Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Graveside Thoughts

Every December after Christmas, I review the year in journal entries. Progress seems almost negligible from day to day, but when you take stock of what God does with 52 weeks, it knocks you breathless.

I've always liked that winded feeling.

This year's review has been hard. My grief over losing Jenny is poured out over the pages, some marked by literal tear stains. Grief is messy.

Yesterday, I came across my entry for 9/4/14--two days before Jenny's birthday and the day I visited her grave. The words resonate with me more now than they did four months ago when I wrote them.

Though deeply personal, my thoughts want to be shared. It's like they know they're for someone. I hope my honest and hopefully hopeful grief strengthens you somehow. One soul nourished is a worthy cause.

So here goes:


Brandon and I went to Jenny's grave this evening. My mind went back and forth all week deciding whether or not to go. On one hand, it felt silly--visiting the grave, bringing flowers, and paying homage to one who is now too happy to care--and it seemed foolish to spend so much time--precious time--doing something silly. On the other, I acknowledge Jenny's resting place as important. Her body is important enough to Jesus to raise up and restore it to everlasting perfection.

Either way, I needed to honor her memory.

Her birthday is in two days. I am ever so glad she was born. This time of year is full of her memory. I met her on 8/19/12. My first visit in her home was on 9/30/12. My last special visit with her was almost (exactly?) a year ago today.

We went. A bouquet of spray roses sat in a vase of cold water anchored between my feet, the flowers beating themselves senseless against the vase edge as Brandon drove the unfamiliar, winding roads a little too quickly. We left late in the afternoon, and drove into the sun all the way there.

Everything looked different after six months' time. Green grew thick and close on either side of the highway. Instead of frisking about in cool, spring air, the cows flicked their tails and shook their heads to shoo pestering flies.

All the change reminded me of the trip to church two Sundays ago, my first trip back in almost a year. It was very near the second anniversary of mine and Jenny's meeting. On the drive that day, I realized I had worn the exact outfit I wore the Sunday I met her. I almost crumpled.

Then I walked into the church and realized something else--my skin was the same, my clothes were the same, but the world was different. The foyer looked nothing like the foyer in which we met. The old-fashioned floral upholstery and bulky, out-dated coffee table had been replaced with monochromatic furniture featuring sharp edges and smooth lines. Modern and sleek.

The way I understood church and life and people and suffering and God were all different, too.

My world had changed. Jenny had a lot to do with that. Probably more than anyone else, she taught me about courage. The real kind that looks like weakness but packs a punch so powerful it reverberates through the cosmos.

We arrived at St. Rest Cemetery without issue, solely relying on Brandon's memory of a single trip, and parked beneath the shade of an oak. We passed through the gate, and walked up the hill to a spot where the red dirt was packed tight, no grass. No headstone either. But someone had lovingly marked the spot with one of those gaudy funeral wreaths made of silk flowers in various shades of pink, a potted plant now dead, and a sun-faded, plastic bouquet of something that looked like weeds.

Death is sad. And every attempt we make to preserve our memories is sad. Like the flowers, they fade.

I think I'm scared of this most of all. I don't want to forget the one who showed me what it is to be brave, what it is to forget myself. I don't want to forget her face or her voice, her best qualities or darkest secrets. I don't want to forget what she meant to me.

I didn't weep. A few tears had leaked out of my eyes on the drive as I listened to the playlist I'd made about her and our friendship, but out there standing right above her decaying body, feeling a connection so strong it's almost physical even in death, the closest I came to crying was when I stared too long into the setting sun. Its brilliance burned my darkness.

Fire ants were busy in the dirt. Brandon brushed several off my shoes before admonishing me to be careful and walking away so I could figure out what one is supposed to do at the graveside of a beloved.

I didn't talk. There was no point. No one could hear my words but God, and He knows my every thought. So I thought at Him and to my soul.

I thought about Jesus weeping at Lazarus' tomb. He wept knowing what He was about to do--at His friend's graveside and on the hill outside of Jerusalem not long after.


Because death is an enemy. Because death is sad. Because decay wasn't the intention. Forever was.

Because death tears souls apart, souls once knitted together, and the tearing leaves at least one soul mortally wounded, so much so she's afraid to stay the bleeding because it doesn't feel right to heal. And if she does heal, she hopes to get a scar because the idea of everything going back into place just as it was feels like a lie--a heinous, blasphemous lie.

