Tuesday, February 14, 2012


When I married this man 7 1/2 years ago, I thought I knew him. As it turns out, I didn't know him, I didn't know myself and I didn't know anything about marriage. All I really knew is that I loved him and would always love him. As it also turns out, love . . . . real love . . . . is enough.

I was a child when I married Brandon Keith Keaster on a mild Saturday evening in Louisiana on August 14, 2004. I had much yet to learn about life, this man, and myself. With the faith of a child, I pledged the rest of my existence to this one, flawed man, and next to my decision to take up my cross daily and follow Christ, this is the best decision I've made in my 27 years.

If you read my four part blog post, "Weight," you know that life has been a little crazy, mixed with equal parts scary and wonderful. Mostly, I restricted my disclosure to my personal response to experiencing a birth, a medical emergency, a child being seriously ill and being seriously ill myself, but now it's time to give credit where it is seriously due--I would NOT. HAVE. MADE. IT. without this extraordinary human being that is Brandon Keith Keaster.

Over the years, I have learned that my husband can do pretty much everything except sing and fly. (Seriously, the guy couldn't carry a tune if his life depended on it.) I remember when we were first married, I was constantly in trouble with him for things like letting the Wal-Mart car serviceman put in a new filter or suggesting we hire a handy man to fix the washing machine. If my car filter needed replacing, he could do it! If the washing machine was broken, he could do it! Over time, I found that Brandon can put up vinyl siding, put up new ceilings, build amazing built-in bookshelves, lay flooring, do electrical wiring, hook up appliances of all sorts, knock down walls, build new ones, put in doors, shingle roofs, fabricate metal work, and build pretty much anything I can dream up. The dude also cooks, cleans, launders and sews better than I do, he would just usually rather not. If the world as we know it comes to an end, I am set. Brandon is thoroughly capable of making us a dwelling out of sticks and mud, growing and hunting our food, and hand-sewing our clothing from animal skins. Regardless of the fact that he can't fly, he has, without irony, earned the nickname, "Superman," among my family members and myself.

Now, it would be enough for him to be able to do it all, but throughout our marriage, Brandon has been a rock--faithful and steady. For a person like me, who experiences a series of high highs and low lows, this is an important quality. He is also compassionate, loyal, helpful, generous and romantic. He makes beautiful babies, and gives really good gifts. Every time. Furthermore, he loves Jesus, and because he loves Jesus, he is constantly improving.

Throughout the last three months, Brandon has been my best friend. Most days, he is the only adult I see. It is a massive relief to hear his truck pull up in the driveway. He has been my main social interaction, and has been amazingly satisfactory in this role. He has served as both my husband and my girl friend, listening to my every feeling, every thought and sometimes, even what I ate. He has been the shoulder I have cried on. He's been almost supernatural in his ability to sense the difference between when I just need to cry and when I need him to "fix it." In case you are not familiar with the male sex, this is a highly unusual quality. Men want to listen only as long as it takes to figure out how to fix it. Brandon is special because even as the most capable person I have ever known, he understands that our circumstances are beyond his fix-it capabilities, and he has been content to just listen. Like I said, supernatural. Upon a single plea for help, he took it upon himself to take care of Micah in the morning, cook breakfast and feed the dog before he leaves for work. He has stuffed and folded cloth diapers. Night after night, he holds a screaming infant so I can get 15 minutes of peace in the shower. He has been doing the grocery shopping since 2 weeks before Sara was born even though he hates to grocery shop. He has cooked dinners for us when I ran out of the time or energy to do so myself. He has worked his behind off to support the four of us, and when the doctor bills are piled as high as ours, that is an intense task. And he has done all of this without one word or physical expression of complaint. He has loved us through this tumultuous time. Never once did I or the kids feel resented or burdensome.

I am thankful for the troubles that have assailed us the last three months because without them, I would not know or appreciate my God or my Superman, as I do today. I have been brought uncomfortably, fabulously close to the two men in my life who save me every day, and I wouldn't trade it for one hundred Disney happily ever afters.

I love this man. I'm so glad he's mine.

Happy Valentine's Day/Half Anniversary, Babe. I'm the happiest, luckiest girl alive to be able to spend it with you.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Weight: Part 4 of 4--Concerning Death and Dreams

"Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory . . . . " --2 Corinthians 4:16-17

Have you ever thought about what the glory of God must be like? Paul describes it here in a physical sense. He describes it as heavy, far heavier than any pressure we can experience in this life. I imagine it to be unbearable, a pleasure so strong that it's excruciating. Even believers, being redeemed by Christ's blood, cannot look into the face of God and live. It would entirely sweep us away. So how will we be prepared to enjoy an encounter with a power beyond anything we can comprehend or stand . . . even in the next life? Hopefully, we will be given the great honor of experiencing the excruciating glory of God in life through the excruciating experience of suffering.

