Category: devotional thoughts

Rows of peanut butter blossom cookies cooling on a wire rack. Click for link to recipe.

I’ve baked 216 cookies so far this month. The recipes and ingredients are lined up for another 276 by the end of this week. A few nights ago, my darling husband had the Unmitigated Confidence, the Unabashed Audacity, to ask, “Hey, you know these cookies? [flashes a photo of peanut butter blossoms on his phone] Could you make a batch for Christmas? I just really like them.”

I mean. Y’all. I’ve already prepared “Santa’s Whiskers,” and peppermint-cocoa cookies, peppermint meringues, and up next are M&M cookies, chocolate-covered cherry cookies, gingerbread, and another batch of meringues. AND HE ASKS FOR MORE? Just because he likes them?!

Dear reader, I told him I would bake them, if he picks up the bag of Hershey’s Kisses from the store.

screen capture of tweet dated 6:51 pm, 12/17/19

The evening of the cookie conversation, I tweeted: “I need to start asking for things I want, just because I like them, with that level of boldness.” (I was really only thinking about asking Chris. For stuff and nonsense. But then…)

The next morning, my Bible Reading Challenge took me to Luke 11 and I saw this:

“Then Jesus said to them, “Suppose you have a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have no food to offer him.’ And suppose the one inside answers, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is already locked, and my children and I are in bed. I can’t get up and give you anything.’ I tell you, even though he will not get up and give you the bread because of friendship, yet because of your SHAMELESS AUDACITY he will surely get up and give you as much as you need.

“So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

“Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!””

Luke 11:5-13 (NIV) emphasis mine


It reminded me of how I’d felt when Chris asked for cookies. Even though I am already busy (like the man in the parable who’s already resting with his family), something about the sheer chutzpah of the request made me acquiesce.
Look at that passage again.

Asking for More

Do

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Raise your hand if you hated AP Chemistry in high school.

How about Organic Chem in college? Raise your hand if that course nearly derailed your chosen major or served as a weed-out course at your school. (Confession: I actually didn’t have to take Organic Chem. I got college credit from my AP exam, and only had to take Science for Elementary School Teachers [not the actual course title] once I got to college. My husband majored in Bio and minored in Chem because he was pre-med, and the way he tells it Organic Chemistry was the class that made people decide how badly they reallllly wanted to pursue a career in medicine.)

So look: I don’t know much about chemistry. But I do know a couple of things about this little guy right here:

blackboard sketch of serotonin molecule

Serotonin. This neurotransmitter* keeps our brains happy and healthy. It plays a role in our sleep cycles, moods, social impulses, memory, appetite, and even libido.

One of the things I do remember vividly from my (single, solitary, high school) chemistry class is the visual image of how neurotransmitters work. It’s like a lock in a key: our bodies release the key –the substance (in this case, serotonin) that is designed to fit precisely into receptor cells—the lock. When you’re deficient in serotonin, you have a bunch of empty locks, and a certain set of symptoms develops that is your body’s way of warning you: “We need more serotonin.”

You can boost your serotonin in natural ways, like changing your diet & exercise routines, light exposure or talk therapy, or by taking certain medications, if your body isn’t producing enough on its own.

Now unfortunately, what happens sometimes is that people turn to other substances to fill those empty locks. Some drugs work by mimicking our natural brain chemistry, and when we are talking about medications under a doctor’s supervision that can be a good thing. But if we abuse substances that mimic serotonin (for example, LSD or the THC in cannabis) then we are filling those locks with a synthetic “key” that may do way more harm than good.

illustration of lock-and-key brain chemistry mechanism

Our bodies can get the message, “we don’t need to make anymore serotonin, we have enough.” So by putting the wrong thing in the lock, we create a fault in the system — then we have too much of the real neurotransmitter in our bloodstream with no lock to attach to, or we have not enough because we’ve turned off the production. (That’s a really rough explanation of how illegal drugs work. Get a much more robust explanation here.)

Key to My Heart

I don’t know much about chemistry. But I do know just a little about the way God wired me,

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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

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Home staging is a big buzzword in real estate these days. You’ll hear about it on HGTV, and see it on the DIY network. Bloggers love to talk about staging, and it’s all over apps like Houzz and Pinterest.

If you haven’t dipped your toe in the staging waters, I’ll explain:

“Home Staging” is the act of turning a lived-in (or vacant) home into a neutral, appealing space for the purpose of attracting potential buyers. Home staging removes the personal touches of the current (or previous) occupants and creates a ‘blank slate’ where buyers can envision their own furniture, family, and life.

