Yes. Si. Oui. Ja. Ken. Hai. Sim.
In almost every language, "yes" is a little word. When spoken freely, without a sense of obligation, within the context of love, our "yes" carries power. It indicates a freedom of choice and a motivation of love and trust.
Four weeks ago today, a series of storms blew through North Louisiana, producing several tornadoes. My family shares property with my parents in a small community marked by a flashing light, a couple of churches, and a new Dollar General. We essentially live in Middle of Nowhere, Louisiana, which seems to be a tiny tornado alley of sorts.
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.
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.
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.
This post is Part 2 of a two part series. To read Part 1, click here.
The Unlooked-For Thing
Not many days after my discussion with Brandon about the possibility of working at Geneva Academy, the Lord spoke to me. I was driving down the road, singing along to a favorite worship song on my way to pick up Micah from school.
Ask for the unlooked-for thing.
I understood "the unlooked-for thing" to be the answer to our family's financial needs and the question as to how to use my musical skills and education.
God's word to me was the echoed encouragement of my friend Rebecca, who had prophesied earlier that year that God would find a use for my degree, but it may look differently than I thought.
Immediately, I prayed, "Lord, give me the unlooked-for solution. I'm watching."
The next day, I ran into Jarrod Richey (my friend and the music teacher at Geneva; see Part 1 for history) when I picked up Micah from school.
His greeting would've been ominous if I didn't know him. "The time has come."
I smiled and waited for him to explain.
There were two open teaching assistant positions which needed to be filled for the following school year. One was for Pre-K. The other was for elementary music. Jarrod said he'd love to have my help in music class and suggested I speak with Ed, the headmaster of Geneva. I assured Jarrod I would talk to Ed. Just probably not that day.
But as things turned out, I had business in the office and when I finished, Ed appeared. I mentioned what Jarrod had told me, shared my reservations about assisting in Pre-K and expressed interest in assisting in music. We set up an interview for the following day.
I remember getting into the car thinking, "What did I just do?" But the expected fear didn't follow. Actually, I was kind of excited.
Facing My Fears
I left the interview the next day with a job and mixed emotions.
I'd work where my kids went to school...awesome! I would help my husband bear financial burdens which had been his alone for the past five years...yay! I'd just signed away my kid-free writing time for the following school year...oh. I would put that expensive and time-consuming music education degree to good use...woohoo! But I didn't know whether or not I still loved music or if I even liked it anymore...yikes. And was I still good with kids? My own are one thing. But with other people's kids?
Over the summer, my mind was consumed with writing ministry training manuals for our Personal Prayer Ministry in Ruston—the prayer ministry which God used to bring spiritual, emotional and physical healing to me—preparations for my mission trip to Brazil and our family's return to The Island. I completely forgot about sign up for the annual Jubilate Deo Music Camp, which would take place the last week of July. Until Jarrod texted, asking why Micah wasn't signed up.
He graciously allowed me to sign up late, and then asked if I would be willing to help with the kindergarten and first grade class. I didn't think; I just said yes. Partly because I wanted to, but mostly because it terrified me. (I'm a strong believer in doing the thing that scares you.)
Would I be able to handle it physically? Would it reveal that I'd lost my touch with children? Would I realize that classroom music now bored me?
But I'd forgotten how Jarrod can scheme. He strategically placed me in the music classroom of Jo Kirk.
This woman, y'all...
I have no idea how old Jo is. I'm not going to guess in case she reads this post. What I will say is that she has more energy in her left thumb at her age than I have in my entire being. I'm sorry I don't have a video of her in action. She's amazing.
Do you see the rapt attention of these young children in the photos? She maintained that level of command for the duration of the camp. And we were in class for a minimum of two hours every day.
Jo masterfully managed the classroom. In her hands, the material was almost a living entity, which made all of us more alive. In a word, Jo Kirk is anointed to teach music, which is something more than simply being skillful. Before assisting her, I'd never seen the Holy Spirit so present in a classroom
Through Jo, God called me awake again. It happened the first day of camp. The music teacher within I'd buried long ago heard her name through layers of soil, tears of grief and withered dreams and climbed out of the casket.
My eyes filled with tears as I realized I was still fit for this. It was possible I'd been made for it.
Yes, I could do this. No one who felt so much passion for something could be entirely inept. Yes, I still loved teaching music. Yes, I still loved working with children. I gazed into their bright, captive faces, wiping away tears from my own before one of them caught me crying.
Back to the Music
About a month later, Micah, Sara and I arrived at Geneva for our first day of school. I knew that day God had led me to that particular job in that particular place for this particular time. I found that Jarrod was every bit as anointed to teach music as Jo. His manner is different but just as effective. I understood why my mom wept the day she'd observed him two years prior.
Jarrod possesses the balance of skill and passion I long for. He has a vision to shape students into skilled, joyful worshipers, and has the administrative support to be successful at it. His aim? Kingdom advancement.
This talented, visionary man is content to work in obscurity because he can do more for the Kingdom in a school like Geneva than he can in a more visible position at a university. And also because he loves children. I hope you let that melt you for a moment.
His program is what I dreamed of having as a student in college and realized I couldn't have when I student taught...at least not within the public school system. What I had desired and tried to do as a private music teacher, he's doing. Music is taught as a language. By the time they graduate, students speak, sing, read and write it fluently. The high-schoolers do things I struggled with in college.
In this environment, I find myself dreaming again. Dreaming and asking questions. What is the call upon my life? Does it include music long-term? Or am I here for a season to help Jarrod become more of who God has called him to be? Because this guy will produce his own curriculum, write his own children's songs and become a master teacher before it's over with.
In case I'm here long-term, should I go for that Level 1 Kodály certification this summer? How involved does God want me to be in the program? How does all of my gifting work together practically? I'm a wife, mother, writer and minister of the Gospel, too. Is it possible to have it all? Is that what's best? Is that what God wants?
For now, God remains silent, but I sense his amused smirk upon me. He has secrets yet to be revealed. I'm going to like them whatever they turn out to be because His plans are always good, but for now I must rest in the mystery of the in-between place.
Regardless of what the future looks like, my questions have been answered. My desires have been met. I still love music. I still love children. They like me okay, too. In a very real way, I'm leading worship because worship is a way of life. Worship is taking joy in all of God's good gifts. It's working heartily as unto the Lord. It's learning to sing in all circumstances, even when you don't feel like it, and discovering the emotion doesn't have to shape the doing but the doing can shape the emotion. When the Holy Spirit is in it, anyway.
And yes...I can still teach. I began co-teaching with Jarrod this week in preparation for his absence on Thursday. I'll sub for him. So far, I've only spent a few minutes with each class, but I remember the motions. As Brandon told me months ago, I'll be fine. It's just like riding a bike.
I love it when he's right.
Look at me! I'm tuning fork official!
I know this is a long post, but may I just take a moment to mention what a humbling, marvelous year this has been? A year ago, God sent me to the Siegmund group who took me in as I was in my weary, broken state. They loved me, ministered to me and became my new family. (Here I go, getting all weepy about them again.) God used them to heal me—in body, soul and spirit.
The Lord renewed my intimacy with Him. He stretched and wrecked me and guided me into uncharted waters. He brought the dead places back to life. I was baptized and blessed by my Superman. I ate peanut butter again. Prophecies were fulfilled. Callings were answered. Friendships formed, renewed and developed. I wrote books! (Training manuals count.) God sent me to Brazil! I'm teaching music again!
And I deserve none of it.
It's all grace. Precious, reckless, limitless grace. Grace greater than sin, sickness, death and everything the devil threw at me to prevent this —abundant life.
Thank you, Jesus. Thank you, thank you, thank you. Thank you. All I am belongs to you. You've won me. Oh, how you've won me. Again and again and again. Whatever you ask, the answer is yes. YES! I will echo it back to you. "Yes and amen. Yes and amen. Yes and amen." Today, tomorrow and throughout eternity.
When I was a kid, my favorite game to play was "Teacher." Guess who always played the teacher.
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*
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...
My first trip to Little Gasparilla Island was in 2010. We went with one of my besties, Danielle Dorey, who I'd met during my Frontliners internship the summer of 2003.
Micah was a baby, and I was a happily married stay-at-home mom/part-time private piano and voice teacher. And I'd just scored a lead role in the community theater's Fall musical-comedy. Life was pretty good. And the trip? A-maz-ing. I'd fallen in love with that little slip of sandy earth and planned to return as soon as I could.
What I didn't realize then was the bit of heaven we'd enjoyed there was the calm before the storm. There was crazy theater drama for the next two months. (Not all the good kind.) A miscarriage. A major onslaught against my health in January 2011 followed by a difficult pregnancy and a semi-traumatic labor and delivery.