You may ask, "Why on earth would anyone hope to experience suffering?" That's a good question. In his book, Don't Waste Your Life, John Piper answers this way--

" . . . suffering with Jesus on the Calvary road of love is not merely the result of magnifying Christ; it is also the means. He is made supreme when we are so satisfied in him that we can 'let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also' and suffer for the sake of love. His beauty shines most brightly when treasured above health and wealth and life itself. He knew that suffering (whether small discomforts or dreadful torture) would be the path in this age for making him most visibly supreme. That is why he calls us to this. He loves us. And love does not mean making much of us or making life easy. It means making us able to enjoy making much of him forever--no matter what it costs." (p. 61-62)

As a long-distance runner begins by running short distances before running a marathon and as a body-builder must begin by lifting light weights before he becomes a champion, we are given a shadow of a taste of the exceeding weight of glory we will experience in eternity by walking with Jesus on the Calvary road of suffering in this life. We are building the muscle, if you will, that we need to bear this unbearable weight of glory,"to enjoy making much of him forever," which is what heaven is really all about. We should hope to suffer with Jesus so we can hope to enjoy the sensation of being knocked flat on our faces before an eternal, all-powerful God.

Of course, it is not natural for man to hope to suffer, but suffering comes in a fallen world whether or not we hope for it. Suffering will come, and when it does, we can either embitter ourselves against a holy, loving God, which is the natural bent of man, or we can lean into Him with all of our might, which is supernatural--the work of God in us. When we lean into Him rather than "jerking away" (if you are confused by the quotations here, read Part 1), He gives us everything we could possibly need. We, like the Apostle Paul, can live "as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything" (2 Corinthians 6:10).

But what do I know of this? Honestly, not much. But I do have a story to tell about the small portion of the Calvary road I have walked.

Those of you who know me personally are privy to the fact that I am basically allergic to the world in which I live. I have the normal allergies to grasses, pollens, molds and dust mites that a lot of people have, but I have several strange and obscure allergies, too--wheat, tree nuts, soy, dairy, corn, watermelon, kiwi, tapioca starch, guar gum, xanthum gum, teff flour (an encounter that negatively affected my health for the greater part of 2011), and pretty much all grains with the exception of rice. I bet you haven't even heard of some of that stuff, much less would know how to avoid it. When most people think of allergies, they think of stuffy or runny noses, coughing, watery and itchy eyes, etc. My allergies are more of the hives, full-body itching, hot flashing, inability to breathe variety, especially when it comes to wheat, nuts and certain types of grass. I've carried an Epi-Pen for 5 years now, and I know how to use it.

I wasn't born like this. I was born with allergies, sure, but not with this excessively long list of food allergies. When I was 20 years old, I began to react to one food right after the other. I had to completely change the way I ate and lived. I made several mistakes while I was learning, and these mistakes weren't very forgiving. Benadryl has been a life-saver multiple times. I've been known to drink a significant portion of Children's Benadryl to avoid using my Epi-Pen so I could thereby avoid the hospital. An account of my closest brush with death can be found here.

I had gotten pretty good at protecting myself. I had learned which foods were safe at which restaurants. I had learned not to eat at social functions. I had learned not to even have wheat flour in the house. My last severe mistake was in January 2011. I was doing pretty darn good. And then, a new allergen presented itself.

I can't know for sure, but I think the first severe manifestation of this new allergy occurred during labor. I believe the reaction I suffered after being given my epidural was my first big reaction to sulfa/sulphites. Some of you may know that sulphites can be found in wine, which is easy enough to live without, and sulfa is easily enough avoided if you have a sharp doctor and pharmacist (which I have). But as the most extraordinary thing about me is the extraordinary way I react to allergens, I have proven to be far more sensitive to the stuff than others I know who share this allergy.

One Friday in January, in the midst of Sara's bout with RSV, I had an unique opportunity to do some pampering. Brandon had taken Micah out of the house. Sara was sleeping soundly in her swing. I took a long, hot shower, and then decided to use a facial mask I had been wanting try out. I caked it on, nice and thick, not bothering to be conservative with my use. When I had my face and neck covered, my skin began to tingle. I thought it was probably normal, just an effect of the mask. Then, my skin began to burn unpleasantly. Hmmm . . . . I didn't think a mask should burn. And then, I couldn't get the thing off fast enough. I scrubbed quickly, my face and neck feeling like they had been splashed with acid. When I got all of it off, I kept dousing my face with cold water. It didn't help. I applied a facial lotion, aloe vera gel, a calming lotion . . . nothing was easing the burning sensation. I did finally read that the facial mask contained sulfur, and decided to take a couple of Benadryl tablets for good measure. A few minutes later, I noticed that my chest was tightening and my tongue was swelling. The Benadryl wasn't working! After quickly checking with my Aunt Suzonne who is a nurse, I took 50mg more Benadryl. The next step was my Epi Pen, and I had no one but a dependent infant within half an hour of me to haul my butt to the hospital. God heard my pleas, and the 100mg of Benadryl in my system eased my breathing and reduced the size of my tongue.

This incident was the first time I found that I could not make skin contact with the allergen at hand. I can make my son a peanut butter and jelly sandwich with whole wheat bread, but the sulfa cream prescribed for Sara's diaper rash proved to be life threatening. I wore protective gloves, and still had a violent reaction while using it. I'm using cloth diapers with cloth liners for Sara. The other day, I saw a clean cloth liner on the floor in the laundry room. I picked it up, and threw it in the laundry basket with the other clean cloths. It had been contaminated with the sulfa cream, but it had been washed and dried. The single second that my fingertips touched the liner was enough contact to tighten my airways. That's it! A second. And then, there is the extensive list of foods and pharmaceutical drugs I must completely avoid. I had only thought that learning to live without wheat was difficult. I hate to use words like this, but avoiding everything I must in order to live safely is going to be impossible. The list is far too long with far too many possibilities for error to avoid everything completely. I must read every label of everything I put into my mouth or touch. If I eat food someone else has prepared for me, I'll be taking a major risk. A night out on the town could easily prove to be the last night of my life. That sounds dramatic and ridiculous, especially to me who prefers to avoid the dramatic and ridiculous outside of books and off the stage, but it's true. This is my new reality. And to be honest, for the first time in my allergic life, I am terrified.

