Pax, a black Labrador mix, lays on a brown wood floor. His muzzle is graying and one paw lays folded underneath him. His brown eyes look right at the camera.

?? 11/5/2011 – 6/10/2021??

Pax Nebel was the best of the good boys. He entered our home when Abi was 2 months old, Susannah was 2, and Jonas was 5.

He slept beside scared kids and barked whenever a door opened, and comforted us when we were sad, and put up with two Weimaraner puppies joining the family pack.

At meal time, even the last couple of years as old age slowed him down, he would leap in circles like a puppy.

When he sat outside in all kinds of weather, he always picked a spot by the fence at a small rise. We joked that it was his way to “survey the kingdom,” and he was a beneficent ruler.

He shed fourteen pounds of hair every single year and he pulled on his leash every single time we passed another dog out walking, no matter what we tried to teach him about good manners.

For almost ten years, he has been our family’s pokey old Eeyore, a gentle soul with four paws. We named him ‘peace,’ and he truly brought peace wherever he went.

Cancer is unfair and unkind, whether it shows up in humans or in our furry family members. On June 8th, we took Paxie-boy to our vet for a routine dental cleaning (a necessity for elder canines) as we have done for the last few years. Prior to giving him anesthesia, they always check his bloodwork and his heart, and it has always come back fine. This year, the bloodwork was concerning.

The vet asked to do some further testing instead of proceeding with his teeth, and discovered a huge tumor –a hemangiosarcoma– on his spleen. The tumor was so big, our vet said she didn’t feel comfortable taking him to surgery. We brought him home with a medication similar to Warfarin for humans, and information about a specialty clinic two hours away that might be able to do the operation. At that point, we were hopeful: maybe, if the specialist would take him, he could have six more months with us?

On the 9th, we found out that the specialty clinic also considered the tumor inoperable. The best-case scenario for this type of cancer looked like a week or two weeks’ survival, and then the tumor would either cause him to bleed internally or have organ failure. We couldn’t put him through that. We also had planned to travel the following week, and we couldn’t leave town knowing that he could have his final days without us by his side.

On June 10th, we told our kids what Pax was facing. (Chris discusses palliative care and end-of-life decisions with families of patients all the time. He was so calm and so amazing at helping our crew understand what was happening in Pax’s body and why the kindest care we could give our good boy was to choose to let him go.) We cried together, and we spent the day giving him belly rubs and tons of treats. We brushed him and bathed him, and told him how much we loved him and that he had done the best job caring for us, and it was time to rest.

Our family is so thankful for our kind and compassionate vet and her staff. We felt so informed and supported through this most difficult 48 hours. I’ll always be grateful for the way they have cared for Pax for the past nearly 10 years and the way they cared for us in his last moments.

We feel a little bit lost now. The house is a little quieter. The Weims don’t seem 100% like themselves. Each of us has small waves of grief that well up unexpectedly. Our hearts are broken – but the love of a good dog is worth it.

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A few years ago, I started tracking what I read in the back of my planners. Then I discovered Goodreads, and switched to tracking there. I have to admit, I don’t use everything Goodreads offers — I’m lousy at remembering to write reviews, and I forget to check for friend updates — but one of my goals this year is to start doing more with it. (Hopefully the coming school year will be back to normal. This mom is looking forward to carving out that time for All Things Reading & Writing!)

I finished 11 books in the first quarter of 2021, just a tad off-track from my goal of a book a week.

[A note: the book links below* will take you to Indiebound, a website that connects people with their nearest independent bookstores. If you don’t have one close by, you can use the website to purchase copies on Bookshop.org, which helps support local bookstores! I know Amazon free shipping is awesome, but supporting local is equally awesome, so check them out. I am not affiliated with Indiebound or Bookshop and receive no kickbacks for these links. 🙂

*The link to the comic trade paperbacks will take you to Marvel. Also not affiliated, although if Marvel wants to send me free comics, I’ll take them!]

Jesus & John Wayne: How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith & Fractured a Nation, Kristin Kobes DuMez –There’s a ton of buzz on Christian Twitter about this book, so you’ve probably heard about it and/or read it already. If you haven’t, this is an EXCELLENT (and extremely well-researched) examination of the historical threads that led to the current entanglement of toxic masculinity, Christian nationalism, and political leanings in white evangelicalism. I hosted a book discussion of this one a few months after reading it when a few local friends had a chance to read it, too. Highly recommend!

