Category: faith

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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Sometimes, it’s easy to feel like your small voice isn’t making much of a difference in this big, noisy world.

Sometimes, it seems like speaking up won’t accomplish anything (except maybe to lose you a few friends).

Sometimes, you have to do it anyway.

This afternoon I saw something on Facebook. A proud mother posting photos of her kid’s school presentation on a historical figure – typical newsfeed fodder, right?

But this was a photo of a White middle-school kid in blackface.

I gasped and I muttered under my breath. I got angry and I prayed about holding my tongue and my temper.

And then, I decided to hold my temper but not my tongue. Because sitting silently in the face of injustice, in the presence of disrespect, in the view of racism (yup, I said it!) is no better than engaging in injustice and disrespect and racism oneself.

Of all the character traits I pray that my children will grow to embody – and that I pray they will SEE IN ME – integrity is one of the dearest to my heart. Because integrity, I believe, locks all the others together. Peace, patience, kindness, goodness, love: each of them is undergirded and strengthened by integrity.

I know and love people of color. I would be horrified for any of them to sit in a school auditorium and witness a kid parade in blackface on a stage. What’s more? I would be horrified for my White children to witness that, too. Because I don’t want my children to think that the defining characteristic of that famous freedom fighter was the color of his skin. I don’t want my community to be one where showing up to a public school wearing blackface is acceptable.

So I said something.

I don’t know if the lesson deep at the heart of this will get through to that mother or that preteen. (SPOILER ALERT: THE LESSON IS THAT BLACKFACE IS NEVER OKAY BECAUSE BLACKFACE IS ALWAYS DEEPLY DISRESPECTFUL.) I have hope, though, that they or their circle Facebook friends will see my comment and stop to think. Maybe one heart or mind will change. But even if they don’t? The other lesson deep at the heart of what happened today was for me: speaking out about Wrong is always okay because it is always the Right thing to do.

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It’s been 13 years since Chris’ diagnosis with testicular cancer. I told the whole story a few years ago, so I won’t repeat myself.

But do you know what’s always worth repeating?

ThanksBe
I am still thankful for restoration and health at the hands of the Great Physician. Thankful for the man Chris has become through the past thirteen years. Thankful for the three beautiful children with whom we have been blessed, and for the life we have built. Thankful for the hundreds of lives he’s touched through his work. Thankful beyond measure to the Lord Jesus Christ.

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The last few years, the Lord has used lessons about submission,
gratitude, and service to deepen and grow my sense of contentment. Those are the first three “building blocks” in this series.

A moving gif of blocks arranges itself into a smiling face.

The final block that completes the foundation for contentment is connection. What do I mean by that? Well, first of all: I mean real, honest, authentic relationships with other believers.I don’t mean the connections you make on social media (for the most part). Oh, I hope that my blog is a source of encouragement and reading it leaves you feeling bolstered. I hope that you have a sense of community in the feeds you follow on Twitter or Instagram. But in general, most of us get comparison —not connection— from our online worlds.

Comparison is a Thief

Comparison only serves to steal your joy and breed discontentment. Comparison leaves you feeling less-than. Comparison prompts you to narrow angry eyes at your stuff, your circumstances, your people, and your place.

Mrs. Potato Head packing Mr. Potato Head's "angry eyes" from Toy Story 2

Don’t pack your angry eyes, friends. Now if it’s true that comparison breeds discontentment, but connection fosters contentment… the question is, why?

Connection Halts Entitlement Thinking

I’d say it’s because living in a real community forces us to let go of pride and entitlement.I’d wager that in many of our lives, discontentment comes from a sense of entitlement. Your human nature tells you:

I deserve better than this.
I deserve better in my relationships – my husband, my kids, my friends… they just don’t appreciate me or treat me right.
I deserve better in my place – this house, this job, this town, this whole state – they aren’t up to my standards!
I deserve better from my stuff – I should really have a better car, fancier sunglasses, nicer shoes, a bigger TV.
I deserve better from my circumstances – I wasn’t made to live like this!

On the other hand, when you spend time and effort connecting with a group of believers, learning together and living out your callings together, you will grow in grace.


“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than ourselves.” (Philippians 2:3)

Small Groups beat Packed Arenas

There’s a lot to be said about small groups in the Christian life. What I’ve seen in my own experience is that two big things come from connection: accountability and vulnerability.

When you’re accountable to a group of friends, fellow travelers on the journey, you first of all learn to recognize your own shortcomings. You own up to your sins, and your people encourage you in repentance and starting fresh with your eyes back on Christ. Guess what that does for your sense of entitlement? It smashes it WAY down to proper size. Accountability reminds us that we aren’t deserving of any of the blessings in our life – that all we have & do is such a gift. That reorients our hearts away from discontentment.

And secondly, the shared vulnerability of group living helps you to take a turn being the one served by others. (Remember in that last building block, when I talked about how service blesses us and gives us a contentment mindset? Well, here’s where the coin flips sides. Being served by others is sometimes also necessary to help us return to contentment.) There will be times when your connection to others puts them in a position to bless you – with words of encouragement or reproof, with service, with time or resources that meet your needs. In my life, I have always –without exception—found this experience to be both humbling and deeply loving.

Known and Loved

You see, I think human beings have a deep heart cry to be fully known. We want to be seen, and heard, and valued and cherished.The truth is, only God fully knows us right now. The glorious truth is that He knows every bit of us – even the ugly, imperfect, shameful parts – and He loves us anyway.

“Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.”


1 Corinthians 13:12, NLT

Someday, the Bible promises us, we’ll have complete knowledge. Until then, I believe that connection with other believers is the closest we’ll get on this earth. Connection spurs us toward humility and love, it helps us avoid the comparison trap, and it puts our hearts in the right place.

And that’s the capstone of this little tower of contentment we’ve been building.

A pale blue sky with wisps of clouds is overlaid with text: #ContagiousContentment.

Which part of contentment is the biggest blessing or hardest struggle for you? Comment or tweet at me with #ContagiousContentment.

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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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