I have begun to understand that my life is in danger. This one is bad. My dreams of raising my children and having a long, full life with my husband are under terrible threat. I look into the faces of my babies and begin to cry because I'm afraid I won't be allowed to look at them long enough to satisfy me. My soul tears in two when I think of the worst. My children need me. No one else can love them like I do. When Brandon talks of the future, I feel uncomfortable because I know that I might not be in it. These are the best years of my life. I don't want to die.

It was with these thoughts I went to bed the night I reacted to the sulfa cream while wearing my protective gloves. I was awash in despair. I prayed and cried myself to sleep that night, hugging Sara tighter to my chest than usual. And that night, God gave me a dream. Before I relate the dream, I want you to understand that I am not special in any way. I have never before been given a dream, much less the ability to understand it. Normally, I'm just like everyone else and I just have dreams, but this one was different.

The dream began with unimportant prologue. All I can remember early in the dream is that I was running from something, but I didn't know what it was. The important part of the dream began with me, hiding in a safe house, with white, blank walls and empty spaces. I had two protectors with me--one felt like Brandon, the other felt much less important, but the faces were hazy. I was getting dressed for some unknown reason. I wasn't going anywhere, but I was looking especially pretty. I was sitting on a bed, putting on a pair of red ballet flats when two figures passed by an open window outside the next room, into which I could clearly see. I saw one of the figures stop abruptly. I'm not sure how, but I knew that he had smelled me. He turned to face me through the window. I can't quite say that we made eye contact because he didn't have eyes, but we were trapped in each other's gaze nonetheless. He was huge, a towering giant of a man. But he wasn't a man. His head was like that of a bison or a wildebeest or something of that nature. (Think The Chronicles of Narnia here, but we aren't talking about a good animal.) He was dressed in all black, and he radiated all things terrible. He left the space of the open window, and I knew he was coming for me. My protectors knew he was coming, too. The one who did not feel like Brandon ran to the front door. He tried to stop him, but after The Beast knocked down the door, he flung my first protector aside as if he were nothing at all. His footsteps thundered slow and deliberate toward me. The Brandon-ish protector said, "Don't be afraid. I'll protect you." I believed he would try. I just didn't believe that he actually could. The Beast now stood before me. I was on the ground, scooting away from him in fear. I was covered in a cold sweat. He raised his huge fist into the air. I knew he was about to deliver a blow, and when he did, it would kill me. I was seconds from my death, and the protector in the room with me would only be able to stand there and watch. As the creature's fist swung toward me, a magical, blue force field appeared out of nowhere in front of me, deflecting The Beast's blow entirely. The Beast stared without eyes at the force field in a wild rage. Suddenly powerless to hurt me, he walked back to the broken front door. Before he walked out, he turned back and caught me once again in his cruel gaze. He did not speak, but his message was burned into my brain--"You escaped this time, but I'll be back again and again until I get you." With that, he left. I realized that I was no longer safe, even in hiding. I decided to leave my safe house. I was leaving my protectors behind, and about to walk as far I could into the wide, open horizon that stretched before me, but my protectors followed. One plead, "Let us go with you! We will find a way to protect you." I said, "No. No one can protect me." The protector replied, "What about the force field?"

I gave some response that is muddy in my brain because this is the point at which I began to wake up.

Later that morning, I couldn't get the dream off of my brain. I was consumed with morbid thoughts, taking the dream as a bad omen--an omen that meant I didn't have many days left. But in my sadness, I reached out to the Lord. I prayed. I combated fear with scripture I had memorized. I worshiped. As I did these things, God impressed upon my spirit that I needed to write out the dream in my journal.

I put Micah down for his nap, and I did so. As I wrote out the dream, God gave me its meaning!

I looked pretty in the dream because the time frame represented the best years of my life---the years I'm living now. I was in a safe house because I was trying to hide away, but the blank walls spoke of an empty life. My two protectors were Benadryl and Epi Pen. The one that felt like Brandon was the Epi Pen. These protectors are ultimately unable to protect my life. The Beast figure is, of course, death. Death is pursuing me. It is coming after me. It won't stop. It will smell me out again and again and again. But as the protector asked, "What about the blue force field?" Well, it was God. God turned death away. He turned it away because He, and no one else, gets to decide the number of my days.

After the dream interpretation, this is what I recorded in my journal:

"'He knows the days of the upright, and their inheritance shall be forever.' --Psalm 37:18

[God] can turn away death or send it at His will. I have not been given the knowledge of my life's length. Each breath is a gift from the Lord, and I am as likely to die in a car crash as I am of anaphylaxis. Just because I am weaker than the next person doesn't mean that my life will be shorter. I am weak because God wants me to know that His grace is sufficient for me; His strength is made perfect in my weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9). So, I can boast gladly in my infirmities that the power of Christ may rest on me.

And there is the possibility that I could die. Soon. From a reaction. From an accident. From a murder, even. And what of it?