Home staging, my dears, is a pain in the butt. We’ve done some staging here – hid away the 5’x7′ rug to make the entry appear larger; slipcovered the ratty loveseat in our front room, tidied up the bookshelves (but a true home stager would make me pack 75% of those books and have ‘styled’ shelves); removed all the homeschool items, hung new curtains, and turned the schoolroom back into a dining room (but a real pro would probably make me create a faux ‘leaf’ to extend our dinky table and buy slipcovers for our ugly mismatched chairs). We reduced the items on the kitchen countertops (but if I were hardcore, it would be nothing but the KitchenAid and the Keurig!) and took most of the toys out of the family room (that room might pass ‘real’ muster, actually). Purged things from the kids’ rooms (again, probably a pass), but we didn’t change the office-slash-guest room (and a properly staged home has no dual purpose rooms. You’re supposed to pick one and make it shine!). Bought new handtowels for the powder room and hung the nicest towels in the other two bathrooms.

Living in a house which has been staged feels stilted. This is still my home, but it’s “off.” It’s like sitting in a nicely decorated hotel room. I feel awkward if I leave a dent in the sofa cushion. On the surface, it looks great – and it’s supposed to, that’s the point, for real estate purposes.

But today I was thinking about how many Christians are walking around fully staged. We are prepped and polished. We have packed away our unsightly clutter and mess – but it’s not really gone. We have hung up new curtains of humility, modesty, patience, grace – but there remains pride, greed, selfishness, anger.

We want to gleam and glow, and when others in the church ask how we’re doing, we give them our “listing” answer. (Four beautiful bedrooms! Gas fireplace! Eat-in-kitchen!) “I’m so blessed… Things are really busy, but we’re doing great….” I’m not saying that we’re being dishonest when we present these generic answers, exactly. After all, the houses on your local real estate market really DO have the features with the funny abbreviations: 4bd, FP, lg bkyd…. Right?

What I am saying, though, is that one of the functions of the body of Christ is to

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God sent His son, they called Him Jesus.

He came to love, heal, and forgive.

He lived and died to buy my pardon;

An empty grave is there to prove my Saviour lives.


Because He lives, I can face tomorrow.
Because He lives, all fear is gone.
Because I know He holds the future,

And life is worth the living, just because He lives.
When I was five-and-a-half years old, our church hosted a production of a play about the life of Jesus; it was the first time that my little heart grasped the graphic reality of Passion Week. Before that, of course I had heard the Sunday School version of the Easter story. My parents had talked about Christ’s death on the cross, and I’d sung the hymns about it. But seeing that young man in a robe and sandals “healing the sick” and singing with the disciples, taking that jug of water and “turning it into wine,” breaking bread during his last Passover, and then walking down the center aisle between the pews… carrying a back-breaking heavy cross on his shoulders. Being whipped, bleeding as thorns pierced his head. Hearing the hammer strikes ring through our sanctuary as his hands and feet were nailed to that tree. And then those final words spoken – the room went black – and I cried harder than ever before in my life. When we went home after the play, I had a long talk with my parents, and my Daddy led me in a prayer to ask Jesus into my heart.

On Easter Sunday 1986, I was “buried with Christ in baptism – raised to walk in the newness of life.”

How sweet to hold a newborn baby,
And feel the pride and joy he gives.
But greater still, the calm assurance:
This child can face uncertain days because HE lives.


Because He lives, I can face tomorrow.
Because He lives, all fear is gone.
Because I know He holds the future,

And life is worth the living, just because He lives.

My mom loved the song “Because He Lives.” During our year(ish) living in Oklahoma, we were members of a church with a vibrant Deaf ministry, and Mom and I learned American Sign Language. Over the years, I’ve lost a lot of the ASL I used to know, but Mom continued to sign many of  her favorite hymns. She was almost on autopilot when those songs began – her hands started to fly even if she wasn’t singing aloud. When I close my eyes, I can picture sitting by her side during this song. Her voice was wobbly and warbly, hitting and missing the notes with abandon. But her hands were strong and sure, fluid and beautiful. She believed every word, and I think signing became a form of

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(for the conversation I had with Susannah after we dropped Jonas off at karate, click here)

When I picked Jonas up from karate, he told us all about learning the next eight steps of his kata. And then the conversation turned to building a tower high enough to reach the clouds. Which reminded me to tell him the story of the tower of Babel. Which led to the topic of the invisible nature of God, and that we can’t see or reach heaven. And then:

“So what happens when everyone, every person, everyone, is just dead and in heaven? What happens to our Earth then?

I tried my best to explain the New Heaven and the New Earth, not that I’ve got a perfect theological grasp on it myself. But I figure “A+ for effort,” right?

“So. We get new bodies… Will it have skin?”
“Will… your body have skin? Hmm. I don’t know, exactly. I’m not sure what our new bodies will look like. The Bible says they will be glorified bodies, like Christ has in heaven….”

“I hope we have skin. What color will it be?”
“I don’t know.”

“I hope my new skin is brown. And a little ‘fleeesh.’”
Then Susannah chimed in, “And I hope mine is blue! And purple!”
“You guys are awesome.”

{*Jonas’ word “FLEEESH” is how he pronounces the color-word on that Crayola crayon that’s sort of pale pinkish. I think I like his version better, since it always struck me as unfair to call that one “flesh-colored” when actual human flesh comes in such a beautiful array of shades.}

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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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