Several years ago, I did a little blog series about contentment. I had this idea that contentment is contagious… and I wanted to spread it around. I still believe that those building blocks are a good basis for contentment, but I wanted to come back to the topic to expand a little as my experience and understanding has grown.

For one thing, friends, in a couple of months a very significant milestone is going to occur. We will have lived in this home for five full years, marking the longest I’ve ever lived anywhere in my whole life.

Shocked baby with the caption "Oh my gosh!"

(Because of that Army brat thing, which I talked about here if you’re curious.)

This spring, I started to feel a simmering discontentment in my soul. It was honestly unlike anything I’ve ever felt before, and I wasn’t sure at first how to handle it.

Pandemic Blues

For one thing, we were all cooped up here in the house 24/7 with our state’s shutdown measures. Even though I’ve always thought of this house as PLENTY of space for us… once we were all here, nonstop, for months on end I started wishing we had a basement. And a pool in the backyard. And a bigger plot of land where the neighbors were so far away you could barely see them.

That might have been another factor. Our backyard neighbors were… well, not exactly neighborly during the first few months of the corona quarantine. Being able to see a big portion of their home and yard made my blood pressure skyrocket every time they violated the governor’s orders. (And I didn’t say anything or turn them in, because I didn’t want to be mean or nosy. I just thought my thoughts, and wished there was an extra acre between us so I couldn’t see what they were doing in ignorant bliss.)

Ticking Clock

When I started reflecting on what was driving my discontentment, I realized there’s another big milestone approaching. I’ll turn 40 in a few months. Maybe this was my mid-life crisis?

A close crop of an old oil painting. Words are superimposed so the man is saying, "I think I'm having a midlife crisis," The woman responds, "You're 24..." and the man replies, "I might die at 48."

Whatever the causes or motivations behind my discontent, here’s what resulted: I started browsing the MLS. And do you know what happens when a gal starts idly surfing real estate listings? Yup. Eventually she spots a property that catches her eye and keeps her awake at night.

Bored Mom ISO Bigger House

So when that happened, it was a lovely place with 1.25 acres in a tucked-away development of a only dozen homes. The house was older, but it had 150% of the square footage we have here. There was a basement! (No pool.)

Once I saw it, I couldn’t get it out of my mind. I made an appointment with our realtor to go see it by myself, then told Chris all about it. A few days later, he went to see it, too. We spent about 24 hours feeling worked up about making a decision regarding this property. Should we jump on it? Make an offer? Scurry to get this house ready to sell?

But after a restless night’s sleep and a morning spent in prayer and thought and journaling, we decided to stay put.

Does that sound like resignation to you? Does it sound like settling?

I promise, that’s not it.

Intentional, Not Complacent

Here’s what I felt the Lord leading me to: we have been working hard to become debt-free, and moving house would move that needle in the wrong direction. Furthermore, if my restless, angsty feelings about this house are based on my Army-brat itchy feet, there’s no cure for that but tincture of time. If the problem is my looming birthday and some sort of age-related crisis – there’s nothing to do but wait it out. And if the primary problem is my unhappiness with my neighbors, well: Scripture has a lot to say about loving our neighbor, and I probably have a spiritual lesson to learn there – which I wouldn’t learn if I run away.

Sometimes standing still is the most obedient thing to do.

Investment for Contentment

What’s more, we decided we wouldn’t just “stay put.” Rather, we decided to get serious about allllllll those little home projects that we hadn’t gotten around to yet. We started a list, and shopping online for new fixtures, and have made a few calls to pros to get quotes on the work we can’t do ourselves.

Will we need to spend money to invest in these projects? Yup.

But will it be less expensive than moving? OH, most definitely.

Baby at the beach makes a fist pump with caption "totally"

We want to be good stewards of our home, and right now that means investing both time and money. We have a few little projects to fix –I’ll post pictures of the woodworking I had to learn to do when our dog decided to eat a wall!—and some new paint and fixtures to pick out. There are a couple of furnishing upgrades that will make a big difference, and some new storage built into a closet should help that space be both more functional and more pleasant to the eye.

I started an Instagram @kentuckyhome.and.cabin to track our progress and share pictures, so be sure to go follow if home improvements and DIY is your jam.

Beyond Home Improvement

But even if home decor Insta isn’t your thing, don’t miss the bigger message (like I almost did).

There can be many different factors that contribute to an underlying sense of discontentment. It’s good and healthy for us to examine those, and it’s important for us to take all of those things to God. He’s the giver of every good gift, and the one who gives us wisdom and understanding.