Never Have I Ever, Joshilyn Jackson –I’ve been a fan of Joshilyn Jackson’s work for years and while this was more dark and twisty than many of her earlier titles, it’s fast-paced and compelling and FUN even though it’s kind of an awful scenario. If you sort of love reading characters who are suffering consequences, finding strength to battle creeps, and trying to guess what’s REALLY going on with a neighborhood bully? You’ll love this.

Oh My Stars, Sally Kilpatrick –So, this is a Christmas-themed story and while reading it in January I kept thinking I should have checked it out from the library a month previously. But it was fun and light-hearted and exactly what I needed after the heavier books I had just devoured.

My Sister, the Serial Killer, Oyinkan Braithwaite –True confession, I only picked this up because it was on the MSWL comparison lists for a few of the lit agents I admire. I don’t think this cover or title would have grabbed me if I were browsing in-person at a library or bookshop. I’m so glad I read it, though! Way outside my usual comfort-reads, I found it delightfully CRAZY, and it was very cool to read something set in Nigeria.

The Liturgy of Politics: Spiritual Formation for the Sake of our Neighbor, Kaitlyn Schiess –Kaitlyn is a frequent contributor on the Holy Post Podcast and when I heard her interview about this book, I knew I needed to read it. I sort of hate politics. I started the year reading Jesus & John Wayne, which gets into politics, and I normally wouldn’t read ANOTHER political book for years after something that heavy. However: Schiess describes a fresh way of viewing politics, considering that we are being shaped and formed by the politics we consume. My husband is a self-described news & politics junkie, and I enjoyed sharing excerpts of this book with him to discuss. I actually plan to re-read this one, because my first go-through was the e-book and I’d like to purchase the paperback so I can underline and mark it up!

Roots of Wood and Stone, Amanda Wen –I feel like I know Amanda Wen, even though we’ve never met. She’s a member of ACFW and I’ve been following her on Instagram since before her book deal. This is a sweet, uplifting work of Christian fiction. It’s a dual timeline, with strong romance plots in both the contemporary and historical storylines. I loved these characters, loved the setting, and can’t wait to read whatever she writes next! Content warning for adoption themes.

Flat Broke with Two Goats, Jennifer McGaha –One of my husband’s colleagues lent me this quirky memoir, and I am so glad he did! This story of a woman’s life after her husband’s financial failings come to light is funny, weird, and sad by turns.

The Vision Volume 1: Little Worse Than a Man & The Vision Volume 2: Little Better than a Beast, Tom King –Shortly after we got hooked on WandaVision like the rest of America, I found this short run and devoured it. If you aren’t familiar with the world of comics, trade paperbacks collect several issues (usually 6 in my experience) of a run from a series. They are my FAVORITE way to consume comic arcs, especially because so often in the Marvel world an arc includes single issues and crossovers. The downside is that they are released after the run, so for some series I cannot wait and I read month-by-month. Sorry, that was a detour. These trade paperbacks collect #1-6 and #7-12 of a print run from 2015, with a story line you’ll love if you enjoyed the Disney+ series.

The Lazy Genius Way: Embrace What Matters, Ditch What Doesn’t, and Get Stuff Done, Kendra Adachi –-Kendra offers a ton of practical tips without actually telling you what to do, because as she so rightly points out: there’s no single perfect way. What matters for one person won’t matter at all to another. She excels at asking probing questions to help you get to the heart of the matter for your own life, household, and to-do list.

Sisters in Law: How Sandra Day O’Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsberg Went to the Supreme Court and Changed the World, Linda R. Hirshman –My 3rd grader wants to be a lawyer, because she wants to be a judge, because she wants to help families and fight for fairness. She’s a wee bit obsessed with Thurgood Marshall and RBG, and we’ve been doing a Law elective this school year (one perk of homeschooling, y’all! Learn what you love!) I grabbed this book for an adult-level overview of Ginsberg’s life and legacy, and it didn’t disappoint. I’m a child of the 80s and don’t really remember O’Connor’s appointment to the court, so it was interesting to read about the political and legal forces at play when she became The First Woman Justice. In a time of deep national division, it was also good to read about the ways the justices have historically been able to interact and even socialize with their peers who hold opposing viewpoints.

————
I’m aiming for 13 books in the second quarter to catch me up to my goal of 52 books for the year. Got recommendations for a book you just couldn’t put down? Leave me a comment, and you can follow me on Goodreads here!