'Shall we indeed accept good from God, and shall we not accept adversity?' --Job 2:10

And what about this?: 'And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.' --Romans 8:28

If this verse is true, it must also be true that for the Christian, death is good.

'For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard-pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better.'--Philippians 1:21-23

So why the fear? Why the heartbreak? Why the agony of feeling my chest ripped open at the thought of dying? It's because I don't want to leave my man. It's because I want to raise my kids. It's because I am convinced that no one can love them like I can. Because I want to witness their lives in all their stages. Mostly, it's that I know I can never drink in enough of their sweet, baby faces to ever be satisfied. But why do I think Jesus' face would be any less sweet? His would be 1,000 times sweeter! Why do I think no one else could care for my little loves like me? Jesus cares 1,000 times more than I ever could! A long life with my husband would be a grand gift, but nothing compared to the eternity I will have with my Ultimate Groom.

This dream is not to be a thing that haunts me, although it will. It is a reminder of who is really in control of my destiny. It is a reminder that each breath is a gift. It is a reminder that death, though scary, is gain. So, let The Beast find me, again and again and again. I won't be leaving this earth until God's preordained time, and then I will be with Him, safe and completely satisfied in Him.

Funny, I guess, that I just wrote the ending to my dream--I am going to live my life, not in fear or in hiding, but out in the open and full to the hilt until the blue force fields come to my rescue no more, and I wake from death's final blow in the arms of my Savior."

I ended my entry here.

Here's the thing--we all live in a place of uncertainty. I'm just hyper-aware of that fact right now. Sometimes, while I'm holding Sara or playing with Micah or kissing Brandon, I take a deep drag of oxygen, and silently thank God for that one, special breath. I take a little more joy in the fact that I have almost no alone time because who would want to spend their last day or moment alone? I'm enjoying one on one time with my children more because I feel the pressure of getting the housework done much less. I'm leaning on God moment by moment, because in reality, He orders their number anyway. I have nothing to fear because nothing can separate me from his love (Romans 8:38-39), not allergens, not anaphylaxsis, not pain, not car crashes, not murder, not anything. And I can fulfill my purpose in life or death.

The purpose for my existence is to be glad in God and help as many others to be glad in God as possible. I hope this post encourages you in some way toward that gladness, the greatest gladness to be had in this life and the next. To know that gladness, you have to know my Jesus, and the only way to do that is to accept Him for who He says He is--He claimed to be the God of the Universe and the, meaning the only, Savior of our souls. He is not merely a good teacher. He is more! It comes down to this--believing Jesus, which is the only faith that has any value. If you can't believe this, but want to, don't worry. You don't have to contrive faith of your own, on your own. Faith is a gift! Ask God for it, and He will give it to you! If you have any questions about a life lived for Jesus, I want to talk to you. Email me at keastemom@live.com. We'll talk.

If you have a relationship with Christ, but aren't in a place where death seems to be gain, that's also okay. I have some recommended reading for you:

1) The Gospels of The Bible. Jesus is the key to death being gain. Start there, then move to the letters of Paul. The Apostle and Saint understood what it meant for death to be gain more than anyone else ever has.

2) Don't Waste Your Life by John Piper.

3) King's Cross by Timothy Keller.

These books have been great encouragements to me in the last few months through trial after trial.

Let me tell you this--it is a struggle to stay in the mindset of death being gain. It is a work of the Holy Spirit. The devil loves to come around, stirring up fear and anxiety when he can, so I need your prayers. Please pray for my peace, first and foremost. I also need God's protection as I navigate this major life change. I cannot avoid every mistake, but it would be nice to avoid some.

Also, I am not suicidal. If you see me out cold on the pavement and not breathing, please find my mini purse inside my diaper bag at the top, get out my Epi Pen and stab me in the leg. Do it for me, for my husband and for my kids. Thank you.

Finally, I want you to know that as bad as this is (and everything else in the last three months has been), I am thankful that this bad thing has happened. It is being worked for my eternal good and hopefully, for the eternal good of others, as well. This horrible, scary, light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for me a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory. And that is a very, very good thing.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Weight: Part 3 of 4--Sara Elizabeth

(Photos courtesy of Jolly Tucker Photography.)

"Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory . . . . " --2 Corinthians 4:16-17

You may not be able to tell from the photos, but Sara Elizabeth has been a rather demanding infant. For the first few days after her birth, I thought maybe, just maybe, I would have a placid, flexible baby who would soon be sleeping on her own through the night. I thought I deserved one like that after Micah, the child who didn't sleep for 8 months. What I thought I deserved and what I got were two very different things. Little did I know, Girlfriend was just making sure I wouldn't give her back before revealing her true colors.

