Sunday, December 19, 2010

Everything Changed

Winter has settled in for its three month long stay. In Louisiana, that means that the temperatures will shift between comfortable and cold, the weathermen will falsely predict snow a half dozen times, and the locusts will fall silent until the arrival of spring in March. The trees have lost much or most of their brilliantly fall-hued foliage. Their bare arms are reaching for the sky in the hope they can catch the illusive sun, or flag it down, and convince it to stay another hour. As winter arrives, Christmas awaits just around the bend! I love this time of year for many reasons. I love the generosity that spreads around like the flu. I love gathering with my family over and over and over again--as long as we all manage to behave ourselves. I love the music, the lights, the parties and the food. This year has been especially enjoyable, and it has almost everything to do with Micah.

This year, I was able to watch Micah help his Daddy decorate the Christmas tree.I have enjoyed taking out Micah's nativity set almost every day. It thrills my heart to hear him call Mary, "Momma," Joseph, "Daddy," and the Baby, "Jesus."
I love the fact that Micah prances around the house wielding wrapping paper rolls like swords, ready to challenge anyone--man, woman or black and white spotted dog--to a duel. I have to warn you--he cheats. He always uses two, like Antonio Banderas in Zorro, as opposed to my one and Daisy's . . . . none. I enjoy hearing him quasi-sing "Jingle Bells" and trip over the lyrics of "Hallelujah." The boy loves some Handel, and who can blame him?

I love Christmas pictures made in Christmas outfits put on Christmas cards, which are then sent out to friends and family.

Most of all, I enjoy this time of year because it reminds me of the reason I hope for a better tomorrow. It reminds me of the vast lovingkindness and compassion of our Awesome Creator God who doesn't owe us a thing, yet is on a continual rescue mission on our behalf. It is for this reason that I would like to cordially invite you to the Christmas Eve service at Crossroads Church in Ruston, LA at 5 p.m. on December 24th. I helped plan the program and prepare the choir. I know that you will be blessed by the music, the fellowship and the worship of our Lord, Jesus Christ.

The Christmas Eve worship service at Crossroads is special to me because it is the service that drew me to Crossroads three years ago. The week of Christmas in 2007 was one of the worst weeks of my life. The events of that week left me reeling and broken for months. Had God not been especially good and gracious to me in the days, weeks and months that followed, I might not have darkened the door of a church of any kind ever again. That sounds dramatic, but it is no stretch to the truth. Three years ago, my good friend, Erica Kordsmeier, invited me to the Christmas Eve service, knowing that I would enjoy the music, but having no idea how God would use that event to change my life in ways that I couldn't have imagined in my wildest dreams.

My friend, Erica

Brandon and I sat in the back. I didn't know many people, which made me feel a little better about quietly crying through most of the service. I cried because my heart was broken. I cried because the music was beautiful. I cried because I could feel the love of the believers in the room. Most of all, I cried because in that gathering, I felt the presence of the Lord more strongly than I had felt it in years. In a room of strangers, my famished soul found nourishment. I lapped it up with the grace of a starving dog. I probably looked like I had attended a funeral when I left, but the time had acted like balm to my invisible wounds. Okay, okay, enough with the cliche metaphors.

The service didn't fix me--let's be clear; Jesus fixed me--but it made me hungry for more of the Spirit at Crossroads. It began a domino reaction which led to the following: More crying through services. Healing. Forgiveness. Church membership. Christian friends. Spiritual revival. Discipleship (I found two women to disciple me). Spiritual growth. Service. Discipleship (I began discipling others). Joy in the Lord! Helping to plan and prepare the Christmas Eve service in the hope that it will draw someone else to the greatest adventure of his/her life.

While at Crossroads, God has changed everything. In a time of hurt and rebellion, this service wooed me right into His hand. This God, the Highest Being of the universe, humbled Himself by coming into this world in the vulnerability of an infant's body. He did this to show that He is not only for the great in this world, but for the lowest of the low, the poorest of the poor--the group of which I consider myself a part. That God, was born to die so that we could have life in Him. I was dead without Him, and now I am alive! He brought me to life, healed my brokenness and replaced my tears with laughter. Every quest and desire for happiness is met in Him. I have seen many miracles in the past three years. Yes, many. But, one of the greatest miracles I have witnessed is how He has turned one of my greatest heartbreaks into the greatest good in my life. When I allow my heart to venture back into the hurt of three years ago, I can only smile. I remember my hurt as if through a haze. What I feel today is gratitude and joy. Only God does that, and He can do it for anyone.