My health continued to deteriorate, but I never let go of the dream of returning. I felt God had given it as a promise to go with my healing. I would say to Brandon, "When I get well, we're going back, you know."
And when I was lying on what could've been my death bed, he'd say, "Don't forget. When you get well, we're going back to the island." To remind me I couldn't die yet. We had plans.
When my healing began, we mentioned a return trip, but as time came to make preparations I realized we were too short on cash to press the issue. Besides, I was going to Brazil in September.
But my Superman is one sly guy and he's earned his nickname many times over.
As we drove home from the Ozarks on my birthday, my phone rang. It was Danielle. Because it was my birthday, I expected nothing more than a wish. Which I received. Then she said, "Brandon, God and I have a surprise for you."
My thought bubble: Brandon...God...Danielle...can't be a baby...hmmm....
"How would you like to come down to the island next month?"
After a momentary lapse of cognition, I flipped.
I laughed. I cried. I bounced up and down in my seat. I couldn't believe it. And yet I could. Brandon has always been too good to me.
I sneaked a glance at him. Tears shimmered in his eyes. Softy. He knew what this meant to me.
I thanked Danielle. I thanked B. I thanked God. I was so stoked. Only a few days before I'd asked Sara, "If we could go anywhere in the world together, where would you want to go?"
"Da beach," she'd said with a grin. She'd never been and it had been so long since our last beach trip, Micah didn't remember. They were so excited when I told them.
Brandon explained we would drive to Georgia first to see our friends James and Erica Kordsmeier, then drive down to Tampa and leave from there for the island with the Doreys. We'd be gone 11 days.
The drive to Georgia was smooth and pleasant. God placed two people in my path to pray for along the way, which was fun. Our time with the Kordsmeiers was too short but very sweet.
Then came our reunion with the Doreys. It had been six years since I'd seen my friend face to face and yet--because of phone calls, texts, Facebook and the goodness of God--it was as if no time had passed. Except for the three extra kiddos, dark circles under our eyes and a few gray hairs. But whatevs.
The next day, we made our way south along Florida's west coast. I was antsy to get to the island, but also a bit fearful. Would it be as incredible as I remembered? Or had I blown a nice experience out of proportion in my mind?
I stepped out of the truck and smelled bay water. A hot breeze ruffled my unruly hair. I smiled and forgot all fear of disappointment.
Samantha, Danielle's sister gave some of us a boat ride from the marina to the island.
Weston and Sara ready to go "motor speed."
Before I knew it, we were there. And yes--the magic I remembered still hovered over the island. Not quite ripe sea grapes and coconuts graced the trees. Birds called out to one another. A dog barked in the distance. The kids played in the sand and I enjoyed the quiet rush of the breeze through the foliage while we waited for the luggage to be unloaded onto the golf cart.
Then it was a race to get to the beach.
One of the things I love about Little Gasparilla is the low population. There are no condominiums. Just beach houses. There's no fighting for chair space. You don't have to watch your stuff. You can leave it out all day if you want. No one will bother it. And your kids are easy to spot. Behold...
The kids enjoyed the beach as much as they thought they would. They enjoyed each other more than I thought they would.
Here we have a Weston...the cutest fish you'll ever meet.
FYI: You can't keep this 4-year-old out of the water.
Micah was afraid of the water, but enjoyed the beach.
I taught Sara to body board...kind of.
Instead of a vanilla latte made by Kurt Pendergrass, Kurt Pendergrass taught me to make my own. Turns out, I'm not a bad barista.
Kurt also took B fishing again...
and on our first evening, took us all out on a dolphin cruise.
The kids enjoyed the local wildlife.
One morning, I woke early to pray and enjoy the sunrise, which was pretty glorious. The sunsets were as spectacular as I remembered.
Check out that green ray!
But nothing could beat the company.
This trip to the island was a lot more work than the last. That's what happens when you add three littles to the mix. Especially when the party includes a high-adventure, adrenaline junkie, perpetually ravenous two year old.
Meet Titus. Chances are, he's "hungee."
Kudos to Danielle and Ryan who somehow keep him fed.
I didn't have a lot of alone time with Jesus while we were gone, but the constant prayer of my heart was, "Thank you...thank you...thank you...thank you..."
I was overwhelmed by generosity. Of my husband, who sacrificed vacation days usually set aside for hunting. By my friends who offered us a free place to stay and great company. Of the Pendergrasses and Danielle's sister, Samantha, who came down both Sunday and Wednesday to make coming and going fun, easy and inexpensive. Of the Lord.
I'd done nothing to deserve such a gift. Yet it was freely given. Grace, grace...marvelous grace.
Grace was the golden thread running through every detail. From the ability to even go to the hospitality of friends. Down even to the storm patterns. Each day, storms threatened to come down upon us, but danced around instead. On the day we left, all the Floridians agreed, we'd get wet on the boat ride back to shore. But no. The clouds parted. We sat on damp towels and enjoyed the cool air in our faces...
...and on the drive back to Tampa, a reminder that God always...always...keeps His promises.
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?"
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."
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."
"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."
"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."
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!
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 16:16-18We'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!
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!!!
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!
My family and I made plans to float last year. That trip was supposed to be a sort of redemption, and I was looking forward to it, sick and all.
A few days before we left, the Lord gave me a vision during my time with him. I saw myself baptized in the Buffalo River. By Brandon.
I knew the vision wasn't purely symbolic. It was something God wanted me to do. But in typical Melissa fashion, I argued with him.
"That's crazy. I'm not doing that."
"Why? I've already been baptized. Twice."
"It's weird. It doesn't make sense."
"That water's cold, God. And you know how I react to the cold."
*A warm flood of peace*
Then I recalled Namaan. The leper who was healed by dipping in the Jordan seven times. Who wouldn't do it at first because it seemed too strange. And then like Peter I exclaimed, "Okay! I'll do it! Feet, hands, head and all!"
But the rains didn't stop last year and the river "came a flood." No one was allowed on. Basically, last year's trip was the story of the previous four years. I remember my disappointment. Another to add to the pile.
"Next year," I said to comfort myself.
Little did I know I'd experience radical, miraculous healing in every part of my being a few months later.
Making Sense of What I Saw
I have this insatiable drive to understand things. Even things I know are mystery.
Since the vision came, I've been trying to reason out why God would want me to be baptized again. Why, God? Why now? Why here? Why this way?
I mean, I've always been a believer. I can't remember a time in which I didn't love God or believe in Jesus. Belief has been a constant in my life.
That being said, there has been a seismic shift in my faith in the past few years. No one who knows me well could miss it. The entire landscape has changed. Everything looks different because of what's happened underneath the surface. But isn't that what's supposed to happen in times of intense sanctification?
Is the baptism some kind of symbol of redemption? To wash away the rubble of the last few years? Why be baptized in the Buffalo River by Brandon with only a handful of witnesses as opposed to in a church before a congregation by a pastor? I have several pastors in my life. Why not have one of them do it?
Washed in the Water of the Word
In search of answers, I plunged into the Word and early Church history. What I found is that the early Church treats baptism very differently than people of my church tradition.
Throughout the years, I've heard the metaphor that baptism is like a wedding ring. "The ring doesn't make you married. It's just a symbol of the marriage that's already happened."
After my research, I find the explanation a little...insipid.
Keeping within the marriage metaphor, I would like to submit the idea that baptism is less like a wedding ring, which is a mere symbol of marriage, and more like the marriage ceremony itself, which is more like a sign. A sign defined as a visible expression of a spiritual reality. Something to help we humans understand something important is happening in the spiritual realm.
A ceremony doesn't make you married any more than baptism makes you a Christian, but it's definitely something more than a symbolic bauble. In a marriage ceremony, something real happens. Vows--whether verbal or non-verbal--are exchanged between husband and wife, the couple and God, and the couple and the community. The action seals the reality.
The way I see it, baptism isn't a wedding ring. It's the wedding itself.
Why I Believe This Way:
1) Old Testament law presents us with ceremonies which point to ultimate salvation in Jesus Christ. These ceremonies include ritual washing in order to be "clean." Proselytes were initiated into the Jewish people by baptism as a symbol of "cleanness." Ezekiel mentions a washing for cleansing which God performs as a sign of His covenant with his people (16:6-14). As part of the law, symbols are important. God gave them to us to help us recognize the Christ. But in Matthew 15, Jesus clearly states what goes on in the heart is far more important than the outward symbol.
(Unfortunately), we all know people who have run around on their spouses with their wedding rings on. That's what the Pharisees in Jesus' day were trying to do. They looked married but didn't act like it, which is why John the Baptist threw a hissy fit when the Pharisees came to be baptized in Matthew 3. They wanted to wear the ring without making the commitment.