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If you’ve been a reader here for a long time, you’ve seen past posts where I referenced the Enneagram. You may have even read an entire post I wrote to share the resources I was loving. I identified as my number, helped my husband identify his, and helped dozens of friends figure out their subtypes or discern which childhood wound they resonated with. I bought and read numerous books, listened to several podcasts, shared memes and social media posts, and worked the Enneagram into conversations on a daily basis.

So what happened, and why did it lead to this?

Let Me Set The Scene

In April of 2020, with news all around us about the COVID-19 pandemic, I had an urge to read about the 1920s. The Spanish Flu pandemic and the Roaring 20s got the fiction side of my brain a-churning: what if, my typing fingers mused, a young woman got swept up in religious fervor shortly after that pandemic had made its course through her community? What if people around her, hungry for meaning and purpose after the loss and fear of pandemic life, started following every misguided word she said? What if somebody accidentally started a cult? I really –and I mean really– wanted to write that story.

So I started reading other novels that include fictional cults, and I started researching real cults. That led me to the “Cultish” podcast, with a huge back catalog of fascinating examinations of cults and cult-like groups. I listened fairly regularly, worked on a novel outline, and stayed hunkered down with my family through the spring round of shutdowns in our area.

It Started With An Innocent Question

Fast forward several months. One summer day, I was on the phone with my brother, who lives in Atlanta. We have always been close, but during COVID lockdowns we began texting and calling each other way more often. I love our relationship, because we have a similar sense of humor and although we don’t share every interest in common (for example: he loves wrestling and doesn’t care a whit about planners), we can talk for hours about everything and nothing.

“Hey, sis, so have you read about this– I dunno, this report that the Enneagram came from some demon named Metatron?”

(Here, dear reader, please imagine me fondly rolling my eyes at my ridiculous brother’s obviously confused notions.)

I’m pretty sure my response was something like, “I don’t think that’s right. All my books talk about an ancient origin. From the desert Fathers. Of CHRISTIANITY. Besides, isn’t Metatron a transformer?”

via GIPHY

Later, I pulled several books off my shelf and read the introductions again (or the early chapters where the authors explained the origins of the enneagram and how they’d first learned about it). Every single one either attributed the origins to an unknown ancient source or to the desert fathers; every one pointed to the work of Naranjo and Ichazo in bringing the enneagram to more widespread knowledge through their retreat center.

I knew it wasn’t anything crazy. I knew there was nothing about an otherworldly being named Metatron giving this system to anybody! But all the same, I felt a little uneasy. I moved my Enneagram materials from my nightstand to a less prominent spot on a bookshelf.

Entering the Kingdom of the Cults

One day in the early fall, I pulled up some older episodes of Cultish. In August 2019, Jeremiah and Andrew interviewed Doreen Virtue, a former New Age teacher who shared her testimony. Although she’d been an extremely successful author and speaker, when she met Jesus her life changed. She renounced her books and products, and now uses her platform to share the gospel and to help others avoid the deceptions she was once blinded to.

“What a cool story,” I thought. Doreen is well spoken and engaging, and I really enjoyed the three-part series she was included on.

No big deal, right?

Up Next

You know how social media algorithms love to suggest a Next Great Thing? Whether you’re reading an article, watching a video, or listening to a pod… the platform loves to display something similar or something that they know will grab your interest based on your previous views and clicks.

Well.

On the evening of October 17, 2020, the Georgia Bulldogs played Alabama. My husband and daughters were watching the game, and I was in the living room with them, but –since I’m not the world’s biggest football fan– I wasn’t really paying attention. I had one earbud in place so I could watch a planner video on my phone instead!

The planner video ended, and YouTube served up a thumbnail to entice me to keep watching. The video? “Why I Quit the Enneagram” – from Doreen Virtue’s channel.

My interested was piqued.

I clicked the video.

The Truth

Over the next hour and eight minutes, I was skeptical, shocked, horrified, and utterly broken-hearted in repentance.

Far from an ancient origin, protected and upheld by the first Christians… the Enneagram is rooted in occult practices. Before he died, Oscar Ichazo said that an “archangel” named Metatron, who was his spirit guide, revealed the nine points of the enneagram to him. And Claude Naranjo explained to a live audience that the nine “enneatypes” were revealed to him through automatic writing, a form of demonic communication.