Funny how something as simple as a single service . . . or the birth of a Baby changes everything.

Merry Christmas.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

November In Review

Due to noveling escapades, too many musical appointments and general holiday hullabaloo, I haven't blogged in . . . . like . . . . awhile. So, here is November in review. I'll have to get to December later.

Halloween was awesome. Why was Halloween awesome?

That's why. That, and the fact that Micah totally "got" Halloween this year. All Dum-Dums, peppermints and M&Ms beware--Micah knows now.
Other Halloween highlights include:

1) The twins went as two peas in a pod.

2) My studio rocked it out on their Halloween tour of the nursing and retirement homes of Union Parish. These places offer both pros and cons to young performers. On one hand, the people who live there don't really care about the quality of the performance, they just want to see the kids. On the other, nursing homes can be scary, smelly places, understandably frightening to young children and adults alike. In spite of that fact, they played well, had fun prancing around in their costumes and brought a ray of sunshine into each home that day. They are my heroes, and I love them.

3) Micah enjoyed carving pumpkins with his dad. I love that my husband loves to spend time with our son. I love the enthusiasm in Micah's voice every time he calls out, "Daddy!" I love their bond, and it is one of my dearest hopes that their bond grows thicker, richer, stronger and deeper throughout their lifetimes.

Around Halloween, something truly incredible happened--I reunited with my sister, Emily. Some of you remember her as the precious 3 year old who lived with us for a year all that time ago. Well, she isn't 3 anymore. She's beautiful, smart, witty, fun and 16 years old. I'm so excited about getting to know her again. The more time I spend with her, the more I love her, and the more sure I become that God orchestrated this whole crazy thing. He must have GREAT things in store for her, and I plan to be around to see it. More to come.

On a final note--I did it! I wrote 50,149 words during the month of November, meeting my goal. My novel is far from complete. After I finish writing the story, there is much editing to do. I'm not even sure it will be any good. However, quality wasn't my goal. My goal was to quit whining about wanting to write, and actually write. I did that, and do you know what I discovered? I can. I also discovered that if I bring my characters through all of the trouble I have brewing in my brain, I will have a series, not a single novel, on my hands. I am excited about the prospects and the adventure ahead. I will keep you all posted. As my friends, supporters and prayer warriors, you all deserve it.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010


Wild hair. Crazy notion. Stroke of genius. The Cliffs of Insanity. NaNoWriMo.

They all fit into the same category, folks.

NaNoWriMo is National Novel Writing Month, and it's as crazy as it sounds. The assignment is to write a 50,000 word/175 page novel between the dates of November 1 and November 30. The idea is to promote quantity over quality, which is the only possibility working within this unreasonable time frame. NaNoWriMo has been going on since 1999, but I had not heard about it until last year. Last year, I thought, "What a great idea!" My next thought was, "What a great idea for people who are sleeping, who don't have an insomniac baby boy, and who haven't been awake for almost an entire year." When I was reminded of the event this year, my first thought was, "I don't have time for this." My second thought was, "I really don't have time for this." My third thought was, "I soooooo don't have time for this." The problem was that I really, really wanted to do it anyway.

Which, dear fans of my previous blog, brings me to Confession of a Potentially Crazy Person #64 :

"I'm going to try to write a novel next month."

I realize that this confession, maybe more than any other one, conceivably calls for the removal of the adverb "potentially." Anywho, check out my nifty web badge!

I'm going to anticipate the FAQs concerning this post, and answer them now:

1. Why do something so time-consuming when you have guests coming in for the week of Thanksgiving, Thanksgiving, and the release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows all in one month?

I got nothin'. Next question.

2. Why do this at all? It seems like a pointless exercise.

I agree. Doing NaNoWriMo for the sake of writing a novel that will, in all likelihood, turn out to be disastrous and never come to anything seems like a pointless exercise. Here's why it's not:

A) For a writer, even a novice, writing of any kind is equivalent to the hours of focused rehearsal a musician puts in to be excellent in her craft.

B) This novel has been simmering in my brain for almost 2 years. It has a decent shot at being slightly better than disastrous.

C) I have new ideas that will take me in new directions that have come to me now, just in time for NaNoWriMo. NaNoWriMo will help me get them out.

D) NaNoWriMo is a speed writing contest. I'm not good at speed writing because I absolutely cannot write without editing as I go. A 30 day time limit and a 50,000 word deadline hanging over my head should prove effective in breaking old and very bad habits. Besides, no novel was ever good in its first draft, regardless of how much editing the writer did as she went along. I must keep telling myself this.

