Hi, friends! It’s the first week of June, and you know what that means: a new edition of the Insecure Writers’ Support Group Blog Hop!

This month’s question is: Of all the genres you read and write, which is your favorite to write in and why?

First, let’s talk reading. Stephen King said, “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There’s no way around these two things that I’m aware of, no shortcut. I’m a slow reader, but I usually get through seventy or eighty books a year, mostly fiction. I don’t read in order to study the craft; I read because I like to read.” (On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, 10th Anniversary Edition, p.145)

I’m not quite as voracious as Mr. King. (Then again, I suspect he’s not parenting three kids and doing all his own housework, so I’m giving myself some grace on this whole book-count situation.) A few years ago, I started keeping records of the books I read. I finished fifty-six in 2016, forty-five in 2017, and sixty-seven in 2018. Not too shabby for this season of life!

To break it down by genre, in the past six months I’ve read the following:
7 mainstream women’s fiction
6 Christian Living (non-fiction)
4 Christian speculative fiction
3 Christian women’s fiction
1 writing craft (non fiction)
1 mainstream thriller/suspense 
1 mainstream comedy
1 Christian romance

My tastes in reading material are a little like my tastes in breakfast food: I’ll eat ANYTHING, but I tend to get stuck with a favorite and eating oatmeal every day for a month until I burn out and switch to bagels. I sometimes read lots of light-hearted fiction (chick lit or up lit or women’s fiction with romantic subplots) and then switch to heavy documentary style nonfiction for ages.  I also enjoy the occasional memoirs, mainstream nonfiction, YA contemporaries, and YA fantasies. So, if I zoomed out to look at the stats for what I’ve read over the past year or nine months, you’d probably see some representation in those genres, too.

My favorite genre to write in is women’s fiction—but (confession) it’s the only genre I’ve written in long-form seriously. I’ve written a few articles for magazines and a few children’s stories for my own kids, and of course I’ve been blogging here for years. But when I decided to jump into novel writing, the stories I really wanted to tell were definitely women’s fiction. The first manuscript was mainstream and my second is Christian, but both center around women’s lives and the friendships and family relationships that carry them through their emotional journeys.

And you? If you’re a reader, what’s your jam? If you’re a writer, join us on the blog hop!

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A fresh lemon arranged in two halves against a pair of green leaves.

Summer break started here last week, and already my kids are living it up. We’ve had an overnight at our family cabin, fires in the firepit (with s’mores, of course), pool days and popsicles and a new rainbow slip & slide for the backyard.

Today, we went to the pool in the morning and the library in the afternoon. (One kid picked two books, another picked 12, and the youngest picked 24. #justlikehermama) You’d think that would be enough fun for one summer day, but you’d be wrong.

My daughters, 10 and 7, love to bake. They’re still in the learning stage where they need an adult nearby for most of it, but I’m beginning to see glimpses of independent-recipe-followers, and I can hardly wait for that day!

After our library trip, they wanted to bake chocolate chip cookies. Unfortunately, I’d let our pantry supply of chocolate chips run out. So they turned to an old standby and started browsing.

They settled on lemon bars, a treat I’ve eaten other places and loved but have never baked at home! We had everything on hand and set to baking.

I was helping measure out the lemon juice when a bit splashed onto my fingers. It was a tiny bit of juice, and I probably wouldn’t have noticed–except that I have a little cut on my ring finger. (It’s one of those weird little scrapes just below the cuticles. Do y’all get those?)

As you can probably guess, I had a sharp intake of breath and bit my lip! OUCH. Oh, the burn. The sting!

Before the juice hit my skin, I hadn’t even been aware of that tiny little cut. Have you ever had something small, like a papercut or a nick from a razor, that you didn’t even sense until something irritating hit it?

I got to thinking: God’s Word works a lot like lemon juice on the papercuts of hidden sins in our lives. You know, some sins are big and flagrant. People are aware, usually, if they’re lying to people or swindling folks out of money or committing adultery or murder. But I’d bet that many of Christ’s followers are susceptible to letting small sins enter their lives, and they don’t even know it.