2) Scripture is clear that believer's baptism is categorically different from Old Testament symbols. For example, the flood in Noah's day is the accompanying antitype to baptism (1 Peter 3:18-22). Noah and his family were "saved through water."
We know from Romans 10 that baptism isn't a prerequisite for salvation, but it has to be more than a simple symbol. 1 Peter 3:21 says, "There is also an antitype [of Noah's ark] which now saves us--baptism (not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God), through the resurrection of Jesus Christ..."
According to scripture, baptism isn't the means of salvation, and yet it saves us by answer of a good conscience toward God--a mysterious paradox which kind of makes my brain explode.
3) Baptism wasn't considered optional in the early Church. You don't see believers professing without baptism. It goes hand in hand.
4) In early Church tradition, baptism was a very big deal. New believers weren't immediately baptized. Baptism was an initiation into the Church which took place some time after the believer professed faith in Christ. For Romans, to be baptized was treason. The act was a statement that they were willing to die for their faith.
Before believers were baptized, they were educated in the Christian faith and received deliverance ministry. Time tested their commitment. The primary reason this practice was lost is due to infant baptism, which I don't care to argue for or against here. (For more information, read McDonnell and Montague's Christian Initiation and Baptism in the Holy Spirit: Evidence from the First Eight Centuries.)
5) John the Baptist described his baptism as a baptism of repentance--the action of turning from sin toward God, resulting in forgiveness. Baptism for the forgiveness of sins is already something more than Old Testament washing, and John says, "I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance, but [Jesus] who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire" (Matthew 3:11).
I believe this verse indicates something major is happening at the moment of baptism. Something invisible to us and very visible in the spiritual realm.
I concluded from my research that my baptism was about something more than redemption. I believed something would happen at the moment of my baptism. I wasn't sure what. I'm still not entirely sure. But here are a few of my thoughts:
1) It was about redemption.
In the years since my last trip, I went through fire and water, but God brought me out to rich fulfillment (Ps. 66:12).
If you look at the background in the photo, you see signs of a flood. The flood that kept me from being baptized last year. Devastation that swept away everything which wasn't firmly rooted in the soil.
When we came to this place on the river, the Holy Spirit leapt inside of me. I knew it. I'd seen it. Had there been no flood, this picture would be the exact match of what I saw in the vision last year.
In my life, had there been no flood, there would've been no baptism. Because there would've been no death. And without death, there's no resurrection.
2) In that moment, I fully identified with Christ.
I identified with him in a way I couldn't at ages 6 and 10. I took on his name. I took on his person. I made a cosmic declaration--"For better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, forsaking all others. Even unto death."
In short, I got married.
3) He laid me low and raised me up something new (2 Cor. 5:17).
Y'all, I'm different. I'm alive in a way I've never been. Let the whole world know. I. am. new.
4) When my Superman baptized me, I received his blessing upon my ministry.
When I first told Brandon he was going to baptize me--see how I did that?--he looked at me as if I'd lost my mind. "Me? Baptize you?" he asked.
Silly boy. He still has no idea how powerful his spiritual authority is. He has no idea how his words sink into my skin. How his gospel love saves me every day. How his prayers change the whole atmosphere of our home. How when he prays for me and the kids, things happen.
God is calling me to things bigger than either of us. If I'm going to do them, I need more than Brandon's reluctant approval. I need his blessing. It isn't optional.
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.
Enter Sara, my four-year-old daughter.
I asked for the truth. Silence.
“So what do you want me to do?”
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 scooped a generous helping into the spoon, scraping the sides.
Go big or go home, right?
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.
I will hedge up your way with thorns,
And wall her in,
So that she cannot find her paths.
But not overtake them;
Yes, she will seek them, but not find them.
Then she will say,
‘I will go and return to my first husband,
For then it was better for me than now.'
I'll share one of my recent favorites. But first, a little backstory...
During my illness, pain was a significant problem for me. I had arthritis, fibromyalgia, and carpal tunnel, which stole any joy I took in playing the piano. So I stopped. My piano has stood mostly silent for the past few years, serving as little more than a fixture to remind me of times gone by.
Lately, quiet calls summon me back to music, most of which I've been able to muffle with practiced excuses--
Which, of course, translates into, "I'm scared to death I'll fail."
But when Mom came to me on behalf of a friend whose mother had just died, a friend who'd prayed for me over the years, my excuses didn't matter. Besides, if I didn't step in, my sick dad and has-never-sung-for-a-crowd-in-her-life mother would be left to sing a duet to canned music, and I couldn't have that.
So I dusted off the keys. Opened a hymnal. And lo and behold, my brain recalled the old language. My hands remembered what to do. What's more, I managed to sing and play at the same time.
On the ride to Winnsboro, I tried not to think of past funeral performance debacles. The words of a former professor echoed in my mind--"Music is a service profession."
This is service, not performance. It's an expression of love, not a reflection on myself.
Oh, well. I have a point.
Y'all, God isn't looking for professionals; He's looking for people to say "yes." In our weakness, He shows Himself strong.
These days I eat what I want and do what I want. I'm medication free. My pain's gone. My energy's back. Most nights, I sleep like a baby. And I *ahem* use the bathroom like a normal person now.
Brandon's in a fun season. I love watching him grow and exercise his faith. Second to being God's child, being Brandon's wife is the highest honor I enjoy on earth.
I plan to get back to writing--the dollar-earning variety--soon. I'm still trying to figure out where it fits with the rest of my responsibilities. But I'm determined to give this writing career thing a real shot before I agree to head back to the classroom. Which means I have to sell a few books by this time next year. So yeah...feel free to peer pressure me back into the habit. I'm still debating whether I should work on my short story collection or my novel. I don't feel there's a wrong choice, but there might be a more strategic one.
Pretty soon, I'll move my blog to my own domain. You can support me by subscribing and sharing when I do.
For the month of April, I'm teaching a journaling class for Project 41's Esther's Academy. Enjoying that. Love the awesome women in the program. After the class ends, I'll focus on developing the prayer ministry for P41 and nurturing my friendships with the women.
I fall more in love with my new family all the time. When I think of the gift God has given me in them, I get weepy. Every time. Two of the women have become good friends of mine. I'll travel to Brazil with one of them in September. The Lord has called me to short term international mission work for the first time in 16 years. I'm thrilled and terrified.
But ya know...that's life with Jesus. In or out of the cage.
I posted my story in the mast cell groups on Facebook. While most who took the time to read were encouraged and/or happy for me, some just weren't.
I don't blame them. Not at all.
Mastocytosis/Mast Cell Activation Disease affects every aspect of human life. There's no square inch it doesn't attempt to claim. To make matters worse, there's no cure, so it's a disease without much hope. Outside of Jesus, anyway.
And let's face it, Jesus causes trouble wherever he goes.
I thought I'd address a few of the comments made, not because I believe the people who made them will read my response but because you may need to. Some of the questions the comments imply may resonate with you.
And deep down, who doesn't love a good Facebook debate?
"I can't believe I wasted time reading this"
As someone who has battled MCAD, this comment translated as, "I came here looking for real hope, and you gave me a fairy tale." Do you feel the despair in that? Doesn't your heart break just a little? Mine does.
Jesus slayed the ultimate dragon when he gave his life on the cross. His life was for us, and His life makes us whole. In mind, body, and spirit. God is on mission to redeem it all.
I agree--"wording is everything"--though even the best of us get it wrong from time to time. But the careful reader will notice I never used the word "cure" in my story. Rather, I spoke of healing. Why? Because I want to be clear. While medication, diet, and lifestyle modifications helped, these things did not end my disease. Jesus did. He healed me.
"I'd like to give my view on this as an atheist (and I know a lot of you are already placing labels on me for using that word, but please do not prejudge). I do not believe in prayer or a supreme deity that has the ability to heal us....but...I do believe that prayer can certainly be viewed as a form of meditation and there has been verifiable scientific study done on the effects that meditation has on the body. The most recent National Geographic has an article on the mind body effects of being in nature...scientific data. Including changes in EEG brain waves and drastic reduction in cortisol levels in the body. Doctors are actually writing "prescriptions" to patients to spend time in a natural setting for healing purposes. From my own personal experience, I can slow my heart rate purely by relaxing my body (I suffer from SVTs) and to some extent slow the progression of Mast Cell attacks the same way. This has been seen by multiple ER docs while I was hooked up to monitors. Then there is the whole epigenetics issue. Scientists have shown that these switches can flip back and forth quickly to stimuli and rapidly affect how our body reacts...or over reacts. She is not claiming to have been healed overnight. Nor did she do nothing but pray, she also modified her diet and tried other avenues of improving her symptoms. I believe placing this is the realm of religion is what is bothering some of you, but if you look deeper and place what she is saying in a more scientific framework, maybe you can understand better..."