Jesus wept at death because He had created everything for life unto life. A broken world, a broken order deserves our grief. Even if it will be made right one day.

I looked to the eastern sky, a welcome respite for my aching eyes. Her grave points east. When she is collected by her Savior on that last day, she will be facing the right direction. I wondered if all Christian bone yards are designed this way so up we'll come, bursting through earth from caskets rusted shut to face the One our souls have known but eyes have not seen. Will we rise as bones, ashes, and dust and be restored in the air or will we rise perfect and beautiful? Will the soil cling or fall away?

Regardless, there is a giant oak in her way, Lord, and unless You return in winter, she'll have to wait until she reaches the treeline to see You. That seems frustrating. Maybe the people who decide graves should face East can cut it down or lop off the top.

A stinging pain upon my shin pulled me out of my reverie.

This is why graveside visits seem silly--fretting over overgrown oaks and fire ants staking claim on Jenny's piece of earth.

I brushed it off quickly, and stayed a couple more minutes. I didn't have long before the swelling set in, but as always with Jenny, I wasn't quite ready to leave.

I placed my bouquet of spray roses and goldenrod where I imagined her hands to be clasped over her chest.

I never had the opportunity to see her body or place flowers on her casket. These will be as dead as she is by tomorrow morning.

A prayer for Jenny's people: May they feel the consolation of your sweet Spirit, Lord. And may you fill them with Christ--the hope of glory--which promises death is not the end of us and this grave is not goodbye. Hope that whispers hints of a happy ending to all this heartache.

Sweating and swelling, my body urged my soul to leave. Funny how I had almost convinced myself not to go, and now my feet didn't want to move. The tightness in my chest made me move.

My legs returned me to my husband who was perched lazily on top of the car. The words, "I got stung," brought him to life. Scolding me for standing still too long, he took my shoes and began the treatment with that look he gets when I get sick, the one full of irritation and blame I've learned to ignore.

The look isn't for me.

It's like Jesus' tears. Brandon knows every little thing will be alright, but disease and death are still enemies worthy of tears and anger.

I sighed. "It wouldn't be a trip to see Jenny without something interesting happening."

He didn't reply. A one hour drive through the middle of nowhere with me mid-reaction was on his mind, and he was not ready to joke. He's never as ready to joke about it as I am. Of course, you'll never see me laughing at cancer.

Thankfully, I did not go into shock, and we were able to drive away from the sun this time.

The song, "I Love It" by Stephanie Treo, came on. I turned up the volume joining Jenny's old defiance of disease, missing her sassy side and all her sides.

We crossed D'arbonne Lake at that royal moment when the sun sinks behind the trees, casting rays of pink and gold above its head like a crown which reflect upon the water like a train.

Smiling, I noted I could still see the light of the sun. An old oak tree is nothing to worry about, and because of Jesus, death is just a fire ant sting.

Monday, December 15, 2014

My 2014 Thanksgiving Menu (AIP, GAPS, Paleo-friendly)

For those new to my blog: I began my real food journey after becoming very ill in May 2012 with what I now know to be Mast Cell Activation Disease (MCAD). Even before I understood the scope of the problem, my intention was to heal through nutrition. From the outset, it was very important to me to eat well in spite of the changes. I love food. 

I’ve tried a lot of nutritional programs over the past couple of years. GAPS didn’t work out for me. Not enough variation. Not enough starches. Too much histamine. (Histamine is a major nemesis for those with MCAD.) Paleo wasn’t quite right. Low sulfur didn’t do it for me. Vegetarianism was a short lived experiment. Everything I tried seemed to backfire.

To further complicate matters, my trigger foods continually change. I’ve had to stay on my toes.
Until March of this year, I was kind of at a loss. Enter Jennifer Nervo of 20 Something Allergies and her fabulous nutritional therapy program.  

With her help, I learned how to manage and maintain a low-histamine, autoimmune paleo diet on a four day rotation. Eating this way has vastly improved my health. Thankful doesn’t begin to describe my feelings for this woman. Thanks to all she taught me, this year’s Thanksgiving menu was scrumptious without the unpleasant side-effect of making me ill. 

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. I love the gathering and gratitude and food without the pressures which accompany the Christmas season.

This year, I had much to be grateful for.  Just one year ago, I did not know the name of my disease or how to properly manage it.

I’m not certain I would have obtained any level of stability health-wise without Jennifer’s help, and here I am actually better though I have been diagnosed with a progressive disease. I was even able to attend a family gathering after eating a quick bite at home! Praise the Lord! 