A couple of months ago, in my time with God’s word, I kept running up against the idea of self-centeredness. I did not think I was self-centered. The first few times I encountered verses like:

For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.

Romans 12:3-5

I was clapping and cheering: “Yeah, that’s right, y’all quit thinking of yourselves more highly than you ought.” But as weeks went by, I kept encountering verses like:

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.

Philippians 2:3-4

And I started to feel that lemon-juice-on-a-papercut sting. The oooh, that’s me, Lord burn. I’m self-centered. I’m selfish. I feel resentful when I don’t get my way, when I have to work harder than I perceive someone else is, when my kids or spouse don’t seem to appreciate my role.

Maybe self-centeredness isn’t the hill you’re dying on. That’s okay. My point stands. You may very well have something in your heart, in your life, that’s sinful. And you don’t even know it’s there.

The best way to uncover it is to pour God’s word over yourself and see what stings.

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

2 Timothy 3:16-17

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A blue Weimaraner puppy lays curled up in a fluffy gray dog bed. One green eye is looking at the camera.

Porter, my youngest Weimaraner, lays curled up in a fluffy dog bed right beside my computer desk every day while I write. Today, he’s peeking out of his nest to announce that I’m a semi-finalist in the Contemporary category for the American Christian Fiction Writers Genesis Contest!

ACFW is such a wonderful, supportive organization, and this is the first writing contest I’ve ever entered. It is so exciting to see my name among so many talented writers. The semi-finalists go on to a second round of judging, and three finalists will be announced June 15th.

I feel like “semi-finalist” is a lot like the word “half-marathon.” You know, I ran a half-marathon and let me tell you: it was a full race. It was a whole lot of work. There was nothing ‘half’ about it. And for me, being a semi-finalist feels the same. This in itself is a whole achievement, and I’m fully thrilled with it.

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A Covenant Prayer in the Wesleyan Tradition

“I am no longer my own, but thine.
Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt.
Put me to doing, put me to suffering.
Let me be employed by thee or laid aside for thee,
exalted for thee or brought low for thee.
Let me be full, let me be empty.
Let me have all things, let me have nothing.
I freely and heartily yield all things
to thy pleasure and disposal.
And now, O glorious and blessed God,
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
thou art mine, and I am thine.
So be it.
And the covenant which I have made on earth,
let it be ratified in heaven. Amen.”

Hard Stuff

Y’all, I have long loved this prayer, but I have also long dreaded it. Those phrases: “Put me to doing, put me to suffering. Let me be employed by thee or laid aside for thee,” get at some of my deepest fears.

I love doing. I love being employed. It is HARD for me to ‘freely and heartily yield’ the notion of being productive, being valuable. It is HARD to ask the Lord to put me to suffering, to bring me low, to let me be empty.

But how can I approach the throne, only ever asking to ‘do,’ to ‘be employed’ to ‘be full’ –if I’m not willing to accept whatever comes from His hand?

Real Talk:

I have to confess that today I’ve been battling some fears and worries about my health, and when I (finally) realized that I had better be praying instead of fretting, the words of this prayer are what God brought to my mind.

My hands have been hurting on and off for a decade. Back in my late 20s, they would only ache after I’d spent several hours knitting, sewing, gardening, driving–any repetitive motion or gripping. They always felt better after a day or two.

Here lately, they’ve been aching a little bit all the time. It’s worst when I wake up in the morning, then they seem to loosen up with movement, but by evening they are achy again. If I’ve spent a lot of time typing, using my phone, writing, or gardening, they’re markedly worse.

A couple of days ago, I was massaging my hands in the evening and I realized that a few of my fingers (left pinky & middle, right pinky and index are the worst) don’t straighten completely, no matter what I do. The top joint stays crooked, as if I’m flexing it toward my palm, and the lower two joints look puffy and swollen, like they have a little pot belly. I showed my favorite always-on-call doctor, and he said it looks like Swan Neck Deformity, which is nearly always a sign of arthritis.

