Category: faith

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 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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We went to Susannah’s MRI. The radiologists who read it determined that she doesn’t have a tethered cord. (The backstory is here, if you missed it.)

This is good news, right? It means that she doesn’t need neurosurgery.

But it also means that we didn’t get an explanation for all her symptoms, and it means that we can’t resolve all her symptoms with one surgery.

The MRI found a cyst on her right kidney, so we now need to follow up with a pediatric nephrologist.

Additionally, we went back to the rheumatologist who first discovered her scoliosis to ask about a connective tissue disorder called Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome. I thought, from my reading, that Susannah (and I) had a lot of the hallmarks of EDS. The rheumatologist ruled out EDS, but did order an echocardiogram for Susannah based on my history with mitral valve proplapse. There are a number of other connective tissue disorders which present with hypermobility, scoliosis, and heart problems – so we need to check that out.

At the moment, there’s no healing in sight.

However, we’re thankful that the echocardiogram can be done here in town (so we don’t have to add another day trip to Louisville to the calendar) and thankful for every big diagnosis that has been ruled out. I’m thankful that Susannah’s pain levels are manageable and seem to be a little improved lately (my hypothesis is that the warm weather is helping).

I know, it seems a little crazy to write about believing for full healing and then to come back with a report that my kid is still dealing with chronic pain and to talk about being thankful. It seems a little crazy to say that I believe that God uses every part of our stories for our good and for His glory. But I really do feel thankful for the good things and I honestly do believe that. Because I believe this:

“Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.”
‭‭Ephesians‬ ‭3:20-21 NIV

God can do – and usually does! – immeasurably more than we can ask or imagine. Have you ever experienced a holiday or birthday when folks asked what you wanted? And maybe you couldn’t think of anything, or maybe you didn’t want to ask for anything outrageous, so you named a small little trinket or memento you might like. But the day rolled around and you were absolutely blown away by what you unwrapped. It was way more, way bigger, or more lavish, or more ‘perfectly you’ than the little thing you had asked for. God is in the business of giving out gifts like that. He not only knows what we’re asking and imagining — He also knows how the whole story ends. So what He gives and when He gives it all make sense when you get to the end of the book.

I’m praying for full healing of Susannah’s kidney cyst, or that if it’s still present when we get to nephrology that they’ll decide it’s a simple cyst which needs no intervention. I’m praying for the results of her echocardiogram, that it would show her little heart beating in perfect rhythm. I believe God is able to give us both those good gifts.

And even if He doesn’t, I still trust that the Author of my girl’s story is working out something glorious.

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Y’all, I’m in love with a new ‘gram. I mean, I’m still on Insta, but my heart belongs to another.

Have you met… the Enneagram?

Folks. Folks! This thing has blown me away. I heard about it first online somewhere. (Probably Instagram, honestly. I follow a lot of thinkers and writers and I’m not sure who first mentioned it there.) Then a college friend, who’s now an awesome pastor doing amazing justice work in Atlanta, mentioned his Enneagram (pronounced: any-uh-gram) number on Facebook – which perked my ears up a little. If he’s into it, it must be something worth a look.

I remember Googling it and immediately feeling skeptical and distrustful. Like, who needs another personality survey in her life? I’m an INFP and my love languages are time & touch; I’m a Red and a Phlegmatic. What good is a number?

Then Jen Hatmaker interviewed Chris Heuertz on her podcast and he talked about the Ennegram as a whole and his book, The Sacred Enneagram, which delves into how the Enneagram works as a spiritual development tool.

And my brain exploded.

Unlike the Meyers-Briggs, the Enneagram doesn’t just tell you where you fit in a little box (or in this case, on a little circle). The Enneagram is dynamic – it’s all about movement.

The idea, as I understand it, is that we’re all born with something of every number in us. But over time during childhood, we begin to use one number as our primary means of coping with the world. This personality is a mask, a shield, and we use it to function. As adults, we can “live” right there in our number – but when we are healthy emotionally & spiritually, we move across the circle and take on the “high side” characteristics of a different number. And conversely, when we are in stress or in an unhealthy spiritual and emotional zone, we move across the circle to embody the “low side” or “shadow” characteristics of yet a third number.