There’s more, of course. Doreen’s video is linked at the bottom of this post, and I encourage you to watch it for yourself. But the main crux for me was this revelation about a demonic spirit guide and automatic writing.

This was not a simple personality test. It was not a path to understanding myself (or anyone else) better, and it was not a way to discover which spiritual disciplines would make me more like Christ.

It was demonic.

I spent several hours that night in prayer and in tears. I’d been the one to read about it, to buy the books and bring them into our home. I’d been the one to start the conversation at our supper club, with eventually all four couples discussing it frequently. I’d shared memes on social media, and written about it on this blog.

I’d been decieved.

The Morning After

Sunday morning, October 18th, my husband rose early to make rounds at the hospital. When he returned home, I was waiting on the couch to talk to him. I shared the whole story, and asked him to forgive me for bringing this into our home. (He’s kind and gracious and did absolutely.)

His one question, though, was, “But– it worked. I mean, you would read that stuff and it seemed so right. If it’s fake, how did it explain so much about yourself?”

Sure, that’s a point. The Enneagram DOES seem to contain a lot of hidden knowledge. A lot of people say they feel seen & known when they begin to learn about the types. They feel understood, sometimes for the first time ever. But that doesn’t mean it’s good, Godly, or beneficial.

Other than the Godhead, who’s been in existence and concerned with the activities of humanity for a long, long, lo-o-n-g time? Our enemy, Satan. It seems reasonable to me that the enemy of our souls could create a system that looks good on the outside and predicts a lot of human behaviors and emotions. He’s been watching humans for a long time (that’s what stalkers who want to steal, kill, and destroy you do).

Even in the Old Testament, God’s people had to discern what to do when something mystical seemed true:

“If a prophet or a dreamer of dreams arises among you and gives you a sign or a wonder, and the sign or wonder that he tells you comes to pass, and if he says, ‘Let us go after other gods,’ which you have not known, ‘and let us serve them, you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams. For the LORD your God is testing you, to know whether you love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul. You shall walk after the LORD your God and fear him and keep his commandments and obey his voice, and you shall serve him and hold fast to him. But that prophet or that dreamer of dreams shall be put to death, because he has taught rebellion against the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt and redeemed you out of the house of slavery, to make you leave the way in which the LORD your God commanded you to walk. So you shall purge the evil from your midst.” –Deuteronomy 13:1-5

To be clear: I am not calling for a literal application of this passage. We live under the covenant of grace, and thanks to Christ’s saving work on the cross, we don’t need to apply the penal system of the Old Testament today.

However, the principle of this passage does apply. How do we as believers judge a miracle, a dream, a prophecy — or an insight that claims to explain our whole entire lives, like the Enneagram? Well, the fact that it looks true isn’t the primary factor. Instead, we must examine unflinchingly: to what god is it pointing us?

The Enneagram isn’t pointing us to the one, true, living God of the Bible. It’s pointing us in an ever-tightening spiral of self, and it’s made all the more insidious by the way it has infiltrated the church and used “Christianese” language to look baptized.

We must purge this evil from our midst.

Cast Out, not Dunked

Some will say that Christians can use the Enneagram because they can redeem it, sanctify it, baptize it somehow and use it for the glory of God. “It’s just a tool,” you know.

But, dear friends, as far as I can find in my reading of Scripture, every time Jesus met a demon he did not play around.

He never redeemed the demons, baptized them and gave them angelic names. He cast them out.

He redeemed PEOPLE by casting out the demons that plagued them.

What’s more, when people learned the truth about the gospel of Jesus, they wanted nothing more to do with the occultic tools they had formerly embraced.

Also many of those who were now believers came, confessing and divulging their practices. And a number of those who had practiced magic arts brought their books together and burned them in the sight of all. And they counted the value of them and found it came to fifty thousand pieces of silver. So the word of the Lord continued to increase and prevail mightily. –Acts 19:18-20

And that’s how I found myself sitting outside by our fire pit on the afternoon of Sunday, October 18, 2020, burning a stack of books and papers.

I burned every Enneagram book I owned and all my handwritten notes from Enneagram lectures and videos on October 18, 2020.

Now, What?

My home was cleared, I’d sought forgiveness from my husband and from each of my kids in turn. What was next?

After a few days of prayer, I decided that the Lord was leading me to take three more steps.