I appreciate this person for coming to my defense. Truly. She was kind when others were not. Elsewhere, she chastened those who left--in her words--"incredibly rude comments," some of which were deleted by the moderator. That being said, we aren't on the same page.
2015 was a rough year for me. Though I continued to lean into the Lord day after day, my thoughts weren't always positive. During the weeks before I was healed, I struggled with restlessness, guilt, anxiety, and shame. I was tired, beaten to a pulp by this monster of a disease. My mind did not heal itself. Jesus healed me.
"I always have to wonder, if you are "cured", perhaps the diagnosis was incorrect all along."
I expected this one from the beginning. Before Jesus healed me, I told Brandon and my mom that when He did it, people will say I never had the disease. People tend to reject what they don't understand.
But MCAD isn't a diagnosis doctors toss to the masses like beads and candy at a Mardi Gras parade. It's difficult to obtain, which is why I had to travel all the way to Minnesota to get it.
While I'm sure God had more purposes for my Mayo Clinic adventure than I can imagine, I understand at least two--Gastrocrom (a medication which allowed me to eat without absolute misery) and that diagnosis. He wants the world to know no disease is incurable when it comes to Him.
"I'm happy for you Melissa. It seems like your body has calmed down by making nutritional changes. The jury is still out on mast cell disorders, so thinking positive is a good thing. My fear however would be that your overzealous claiming of healing might turn around and bite you - should you regress, relapse, get triggered again etc. I've seen many women in this group already speak of going years "ok" than not ok. For me, EVERYTIME I have gone there - psychologically, emotionally etc and believed "I'm completely better now!" Or "I'm finally coming out of this!" --WHAM. I've been sent back to reality. So I learned to be "cautiously optimistic" and to speak about "improvement" and not black or white declarations that only kick my ass later. Just my share/2 cents. Mast cell (so far) keeps me humble."
I totally understand the warning. I've been in remission. And yes--I thought I was better, then BAM! But this isn't remission. I'm healed. Thank you, Jesus!
"I am taking this with a grain of salt..be careful with the word "cure." Glad you feel better..please be respectful of all here. Religion, politics cross over many people's comfort level. And seems to imply we are all in the same boat and all able to pray our way to wellness. That is simply not the case. And can lead to blaming those who don't believe to the degree you do or in your religion. Makes me squirm a bit...got my armor on for the replies with this one..I will remove this post if the comments become attacks or too controversial."
Writers, to publish is to give readers permission to quote things you never said and infer meaning you never intended.
Now let's discuss the idea of "pray(ing) our way to wellness..."
If anyone could've earned healing by faith, prayer, or specialness, it would've been Jenny.
Before her, I'd never encountered such indomitable faith. Oh, how she loved our Lord! How she sought Him! She was humble enough to seek prayer wherever she went. Churches, communities, and even Dodie Osteen prayed for her healing. Until a few weeks before her death, Jenny believed she would live. Not hoped. Believed.
The woman was so magnetic that people sense her pull in photos. People who didn't want to like her couldn't help themselves. Few love others like she did. She was often the sickest person in the waiting room at MD Anderson, yet she stopped and prayed for people every visit. People who got to live. Before she let hospice put her into an induced coma, she prayed for and blessed everyone at her bedside. She sent me a goodbye text telling me how much she loved me. Jenny went out thinking of and serving others.
If we could achieve our own wellness, Jenny would've been here to celebrate her daughter's fourth birthday four days ago. But after two years of intense suffering, she died.
Did I survive because I'm so much better than her? Because my faith is stronger? Absolutely not. And if my prayers achieved all that, Jenny would still be here.
This commenter didn't need her armor. She got no argument from me.
Healing can't be earned. It can only be received.
"I am glad you are doing better, but to claim that God healed you leaves a lot of Christian people who are dealing with the same thing out. I find it distasteful that God would pick and choose you and leave everyone else to suffer. I think there are are too many variables to leave it to "God fixing everything".... Could have been shots finally registered in your system after all that time, anxiety dying down after postpartum time frames end, allowing you belly time to heal after a severe infection.... Ect.... Too many variables to leave it at "God chose to heal me over everyone else."
This commenter doesn't understand my God. And frankly, I don't either.
Human inclination is to fear what we can't control and to dismiss what we don't understand.
We can't control God, nor can we understand him. So we fear and dismiss him. We explain him away.
And guess what--I've done it, too.
I have no idea why I lived and Jenny died. I have no idea why some are healed and others suffer all their lives. But that doesn't mean God didn't heal me. And it doesn't mean He doesn't want to heal others.
Truth be told, these thoughts aren't all that unrelated to some of my own, which have led to questions. Lots and lots of questions:
- Did Jesus ever turn anyone away in the gospels? Did He ever say, "No, I'm not going to heal you. It's my will for you to be sick. Your illness brings me glory?"
- Does illness bring glory to God? OR is it possible to suffer with something that doesn't glorify God in such a way that God is glorified anyway? Isn't that kind of the spirit of Romans 8:37?
- Does God send illness? Is sickness of God? Or does the enemy send sickness and then God uses it for His own purposes with the intention of drawing us to Himself and with a heart to deliver us from it and all lesser loves?
- Does God want us to cuddle our sickness and hold onto suffering because He worked it for good in our lives? Do we need sickness to maintain our sanctification? Should we? Or do we just need Jesus?
- Is sickness the best way to experience the nearness of God? If so, what does that say about the saints in the Bible? They weren't sick. Are sickness and pain the only ways to cultivate humility and dependence?
- Can we best fulfill the Great Commission when we ourselves are sick?
- If it was God's will for people to be sick, wouldn't Jesus have been going against God's will by healing them? Wouldn't we be going against God's will every time we prayed for healing?
- In Scripture, Jesus doesn't only heal believers. Many he healed weren't believers when he healed them. Some left him, healing in hand, without a thank you. So what does it mean that He didn't do many mighty works in Nazareth because of their unbelief (Matt. 13:58; Mark 6:5,6)? What role does faith play?
- The mission stated over and over again in the Gospels is to preach the gospel and heal the sick. Preach the gospel and heal the sick. Preach the gospel and heal the sick. When Jesus sent out the twelve, he told them, "Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out demons. Freely you have received, freely give" (Matt. 10:8). This doesn't sound like a pick and choose kind of God. So what's the deal?
- Could the gap between what we see in Scripture and our experience be our fault? As in the fault of the Church? If so, what does this say about our will versus God's will? If not, does the God who is the same yesterday, today, and forever carry out his will differently now than he did in the first century?
Notice I have all these fabulous questions and no easy answers. I can't offer a satisfactory response to any of them because God is mystery. But here's what I make of my experience with the information I have at this time:
God did not send my sickness. Neither did He waste it. God used my physical sickness to rescue me from sickness of mind, body, and spirit. My sickness was the fastest, most efficient way for God to do this and make me usable. My sickness did not glorify God; I glorified God by leaning into Him through it. God never smiled at my pain; He smiled at what I did with it.
The enemy sent my illness and used it to try and kill me. Again and again and again. He did this because I'm dangerous. He failed because God didn't allow it. God is sovereign.
And yet other dangerous, usable people die. I don't know what this means. But I do know God is sovereign. He is the head of all principality and power (Col. 2:10). Not a moment of this storm was outside of his perfect control, and his character and attributes do not change with circumstance.
God healed me. God used prayer to heal me. My healing would not have happened outside of persistent, fervent, expectant prayer. My prayers. Prayers of family, friends, and elders. The prayers of many.
These prayers kept me alive, kept me close to Jesus, and helped me navigate the path laid out for me. The path led me to a group of people who operate in the Spirit of God. They saw my plight, had compassion, and rescued me through more fervent prayer. They had faith for me when I didn't have it for myself. Enough faith for me to expect something to happen.
My healing was intrinsically tied to deliverance, which was brought about in a personal prayer session (Sozo), a ministry of the group mentioned above.
My healing glorified God. My liberation unleashed more of the Holy Spirit into the world. Now whole and operating in the power of the Holy Spirit, I can better fulfill the mission--preach the gospel, heal the sick and brokenhearted, proclaim liberty to the captives, help the blind to see, liberate the oppressed, cast out demons, raise the dead. Make disciples. Make disciple-making disciples.
I'm called to give as freely as it has been given to me. Which, you gotta admit, has been pretty freely, so I best be serious about this, yo.