So what did I eat that was free of grains, dairy, nuts, legumes, eggs, nightshades, seeds, squashes, dried herbs and spices, high histamine foods, and latex cross-reactive foods?

The Menu

I began by considering my protein. I chose pork because I rarely eat it. It’s a treat, which keeps it from becoming a threat. (Except for bacon. Bacon makes me pay every. single. time.) If I’m going to roast pork, I might as well add some vegetables to the pan because YUM! So I came up with this recipe for Cider Glazed Ham Steaks with Roasted Vegetables. 

Cider Glazed Ham Steaks with Roasted Vegetables:
Serves 4-6

2 pastured ham steaks, 1-2 lbs. each
1 T. coconut oil (ghee, lard or tallow would work well, too)
1 leek, sliced into 2-3 inch strips
2 medium-sized parsnips, sliced into 2-3 inch spears
1 large carrot, sliced into 2-3 inch spears
Sea salt to taste

¼ cup apple cider vinegar
2 T. honey
sea salt to taste

Place ham steaks in salt water for 1 to 24 hours. I brined mine for a little over an hour. I wish now I had let them sit overnight. If you go the overnight route, be sure to keep them in the fridge and take them out an hour before cooking so they won’t be cold going into the pan.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Warm coconut oil in an oven-safe pan over medium high heat. Remove ham steaks from brine and pat dry. Salt the steaks generously. When the pan is hot, place the steaks in, and sear on both sides (5-10 minutes per side). While the steaks are searing, whisk together the apple cider vinegar, honey, and sea salt in a small bowl. Remove the steaks from the pan, and turn down the heat to medium-low.  Add sliced veggies, scraping the bottom of the pan with a wooden spatula until the vegetables are lightly browned and covered with the juices. The salt left in the pan should be enough to season the veggies. Add the steaks back into the pan, brushing the entire surface of the steaks with the cider glaze. Cover pan and place in oven for about an hour or until the steaks reach an internal temp of 165 degrees. 

Like I said, I wish I would have brined my ham steaks for much longer, but those vegetables were amazing. 

Cranberry Sauce:
Serves 4-6

For me, cranberry sauce is a must on Thanksgiving. I went with this recipe by Nourished and Nurtured, subbing 2 drops of Young Living's orange essential oil for orange extract.

Sweet Potato Casserole:
Serves 4-6

I’m a Louisiana girl. Casseroles are our thing. Sweet potato casserole has been a favorite of my people for years. Most traditional recipes call for milk, eggs, wheat flour, and nuts, none of which are safe for me. So I came up with my own version. 

3 cups yams, boiled and mashed (5-6 medium sized yams)
¼ cup honey
1 t. sea salt
1 t. vanilla extract
½ c. coconut oil (ghee or butter would work well if not on AIP)

½ c. shredded coconut, unsweetened
¼ c. coconut flour
¼ c. arrowroot flour
2/3 c. coconut sugar
1/4-1/2 t. sea salt
¼ coconut oil (ghee or butter)
2 t. vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Peel, cube and boil potatoes until fork tender in a 2-3 quart saucepan. Drain. Add honey, coconut oil, salt, and vanilla to pot. Puree with an immersion blender. (A food processor would work just as well, but you will need it for the topping.) Place potato puree in a greased casserole dish. In a food processor, blend shredded coconut, coconut flour, arrowroot flour, coconut sugar, and salt until well combined. Add coconut oil and vanilla extract. Blend until you have a moist, crumbly consistency. Crumble evenly over the top of the potato puree. Bake for 20-25 minutes until the crust is golden brown.

This recipe did not disappoint. It would have served perfectly as dessert, but in the south, sweet potato casserole is just a side. 

Ginger Apple Crisp:
Serves 6-8

Because pumpkin, pecans, chocolate, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and allspice are all triggers for me, finding a satisfying fall dessert was not easy. In the end, I decided to go with a cinnamon-less apple dessert because apples were already in the cranberry sauce, and I needed to save a few foods for the next three days of the rotation.

I’m not usually a big fan of apple desserts, particularly because cinnamon isn’t involved, but Brandon likes them. I almost did not eat any, but the chef has to taste her own food, right? I was not expecting it to be so delicious! My review? Delighted giggles. That’s right—giggles. My apple-dessert loving husband was impressed, too. He didn’t even add cinnamon!