  1. I made an appointment with our senior pastor. I wanted to share with him the truth I had learned, not only so I could share my heart of repentance but also by way of warning, because a number of people in our church family are just as swept up in the Enneagram as I had been.
  2. I began to earnestly pray for the opportunities to speak face-to-face with friends whom I’d formerly “evangelized” for the Enneagram. I needed to humbly seek their forgiveness, and by God’s grace He has already given me the chance to have a few of those conversations. I believe that He will open doors to more.
  3. And last, I needed to be just as public in my renunciation of Enneagram as I had once been in my acceptance of it. This blog post and social media sharing is a big part of that step. It’s my humble apology to you. If you investigated the Enneagram or dove deeper into it because of my words or actions, I’m sorry. I believe I’ve sinned against God and against you by doing so, and I ask you to forgive me. I also ask you to consider the truths I’ve shared and read more from the resources below.

Does This Mean:

  • if I still use the Enneagram, you’re gonna judge me?
  • if I still use the Enneagram, you think I’m not a Christian (or not a good enough Christian)?
  • you’re going to unfollow me if I use the Enneagram or post about it on my social media?

No, no, and no.

I love you. I’m not sharing this information to exalt myself or point fingers at you. I’m sharing it because when I learned it, one of my gut reactions was wishing I had known it sooner.

We can still be friends. I’m just not going to participate in Enneagram chatter, memes, and book discussions anymore.

But if you ever want to talk about these points or anything else related to the Enneagram, I would love to have that conversation with you. (Unless you want me to help you find your sub-type. I won’t do that.)

For more information:

Watch Doreen Virtue’s interview with Marcia Montenegro and Jillian Lancour: “Why I Quit the Enneagram”

Watch long video of Claudio Naranjo automatic writing video, referenced in Doreen’s interview:

Listen to the Cultish podcast “Decoding the Enneagram”: Part 1 and Part 2

Buy Marcia’s book: Richard Rohr and the Enneagram Secret

Read Theology Think Tank’s detailed look at the history of the Enneagram.

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I was absolutely tickled when I found out I’d be included on the Mäksēlife Review Crew this year! (It’s pronounced “moxie,” as in “energy, pep, determination, & courage.”) I discovered this company last year when the rumors of a new planner on the block had just started swirling through the planner community on Instagram. The thing that grabbed me first was the design of the vertical layout: it was lined and unbroken into segments!

As a planner mom who sometimes needs an hourly breakdown and sometimes needs to make a giant to-do list to get through different days, I knew immediately that the flexibility this provided would be HUGE for me. If you’ve ever bought a planner with high hopes in January, only to ditch it in March when life shifts and it no longer works for you, maybe you can relate. This planner seemed like it would accommodate a wide variety of needs.

Little did I know what 2020 would bring, right? Talk about a year when we needed flexibility in planning. Well, Mäksēlife really lived up to its potential: it adapted when everything got cancelled, and again when I was suddenly managing Non-Traditional Instruction days, and again now that we are on a Hybrid model for two public schoolkids and full-time traditionally homeschooling our youngest.

I’m telling y’all — I have put this planner through its paces, and it is still slugging it out for me like a champ.

Sierra, the creator of Mäksēlife, was kind enough to send me an advance copy of the 2021 planner to review. I am so excited to share my thoughts with you guys! First up, a few details: this planner comes in a vertical & horizontal layout, and with four covers to choose from. This year, the company did an artist series with Jess Park and Thobi Brown, who designed the peony and rainbow designs respectively.

Aren’t they gorgeous? From L to R: Color Stripe Linen, Watercolor Floral, Grey + Navy Stripe, and Watercolor Quote

The planner is 326 pages, printed with soy-based ink on recycled bright white paper — my photos don’t do it justice! At the end of this post, I’ll share a link to my video review, where you can see this year’s paper compared to the 2021 and see the beautiful difference. If you’re a paper geek, you’ll be so happy with this planner — the paper is thick and holds pen really well. It’s smooth enough that most stickers will lift, but not so glossy that your pens will smear. In short: it’s dreamy.

This is a 12-month (calendar year) planner. The monthly layouts are each on a two-page spread. There have been some design improvements over last year — the month & year are clearer, graphically, than before and the date dots were repositioned to the right side of the page. This planner has a VERY clean aesthetic. While there are pops of color throughout (the eight colors used on the Compass Life Assessment, which I’ll mention in a minute), they are not overwhelming.