My head has a bad habit of extrapolating to worst case scenarios, and so now I’m not only feeling the physical ache of my current pains, but I’m feeling the emotional ache of worrying that I’m on a long, slow train to hands that will be locked up into painful contortions.

So that brings me back to today. I didn’t want to pray, “let me be laid aside” or “put me to suffering.” I’m still wrestling it through, but I think I’m on the precipice of understanding…

What I Want to Say

See, I want to pray for a major, exciting, fantastic healing. But I think first I need to wrap my head and heart around the level of surrender displayed in this prayer. If I can “freely and heartily yield all things to His pleasure and disposal,” then I can ask for big, giant, miracle level healing with a pure heart.

I think my natural bent is to frame it this way: “Lord, heal this ailment so I can work long and hard, and be a valuable person in Your kingdom.”

But I have a hunch that a more God-honoring prayer would be to truly believe these words: “Lord, I know that You love me and created me with a plan in mind. I am not more or less valuable in Your eyes based on anything I can or cannot do. Would you heal me? In your perfect timing, and for your public glory, and to whatever end you’ve already worked out.”

I’ve posted before about my struggles to pray with faith for healing. This time it’s a little different, because it’s for me. In many ways, it was harder when it was my mom or my child I was concerned for. The only part that’s harder so far has been sharing the burden. So here I am, telling everybody: I’m standing in the need of prayer. If you would, I’d love to have you intercede for me–both for faith and understanding, and for healing.

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(An earlier version of this post was originally delivered as a spoken testimony at a “Bluegrass Church” service at Settle Memorial UMC in Owensboro, Kentucky, and then first appeared in written form as a Facebook post after the service.)

Good, Good Father

Once, I was asked to give a testimony about God’s goodness. I told the pastor I’d be happy to–but as I thought about it, I realized that I’d also have to mention those times when it doesn’t seem like God is good.

If you think about God’s goodness, you can probably point to a moment in time you knew God was good. A beautiful day when creation awed you. A moment when you felt deeply Seen or Heard or Loved, and it just filled up your soul. You could have a million little daily things that add up to God being so good.

When God Shows Up

Some of us have even bigger moments that we can point to. One of mine was a time when I had just started driving. It was one of the first times I was really out in my car alone, and I ran out of gas. While I was sitting there, trying to decide if it would be safer to go on and start walking up to the nearest gas station or if I should sit where I was (I obviously started driving long before the advent of cell phones, y’all!) a truck pulled up behind me. The driver was a sweet older gentleman who gave me a ride to the gas station, and bought me a little plastic tank and paid for a little gas, and even showed me how to use it when we got back to my car. Looking back, I know that was a moment of God’s goodness.

And a few years later, when I was a young wife and mother, our apartment building had a fire. The apartment across the hall from us burned completely. Most of our belongings were okay; we just had to live without them for several weeks while the insurance company cleaned them. But the chemicals they use aren’t safe for babies, so everything we had for our four-month-old was a loss. People I had only recently met there in Nashville – and people I’d never met who only knew me from the internet! – sent boxes of baby clothes, gear, and gift cards so we could buy what we needed. That was such a sweet moment of God’s goodness.

How Far We’ve Come

A long time ago, God’s people had a prophet named Samuel. He had led them through some hard times, and then he took a stone and he named it Ebenezer. In Hebrew, it means, “thus far the Lord has brought us.” He stacked that stone up on some others, and there it stood as a big, tangible reminder. When they saw that stone, they could remember what God had done. They could remember that God was good and He loved them.

We need to hold on to our moments–the little, everyday ones and the big, shining examples–when we know that God is good. Because there will be days when everything looks dark and it doesn’t feel like God is good. When that happens, you can take those moments out of your pocket like a stone and remember.