2 large apples of choice, cored and sliced thin (about 1 quart)
½ lemon, juiced
zest of ½ lemon
½ inch grated ginger root
¼ c. coconut sugar
1 T. arrowroot flour
2 T. coconut oil, solid

Topping (same as the Sweet Potato Casserole topping):
½ c. shredded coconut, unsweetened
¼ c. coconut flour
¼ c. arrowroot flour
2/3 c. coconut sugar
1/2 t. sea salt
¼ coconut oil (ghee or butter)
2 t. vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a medium-sized bowl, combine apples, lemon juice, lemon zest, grated ginger root, coconut sugar, and arrowroot flour. Stir until the apples are well coated. Pour apples into a greased baking dish, and evenly distribute the slices. Disperse small pieces of the solid coconut oil over the apples. In a food processor, blend shredded coconut, coconut flour, arrowroot flour, coconut sugar, and salt until well combined. Add coconut oil and vanilla extract. Blend until you have a moist, crumbly consistency. Crumble evening over the top of the apples with your fingers. Bake 30-35 minutes. Be careful not to overcook the topping.  Serve warm.

Now that was a thanks-worthy meal!

For those on restricted diets this holiday season, I hope you won’t lament over stuffing, rolls, and pies (which, in many cases, be modified into a safe version). If I can enjoy a holiday meal without having to choose between feeling deprived and getting sick, you probably can, too. I hope my menu offers you some ideas. If not, I would be happy to help you meal plan! I enjoy a good challenge!

Thursday, November 20, 2014


No miracle yet.

Beloved autumn hasn't been too kind to me. Something in my body shifted with the weather, causing the past couple of months to be more eventful than I would like. Particular triggers have increased in intensity, and I have lost four foods in four weeks.

My old friends arthritis, fibromyalgia, and fatigue have come back around. I keep dropping hints they aren't welcome. They aren't getting it.

Fresh waves of grief roll over me, taking me by surprise. One moment, I'm washing dishes, and the next I can't breathe. I'm deeply grateful for my "little infinity" with Jenny, but it's unlikely I'll get over my loss on this side of heaven or even the losses of her husband and kids because loss like that is immeasurable. It's not so much about the things that were as it is about the things that will never be.

And then there have been family struggles, difficult decisions, emergencies, emotionally draining events, and woes of dear friends.

This illness has no respect for church attendance, long-planned weekend visits from deeply missed souls, or my daughter's birthday party. Actually, it seems to take delight in raining on my parade. But with the rain, falls grace.

Even still, an air of sadness hangs about my shoulders because--well--I can't help it. Like most of you, I was hoping my prophesied miracle was on my heels, just inches from taking me over.

It seems God would have me wait a little longer. So I wait.

As I wait, I trust I'm not just twiddling my thumbs here. I trust God is doing something with the waiting. My aim is to cooperate in His doing--to take hold of life and joy today, to engage and pay attention. To learn what He would teach. To hear what He is saying.

Such as--
It's okay to have exhausted all means to help myself.
It's okay to be messy. It's okay if others see the mess.
God works glory in messes.
I'm not my own savior.
I'm not my friends' savior either.
Their welfare is not correlative to the intensity of my prayers.
God's plan does not hinge on my performance. 
I am accepted.
I am accepted as I am.
Not because of what I am or what I do, but because of who Jesus is and what He has done.

Let's allow that word to wash over us for just a moment--


You, me, all who place their faith in Christ--we are accepted by God (Ephesians 1:6 NKJV).

God gave me this word out of Job a couple of weeks ago--

"And so it was, after the Lord had spoken these words to Job, that the Lord said to Eliphaz the Temanite, “My wrath is aroused against you and your two friends, for you have not spoken of Me what is right, as My servant Job has. Now therefore, take for yourselves seven bulls and seven rams, go to My servant Job, and offer up for yourselves a burnt offering; and My servant Job shall pray for you. For I will accept him, lest I deal with you according to your folly; because you have not spoken of Me what is right, as My servant Job has.So Eliphaz the Temanite and Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite went and did as the Lord commanded them; for the Lord had accepted Job." (Chapter 42)

Acceptance is arguably our most basic emotional need. Think of how desperately we seek it. We are willing to compromise our integrity for it. I was willing to lie for it.

The very day God put the word "accepted" in my mouth to chew upon was the day He sought to teach me something about it. I was out and about buying Sara's birthday party supplies with my grandmother when I had a reaction to some chemicals in one of the stores. Attempting to describe the way I felt, I told her I was drunk, "or at least how I imagine being drunk feels."