The miraculous bolsters faith in the miraculous. My prayers are not what they once were because I now believe in the impossible. I ask for impossible things. I believe for impossible things. The impossible has become my new normal.
I know that not everyone I pray for will be healed and delivered, but what do I lose by praying? What do I lose? Time? Energy? Who cares? I get God! Even when the miracle doesn't come. And now that I know it might, by the grace of God I'll never stop asking.
I want to do this thing in such a way that if I'm wrong I'll be the most pitiful fool who ever walked the earth and when I see my Jesus face to face I'll have nothing to regret. And who knows? Maybe one day I'll get to see God do something REALLY cool like raise somebody from the dead!
So yeah...that's where I stand. At the moment, anyway.
Now that I've closed my most recent Facebook debate, let a new one begin. And in the spirit of full disclosure, if you comment, especially if that comment is nasty or despondent, you'll be put on a list and prayed for. You've been warned.
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.
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.
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.
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...
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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:
- It reminds me food is a gift, not a right.
- It reminds me of the Giver.
- It's a declaration of dependence upon Father for all sustenance.
- 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).
- Each bite becomes joyful worship (1 Corinthians 10:31).
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.
Some are a life sentence.
Which is easier to bear?
A small cell or the chair?
A cage or a casket?
No one knows
and both are hard
on the sick one and the watchers.
Some of us die in here,
but I believe
there is a key
an early release.
Or so I've been told
by the Prison Ward
who is kind and good and wise and hard.
The door will open
when the cell has done its work
and the bars have made me free.
Or so I believe.
But all I see
are steel and concrete.
Spare walls and a lonely lock
mock my faith.
I smell sky and pine.
Sun shafts through the window.
Voices chuckle and cluck,
a murmur through stone,
a reminder of what I'm missing,
a promise of what's to come.
But the Warden visits me--
and this place has be-come
"For a while," He corrects.
So I believe.
These days I'm either enjoying my freedom or recovering from it.
I'm not complaining. I'm adjusting.
I LOVE the season I'm in, but it isn't easy.
God has given a magic thread to every believer. His name is the Holy Spirit.
The Spirit knows the mind of the Father, who has written my story. He leads me where I should go. Many times, I don't understand where He leads, but if I will hang on and press on, I'll find my way. And maybe, just maybe, I'll be able to lead a Curdie or two to the safety of God's arms along the way.
I appreciate your prayers as I adjust.
I'm so happy right now. It may seem I don't need prayer. That assumption is incorrect.
I have so many questions. I don't know where the thread is taking me, and my feet are dragging half the time. I long to write, but can't manage it, which is kind of frustrating. As I'm able to focus less on myself, my eyes open to the devastation around me. While the miracle does my family good, the last four years have also left a mark. We're all kind of damaged, and now it's time to pick up the pieces and rebuild. Reconstruction is hard work.
So yeah...keep praying! And thank you for all the prayers that have come before. I hope you, too, are reveling in the miracle God has performed. You're part of it, after all. I hope it reveals an attribute of God you never noticed before, and leads you to marvel before His throne.
As I said to a friend this morning, prayer is never wasted time. And it's the perfect answer to every adjustment life throws at us.
"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...
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...
An Encounter with my Arch Nemesis
Sharing the Light
Healing is Contagious
"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)
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.
I've written about how God healed my hands. Only two weeks later, there's more to report!
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
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.
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.
"Trust in the Lord and do good. Dwell in the land and feed on His faithfulness." (Psalm 37:3)
Here's a spoon. Dig in!
Now that I've crossed the NaNoWriMo finish line, I thought I'd give you all a long overdue update. A lot has happened in the past few weeks.
But first, let's talk about NaNo.
I finished the morning of the 25th. That's 50k words in 25 days (aka my fastest writing pace ever). I managed a few hundred words on Thanksgiving, but between the holiday, recovering from the holiday, and the gloomy weather, I just haven't had it in me to write any more. I'm all...
Even though it's totally not. I need to complete the draft before Christmas if I want to release 2-3 books next year. And call me crazy, but I do.
NaNo isn't my only news. God has been on a prayer answering roll.
1) Ministry Opportunities:
One of the things I've missed during this illness is ministry. God has given me plenty of one on one ministry opportunities over the years, and I've relished those, but I longed for something...more.
Back in January, I researched human trafficking and sexual slavery for my novel, Eleora.
Here's the thing--all information comes with a burden. When you learn something, you have to do something with what you learn, whether you act on it, discard it, or choose to ignore it. Once I knew what was happening in the world--what was happening in my home town--I couldn't do nothing.
I met with Lindsey Nadler of Project 41 in October to go over her beta reader notes for Eleora. Prior to the meeting, I had prayed God would provide a way for me to become involved with the ministry. I told Lindsey of my interest and how I was waiting for God to heal me, to which she said, "If you're serious about wanting to get involved, I need someone to organize a prayer team. We need people who will take prayer seriously."
Why am I always surprised when God answers my prayers? I mean, we have a pretty good rapport going, and yet I was so stunned I barely got the words out--"I'm your girl."
Our team meets via conference call at 5am on Wednesday mornings. I'm no morning person, but I love denying myself that bit of sleep to meet with others to pray. I can't think of a better way to start my day.
Lindsey also invited me to teach a writing and journaling class as soon as I'm well enough to do so.
Back in the summer, the Lord began speaking to me about pursuing community again. He brought the subject to me through Scripture, prayer, blog posts, conversations, an expert consult on the book of Job. The message was everywhere: Pursue Community.
I was confused. Again and again, I asked, "What do you mean, God?"
Well, things have become clearer.
For months, I've prayed for writer friends. Women in particular. (Not that I'm not super thankful for Len Woods and Leo Honeycutt.)
After taking a couple of Kristen Lamb's writing classes and surviving her Death Star editing treatment, I joined WANATribe, a social network for writers. Most of the members are women! Kristen and I are now pals, an unexpected gift. A handful of us meet in the chat room for "writing sprints," in which we write as many words as we can in 30 minutes and compare counts. (It's writing as a competitive sport. It's awesome.) And I met kindred spirit Talena Winters on Thanksgiving Day.
In addition to a writing community, God has given me the gift of...
"God places the lonely in families..." Psalm 68:6
When I think of the community the Lord brought my lonely little soul into, I think of the word "family."
The connection was instant.
When I walked into the Siegmund's home on Friday night, October 16, the love of the Lord was so thick in that place I smelled it on the air. I tasted it. I waded through it on the way to my seat. I breathed it in, and basked in it all evening long.
I remember looking around the room that night. No one knew because I wore my mask, but I was grinning for most of worship and Bible study, thinking to the Lord, Thank you. Thank you. I've found my people!
Guys, this weirdo has found a home. Even as I write that, I tear up.
The story of how God led me to this group and what I've experienced since deserves its own post, but honestly...it's a gift so personal and precious I'm not sure I want to share it. Not here. I tremble at the thought. I don't think you could understand if I did. For now, I'll just hold it in my heart and savor the kindness of God. But if you ever want to hear the story, don't hesitate to ask. I'll do my best to describe the indescribable.
And consider this--when God prompts you to do something that confuses you or seems a little crazy at the time, trust Him. Act. He not only provides the means to obey, but the reward is breathtaking.
And sometimes miraculous.
3) Physical Healing:
Yes, you read that right. I'm experiencing legitimate physical healing.
It's been going on for a while, but it can take time to notice. You can't miss a new symptom when it shows up, but when symptoms begin to disappear? It's hard to keep track. You go about your life as it is and then one day you look for the old symptom, and it's not there.
Either late this summer or early this autumn, I noticed my fevers were gone. I used to spike a temp with every reaction and every time my monthly visitor came to call. Not anymore.
October 12 was my last bad bout of histamine-induced insomnia. Since then, I've fallen asleep with (relative) ease, and I (usually) sleep through the night. And get this--more often than not, I wake up feeling rested. If you have an autoimmune disease, you know what a miracle that is.
At my most recent check up with Dr. Yakaboski, my adrenal health tested nearly perfect. My last episode of anaphylaxsis was in the spring. Since June, I've enjoyed regular church attendance. And not once have I left community/prayer group sick. Not once!
While all of this is a very big deal, I'm pretty excited about my latest healed symptom, which followed the heels of a very special experience.
My community group has recently trained in a program called Christian Healing Ministries. CHM is an intercessory ministry for people in need of spiritual, emotional, and physical healing.
I was the first client to apply.
The week before my session, which was the Sunday night before Thanksgiving, I prayed. A lot. I knew God was going to heal a few specific spiritual battles and emotional issues, but I also sensed I would experience physical healing that night.
So I shared my thoughts with Brandon, Mom, Nona, the kids, and a few of my friends, and asked them to pray.