The week after I lost half of my weight in blood, I began to notice some troublesome patterns forming. First of all, she liked to eat every 60 to 90 minutes, which roughly translates into a schedule of eat, burp, diaper change, eat, etc. I was doing almost nothing but feeding this child! When Micah needed to eat or use the bathroom, I would often have to lug Sara with me, managing my tasks with one arm. As if her outrageous feeding demands weren't exhausting enough, she refused to sleep at night. For two weeks straight, my sleeping hours were from 8:30 to 11:30 pm and from 6:30 to 8:00 am. Two naps do not equal the rest of a good night's sleep. When she was three weeks old, I gave up the dream of a baby who would miraculously start sleeping at night, and we began to co-sleep in the bed in her nursery. Sleep transformed me into a new woman. More than two months later, the two of us are still in that bed, leaving the master bed (because it is a water bed and therefore unsafe for young babies) to Brandon and Daisy. And then there was the colic . . . Micah had colic, so I was hoping we could manage to escape it a second time. It turns out that I'm very good at guessing wrongly. When Micah was a baby, his screaming hours were reasonable . . . . textbook even--3 to 6pm. From week two, she screamed every single night from about 5 or 6pm until around midnight. No lie. Everyone in the house was suffering from anxiety. Micah would have full out anxiety attacks most nights of the week. He would wake, crying out in a panicked wail until someone went to him. Often, I would spend the evening with Sara, and Brandon would tend to our son. It was seven kinds of awful. Car rides in the evening were hellish. A thirty minute trip could take 2 hours because we would have to stop several times to console our children, one the cause of the other's inconsolation. These things continued for weeks.

Sara was three weeks old when she had her first bout of illness. She caught a cold from Micah. She was horribly congested, which affected her eating and sleeping. There isn't much one can do medication wise for an infant of three weeks, so we just suffered through it.

As bad as these things were, they were manageable. We survived. Miraculously, I was even happy. I say that my happiness has been miraculous for several reasons. Having a baby can often throw a woman into a deep depression, especially someone like me who struggles with depression anyway. I almost always have seasonal depression. It had come to be "that time of year." I had three strikes against me with the fairly difficult circumstances with which I was contending, but I was inexplicably content. Sure, I was loving being a full-time stay at home mom, taking care of my babies without interruption, but that couldn't be the reason I was doing so well. Something wonderful and mysterious was happening. My happiness shared a strange correlative relationship with the difficulty of my circumstances. Here's the thing, though--while my happiness seemed to share a relationship with my circumstances, my circumstances had absolutely nothing to do with it.

Little by little, day by day, my relationship with the Lord was blooming. I had been craving a special quiet time to hide away and pray each day. I wasn't getting it, of course, so I started to pray while I was doing housework. I prayed out loud so Micah would know that I was talking to Jesus, and that he wasn't to interrupt unless he needed something or had something very important to say. I wanted a quiet half hour to devote to Bible study, but sacrificing the sleep wasn't really an option. I was too sleep deprived as it was. Instead, I slowly learned to make the most of the sitting time I had during Sara's feedings to read, meditate, study or memorize God's word. My time with the Lord was no longer under the structure or stricture of a rushed half hour where I would hurriedly try to check off all the intended items on my nice, neat, Christian girl, to-do list. Instead, my time with the Lord was becoming my entire day.

And then, a grueling gut-check came: a test to see whether or not I was all in with this God thing or if I was just happy to do it while things were "manageable."

Sara began to have a troubling cough after the start of the New Year. She also began projectile vomiting at several feedings. I knew it couldn't be allergies because she was a breastfed baby. Nothing had changed in my diet, so I knew the problem must have had something to do with her. Brandon and I decided she should go to the doctor.

Every winter, a few passed around illnesses strike fear in the hearts of mothers of very young children everywhere, and Sara had caught one of them--RSV. I knew of several young infants who had to be hospitalized for this virus, so I was rightly afraid. In addition to RSV, Sara had a double ear infection. On January 6th, we began a medication routine that included an antibiotic, a probiotic, and an at-home breathing treatment. Micah was also sick with a sinus infection. I had to take care of two sick babies during Brandon's busiest time of year at work. I was worried. I was stressed. But I took my cares to the Lord, and He took care of me.

For awhile, Sara seemed to get better. Out of sheer stupidity and ignorance, we stopped her breathing treatments, thinking she was well. We got out of the house for a couple of days one week in the middle of January, just long enough to soak in a little bit of much-needed social interaction and to spread our illness to another child. Then, the RSV came back with a vengeance. I took Sara to the doctor for a third time in the span of a few days. She was much worse. She was put on round-the-clock breathing treatments of two kinds, which required me to get up at 3am every night. She was also put on a third round of antibiotics, an oral steriod, an antihistamine and two prescription creams for the terrible diaper rash she had developed from all of the antibiotics. This time, I was truly alarmed. I prayed desperately that God would keep us out of the hospital.

For days and days, I spent most of my time giving medications that were spit out or puked up, administering treatments, changing diarrhea diapers, cleaning up vomit after each of Sara's feedings, and consoling and crying with my baby girl whose stomach was cramping violently due to the antibiotic. I was also trying to give Micah some much-needed attention, keep the laundry going, make sure we had clean dishes and food to eat. From the moment my feet hit the floor each morning, I was running all day long.

During this time, I felt completely overwhelmed. I was exhausted. I was grumpy. I was stressed out. I was lonely. I was anxious about my daughter. Rather than let these feelings slowly drive me bonkers, I turned these feelings into prayers.

There is a passage from the Psalms that I memorized when Micah was a baby.