Lightbulbs all over the place.

Furthermore, every number on the Enneagram has a primary sin to grapple with – and thus, every number needs to practice a different spiritual discipline in order to grow.

The Enneagram, you guys! It doesn’t just slap a label on you: “Hi, I’m A Four!” It takes your hand and says, “You’ve been moving through the world as a Four, but that’s not your true self. You’ve been using Four thoughts, feelings, and behaviors to avoid grappling with the sin that plagues your soul. Move in this direction, friend, and discover the true self that God wants you to be. Teach your spirit how to do this thing, and discover the virtue which counteracts that sin.”

Intrigued? Oh, goody! I’m a newbie, guys, but here are my recommendations (I don’t do affiliate links; I’m not making any kickbacks. I just love these resources):

The Road Back to You, by Ian Morgan Cron & Suzanne Stabile — super easy read. Funny and conversational in tone. These folks love people and love helping people on the Enneagram journey. Companion materials:

The Road Back to You podcast – start with the overview episodes (1 & 2) and then either listen through the entire series, or jump to the ones that talk about your number!

Typology podcast – hosted by Ian Morgan Cron, he has done AWESOME panel discussions with groups of people who embody the same number, and interviews with individuals about their Enneagram journey.

The Road Back To You website with a free Enneagram test. Ian has said on his podcast that online tests, even his own!, is only about 55% accurate. It takes a lot of humility and self-awareness to answer the tests legitimately. But, this test is my favorite of the free options online.

The Enneagram Institute – the information available on this website is at LEAST a whole book’s worth. I love their sections that cover each number’s tendencies “in real life.” The RHETI test is available here for $12. It’s extremely well-researched and takes something like 45 minutes to take, but if you want the reassurance of a “real result” I think it’s worth every dollar.

The Sacred Enneagram, by Chris Heuertz. This book is a little “deeper,” and if you read it first you may find it a little harder to pinpoint your type. But if you are mostly interested in what I’ve said about the Enneagram because of the Christianity connection, this is the book for you. Chris explains the motivations and sin patterns of each type with clarity and meets each type with a recommended spiritual practice that will help them grow in the grace and knowledge of God.

The Complete Enneagram, by Beatrice Chestnut. I first heard Ms. Chestnut on the Typology podcast, and I was drawn in by her warmth and her comprehensive knowledge of the Enneagram. Her studies have focused on the subtypes of each of the 9 numbers. (There are 3 subtypes: Self-Preservation, Social, and One-on-One.) For a few types, the subtypes all look about the same out in the world. But for a few numbers, the subtypes can make a person look and act very differently – which can make it very challenging to figure out your type if you’re just working with the freebie online tests. Not only can this book unlock the question marks if you’re feeling stuck between two numbers, but she lays out excellent questions for self-examination, prayer, and meditation when you are ready to “do the work” of growing beyond the limits of your number.

The Enneagram: A Christian Perspective, by Richard Rohr & Andreas Ebert. This is my latest purchase and I haven’t finished it, so I can’t say much, but the reason I bought it was because so many of the Enneagram teachers I have grown to love and respect site the wisdom and work of Father Richard Rohr. He’s a Franciscan of the Cincinnati Province, and has been teaching the Enneagram for over a decade.

 

Now here’s the thing: if you are thinking it’s all poppycock, that’s okay. There’s a saying that people come to the Enneagram at just the right time for them. If you aren’t interested, I’m totally cool with that. But if this plucks one of your heartstrings, OH MAN!, come and sing a few bars with me. I love talking through this stuff. I’d happily chat about everything you love or hate or question about it – I’d happily share what I know so far and would love nothing more than to be a sounding board if you’re trying to sort out your number. Email me, comment here, text me, whatever. 😊 XOXO, Michelle

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Our preacher shared some very wise observations last week in his message, as he usually does. Even though he wasn’t primarily preaching on the concept of Sabbath, he mentioned it as part of his larger picture, and it seemed to dovetail beautifully with my recent focus on self-care.