All week I prayed, "Lord, I come to you with open hands, ready to receive anything you want to give me."
The night before and throughout the day of the session, Sara would burst into spontaneous prayer--"Dear Jesus, please help Mama be able to handle da cold so we can teach her how to play in da snow."
I know she's four, but it felt prophetic, y'all.
I approached the session with a little bit of fear and lots of expectation. It was very different from anything I've ever experienced, but extremely powerful, personal, and healing on all fronts.
Once again, the experience was far too precious and personal to share in detail, but I would like to share this one very special thing:
To give you a point of reference, I took this photo one night a while back after peeling refrigerated sweet potatoes with nitrile gloves on. The photo quality doesn't do it justice, but you get the idea.
What I love about this:
1) The Lord healed something my kids could see. They'd been praying for me to be healed. God answered with something visible, boosting that childlike faith. I don't have a ton of visible symptoms, so that's kind of special.
2) God's thoughtfulness and kindness. For over a year, I've accepted discomfort as part of the cooking process. It is what it is and all that. And then, God heals this symptom the week of Thanksgiving before the biggest cooking day and season of the year. Amazing.
3) It's funny. Better yet, it's witty. Look at the specific prayers again. I prayed, "Lord, I come to you with open hands." Sara said again and again, "...please help Mama be able to handle da cold."
I love a good pun. So when the Lord showed me the connection, I laughed and laughed and laughed. And then I cried.
God speaks my language. He shares my sense of humor. I love it.
The winds are changing.
Do you feel it? I do. This season brings healing, growth, and adventure. And before the end of it, maybe even that party Jenny and I talked about throwing.
Mercy, I miss that girl. How many times have I wanted to call her this week? When I close my eyes, I see her smile. I hear her laughter and hallelujahs. I suppose it's comforting to know she knows and she's celebrating in heaven.
Damn cancer to hell.
God isn't finished.
I believe healing continues from here. The next time the temperature dips below 40 degrees, I fully expect to walk outside without a coat, breathe deeply, feel a bit chilled, and be fine.
Lindsey, if you're reading this, my answer is, "Yes. I'd love to teach that writing class." Somehow, God will work out the details.
My new family is stretching me, challenging me. I'm looking harder at my Bible, realizing that maybe I only believe half the paradox--that another half exists--and that I just haven't seen it because I tend to limit God to my experience and what I've been told rather than what the Bible says at face value. Grappling--it's good exercise.
And mixing with people again...wow. That's growth in itself.
With ministry opportunities, new friends, new thoughts, and book releases on the horizon, I'd say there's plenty of adventure ahead.
Onward and upward.
Nerves are abusive little tyrants. They scatter well-studied, organized thoughts. They steal breath from the lungs and imprison the voice. At least I don't have to sing. Breathe. Just breathe.
Black fuzzballs reel across my vision. Am I crazy for doing this? I feel crazy.
The jury walks in and sits. I sense scrutinizing eyes at my back. Yes, I'm crazy. And they'll know it soon enough.
The Judge walks in, shrouded in black robes, features all obscured. A shiver trickles from my scalp to my knees. I can't see his eyes. His manner is entirely ambivalent.
"All rise! The Court of Future Crimes is now in session. His Imminence is presiding. Be seated."
In a non-committal tone, The Judge says, "Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. Calling the case of Melissa Keaster versus The Healer. Are both sides ready?"
"Ready, Your Honor." My words come out paper thin as I look into his eyes, wide-open voids of impenetrable darkness.
"Most assuredly, I say to you, 'I AM.'" The Healer's words steady me. I cast my eyes in His direction, and catch His reassuring smile.
I can do this. Even if they think I'm nuts, I can do this.
The jurors are sworn in. I look at whoever will look back steady in the eyes, praying they stand by their word to fairly try the case, to return a true verdict based on the evidence. So help them, God.
It's time for the opening statements. Oh God, help me remember everything. Help me to say it well.
The Healer mouths from across the too-wide gap between us--"Be brave."
I clear my throat, take a deep breath, and face them. "Your Honor and ladies and gentlemen of the jury: the defendant has been charged with the future crime of divine physical healing of the plaintiff, Melissa Keaster, which is to say--me."
A murmur rustles through the jurors, punctuated by skeptical grunts.
"The evidence will show this healing is foretold by several witnesses through prophetic words and dreams, and is affirmed in the defendant's own written testimony. The evidence will also show no other source can be responsible for this healing."
The Healer stands, and I see Him smile out of the corner of my eye. Pleasure rushes into my chest, washing away the fear. I long to be closer to Him, close enough to touch those love-scarred hands.
"Your Honor and ladies and gentlemen of the jury: the skeptics in this room will presume Me innocent until proven guilty. During this trial, they will doubt the evidence provided against Me. I desire you all to know the truth for the truth will set you free: I AM WHO I AM; I WILL HAVE MERCY ON WHOM I WILL HAVE MERCY AND I WILL HAVE COMPASSION ON WHOM I WILL HAVE COMPASSION. I require neither permission nor understanding to do what I will, not even from the plaintiff."
He turns fully to me now and grins wide. I return His smile, adoration radiating from my face.
"She's got a thing for him from the looks of it," says an old man juror from behind me. I turn and wink. He raises his bushy salt and pepper eyebrows, and purses his lips. I suppress a chuckle.
"The prosecution may call its first witness." The Judge's hollow voice pounds at me like a blunt force instrument.
"I call upon myself."
"Yourself," he repeats incredulously.
"Yes," I say with more assurance than I feel, and climb the stand.
I swear in, state my name, and lick my lips to no avail. My mouth is still too dry.
The jury appears curious. That's good.
"The following is a journal entry in which I explain my feelings regarding a then undiagnosed illness. On October 8, 2012, I wrote: 'I have every reason to believe that I may not make it out of this illness alive, yet the Lord keeps speaking to my soul--'I am willing to make you well.' I believe with all my heart that He will do it. I don't know when or how far down the rabbit hole I must travel, but I believe, Lord! Help my unbelief!'"
Tears leap into my eyes, unbidden. "Your Honor, I would like to have this journal marked as exhibit number one, and ask it be admitted into evidence."
"Does the defense have any objection?" The Judge peers down his nose at The Healer.
He shakes His head. "None at all, Your Honor."
"The journal entry will be admitted as exhibit number one."
I continue. "And on October 28, 2012, referencing Mark 1 from The Holy Bible, I wrote: "....A leper came to Jesus, asking Him to heal him, and said, 'If you are willing, you can make me well.' And Jesus replied with a touch, 'I am willing; be cleansed.' When I read those words....I felt the Lord saying, 'I am willing,' words to which I have held fiercely close to my heart as I have worsened and face[d] many dangerous crises in the past few weeks. However, I also felt the Lord impress upon my heart that my healing was not to be a simple touch, but a long, difficult process. 'Hard work' was the phrase He whispered. I am living in this long season of hard work, already exhausted, already depleted, depending moment by moment upon my Savior for the grace and power required for the task at hand. Only because of Christ can I do this. Without Him, this is beyond me. And I am so happy to have His promise that I will live...even on days that I don't want to. As I re-read Mark 1, the Lord gave me a new word from verses 29-31. When Jesus healed Peter's mother-in-law, He took her by the hand, lifted her up, and she was well--'and she served them.' When the Lord heals me, I am not going to be allowed long to catch my breath. The Spirit use[d] those words to impress upon me that my season of illness will not be followed by a welcome and hoped for season of rest, but a season of service which will likely simultaneously try and fill my soul. I tremble with nervous excitement at this word...."
The second journal entry is made exhibit number two.
"On the nights of October 8th and 9th, 2013, two different people who do not know one another had dreams about me, dreams in which I was apparently healed. We will hear from them in a moment. Sometime between October 10, 2013 and September 24, 2014, I forgot both the dreams and my own belief I would be healed.
The reason for this, I believe, is two-fold: On May 27, 2014, I was diagnosed with Mast Cell Activation Disease at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. There is no cure for Mast Cell Activation Disease, and it can be progressive. The disease also causes other incurable, autoimmune conditions such as fibromyalgia, IBS, and hypothyroidism, all from which I suffer. Moreover, the high risk of anaphylaxsis poses a formidable threat to average life expectancy.
Such a diagnosis is able to erase all hope of healing, but diagnosis isn't the only reason the impressions and dreams were forgotten. During the summer of 2014, in spending copious amounts of time with the defendant, I--the plaintiff--became so happy I no longer cared whether or not I would be physically healed. I rejoiced in the healings of others with only brief twinges of wist when I considered the absence of my own.