Maybe you’re in a stage of life where you DO need more space, more land, an extra bedroom, a garage – and browsing the real estate listings and daydreaming about different houses and neighbordhoods is perfectly appropriate. I’m not at all trying to say that any of those things are wrong or sinful.

The lesson I’ve learned this week is that stewarding the material goods we have looks different in different seasons. For the last few years, we have regarded good stewardship as just saving money and paying down our debts.

But investing in our space is a different way to be a good steward – taking care of this house helps all of us to enjoy it more, helps us to make even more great memories within these walls, and goes a long way to ensuring this place will be a safe and beautiful home for our family for 30 more years.

“In this house, you always have permission to:
ask hard questions * read * play together * give hugs
learn * express all your emotions * worship * ask for help * pray
share something you’re proud of, even if someone is having a bad day
talk about the people who have passed away”

Having a heart of contentment may require investment. Do you struggle with discontentment? Do you think an approach of investment could help change that?

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Confession: I’m afraid that I’m bad at long-term friendships. I know people who grew up with friends from the time they were Kindergarten clear through to their 30s, and they still spend time together and know everything about each other. That amazes me. My brain cannot wrap around it at all.

Go ahead, call me a brat.

We moved a lot when I was a kid. My dad was in the Army, so every few years we packed up and headed to a new place. I got pretty proficient at being “the new girl.” I became an excellent pen-pal. (Do y’all remember back when long-distance landline phone calls cost an arm and a leg? Letters –on paper, with stamps– were the only way to stay in touch with your friends when you left town!)

Me (holding a book of course) and my kindergarten bestie, Jacob in Anderson, South Carolina.

The four years we spent in Texas were my first taste of longevity… my bestie from Fort Sill, Oklahoma had moved to Fort Hood, Texas the year before we did. It felt like a miracle to move into a new home and already know somebody! Plus, our moms and brothers got along well, so we got to see each other once a month or so.

I’m in the center – this is my going away party in 1992 when we left Fort Hood.

Our base housing in those years was on a street on base that was filled with kids. The girl across the street was just my age, bookish and quiet like me, and we spent nearly every day together for three years. (Then her family moved to Corpus Christi, and we became pen-pals. Our moms let us make one long-distance call a month. And then, I got to go spend a week with her in the summer, which was an amazing adventure in my twelve-year-old world. But I digress.)

Julia and me, standing in my front yard in Fort Hood.
Her house is right behind us, with her mom waiting on the carport.

In high school, we had moved again, but I made a new group of great friends. Remember, I was pretty good at making friends. But maintaining those friendships? I’m Facebook friends with a few folks from those days, but really only in contact with one of my high school chums beyond social media.

Me on left. This was an Acteens celebration at First Baptist Church in Hinesville, Georgia

Sisters at heart.

My college years were another chance to pack up, move, and play the “new girl” part. The difference was, we are all new girls. My roommate and I were randomly assigned, but we got along amazingly well and became fast friends.

Me on left with Holly, plus some sweet scrapbooking stickers from the late 90’s

She’s the one who convinced me to rush and pledge our tiny (local, Christian) sorority, and that opened up a world of new friends and sisters who made up most of the fabric of my days in those years.

I’m on the third row, right. This is our “family photo” – my big sis is above me, my roommate is beside me because we “adopted” her when her big sis graduated, and my littles and newly-initiated grand-littles are on the rows below me.

Unfortunately, because I moved after college — and moved again, and again, and again — I really don’t get to see any of those old chums anymore, either. We exchange Christmas cards and keep up on Facebook, and that’s about it.

It’s not you, it’s me.

When I think about it that way, I worry sometimes that I’m deficient. I worry that I don’t have what it takes to keep friends around me for more than a few years. Maybe I’m too much of something off-putting, too little of something important.

It’s a negative spiral when I start thinking that way.

But then, there’s Jesus.

The best of friends.

For one thing, He’s the best comforter when I start feeling blue, when I’m being hard on myself. (That’s not to say He goes easy on my sin — oh no, He convicts me when I’m in the wrong with a friend, and prompts me to make amends and restore relationships. But there’s a difference between conviction and shame, and my Enemy sure loves to whisper words of doubt and shame into my ear. Jesus reminds me of the truth.)

For another thing, he’s the only friend I’ve ever had who laid down his life for me.

I want to be clear: I really, really, really can’t stand the “Jesus is my homeboy,” casual approach that dominated my youth group culture of the mid-90s. I’m not saying Jesus is my friend as if that’s all he is — just a buddy, a pal, a compadre through my crazy life.

No. It would be heretical for me to think or speak of Jesus in only those terms. He is absolutely, without question, a King returning to claim his kingdom; he is “the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being.” (Heb. 1:3) He is the only Savior of humanity.