E) Whatever happens, I will have made impressive strides in getting my novel written. No one can read the story in my head. I have to get it down on paper. NaNoWriMo will at least help me begin, kick my feathered keister out of the nest, if you will.

3. Do you plan to have a life at all outside of writing?

Absolutely. Some of you may be concerned about the amount of sleep I'll get or the laundry I'll be able to do, but I have a really good plan, which in all honesty, may or may not work. The plan is to put myself on a schedule, something my routine-oriented self really needs to do anyway. There will be time on that schedule for my time with God, housework, exercise, focused time with Micah and Brandon, my work schedule, the dinner/bath/bed routine and writing. Does that set me up for a sure and successful cross of the 50,000 word finish line? Probably not. And I'm okay with that. Really. I hereby publicly acknowledge that I have higher priorities than to write a novel inside of a month!!! But man, oh man, am I going to try!

Here's the thing--I'm crying out for a regular routine. I'm crying out for a goal, a finish line . . . even one that I may not cross. I'm crying out to get all of these jumbled ideas in my head out of my head and onto paper before the characters that are stewing around in there get angry and launch a nuclear rebellion in my brain. I'm not crazy, really. Just creative. All things born in the brain must be birthed at some point, or things get really messy in there. Can I get a witness? No?

I have nothing to prove to you. I have nothing to prove to myself, even. I just want to write, and to have a legitimate, albeit ridiculous, deadline. So, good or bad (and let's be honest--it'll be bad), win or lose, succeed or fail, I begin in 4 days.

Wish me luck!

For more information regarding NaNoWriMo or the NaNoWriMo organization, visit their website at

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The House on Bear Creek Road

I'm not sure when it happened, but finally, the house on Bear Creek Road feels like home.

I had a hard time embracing this place, at first. It was ugly and old and smelled kind of funny, like an unlikable great-great aunt that wears gaudy off-red lipstick, smells of mothballs and still expects you to give her a hug and peck on the mouth every time she comes to call. This place wore outdated wood paneling and shag carpet, and smelled like a mixture of must and cologne that only old people are secure enough to wear. Brandon did a lot to correct the house's flaws, but it still had problems.

The house made and continues to make strange noises. When the heat kicks on, it sounds like someone gives two snaps of the fingers, awakening a grumpy dragon that lives behind the door at the end of the hall. But hey, the dragon does the job. It will be warm and toasty in here when the temperatures dip below comfort level. There are times when no is water running in the house, but the pipes whisper creepy, little, unintelligible nothings in our ears. Also, the water pressure mysteriously goes in and out, scalding the willies out of whoever is in the shower at the time. Things have disappeared in the house. My mom even witnessed this once. Toys sound off on their own. I once heard an undoubtable, yet inexplicable cat-call from outside the window of the master bath while getting ready one evening. Here's the strange thing--no one would have been able to see me from the outside even with his/her face pressed to the frosted glass. So, really the house is like a creepy, unlikable great-great aunt. The vandalism that took place days after our move in didn't improve my negative feelings for the place.

I organized, cleaned and decorated the new quarters, but it remained foreign to me. Sometimes, in the first few weeks after the move, I would turn onto Sunflower Drive without realizing that my autopilot was taking me to the place my heart still called home. Fortunately, I always managed to catch myself before turning into the driveway. I may have startled the new resident had I barged in to the old place as if I still owned it.

There are several theories as to why the house on Bear Creek Road feels like home now. Maybe it was being away from it so much over the summer. Maybe cleaning it a magical number of times had the same effect as clicking my ruby red heels together. Maybe I'm finally used to my kitchen. Maybe the security system helped me to feel safe. Maybe there's something magical the pitter patter of tiny feet sounding down the hall. My friend, Ellie, told me with a crooked smile that she thinks it's due to the deer heads that now project proudly from my living room walls.

I can't answer as to why the house on Bear Creek Road feels like home now, all of a sudden, but I can tell you some things I love about it.

I love how the sun filters into its open spaces through the curtains I hand made and the french doors. Brandon put them in after the vandalism took out the ugly sliding glass door that had been a feature of the house for the last 30 years. Electrical lighting isn't necessary on sunny days.

I love the vast front and back yard, embraced by thick, lovely woods and dotted with mature, gorgeous trees. This simple acre or so provides a wide open playing space full of adventures waiting to be had by a tiny red head.
I love the sounds of the washer and dryer as they hum and sing in the background. I love the smell of a clean house, cooking food and the light, fresh Beach scent from my Scentsy warmer. These things going on all at once create the perfect "home" ambiance.