For months, I've managed my disease very well with a combination of excellent diet, detox routines, acupressure treatments, rest, stress management, medication, essential oils, and positive thoughts. Things are going well though symptoms are still prevalent and sometimes severe. Even if I continue in my efforts faithfully for years, I don't believe they can achieve full healing for me.
On Sunday, September 21, 2014, I told two people I didn't think the defendant would heal me. I believed He had other plans.
On Wednesday, September 24, 2014, Melissa Rogers, a friend of uncanny similarities to myself, who I met through very unlikely circumstances and who had just experienced a miracle of her own, shared with me a prophetic word: '[The Healer] loves you; He has healed you.'
I prayed sincerely over these words in order to discern their meaning and veracity. I was met with assurance from multiple sources outside of myself that I'd indeed be physically healed in addition to the spiritual and emotional healing which has already taken place. Only then did I remember the former impressions, words, and dreams, and I fully believe the defendant is guilty of the future healing of my body!"
By the end of this speech, I am standing. A fire smolders in my bones. Whispers swirl all about the room.
The Judge's gavel slams into the block. "Order in the courtroom!"
I stare at The Healer, breathless. His eyes are fiercely proud.
"Does the defense have any questions?"
The Healer stands. "Do you trust me, Melissa?"
"Yes," I say.
"Why?" His voice is so gentle, I could fluff it like a pillow and rest my head there.
"Because you loved me when I was unlovable. When I hated you, you died to save my life."
"And is it not I who holds your very breath in my hands and owns all your ways?"
"Do I not have a right to allow pain in your life?"
"Do I not have a right to send healing now? Even if you can no longer imagine a life without disease?"
"Yes." The word chokes on a muted sob.
I'm excused. The Healer extends a handkerchief to me as I pass Him on the way back to my seat.
I call Lyndsey Floyd Mouk to the stand. Lyndsey is a friend from college, a friend I haven't seen much of since college. She shares her dream from October 8, 2013--"[Melissa] was somewhere with a bunch of people and [was] holding and smelling a wildflower."
Mary Fran Stark, a friend several years my senior who I haven't seen since childhood, shares the dream she had the night of October 9, 2013: "I don't remember what [the dream] was about, but there were several people at your house and lots of kids."
I take the stand again.
"It should be noted," I say to the jury, "I strictly avoid crowds to prevent acute episodes in my illness, and I would never purposefully smell any flower due to the risk of mast cell degranulation. Thus, images of me standing in the midst of crowds and sniffing flowers indicates wellness. It should also be noted Lyndsey and Mary Fran do not know one another, and neither knew of the other's dream. Lyndsey shared her dream first through private message on Facebook. Mary Fran shared her dream the following day via status 'comment' on Facebook."
The Healer listens quietly through it all. His eyes twinkle as Melissa Rogers takes the stand.
Melissa shares pieces of our conversation, which took place on Wednesday, September 24, 2014, between the hours of 10:53a.m. and 12:22p.m. There are many details, but one central message: "He has healed you."
The Healer touches Melissa as she passes Him on her way out of the courtroom. Joy wells in my heart as I consider the vastness of His love. He loves each of us as if we're the only one in the universe, and He loves us both. She and I are both 'His Melissa.'
With a contented sigh, I call an expert witness.
I ask him, "How do you explain the present perfect tense of the declaration, 'He has healed you?' I currently suffer from symptoms."
Even now, there's a migraine lodged behind my right eye.
The man adjusts his horn-rimmed glasses excitedly, and explains, "Present and present perfect tenses are both commonly used in biblical prophecy. We find an example of present perfect tense in Isaiah 9:2--'The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.' Scholars agree this prophecy refers to the birth of Jesus Christ, which occurred 700 years after the prophecy was written. We find explanation for this phenomenon in Psalm 119:89--'Forever, O Lord, Your word is settled in heaven,' meaning when God makes a promise, it's as good as done. Yahweh operates outside of time and space. He can do this because He created time and space. He is God. He sees the end from the beginning, and has ordered all things from the outset."
The Judge pulls and tucks his robes as if worried his skin is showing. I bow my head to hide my smirk, and sense The Healer's full-out grin.
Finally, the stand holds The Healer himself. He gives a brief testimony before I question Him. "All things work together for good to those who love Me, to those who are called according to My purpose."
My cells respond to the truth of His word.
I approach the stand and wonder--how many times have we reasoned together like this, staring into the face of the other, reveling in soul secrets and silent communication?
"Will you please tell the court who you are?"
My knees tend to buckle at this answer no matter how many times I hear it. One of the jurors experiences a similar effect, and falls out of her seat.
"What is your occupation?"
That smile again. The light of it shines so brilliantly the intimidation of The Judge is utterly forgotten. "Love. Life. Freedom. Peace. Abundance. Joy. Glory."
"Where do you reside?"
"Everywhere. I dwell between galaxies, and know motivations hidden from your own consciousness."
"What do you know of the human body?"
"Everything," He laughs. "I designed it."
"Will you please share with the court some of your well-known experiences with healing?"
He shrugs. "Sure--the leper in Galilee--the one you mentioned in your journal entry, actually. The centurion's servant. The blind man in Jerusalem. Jairus' daughter. The woman with the bleeding issue--the one you relate to so well."
"Are you experienced in healing incurable diseases?"
"I heal everything from terminal cancer to explosive tempers, from lost causes to wandering souls."
I bring an open Bible to the stand. "Is this your written testimony?"
"Would you say my illness has been 'a fast of your choosing?'"
"Have you been hungry and shared your bread? Have you shown castaways hospitality of soul? Have you clothed the naked, prayed the bound go free and the wicked be saved?"
The Judge checks The Healer. "The witness will not question the prosecution." But the reprimand is lost on our ears.
I swallow hard. We look into one another so intensely we forget where we are and what we're doing. We forget the world.
I answer Him with the look. The answer is for Him only. The jury need not know.
The Judge suspiciously forgets the original question, and doesn't bring it up again. Neither do I.
"No further questions, Your Honor."
An unknown voice sounds at the back of the room. "Are you sure?"
When The Judge does nothing to resume order, I turn. A man dressed in a perfectly tailored suit with shiny Berluti shoes and slicked-back hair slinks near the door. I don't recognize his face, but there's a familiar quality to his movement.
"Yes. Why?" I ask him
"Exactly," he replies, eyes gleaming.
I turn again to The Judge with an unspoken plea. He stares back insipidly, waiting for the scene to unfold.
The stranger sidles closer, and the scent of overly-sweet cologne wafts in my direction, cloying my senses. I choke and gasp and know--I have smelled his foul odor before.
"You won't ask for a sign? You won't ask the age-old question?" His lips curl up in a Cheshire cat grin. The effect is unnerving. I hold back a shudder and narrow my eyes in defiance.
"Come on--you know you want to ask," he hisses, inspecting his perfectly manicured hands.
My stomach turns, and I bristle. "If you are referring to The Question, I've already asked. Many times over. As for a sign, it would be ungenerous to ask for more than He's already given."
Sinister eyes swing sharp to meet mine. The man speaks slowly. "The jury might appreciate the answer, Melissa. Don't you hear it in their sighs? Why? Why? Why?"
Silence falls. The Judge and jury lean forward, chairs creaking, pressing me to ask.
There's no problem with The Question when honestly presented, but it isn't relevant to the case. I bite my lip. Accusation and curiosity burns in the jury's eyes, I see it. The Healer does, too.
The well-dressed man grips my arm. I attempt to pull away without success, and cry out. The atmosphere shifts at once. The Healer's eyes flash fire, and I'm suddenly released.
I know what comes. I brace myself.
The Healer stands to full height and thunders, "Who is this who darkens counsel with words without knowledge? Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Tell Me, if you have understanding--who determined its measurements? Surely you know! Have you commanded the morning since your days began? The dawn knows its place. Do you?"
Everyone cowers in their chairs, hiding from the whirlwind. At once, I long to kiss the floor with my brow and stand so close to the rush I feel my stomach drop.
I've heard His answer before, of course. One isn't desperately ill for more than two years without asking The Question.
And this is the way He always answers--with questions of His own. Questions which plumb the depths of the soul and expose all its secrets. They wrecked me, His questions. I'll never forget how they bashed me to pieces, repaired me, and set me to sail again on the feral ocean of divine sovereignty.
The once bitter waters are now impossibly sweet. I've learned to love His scary side.
The well-dressed man retreats. Even The Judge shows signs of life--or rather, surrender--as he squirms in his seat. The hall is silent again.
The Healer still stands, chest heaving and nostrils flared. His zeal is beautiful to me.