And yet, shockingly, extravagantly, Jesus calls me his friend.

I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.

John 15:15

Friendship for eternity.

What have I learned from friendship with Jesus?

  1. There’s an element of self-sacrifice and servanthood to real friendships.
  2. True friends can speak a word of rebuke or correction to each other, and can do so with love.
  3. Friends weep together, celebrate together, and laugh together. No emotion is off the table or too messy to share.
  4. A friend can sometimes see when you’re listening to fear, shame, or other whispers of the Enemy — and counter it with a word of truth.

I’ve never seen a human friendship that gets it all right. (We’re human, we mess up and we let people down, even if they’re our dearest friends.) But I feel like the longer I walk in friendship with Jesus, the better I get at being a friend to the women who are in my life right now.

No, they aren’t the same girls I knew in Anderson, South Carolina when I started Kindergarten, or the young ladies from my Acteens group and color guard in Hinesville, Georgia. But they’re the women who are here — in Owensboro, Kentucky — right now, who I get to share walks and coffee and sushi dates and shopping trips and meme-filled text threads with. And it’s my hope to be a faithful friend for as long as God keeps us in each other’s lives.

What about you?

So, what do you think: do you have a few of those known-em-forever friends or have you collected different groups of friends through the years, like me? How many friends is enough, or too many, at this stage of your life? I’d love to hear your thoughts on friendship through your own years.

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Following, followers… it’s all a bit of a loaded term nowadays, isn’t it? In 2020, the word follow might be more likely to conjure up the notion of social media in your mind rather than the old standby meaning of actually –you know—going anywhere.

But way back when I was a kid, “follow” made me instantly think of just one thing.

via GIPHY

In The Wizard of Oz, Glinda tells Dorothy to follow the yellow brick road because it would take her to the right destination: the Wizard and her ticket back to the arms of Auntie Em. She had a path marked out because she had someplace she needed to be. Now, there were obstacles along the way and her trip home didn’t end the way she thought it would – but the road she was following did lead her to the Emerald City, as promised.

On the other hand, the Lost Boys’ game of following the leader was much more precarious than Dorothy’s journey. Instead of following a marked path, the Lost Boys followed John – and as it turned out, John didn’t know his way around Neverland. They followed him right into a trap set by Tiger Lily’s father.

via GIPHY

A Path or A Person

That’s the thing about following. Whoever, or whatever, we follow has the ability to take us where we want and need to go… or lead us into dangerous territory.

Now, turn that coin over. Consider for a moment: who is following you?

via GIPHY

In your real life, I’m sure there are people who are going right where you lead them. They’re buying a product because you raved about it, or listening to a podcast that you recommended. If you’re a parent or a teacher, kids are following your approach to coping with hard times or they’re hoping to follow your footsteps to an alma mater.

Click to Follow

And then, there’s our social media lives. It’s interesting to me that so many platforms use the word “followers.”  When you click that little button on Twitter, is the person whose 280-character missives caught your attention really leading you anywhere?

I’d like to suggest that you are leading. So the question is, what direction are you taking your followers? Is it a destination worth visiting? Whether you are leading people toward brands and products, opportunities or inspiration, they are following you.

via GIPHY

I believe that we are all accountable to God for the way we influence others.

“But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.” Matthew 18:6

Does that scare you? Please, please, don’t be scared. (Well. I mean, take it seriously. Be sober-minded about the impact of those words. But don’t be afraid!)

Here’s the thing: we all need to be mindful of our words and our deeds, the photos we post and the memes we share. Those who are following us can either be helped –edified, encouraged, rebuked when necessary, pointed toward Jesus – or they can be hindered by the way we lead.

Everyone’s got followers. Where are you taking yours?

One final note: I’d be a lousy friend if I didn’t close by reminding you of the ONE person you can always trust to lead you.

Your husband is going to get it wrong sometimes. Your friend will point you toward a product that turns out to be a dud, or your mom will give you directions to her favorite store and get you totally lost on some back roads, or your favorite influencer will turn out to be photoshopping everything.

Human beings aren’t always worth following. But you can trust the One who said:

When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” John 8:12

Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me. John 12:26

I will follow Him.

via GIPHY

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“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven…
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak…” Ecclesiastes 3: 1-7

I call this blog Words to Spare because I usually have lots to say. Right now, I’m finding it very important to speak up. I’m engaging in lots of conversations with fellow white folks, doing my best to share what I’ve learned and help lighten the emotional labor of my Black friends who don’t necessarily want to be answering every question from every acquaintance who is suddenly paying attention. I’ve been to a prayer rally in my town and have plans to attend an NAACP gathering tonight and another prayer rally next week. I’ve been talking about justice for a long time around here, but the whole world feels different right now, and I don’t think it needs more of my words.