The No Good, Very Bad Days

Because I’ve had a few of those times, too. There was one point when my marriage was on life support – and I honestly didn’t know if it would survive. And there was the time when we found out my mother, only fifty-one years old, had stage 4 ovarian cancer. Terminal.

In those times, it doesn’t feel like God is good.

A few generations after Samuel, God’s people had another prophet: Daniel. When he was alive, things were beyond bad. God’s people were being oppressed. They were captives in a land that hated them. Three Hebrews had just been rounded up & given a death sentence. But before they were executed, they got a chance to speak to the king.

And they said: We believe our God can save us from this. BUT EVEN IF HE DOES NOT… He is still God. He is still Good. We wouldn’t turn away.

They Knew What They Knew

They had learned what Samuel had taught God’s people so many years before. They had Ebenezer moments they could point to and hold on to. They knew God was good even in their darkest times.

In my own dark times? Well.

God gave us healing and restoration and growth and grace in our marriage. It’s a good thing now. But my mom died after a hard eighteen months with cancer.

“Even if He does not… He is still God. He is still Good.”

Remember, My Friends

If you’re reading these words and you’re in a dark place, I want to encourage you to hold on to your Ebenezer moments. Lean in to the times when you knew God was good. (And if you are new to all this, and don’t have any you can remember–you can borrow some of mine. Talk to me. I read every comment; my email’s up there on the About page or you can tweet @ me.)

But if you’re in a good place, where all around you, you can see and feel God’s goodness? I have two things I want to encourage you to do.

First: pay attention and remember your Ebenezers. Write them down if you have to. Use the notes app on your phone, or an old-fashioned journal, or jot them in the back of your Bible. Just put them where you can find them on the next hard day.

Second: now tell someone! You might never know who’s having a hard time, and hearing your story of God’s goodness can make a difference. Tell someone over coffee, or post it on social media. Or mention it to the neighbor when you’re at the mailbox tomorrow afternoon.

That big Ebenezer stone Samuel posted was to remind God’s people of his provision and care–and it was public, so I bet the rest of their neighbors likely couldn’t help but see it. Remember your Ebenezers. I can’t wait to hear about them!

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It’s time for another Insecure Writers’ Support Group blog hop! This month’s question is: If you could use a wish to help you write just one scene/chapter of your book, which one would it be?

An animated gif of Aladdin rubbing the magic lamp, causing a puff of smoke to appear and the Genie to whirl out.

Oh, man. This is such a fun question! I’m currently in rewrite mode for my WIP after getting a manuscript critique from an editor. She was really positive about one half of my dual-timeline narrative, but found some major weaknesses in the story arc of the other protagonist/timeline.

Here’s a look at my Scrivener “binder.”

Scrivener software is shown with a list of scene descriptions, some highlighted in pink.

In the final version, the chapters will alternate between Zola in 2000 and Erin in 2019. But for this phase of writing, I used Scrivener’s amaaaazing powers of click-and-drag-to-move-scenes-and-chapters-around to put this timeline in consecutive order. So this only shows the timeline of the weaker protagonist. The scenes highlighted pink are complete. The scenes in white are either scenes to write new from scratch, or scenes to rewrite–either to meet a new purpose, to meet their purpose more clearly, or small rewrites to accomodate a new location in the story/timeline.

If I could make a wish and a genie would help me with a scene or chapter, it would definitely be the chapter down toward the bottom of this list: “Erin’s Bad Guys Close In.”

I decided to use Save the Cat Writes a Novel to attack this rewrite. When I put my story through the filter of Jessica Brody’s scene breakdowns, I discovered this was the plot point where I was most lacking. I have four scenes to write to create this chapter (or two chapters?), and I’m most nervous about getting the tension and stakes right.

I think the buildup was solid–but this plot point was missing, so the resolution scenes were unfulfilling. I’m confident that if I can nail this section, the rest of the story will hang properly, like a well-cut dress that drapes just right.

At least, that’s what I’m wishing & hoping!

A lighthouse is shown in sepia tones, overlayed with the words "The Insecure Writer's Support Group"

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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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