"Trust in the Lord, and do good.
Dwell in the land, and feed on His faithfulness.
Delight yourself also in the Lord,
and He will give you the desires of your heart.
Commit your way to the Lord,
and He will act."
--Psalm 37: 3-5

I made a conscious decision to completely trust Him, whatever happened. I could rest in the fact that God is faithful and good. If we were to go to the hospital, He wouldn't leave us to go through it alone. I recalled all of the times He had proven Himself faithful in the past, and memory by memory, my fears were put to rest. The word "commit" in verse 5 actually means to "roll your cares upon" or "repose in." I visualized a physical rolling of my cares upon my God, my Rock, and as I did so, God filled me with peace and joy. While I very much desired for my child to be well, my chief desire came to be constant fellowship with Him, and boy, did He DELIVER!!!! I find it almost amusing that what David was telling me to delight in became the desire of my heart. It also became clear to me that while, yes, I desperately needed my child to be well, my greatest need was His constant presence in my life. This, my greatest need, He tended to first. And I am so abundantly grateful that He did.

My days have been long and difficult, but also full of joy and peace. I haven't been getting much sleep, but I am being given rest. As the pressure has increased, I have leaned harder into Jesus. And God has been good. He has practically pummeled me with encouragement.

A couple of weeks ago, I began following two blogs by two sisters in Christ who were undergoing their own suffering. One is facing an undiagnosed illness that will probably affect the rest of her life. This girl PREACHES, and she speaks my language! Check her out, and be encouraged! The other blog is authored by a girl who became a widow at the age of 21, about a year after she and her husband were married. She is incredibly transparent and genuine. You should also check out her testimony here. God has also sent me scriptures, songs and books to speak truth and comfort into my life. My biggest source of comfort has been the old hymn, "Be Still My Soul--"

"Be still my soul, the Lord is on your side.
Bear patiently the cross of grief or pain;
Leave to thy God to order and provide,
Through every change, He faithful will remain.
Be still my soul, thy best and heavenly Friend
through thorny ways leads to a joyful end . . .
Be still my soul, the winds and waves still know
the voice who ruled them when He dwelt below."

I just love that, especially the last line.

One month into Sara's illness, she is much better. She finished up her antibiotic yesterday. We probably have another month of breathing treatments. We are still in the thick of it, but no longer in any danger of an extended hospital stay. For now, we are staying in, trying to keep the germs to ourselves and avoid any new ones. The other day, I noticed that somewhere in the middle of our RSV saga, Sara outgrew her colicky stage. Praise the Lord! In a few weeks, she will be old enough to sleep train. Sometimes, she makes it 2 hours or more between feedings. Things are getting better, but in no way do I plan to let go of what I have gained. It is simply too good.

Not that I could let go, anyway. Now, more than ever, I am having to to cling to Jesus. Sara hasn't been the only one fighting for her health, and she is now doing much better than I am.

Happy 3 Month Birthday to my sweet baby girl!

. . . . to be continued in Part 4: Concerning Death and Dreams

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Weight: Part 2 of 4--Provision

"Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory . . . . " --2 Corinthians 4:16-17


My blood.

It was everywhere . . . . on the floor, on the walls, on the dog's bed, on my clothes, on my legs, on my feet, filling up the toilet.

My brain was shooting shock waves of alarm into my limbs, and I was trembling all over. When I had started bleeding the day before, I knew it might come to this. Brandon was already moving when I said, "It's time to go!"

Only four days out of the hospital since we left with our new bundle of joy, and I was going back just in time to celebrate the beginning of her second week of life.

For those of you who don't know, bleeding after childbirth is natural. It's the pouring, gushing, passing of super-sized blood clots that make an audible whooshing sound loud enough for my husband to hear that isn't natural. This is what I was experiencing.

I barked orders to Brandon, telling him what to do, who to call, what to say. I had to think of something . . . anything . . . but the bright red splatter. When there was nothing left to say to Brandon, I made single word panicked pleas to Jesus, asking Him to help me keep it together and be with me no matter what horrors awaited me at the hospital that day.

You see, I may have just had my second child and experienced the worst pain I had ever felt in my life, but the fact remains that I am (always have been and always will be) the biggest chicken who ever lived on this earth. I hate needles. I hate blood. I hate pain. The very snap of a latex glove against a doctor's wrist sends shivers up and down my spine. I didn't know for sure what was wrong with me, and the internet is a scary place to seek medical advice. Three fearsome letters kept flashing across my vision in the bright red I was already seeing all over the bathroom floor--DNC. More immediately, I was afraid of passing out. I wouldn't be much good to anyone, especially my breastfed infant, out cold on the floor. In the blood. I had to stop imagining the worst scenario, which is my bent, and pray. So, that's what I did.

My Nona came to the house in the early morning to get Micah. I get my chicken tendencies pretty honestly from her (even though she is WAY tougher than me), and she had been battling breast cancer since September, so she understood what I was feeling. Before Brandon, Sara and I left for the hospital, she prayed for me, and reminded me of the Bible passage that had given her the courage she needed to get through each procedure--

"Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus." --Philippians 4:6-7

Mom met us at the ER. I was so weak, I could barely stand on my own. I was frightened bringing my young infant to such a place, but I didn't know what else to do. I prayed for her safety. I prayed for courage. I prayed for toughness. But mostly, I just told Jesus not to leave me because I could do whatever I had to do as long as He was with me, but I couldn't do a thing a without Him. I prayed while they drew my blood. I didn't like to part with it as I wasn't sure how much I had lost already. My laboratory scientist mother assured me that I had plenty left. (Thanks, Mom.) I quoted the Philippians passage as my IV was started. It really did help.