This week, I’m finding it very important to also be silent. On Instagram, I’m trying to amplify Black voices, and pause my own photos and words so that others can be better heard. And I think that’s what I need to do here, too.

I stand with my Black brothers and sisters against injustice. I honor them as fellow image bearers of God. I’m anti-racist, and I will give my time, votes, dollars, and words to dismantle the systems that have harmed so many of them for so long.

Please take a few minutes to read these perspectives, and pray with me for humility in our own hearts and for justice in our nation.

Bryan Stevenson on the frustration surrounding George Floyd’s murder

The Grio on part of the problem with our criminal justice system

Ibram X. Kendi and Yoni Appelbaum discuss policing, protests, and this moment in history (audio/podcast)

President Barack Obama on activism and engagement

The Jewish Telegraphic Agency on an interfaith rally in Chicago

Black pastors in Raleigh on the protests after George Floyd’s murder

and John Piper (who’s a white guy, but I hope you’ll read his words to fellow white folks) on the sin of structural racism



Resources for learning more:
Be The Bridge: a faith-based community for racial reconciliation

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Bible study in the time of corona… looks a lot like web-based conference calling. Like so many other folks, I’ve taken to using Zoom and FaceTime for most of the meetings and gatherings that used to fill my days, and Bible study is no exception! I miss opening up my door and welcoming ladies in to sit in the living room and open God’s Word, but I suppose one advantage to moving our meetings to an online format is that some folks who couldn’t make it to my midday gatherings are able to log in and join us now.

Last night, our Bible study conversation turned to fear. We’ve been reading in the Psalms, and we observed that even when David or the other psalmists cry out to God in fear, worry, or anxiety they always come to a posture of faith and worship by the end of the song. It’s a really beautiful reminder to us that we can bring all of our messy emotions to the Lord, and that the right way to process our emotions with Him is to end up in praise and thankfulness. Nevertheless — most of us have some types of fear assailing us right now.

Some are worried about the virus, if not for themselves then for vulnerable family members or friends. Some are worried about their livelihoods, the businesses they’ve built. Some are worried about the students they teach, the clients they serve, the people they help at ministries which are now closed or out of contact.

And there are the year ’round worries: our children’s growth and development, relationship issues, finances, educational or career decisions. There’s nothing new under the sun, we are reminded in Ecclesiastes. People have had things to fear since the dawn of time. The thing is, God’s people have had the antidote to fear for just as long.

I promised my Bible study friends that I would compile a list of Scriptures we can use to actively combat fear. One of the best ways to ensure fear doesn’t take root in your heart is to speak the truth of God’s Word. In Ephesians 6:10-18, when Paul writes about the armor of God, he first describes the defensive pieces. The only offensive weapon for believers is “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.”

It started in the Notes app on my phone, but pretty quickly got too big for that. And as I looked at the verses, I realized that speaking these Scriptures is powerful, but so is praying through Scripture. (If you’re not familiar with the concept, Wycliffe does a wonderful job fleshing it out here.) So I opened my word processor and started writing the way I might pray each of these verses back to the Lord.

Once that was done, I felt like it was something worth sharing. So I’ve made it a PDF that you can get right here. I pray that these verses and sample prayers will encourage you and strengthen you in your fight against fear. We are more than conquerors through Christ, my dear friends!

Printable for Praying Scripture - Talking Back to Fear

Click image to download your copy of the Praying Scripture PDF!

By the way: I’ve written before about my personal struggles with anxiety here & here. If you are battling clinical anxiety, I am here for you and I am on your side, sister. I take anxiety medication and I’ve seen therapists on and off for years. I am not insinuating that you can just pray that away, or that if your anxiety remains after praying Scripture that you’ve somehow lacked faith. I wish I could pour you a cup of coffee and give you a hug! You can be a faithful Christian, and still have a physical body that battles this ailment — just like we can have godly brothers & sisters who battle any other chronic medical condition. I believe that God sees you and loves you, on the good days when your head is above water AND on the bad days when you struggle with it all. Rest in the truth that His grace is sufficient for you, and that His power is made perfect in our weakness. Grace and peace to you.

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We’ve always been big fans of Disney animation (and Disney parks, and Disney pins, etc etc) and recently, I shared some of the faith lessons I see on display in Disney’s The Rescuers over at my friend Laura’s great blog.

Click the image to read the full post!

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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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