He said (I’m paraphrasing):

“The idea behind Sabbath is to stop – simply because it’s time to stop. Each of us must carve out Sabbath in our own lives. It doesn’t have to be Judaism’s sundown-to-sundown, nor the 1950’s Blue Laws either. It just has to be a time when – no matter what – we will be with God.”

…which made me think: taking a Sabbath rest is a critical component of self-care.

When we slow down, take a break from our labor, listen to God’s Word and His Spirit, pray or meditate – we center ourselves. We remember to care for our soul. Since it doesn’t feel hunger pains the same way as our stomachs, it’s easier to neglect to feed a soul. Since it neither atrophies nor plumps up before our eyes like our muscles, it’s easier to forget to exercise a soul. But it’s still vital for us to care for our spirit.

In my last post, I only mentioned spiritual self-care briefly. Today, I thought I should offer some suggestions to that end.

Is your spirit parched, mama? Is your soul hungry? Sit yourself down, and be nourished.

 

  • Prayer. You know, talking to God can take so many different forms. Those “popcorn” prayers you toss up all day long – repeating something written centuries ago – jotting your needs in a journal – praying both for people you know and strangers you see in your day-to-day. In some seasons of my life, I’ve found it really hard to pray for myself, but that’s when I can usually still pray over other people.
  • God’s Word. You can go old-school: grab your Bible, flip it open, point to a verse at random, and read that for the day. Or you can go artsy and get a journaling/art Bible. If you’ve always got your phone nearby anyway, there’s an app for that – you can sign up for a devotion series and your phone will ‘ding’ you a notification reminder to log in and read the daily selection. Whatever it takes to fit your life – there is certainly a way to focus on God’s Words to you. (Remember, dear heart: your relationship with God is a relationship in every sense of the word. God loves to hear from you in prayer, but you also need to listen to Him and listen for Him. Can you imagine if you had a friend who ran into the room, talked non-stop for ten minutes, and ran back out – every time you saw her? I’m guessing that you would soon know all about her – but she wouldn’t know you very well. Listening to God through His Word is vital to a deepening relationship with Him.)
  • Meditation. Maybe it’s only two minutes to start with, but that’s okay. If you’re in one of those phases with very young children or lots of plates spinning in the air, two minutes out of your day is a lot. Have you heard the story of Susanna Wesley? She was the mother of John and Charles Wesley – the founders of the Methodist tradition – as well as 17 other children (nine of whom died in infancy). Apparently, Susanna taught her children that when they saw mother with her apron covering her head, they were not to disturb her because she was praying. Wouldn’t it be awesome if we could teach our littles that a certain sign or symbol meant “Mom’s meditating – do not disturb”?
  • Music. Maybe it’s hymns, maybe it’s modern worship music, maybe it’s classical compositions. Maybe, like a pal of mine, you feel the spirit of the Lord when you listen to the Indigo Girls. I believe music is a gift from God, and finding the tunes that soothe your soul can be an easy way to make spiritual self-care part of your everyday experience.
  • A Sunday afternoon nap. Yes, seriously. Have you managed to take a Sunday nap lately? There is something mystically restorative about a nap on Sunday. It leaves me feeling twice as rested as it possibly could any other day of the week. I can’t do it every week, but whenever possible I’ve started trying to give myself permission to take Sunday naps. It’s a blessing I can’t quite explain.
  • Service. Okay, I know what you’re thinking: you’re already tired, you do a hundred things a week, and now I’m suggesting you do more WORK? How is that restful and restorative? I’ll tell you: it’s a holy mystery and I don’t understand it fully myself. (Caution: if you are a people-pleaser at heart, or if your personality type struggles to say no, you’ll need to exercise heaping helpings of caution and discernment here. It’s easy to do too much in the name of service and end up burned out.) But each of us is wired for service. Each of us is gifted in unique ways to serve people around us. Some of us are well-equipped for ministry – we can serve the people of God within the global church. Some of us are designed for mission – serving the people of the world who don’t know God yet. When you choose to serve, there is something energizing and invigorating that occurs. Even as you pour out your energy and time, you are filled in a deeper way.

What makes your list for spiritual self-care? I’d love to know what works for you. Comment, tweet me, or tag me on IG.

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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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