The weekly layouts also get a two-page spread. Monday through Thursday are on the left page; Friday through Sunday are on the right with a sidebar and a built-in habit tracker. I really love that inclusion — drawing trackers by hand can be tiresome, and using stickers in the same spot every week can really bulk up a planner.

As you can see, there’s just a bit of color on these pages. It coordinates with the color used on the monthly spread. In my opinion, planners who prefer a very neutral, minimal, or professional look will be extremely happy with the design elements of this planner. If you’re more of a stickers and colored ink person, the columns are a standard size (1.5″) so full, quarter, and appointment boxes from all your favorite shops will fit perfectly.

But speaking of stickers, this year Mäksēlife has some GREAT designs! This sheet is coiled in to the back of every planner. There is also a 15-page sticker book being sold separately (retails $20) which will be available on launch day with more boxes, flags, and banners in those great Mäksēlife colors.

Now honestly, at this point if you’ve ever used a vertical weekly planner, you might be wondering what’s the big deal. Good paper and clean layouts are great, Michelle, but why are you so ga-ga crazy for this company?

Well, friends, that all comes down the the goal planning system. I did mention this was a goal-setting planner, right? The first section of the planner is Sierra Friend’s amazing system. After being a “planner girl” for decades and a life coach who helped multitudes of clients develop a vision and plan for reaching their goals, she has refined this system to a T.

You’ll begin with some excellent pages about how to use the planner, then take a two-page assessment (a series of statements you rate from 1-10 to help you give yourself a numerical score in each of 8 life areas). You’ll use those numbers to shade in the life compass:

There are then seven pages of “prep work,” in which Sierra will coach you through how to set goals for the year. What do goals look like in an area where you’re already satisfied? What might goals look like in an area where you feel you have so much you want to achieve that you don’t know where to start? These pages, in my opinion, are worth every penny of the purchase price. It feels like having life coach or therapist sit down with you and prompt you to consider things with a kind eye.

I really appreciate the goal approach of Mäksēlife because it felt like it fit me. Other systems left me feeling like I wasn’t enough of a “girl boss” or “momprenuer” to use them. I’ve tried approaches in the past that gave me a Goal Setting High for the first month of the year and then were left ignored and untouched for the next eleven. Mäksēlife is something else entirely.

The Annual Goals section includes plenty of space to delineate your goals, select a focus area with the goal if you want, and a question prompt to consider the ‘why’ behind the goal.

But here’s where I feel Mäksēlife separates itself from other planners on the market. After each monthly spread, you have two pages to create Monthly Goals. This is your chance to look at your annual goals and choose steps that will move you forward in some or all of the eight areas.

Plus, every week there’s a spread for Weekly Actions – one page has sections for the eight areas, and the other is a blank dot grid page. This is a perfect space to reflect on your week, evaluate your goal progress, and answer the question prompts from the goal-setting section of the planner. This space helped me all throughout 2020 to affirm, change, or reinvigorate my monthly goals.

The way I use this planner has been SUCH a wonderful part of my year.

  • Every weekend, I lay out my week, then refer to my monthly goals and set a few weekly action steps. I look back at the prior week and see how I did with my previously set actions, and consider what adjustments I need to make.
  • At the end of each month, I use the Monthly Reflections page to celebrate my victories & set intentions for the new month. Then I flip to the new month’s Monthly Goals page and create those.
  • At the end of each quarter, I use the quarterly compass to re-evaluate the balance or disequilibrium I’m feeling in the eight life areas.

The cyclic nature of the process keeps me coming back to my annual goals and helps me stay mindful. I love that this planner helps me avoid complacency in the mundane parts of life — it reminds me that I have dreams and plans! I really can’t recommend it highly enough.

A few more details: at the back of the planner, you get a 2020 year-at-a-glance as well as a 2021 year-at-a-glance, 13 lined notes pages, the sticker sheet I mentioned earlier, and a double-sided coiled pocket. The back cover also has an accordion pocket, which I’ve found sturdy and helpful with full-time use this year.

The 2021 planners will retail for $68, and will be available for purchase beginning October 21, 2020. (Purchase here at the Mäksēlife website.)

You can watch my full review over on YouTube, where I also show off the sticker book, bookmarks, and interchangeable cover options — which will all be available at launch!

And over on Instagram, I’m hosting a giveaway! If you’re interested in trying this amazing planner for yourself, hop over there and enter to win one (with your choice of cover & layout).