Eager to move the case along, The Judge clears his throat and addresses the jury. "Ladies and gentlemen, the prosecution must convince you of three things in order to find the defendant guilty of the future crime of divine physical healing: First, that the defendant has confirmed through His own testimony and the witness of others He will indeed heal Melissa Keaster of Mast Cell Activation Disease. Second, that the disease cannot be healed by any means short of a divine miracle. Third, that He indeed has the power to heal incurable disease."
The jury nods their understanding, but few are convinced. Caution emanates from their furrowed brows.
"Are you ready with final arguments?" The Judge asks.
No, I think.
But The Healer stands next to me now, holding my hand. Sensing my fear, He kisses my ear and whispers, "Those who wait for Me are never ashamed."
My words are tremulous and thick with tears. "Yes, Your Honor."
I face the jury once more. Believe with me.
I exhale hard. "Your Honor and ladies and gentlemen of the jury: The Judge has told you I must convince you of three points. The truth is...I can't."
Their dubious faces almost make me lose my nerve. I spur myself on--for them! For Him!
"We're dealing with the supernatural here, which means we're dealing with faith. Faith is the evidence of things hoped for, but these are things not yet seen. I lack rock hard evidence. I have nothing to offer you beyond the testimonies you heard today," I tell them, extending my empty hands and earnest eyes.
"My sincerest desire is for you to believe--not only in a miracle that hasn't yet taken place, but a Person--a Person wise enough to send a debilitating illness into my life, a Person powerful enough to take it away, and a Person good enough to stand with me through it all."
Pointing to The Judge, I continue, "Only he can verify or falsify prophetic claims, and he cares little how these proceedings turn out. I pray you care--not only for me but for yourselves! Have we become so jaded we no longer believe in miracles? I tell you--they happen every day for anyone with seeing eyes."
My gaze drifts over each face, and I know--they definitely think I'm crazy. And so I am.
"Please don't miss this." Tears cascade down my face, and for a moment, I cannot speak. The room waits on bated breath in order to hear what the crazy lady will say next.
Suddenly, the fire reignites my bones. The tears fall still, but my energies crescendo. "Go on, find Him guilty. Find Him guilty, and sentence Him to the exaltation and glory He deserves. Sentence Him to your own belief--to your own salvation. In sickness and in health, in death and in life, He is worthy to receive blessing and honor and glory and power forever!"
"She definitely has a thing for him," comes the loud observation from the old man juror who spoke before. "And you know what? I think the feeling's mutual."
The Healer says nothing in closing. He just kisses my forehead, and lets me dry my tears on His chest.
I wait trembling in His arms for The Judge to prove or disprove His crime. I'm afraid I look like a fool before them all. I'm afraid my soul will doubt if The Judge tarries. He sits so serene, so enigmatic without any concern at all for me.
He thinks he holds the power now, but I know better. I know the One whom I have believed--The Beginning and The End. The arms that hold me are everlasting. Right or wrong, they'll never let me go.
I plant a kiss upon His shoulder as I wonder--what will the jury decide?
God forbid I preach a false gospel or make the sufferer's road more treacherous than it already is. I do not want to perpetuate hurtful falsehoods spoken by well-meaning non-sufferers, and I do not want to add new doubts you have not previously considered. Please allow me to clarify my thinking.
First, your suffering is not necessarily a direct consequence of some moral failure.
I become very impatient when people suggest all suffering comes from lack of faith or a particular sin or whatever. Such statements are neither true nor helpful. While it's true some suffering is the consequence of sin, our suffering is never in proportion to our sin.
The best of us may suffer much.
The worst of us may suffer little.
And none of us suffer as we deserve.
The God of the Bible is not a tit-for-tat God. No. He's a God who, through infinite condescension, entered into our suffering and brokenness, and carried it all to the cross. Where it stayed.
Neither is God naive. He knows we are spiritual whores who run after other lovers time and again, yet He says, "I have seen [her] ways, and will heal [her]" (Isaiah 57:18).
Through His pain and suffering, we are healed (Isaiah 53:5). For those who receive Him, there is no debt left to be paid. God is satisfied (Isaiah 53:11).
Your suffering is not the price for your sin. You could never pay it anyway. God requires nothing from the guilty sinner when "Jesus" is the plea of her heart.
The cross was enough.
I will say it again: The cross was enough.
If suffering isn't cosmic payback, what is it?
Most suffering is an opportunity to walk in His steps (1 Peter 2:21), an invitation into the "high and holy place" where God dwells (Isaiah 57:15), and the thing which entitles us to all Christ will inherit--"if indeed we suffer with Him" (Romans 8:17).
Thus, suffering is a gift.
If your suffering is hard, if it doesn't feel like a gift, if it is breaking your heart, you are not "less than" spiritually.
The sufferer's road to joy is long, hard, and fraught with bumps, stumbles, and pits of self-pity, and don't let anyone tell you differently.
When a sufferer pastes on a smile and tells you they are fine, their words are lies and make-up covering an ugly truth: they are still trying to save themselves.
They are trying desperately to stay strong because denial is easier than facing the darkness and walking through it. This is a great sadness because the darkness isn't such a terrible place. Not really.
"Who walks in darkness and has no light?
Let him trust in the name of the Lord and rely upon his God.
Look, all you who kindle a fire,
who encircle yourselves with sparks:
Walk in the light of your fire and in the sparks you have kindled--
This you shall have from My hand:
you shall lie down in torment."
The night of suffering reveals the truth of our spiritual poverty. It serves to show us there is no way to save ourselves. Not even with our little religious fires like Bible study, prayer, church going, and service. We can't strong arm God into rewarding our feeble attempts at morality.
The fires we build to keep ourselves warm are only tiny sparks in the cold, dark world of suffering, and they lead us to torment, which is just another way of saying "a place without God."
There are no steps A, B, and C to joy.
Those who claim otherwise are selling something--probably a book based on a false gospel that will make them rich and leave you bankrupt.
There is nothing you can do for yourself other than seek the face of God. No one ever obtained real joy by seeking joy. The only way to obtain joy is through seeking God. Bible study and prayer are essential, but don't confuse holy pursuits with tasks on a checklist.
Just go on--give into it. Give into your need. Rely upon your God. He came "to give light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace" (Luke 1:79).
Take His hand, and walk the way of the cross. It will beat you bloody, but it leads Home.
Honesty is key.
If you read my posts from the last couple of years, they are full of lament. I did not win my fight for joy overnight.
It has taken more than two years of carrying my pain to the feet of Jesus over and over and over again. Two years of prayer, weeping, and waiting and things getting much, much worse before they got better. Two years of trustful determination to experience the sweet promises of God.
As in the parable of the widow and judge, I "pray[ed] and did not lose heart" (Luke 18:1). I kept asking for joy--a promise, a command of the Bible--until He gave it.
Believe those promises, Sister. God is faithful and able to fulfill them.
Ask for them, Brother. They were written for you.
James tells us to "count it all joy when [we] fall into various trials" (James 1:2). We are to "rejoice always....and in everything give thanks" (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).
These are commands. Commands we cannot obey on our own. Like faith, joy is a gift of God (Ephesians 2:8), a gift He delights to give. Ask for it.
Ask, and be prepared to wait. But don't be afraid to wait. "For they shall not be ashamed who wait for Me" (Isaiah 49:23).
In the waiting, God works another kind of miracle.
This other kind of miracle is meek in appearance but holds a quiet power. It's a miracle that can only be measured over time--
It's in the valley of the shadow of death we learn to conquer our fear, not on the mountain top.
It's in the pit we learn to reach for the only Hand strong enough to pull us out.
It's in the ocean of grief we learn who commands the tempest without and within, who keeps our souls from drowning.
It's in the dead of night we hear our Savior's song.
It's in the wilderness we taste the sweetness of manna.
It's in the fire we find we are more than the sum of our successes, failures, lesser loves, and short-sighted dreams, all which burn away like dross.
It's at the gates of hell we learn God really is with us wherever we go.
Out of the whirlwind, He speaks (Job 38-41).
Unkindly, He kindly shows us God (Piper, "Job").
And when we see Him, all we can do is cry, "Woe is me! I am unclean!," and repent in dust and ashes.
So, if you are suffering and wondering what is wrong with you that you are empty and wounded and just not strong enough to smile--hold on, dear one.
Hold onto Jesus.
Ask for joy.
Feast upon His promises.
Wait for His timing.
Believe in His infinite goodness, wisdom, and power.
Rest in His sovereignty.
Don't give up.
Thank Him for everything, even your pain. Not because pain is good, but because He is good, and He is allowing this pain for good and glory your brain is too weak and fractured to comprehend.
There is purpose in it all. Some He may let you see, some you will never know this side of eternity.
Seek Him. Trust Him.
One day, in the midst of your pain, there it will be--joy!