . . .

And because of that, it will never be forgotten.

Praise be to the God who saw potential in this home when I did not. You are better to me than I deserve.