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(Disclaimer: If you purchase through my affiliate link I may be compensated, but at no cost to you. This is not a sponsored post; all opinions are my own. I’ve been using and loving this planner for all of 2020 and wanted to share an honest review with you! Thanks for your support!)

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Some days, my kids wake up absolutely ravenous. From the moment their eyes open in the morning, their only thought seems to be, “Feed me!” This was especially true in their toddler years, but now that I have a teen and a tween, this modus operandi seems to be back! Those are the weeks that a bunch of eight bananas will vanish in two days.

But then, there are stretches of time where they don’t seem to eat enough to keep a bird alive. They wake up and start to shuffle through their morning routine, but when I urge them to eat breakfast, they moan, “I’m not huuuungry.” There’s no underlying malady – they’re just a little peckish. It takes coaxing or downright parental orders to get them to eat a tiny granola bar or a yogurt cup! Those are the weeks when a bunch of eight bananas goes untouched and turns completely black on the counter (and eventually becomes banana bread).

I’ve noticed similar seasons of hunger and peckishness for God’s Word in my own life. There are times when I’m hungry — starving, even — for more of Scripture. I wake up every morning eager to dive in to my Bible, and all day long I’m drawn to meditate on what I read, or to go deeper by listening to a sermon, talk, or worship music. But, to be honest, there are also times when I’m just not hungry. I don’t feel like consuming the Word. I might choke down a verse or two, but my attitude is a lot like a whiny kid being forced to eat a granola bar before school.

Our kids’ varying hunger levels are based on dozens of factors. They may be more or less hungry,  just because:

  • They’re having a growth spurt
  • They’re more or less active than usual
  • The weather is impacting their appetite
  • Their taste buds are changing
  • They’re going through a phase of focusing on just one or two preferred foods

In other words, it’s both normal and healthy for our kids’ appetites and intake to change from day to day and from year to year. It’s part of their growth.

But what about believers and God’s Word? Is it normal and healthy for us to crave the Word at times and reject it with an upturned nose at other times?

I’d like to propose this: perhaps it’s “normal” –in that, it’s commonplace and most believers can relate to the experience– but it’s not healthy, and it’s not what God desires for us or from us.

I can think of a few reasons why my spiritual appetite lags. Do any of these resonate with you?

  • There’s unrepentant sin in my life.
  • I’m in a vicious cycle: not enough time for God’s Word, so I put it off, which makes me feel guilty for neglecting it, so I avoid it when I do have even a few minutes, which leads to feeling like there’s not enough time… lather, rinse, repeat.
  • There’s a physical trigger (mental health issues, chronic pain, devastating diagnosis) which I’m addressing only on a physical level.
  • I’m distracted by lots of perfectly harmless time-wasters.

On the other hand, feasting on God’s Word is satisfying in a way that no meal ever is. When I’m “eating well” of Scripture, I can walk away feeling full and nourished — and at the same time, primed and ready for the next time I’ll sit down at the table. The more I take in of the Bible, the more I crave it. It’s a different cycle than those vicious, destructive ones which condemn us and convince us we’re doing things all wrong. When I’m regularly reading and responding to Scripture, I notice:

  • I truly want to spend more time with the Word, so I get creative – using audioBible versions, podcasts of sermons or uplifting meditations on Scripture, and worship music to keep my mind set on God throughout the day.
  • I avoid ‘bad influences’ – whatever might otherwise tempt me to get lost in distraction – more easily.
  • I find verses coming to mind and on the tip of my tongue, ready to offer encouragement or wisdom to my family and my friends.

My heart is lighter and more joyful when it’s filled with Scripture and the Holy Spirit. I bet yours is, too. And on that note, I’m excited to share a new project I’ve just launched: Plain & Simple Bible Study.

It’s my heartfelt belief that every single Christian is capable of picking up God’s Word, reading it for understanding, and being transformed by its truth. However, I meet so many folks who feel unequipped to dive in to the Bible on their own. These studies are designed with simple prompts and questions to help you think with clarity about your Bible: what is the text saying? What does it mean? How does it apply to my life?

A 6-week study of 1 John is available now, and Ephesians is coming soon. These free printables are great for individual or group use, and their aim is to help everyone push past their peckishness and eat well of God’s Word.

I hope and pray that Plain & Simple Bible Studies will give more believers the tools they need to create a habit of Scripture study that will flourish in their lives. Please check it out, and share it widely.