I love to sip my coffee or tea on the couch in my studio, looking out through the glass door into the yard. I love to read in the same spot. On cool days, I venture outdoors. I'll sip and read in my lawn chair, basking in a sun ray.

I love the life that teaching brings into my home. I love the children, their parents and the adult students. I love the music that fills the entire house every Monday, Tuesday and Thursday afternoon. I love the vibrant hues in the room that seem to cheer on all of the activity.

I love having friends and family over to visit . . . even if the house is not as clean and organized as I would like. I love setting out the china for friends who don't really care about such things, and drinking from a real tea cup for no reason at all.

I love the face lift my husband gave this house. Every room resonates with his love for me. Even the living room that has been man-ified.

Now, we get down to it--I love the comfort of spending time with my two favorite men here. I love eating, talking, crying, laughing, learning, failing, growing and making memories with them inside of these walls and out in its garden.

And maybe this feeling of home has nothing to do with the house itself. It still makes funny noises. The pipes still make my neck hairs stand on end. I get scalded at least twice a week. I continue to get a whiff of old lady now and then. The house itself hasn't really changed that much. It's me that's changed. I've begun to make cherished memories here. I've prayed for this house--that God would bless it with life, love and joy. He has answered that prayer by simply opening my eyes to what was already happening. And you know what? I haven't driven down Sunflower Drive in months. My autopilot heads straight to the bend in the road, a few yards from the lake, right to where my boys are waiting . . . or where I'll be waiting for them.

It's possible that absence really does make the heart grow fonder, but I really hope that time makes the heart grow wiser. I hope that one day I'm grown up enough to realize that a home isn't walls and halls, but the people God gave me to love and to love me back.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

God Bless Monster Cookies and Other Fall Foods

There really is something about Fall. Even when the temperatures creep back up to summer highs, the heat seems gentler somehow. The air remains crisp and light, as it should. Gone is that oppressive heat that makes your body feel twice as heavy, at least. Something about that sudden lightness has put some pep in my step, and I did something I haven't done in awhile--I cooked every single day last week. (Except Tuesday. Brandon cooked on Tuesday.)

On Monday, we had one of Brandon's favorites--meatloaf and sweet potatoes. On Tuesday--oatmeal and ham. But I was just warming up. Wednesday was Red Lentil Soup (or Esau soup, as I prefer to call it) and Monster cookies. Thursday was chili/chili dogs/Frito pies, depending upon your pleasure. Friday was Creole jambalaya and Gumbo . . . sort of . . . and a gluten-free pumpkin bread experiment. (It's interesting which foods scream, "Fall!," to different individuals, isn't it?) If our menu was all I had to tell, I would have posted it on Facebook, and left it at that. However, God decided to bless our Fall menu, leaving His fingerprints all over it. As with everything He touches, something ordinary became beautiful, extraordinary.

The first day that cool breezes returned to the South, I wanted to eat 3 things: Red Lentil Soup, Jambalaya and Monster cookies. These three foods make me feel satisfied and warm on the inside, which is the way I like to feel when it's cool and breezy on the outside. On Saturday morning, I made my first grocery list of the week. (I went to the store 3 times last week.) The premiere item on the list? Fall colored M&Ms for the Monster cookies. We don't fight food cravings here at the Keaster household.

Some of you may be thinking, "What is a Monster cookie?" Others may wonder if I should be eating a cookie of any kind. Relax. These babies are made with peanut butter (peanuts aren't tree nuts; they're legumes), oatmeal (I can have this in small amounts), butter, sugar, brown sugar, baking soda, corn syrup, semi-sweet chocolate chips and M&Ms. No flour. (Yay!) Monster is my favorite cookie. M&Ms the colors of changing leaves make them Fall cookies.

At first, I was going to bake the cookies the day I bought the ingredients, but I was too tired after the trip to the grocery store. Then, the plan changed to Monday. Tuesday passed, and no Monster cookies had been made . . .

During my quiet time on Wednesday, I read a story out of the Bible study I'm doing by Priscilla Shirer. She writes about praying during a quiet time one morning, and hearing God tell her to call a friend because her friend needed her. She made the call, and it turned out that the friend needed her desperately. After my own time with the Lord that morning, I asked that He would help me to walk in His Spirit that day, even if I wasn't aware of it. That He would lead me like He led Priscilla on the day she called her friend. I went about my tasks, doing my best to be aware of God's presence. I spent quality time with Micah, enjoyed creation, and washed clothes, thanking God for a husband and son who needed me to wash their clothes. I decided I would bake the cookies that night, and that I would bring some to the people who had moved into the empty house next door.