Every time I have described this type of reaction to my grandmother, I've always tagged it with "or at least how I imagine being drunk feels" because I didn't want her to guess the truth--I know exactly how being drunk feels. Even if it has been a few years.

I didn't want my grandmother to know my drinking history because I didn't want her to think less of me. You see, before my Papaw was a believer, he was a drunk. Nona, my mom, my aunt, and my uncle experienced the devastation of alcoholism firsthand, which made drinking kind of taboo in our family. So I kept my love for red wine and margaritas to myself. And few beyond Brandon knew I sometimes drank too much.

The funny thing is when you offer unnecessary information over and over again, intuitive people notice.

"Melissa, have you ever been drunk?" Nona asked.

Because I was drunk at that very moment, I answered, "Yeah! I've been drunk!" Almost like I was proud of it.

And so we have this long, uncomfortable conversation about drinking and alcohol that I don't entirely recollect (thank God) due to the fact I was inebriated on airborne chemicals at the time, but even I didn't miss the important things which took place that day.

My sin was confronted. In confession, I was freed from the lie. And I was met with acceptance. Not because Nona was thrilled that I know what it is to be drunk or that I had misled her, but because I am her granddaughter. My position as her grandchild--not my moral performance--makes me acceptable to her.

Nona took excellent care of me that day. She drove me home, learned the "woo-woo" acupressure technique we use to treat my reactions, performed said "woo woo" technique without comment, washed my dishes, made sure I was alright, and left me with an "I love you," which loudly translated into "I accept you--even if you have been drunk, have lied to me about it, and do weird stuff I don't understand."

I was relieved to be freed from the lie and still find myself accepted.

So acceptance is important. It was the most important thing to Job--before, during, and after his suffering. He wanted more than anything to be right with God. (Job may not have known as much about God as we do today, but he definitely loved God more than we do today.) 

Before his suffering, Job believed he was in good standing before God because he was blessed with health, wealth, and prosperity. We see him acting as a kind of intercessor for his kids (1:5) and a savior of sorts to the poor and needy who lived near him (25:7-25).

But then the suffering comes and strips it all away, and suddenly he sees he is not enough to save anyone, not even himself (19:9; 40:14). He sees he has nothing to offer the God he loves, and there is nothing he can do to improve his standing with Him.

Job needs a Mediator (Chapter 9). He needs an Advocate (16:20; 17:3). In desperation, he cries out for both and for a meeting with God that he might be absolved. And God answers. But not as Job expects.

God manifests Himself in a whirlwind, an uncontrollable power and the very thing which uprooted his hope in the beginning of the book (Job 1:18-19; 19:10). Instead of questioning God, Job himself is questioned, and he is found wanting. Job finally sees he has no case to make (Job 40:3-5).

But God looks centuries into the future. He sees the Mediator, the Advocate, the Redeemer in whom Job has placed the last of his hope (19:25-27). He sees Him hanging on a cross, experiencing all that Job suffered and infinitely more. God sees His precious Son paying the debt and it is enough.

God says to Job, "I accept you." 

When he had nothing, when he was nothing, and when everyone else had rejected him, Job was accepted in the Beloved. 

It wasn't the loss of all he once had which tormented Job so in the days of suffering; it was lack of assurance he was beloved by God. It wasn't the restoration of his health, wealth, or family Job most prized at the end of it all; it was divine acceptance.                  

Today, we stand on the other side of the cross. We don't have to wonder if God really loves us. He has proven it! Divine acceptance is available to all who place their faith in Christ's work and acknowledge the deficiency of their own, and it is divine acceptance that will get you through any loss. Just look at Job.

The antidote for my sadness isn't happy thoughts. It's gospel. I require, at minimum, a daily dose.

There may be sadness on my shoulders, but there is joy in my heart. There is an anchor for my soul.

Our greatest need has been met. Life's biggest question--how can I be right with God?--has been answered (Job 9:2; 25:4). In Jesus.

Gaze upon the cross with me. Let's bathe in our acceptance.

The acceptance He earned for us is all the health, wealth, and prosperity we will ever need or could ever desire.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Sarah's Disaster

Sara is three years old today.


How is she already three? The days, weeks, and months scurry by in a white blur without a proper greeting, and they never stay for tea. Tomorrow is always the most important date. No time to say hello, goodbye. And before I know it, a season's gone.