A lot of waiting had to be done that day because my doctor was steeped in surgeries. I was eventually admitted to the hospital, and brought to my own room, where I waited some more. After a uterine massage, which I personally find to be somewhere between extremely uncomfortable and painful, and the passage of time, my bleeding slowed. It began to look like my fear of having a DNC may not be realized. I had texted several friends asking them to pray for as much.

My doctor came to see me after 5pm. She explained that she believed, based upon my two blood counts and the fact my bleeding had slowed, that a large blood clot had been left behind in my womb. She explained that she had checked my placenta to be sure no pieces had been left behind. After passing that clot, it was only a matter of time before the bleeding would have stopped on its own. She saw no reason to keep me at the hospital overnight. I was told to walk the halls a few times to be sure the bleeding wouldn't start back up. If it didn't, I could go home.

I felt several things---relieved, thankful and a little silly. But there was no way I could have known I wasn't going to slowly bleed to death without medical attention, especially considering the amount of blood I had lost. There had just been so much of it. After a day of being treated like a pincushion and losing what I thought must have been at least half of my blood supply (it wasn't, by the way), I was able to leave.

On the way home, I was still a little afraid that I would start bleeding again. I tried not to think about that. Instead, I thought about how God had answered my prayers, and what it had felt like to spend a day with Him, leaning on Him entirely for each experience. I hadn't experienced many days where God was my constant rock, and I was constantly leaning on Him. I had been praying for awhile that God would teach me to walk with Him moment by moment, and I guess that day was the beginning of an answer to that prayer. In obedience to the passage from Philippians I had quoted earlier that day, I thanked God--for taking care of me, for allowing this thing to happen to me.

Sleep deprived, weak from blood loss, still recovering from an intense labor, a little down from the drop in pregnancy hormones, and still a little fearful that I could start bleeding again, I went to bed in pretty bad physical and emotional shape. But I knew something for sure-I wasn't alone, and I did not have to operate alone. I remembered the words of the anesthesiologist--"When you feel the pressure, don't jerk away. Lean into me." I had definitely felt pressure that day, but instead of jerking away from the Lord, I leaned into Him. And He had provided everything I had needed.

One week after the incident, I recorded this in my journal:

"The Lord is faithful.
The Lord is good.
And I trust Him more today because of what happened a week ago."

That, in and of itself, makes all the blood, fear and needles worth it.

This day was the beginning of a habit that would become very important to my survival in the days that followed: exercise . . . . of my spiritual muscles. And God was good. He allowed me to start slow so that I wouldn't be crushed or obliterated by the weight of my troubles.

. . . . to be continued in Part 3 of 4: Sara Elizabeth

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Weight: Part 1 of 4--A Birth Story

"Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory . . . . " --2 Corinthians 4:16-17

I last wrote three months ago. Since then, much has changed. My family has changed. A bright and beautiful new soul is with us. Micah is no longer an only child, but a very important big brother. Brandon is now responsible for the living of four. This responsibility has not been easy, which will be explained in a later post. He and I both are learning how to be good parents to two children, each child unique in personality and needs, each one dear and precious to our hearts and in the sight of God. My own life has taken several drastic changes, but I will get to that. My four part story begins with joyous circumstances, filled with hope, happiness and invaluable blessing! And yet, something was missing . . . . something I did not know was missing. Something I could not miss until I needed it in order to survive.


I was a bundle of nerves as Brandon and I approached the hospital. I hadn't slept well the night before, and had only managed a short nap that afternoon. It was midnight, and I knew my chances of being able to sleep on the stiff hospital bed to which I was soon to be strapped were slim. In my mind, it didn't matter terribly, for I was certain I would have this baby by early morning, and I could rest then. Boy, was I wrong . . . .

I was chained to my prison (I really hate those beds) by 12:45 a.m., and put on Pitocin at 1:30. I calculated that I should be in heavy labor by 5:00 a.m., and finished by 9. I was too excited to sleep. Brandon and Mom had no trouble snoozing away. I watched from the bed of torture a little enviously.
The night slowly dragged by, highlighted by an occasional visit from the nurse, the horrid blood pressure cuff going off every 15 minutes and contractions that were becoming increasingly regular, but not strong enough to do any good. I finally became bored with the monotony, and managed a brief snooze around 6:30 a.m. I awoke less than an hour later, feeling annoyed. I was behind schedule! I hate being behind schedule!

At 8:00 a.m., my OB came and broke my water, and gave me some highly undesirable news--I had not progressed all night long. She tweaked a few things for me so I could get going, told me I was good to get my epidural, and left. Remembering my labor with Micah, I immediately requested my epidural. I am not a fan of pain. During the hour I waited for the anesthesiologist, I became agitated. I felt that I couldn't stay on that bed a moment longer, much less on a heap of wet, chafing towels until the baby came . . . but I had to. I was no longer allowed to get up. My sweet Aunt Suzonne, a former OB nurse, came to my rescue. She changed out my towels, trying to get me comfortable. Even after this, I still wanted to call the whole thing off, and try again later. If only that had been an option. My contractions were getting stronger, I was soaking my towels again, and I really just wanted to scream from the irritation of it all. Instead, I prayed, remembering the Source of my help, and somehow managed to stay where I was without losing my mind.

Finally, the anesthesiologist came. I told him that he was a very welcome sight. He went through his list of questions, which must be the most annoying questions ever asked to a woman. I just wanted my blankety-blank epidural! He noticed my impatience, and smiled knowingly. "Let's get to it, then," he said.