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It’s been six years since my last post about homeschooling. (You can see everything on the subject here.) In the summer of 2014, we made the decision to enroll our kids –then 4th and K/1st graders (with a tagalong preschooler) — in school for the first time. Over the years since that enrollment, our family has experienced private Montessori schooling, private Christian schooling, and public schooling.

In every environment, my kids had teachers who loved them and who loved education. In every environment, my kids made friends and learned a lot.

And then the early spring of 2020 hit, and everything went crazy in the world and in our nation and state… and in my kids’ schools. I’m sure yours had a similar experience as administrators, teachers, and staff pulled off the most amazing pivot ever to bring non-traditional instruction to every family. I have nothing but kudos for both schools we were enrolled in!

However, this fall brought a few changes to our family.

Our 6th grader, 10th grader, and 3rd grader. On a first day of school where no one leaves the house, no one wears shoes!

Our son is still at the same school — now a sophomore, he’s been told to plan on distance learning at least until Fall Break, and that’s 100% okay with him. (It turns out that he really likes NTI. Managing his workload from home really appealed to him. An introvert by nature, he hasn’t been too rattled by the social shift — as long as he can text and in-game chat with a few buddies a few days a week, he’s fine.)

Our older daughter finished up her 5th grade year with a very mature appeal to her father and me. She wanted us to consider a switch to public school for 6th grade, because she has a long-range plan that includes an engineering degree (which she wants to work toward starting in high school at our county’s engineering academy, for which she’ll need to take the ACT in 8th grade, for which she thinks she’ll be better prepared by the public school. Plus, our county school offers a number of STEM classes and electives. It was pretty hard to argue with that! We took time to pray about it, then toured the school in January and made our decision). It wasn’t ideal, starting at a new school with digital learning, but at least all the 6th graders are in the same boat. And our district is sending K-8 back to in-person classes next week, so she is over the moon to be headed to school! However — that will only be 2 days a week. The other three, she’ll still be at home doing NTI.

And our youngest is a 3rd grader this year. For a whole variety of reasons, we decided to pull her out for a year of traditional homeschooling. I am so looking forward to spending this time with her. The years I spent teaching her older siblings were so rich and rewarding, and still number among our fondest memories.

We have a little spot upstairs that is perfect to use as a schoolroom. Susannah has a station for her Chromebook and supplies, and Abigail and I have stations that are nearby (in case Susannah gets stuck with homework, or has a technical difficulty during her class times).

For 3rd grade curriculum, we are using:
*BJU Press Math 3
*HMH Trunity Science Dimensions 3
*Vocabulary from Classical Roots 4
*Zaner-Bloser Handwriting 3
*Tapestry of Grace: Year 2, Unit 4 through Year 3, Unit 3 (literature, history, geography, fine arts) — Upper Grammar level
*Writing: mom-created curriculum
*Spanish: Duolingo 3 days/week
*Typing: Mavis Beacon 3 days/week
*Law & Debate: mom-created curriculum 2 days/week
*Logic: various sources 2 days/week

Several of these resources were chosen because they are what her private school used last year (and our current plan is for her to return there next year for 4th grade, so with transitions in mind I kept her in the same math and handwriting curricula). However, some of what we’re using is because she has a very particular interest right now. Did you notice the less-common-for-a-third-grader materials on her list?

Right now, she says she wants to be a lawyer when she grows up; she wants to be a lawyer so she can become a judge, and work in family court, and help kids. I’m honestly not sure where this particular passion came from, and I don’t know much about it myself. So we are going to be learning a lot together this year!

One thing I do know: lawyers need excellent reading, writing, and research skills. A familiarity with Latin and an ease with logic and debate couldn’t hurt, either. So I’m cobbling together a special interest corner of our weekly rhythm to help her explore those areas. Eight-years-old feels a long way off from taking the bar exam… and you never know, she could change her mind a dozen times between now and heading off to declare a college major. But no matter what she ends up doing, I think the skills she’s covering this year will stand her in good stead.

How does school look at your house this year? Do you have kids doing virtual schooling, in-person school, hybrid options, traditional homeschooling, or some combination of all of the above? I’d love to hear about it.

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Meet the author

MICHELLE NEBEL

I write uplifting women’s fiction woven with threads of faith, grace, and Southern hospitality. My blog is where I share a glimpse of my life, and I hope you’ll find the thoughts here encouraging!

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