How is she only three? So much life has been lived. So much new has come into our lives. Surely she is halfway through childhood by now.

But no. She's three--already three, only three.

I tell the kids Micah is the boy I always wanted and Sara is the girl I never knew I needed. But God knew. When I was still a child myself, He whispered her existence into my imagination.

During my homeschool years, I wrote prolifically--for my age, anyway. I followed some kind of curriculum which offered lots of creative writing prompts, and loved every minute. I wrote short stories, sketches, journal entries, plays, and poems. I discovered a few of these assignments when I went through my old keepsake box Dad left for me to go through or toss. Most of the art projects were trashed. I am no artist. But I kept almost everything I wrote. I didn't read it all or even most of it, but one single-paged sketch caught my eye:

It reads:

Sarah, a cute, sweet child of three, loved to help her mother cook. Most of the time she just stirred cake batter and maybe every now and then, her mother would let her crack eggs and drop them in.

Well, one day, when her mother was taking a nap and her father was at work, she decided to make her parents a big [surprise] cake all by herself.

Her mother had always told her to wash her hands before she cooked, so she did. Then, she got out a bowl and the cake mix.

She knew that milk must be put in cake so she dumped 1/4 gallon in the bowl. Then she got out some eggs, cracked them on the side of the bowl, dumped them in, and threw the shells across the room. Last, she put in the chocolate cake batter and then she leaned over and started to stir. Some of her soft, blonde curls got into the chocolate concoction.

She decided the spoon wasn't working [too] well, so she started using her hands and she knocked the bowl over! She put her chocolaty hands to her face and started to cry.

Her mother was awakened, and she got up to see what was wrong. She walked into the kitchen [which] was now covered in chocolate. She looked down at Sarah who was also covered in chocolate. All she could see was Sarah's big brown eyes brimmed with tears. 

She knew this time she would not punish Sarah. 

There is no date on the paper, but judging by the handwriting and style, I wrote it around 1997. I was probably thirteen.

Fourteen years before she was born, I wrote about my daughter.

Guys, it's her! The name is spelled differently, but it's her! Both Saras like to help their mom in the kitchen. Both girls like chocolate, cake, and chocolate cake. Sara is just independent enough to try something like this, and if I wasn't standing over her every moment, real life Sara's baking style would closely resemble shadow Sarah's.

Big brown eyes. Soft, blond curls. I saw her before she was a thought in my mind. She was God's dream before she was mine.

I wanted three boys. Thank God He gave me this extroverted, delightful, hilarious girl!

I'm almost certain the day my immune system shifted was the day I gave birth to her. The labor and delivery was considered to be perfect--no complications--but something went wrong in my body three years ago. I felt it.

 (You can probably see it.)

So it was the day the darkness sniffed me out that God wrote Sara into my story with all the light and laughter she would bring.

God knew I needed her. Our family needed her.

So today, we celebrate our little luminary. We thank God for seeing our need, and sending her to us.

We make chocolate cake! Per her request, of course.

And I ponder the last three years. How full and brief they have been with the little girl I unknowingly penned seventeen years ago.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

The Court of Future Crimes: Melissa Keaster vs. The Healer

Note: The following is a short work of fiction, which describes actual events and conversations of real people. If you ask, "Why fiction?," Eleanor Roosevelt aptly explains--


I wipe clammy palms on my navy dress slacks, and will the moisture to return to my mouth. It's no use.

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."

Exhibit #1: Journal Entry from 10/8/2012

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.

 Exhibit #2: Journal Entry from 10/28/12

"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?"

"Only you."

"Do I not have a right to allow pain in your life?"

"You do."

"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?"

"I AM."

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?"

Exhibit #3: Isaiah 58:6-9

"It is."

"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?

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Another Kind of Miracle

In my previous post, I shared how I have experienced a better miracle than physical healing. It seemed to encourage those of you who have prayed me through the ups and downs of my struggle over the past couple of years, but I began to feel concerned for those just tuning in. I can see how someone new to my blog may be left with questions, confusion, or discouragement due to thoughts not quite complete. I can't have that.

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."
-Isaiah 50:10-11

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).

 --Mike Pilavachi

Remember: "He who promised is faithful" (Hebrews 10:23), and His faithfulness is not contingent upon our own: "If we are faithless, He remains faithful; He cannot deny Himself" (2 Timothy 2:13).


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--


Growth in faith. Growth in trust. Growth in grace. Growth in valor.

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 on. 

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!