Here, I think I made my mistake. I didn't know it was a mistake at the time, and I don't think my anesthesiologist knew the consequences of it. When I felt the pressure of the needle, my body instinctively jerked away from the needle. Then, the anesthesiologist said something that has reverberated in my brain over and over again for the last three months, "When you feel the pressure, don't jerk away. Lean into me." Too late. Damage done. But I wouldn't know it until a little later. For the moment, I enjoyed the sensation of pain and agitation leaving my body. I relaxed, asked the nurse to tell my family to return, and closed my eyes. I slept. Can I get an amen?

I'm not sure how much time lapsed, but when my eyes opened at the creak of my room's door, I noticed that I was still alone. After the nurse checked me out, I asked her to find my family. A few minutes later, they returned, all a little anxious about me. They had been waiting over an hour to hear from the nurse.

Around 11 a.m., a troubling sensation began on my chest, spreading to my arms, stomach, legs and lips. I was itching. I told Brandon, Mom and Aunt Suzonne what was going on. As I am the queen of allergies, we decided to notify the nurse so I could get something for it. Now this reaction seemed like a bad thing at the time. I was miserable for a bit. Based on my allergic history, I was a little afraid the itching could progress to something worse. But the Benadryl I was given took care of my symptoms, and I slept deeply for over an hour. That sleep was a gift, let me tell you, because it helped me get through what was coming. Once again, my strange allergies saved the day! Thank you, Jesus!

I awoke when a nurse I hadn't yet seen came bustling in, telling me that my OB wanted me to get things going. After checking me, I was still only 4.5 centimeters dilated and only 70% effaced. It was 12:45 p.m. at this point. I was way behind schedule. The nurse sat me straight up in the bed of torture, but I was okay with it. I had rested, and was ready to get things rolling.

After a short while, I began feeling things I didn't think I should be feeling. Pressure. Light pressure became heavy pressure, which became pain. It wasn't long before I was feeling everything. I punched my magic epidural button, but nothing happened. I called for the anesthesiologist. I watched the clock closely until he arrived, punching my useless magic button every 15 minutes. He finally came and gave me a bolas, but after a very brief period of relief, the pain came back, and naturally, was worsening.

I cried, prayed and puffed. I had NOT signed up to do this naturally. I had nothing to prove, no strange desire to "feel everything." I hate pain. I am NOT a fan, I tell you! Have you ever felt so much pain that you couldn't even make a coherent sentence? All I could do was breathe deeply, in and out, and cry, "Jesus! Jesus! Jesus!" During a brief break in between contractions, I managed one thought--"If Jesus could suffer so much worse for His children, I can suffer this little bit for my child." And so I determined that I would bear the pain, no matter how bad it became.

Finally, I found that I could not help but push--my body was just doing it on its own. At 4:50 p.m. (again, way behind schedule), they had me ready to go with an audience of uncomfortable size. There were at least 7 people in that room. It may as well have been one hundred the way it felt, but I was too distracted by the pain to worry too much about it.

You know the women in movies who cry out, wringing wet with sweat? That was me. I had heard you get relief when you push, and maybe you do get a little bit of relief from the contractions, but I'm here to tell you, I did not feel relieved. Maybe relief is reserved for women who deliver small babies with small heads. I knew I had to do this quick, or I was going to run out of energy, so I threw everything I had into it. The nurse told me in code to quit making noise. Had I had any extra effort to give her, she probably would have gotten a piece of my mind, not at all in code, but I had to focus or I wasn't going to make it, and I didn't want a C-section.

I felt it when she crowned, but I needed a breather to prepare me for that last push. Then, with a ripping sensation I had never wanted to feel and never want to feel again, out she came to the accompaniment of my cries, "Ow! Ow! Ow!"

And then I heard her cry. Gravity shifted, centering on her little being. She was placed in my arms which brought a little relief to my pain. I cried as I held her, feeling equal parts joy and desire for the repair work to be done. I felt everything. I tried to focus now on the sweetness of holding my daughter, and not on what was happening below.

She was different than Micah, covered in a white, waxy coat. Her legs had the most scrumptious rolls of baby fat. Her face was round and beautiful, her lips a perfectly shaped rosy pout. Her eyes were wide pools of endless happiness. I did not know I had been incomplete until I held her. I did not know that I needed this baby girl until I took her in with every sense I had. My heart expanded to make room for this tiny soul, and for the hour I was given with her right after birth, I utterly lost myself. It was wonderful.Sara Elizabeth Keaster was born November 7, 2011 at 5:07 p.m. weighing 8 lbs., 4 oz., measuring 21 inches long.

Later that night, my little family gathered together for the first time. My Nona and Papaw brought Micah to meet his baby sister, and we all waited eagerly for the nurse to deliver her to our room.
(Photo courtesy of Jolly Tucker Photography.)

The moment we came together as a family of four was one of the most beautiful moments in my life, something I will treasure in my heart forever. My sweet cousin, Morgan Tucker, was there to capture a few images that can better explain the sheer rapture of the moment than any words I can write. Enjoy!--

I am abundantly grateful for the glorious sweetness of that time, for dark and dangerous clouds were gathering, and rain was on the horizon. It was the calm before the storm, and what a storm it has been.

. . . . to be continued in Part 2 of 4: Provision