The evening rolled around, and I was exhausted. I decided to wait on the cookies, but I knew I needed to get dinner going. I began cooking Red Lentil Soup, which, by the way, turned out orange, not red. I guess orange lentil soup is appropriate for the month of October.
Something unexpected happened as I chopped, stirred and simmered--my energy returned. I decided I would bake those cookies after all. Brandon came home, and entertained Micah. Dinner was ready about the time the first batch of cookies came out of the oven.

"Brandon?" I said. "Would you guys be okay if I ran over to the neighbors' with these cookies while they're warm? I won't be long."

"Sure," he shrugged.

On a whim, which is so very unlike me, I ran across the yard wearing my t-shirt and jeans, smelling of onions, with unkempt hair and no make-up on, carrying a batch of fall-colored cookies, piled high on a plastic plate, covered in foil. Not much of a presentation, really. I knocked on the door, and introduced myself. I found out that the couple is only a few years older than me. They have an eight year old daughter and another daughter who will be born in about a month. I exchanged phone numbers with the mom, who also stays at home, and told them to call if they needed anything. I said my farewells, and left. I was running Micah's bathwater not even 10 minutes later when the phone rings. It was the new neighbor.

I answered, "Hello?"

"Melissa? I'm sorry to bother you guys, but I just had to tell you that these are the best cookies I've ever eaten. I have been craving peanut butter chocolate chip cookies, and I was looking for some today in the store . . . "

For whatever reason, she had been unable to find them and buy them. And I had brought them right over. On the day she was craving them. When that wasn't the plan at all. And it still took me almost half an hour to realize what exactly had happened. Dude. God sees the cattle on a thousand hills, but cares when a pregnant woman is craving a peanut butter chocolate chip cookie. He answers prayers we never even thought to pray. He listens when one of His kids asks to be guided by His Spirit. You know, God didn't have to use me to bring her the cookies. She could have found some at the store or made some herself or someone else could have brought them over. But God used me, regardless of the fact that I wasn't even aware it was happening.

"for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure."--Philippians 2:13

God put the desire to make the cookies inside of me and gave me the energy to pull it off because it pleased Him that we two girls should meet, and she got her cookie she'd been craving at the same time. Is God good, or what? Now I have a friend, someone who makes this end of Bear Creek Road seem a little less lonely and a lot less vulnerable. Us stay at home moms can watch each others backs, and maybe even share the occasional pot of coffee and another batch Monster cookies. Cool, huh?

On Friday, I cooked all afternoon, preparing for the guests we would have over the next two weekends. I made large portions of gumbo and Creole jambalaya. Inspired by my favorite blog, I decided to make gluten-free pumpkin bread. I used a recipe and converted it into something that wouldn't kill me. I made an original gluten-free flour blend with brown rice flour, potato flour, potato starch, baking powder and coconut flour. Everything but the gumbo came out better than expected.
Gumbo that isn't gumbo, but soup, is kind of an epic fail in Louisiana.
Even in the northern part of the state.
It made an excellent soup, though.

Into the freezer the jambalaya went to store until this weekend.
Friends, a new boyfriend and a fiance are coming to dinner.

The pumpkin bread turned out pretty well. It tasted fabulous, too.
Especially served like this.

Anyway, the gumbo, the pumpkin bread, and the left-over Monster cookie dough joined forces to help us entertain some good friends last weekend. The Blackburns and Keasters have been special family friends for a year now. On Saturday, Brandon took Drew and Nelson hunting. Ellie, Audrey, Allison, Micah and I had a tea party with real china dishes. Later, we decorated a few pumpkins. We all gathered around our little dining table that night, and enjoyed gumbo (that wasn't actually gumbo) and one another's warm and lively company. We ate. We talked. We laughed. It was simple and wonderful at the same time. And we can't wait to do it again.
My only evidence of a tea party.

Micah's pumpkin

Allison's pumpkin

Audrey's pumpkin. She used an entire jumbo sized thing of glitter on her pumpkin.

Micah managed to get as much paint on himself as he did on the pumpkin.

Me: "Say 'cheese,' Micah!"
Micah: . . . . .

God bless good food.
God bless faux gumbo.
God bless good friends.
Gold bless new friends.
God bless glittered pumpkins.
God bless painted red heads.
God bless Monster cookies.