Category: devotional thoughts

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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I’m struggling, again, with a growing dissatisfaction about the way my Sundays feel. This is an ongoing thing for me – it crops up every so often, and I read and pray and read and pray. Honestly, though, Chris has never shared my burden for it, so actually implementing changes has never happened. Eventually, life gets busy or something else comes along and my focus shifts and I forget about it… until something reminds me, and I circle back around to this.

I want Sunday to feel “set apart.” I want a Sabbath. I want rest.

Oh, not necessarily literal rest. Every mom of a baby would enjoy an extra day just to catch up on her naps, I guess, but that’s not the issue here.

Usually, Sunday goes like this:

5:30 a.m. Jonas wakes up, creeps into our room, and whisper-asks if it’s time to get up. We tell him no, he goes back to his room, and we roll over and try to doze off again.
6:00 a.m. Chris gets up and goes to the hospital. If he’s on-call, he’s likely there all day. If he’s not, he either makes rounds and races home just in time to hop in the car as we leave for church, or he makes rounds and does a small case and misses church but is home for the afternoon.
6:30-ish a.m. I get up and tell Jonas he can get up and open Susannah’s door; we all head downstairs for breakfast. The next couple of hours are just like every other day – fixing two separate breakfasts for the big kids, gratefully sipping a cup (or three) of coffee, letting the dog out and in and feeding him, at some point Abigail waking up and doing diapers/dress/nurse with her. I usually flip the TV on, even though I’d like to have at least ONE day without it, and try to catch a weather report before the kids start clamoring for PBS versus DVR versus whatever-the-current-video-obsession is. The benefit to giving in to the clamoring is that it usually buys me a few minutes to get myself dressed (and possibly even put makeup on) while they’re watching something. I wish I didn’t feel so dependent on a screen to accomplish that, though.
8:30 a.m. I start wrangling everyone into “church clothes.” Jonas is pretty capable at this point of assembling an appropriate outfit that matches, and only needs help with combing his hair, cleaning his glasses, and tying his shoelaces. But Susannah tends to wiggle and muss and undress and pull ribbons off and generally takes twice as long to get ready, so it evens out. Abigail is still at a cooperative stage for getting dressed, but at least 50% of the time has a last-minute diaper-change needed just as we head out the door.
9:20 a.m. I grab Susannah’s bag, Jonas’ worship bag, my diaper bag, (and my Bible if I’m lucky) and shepherd my little animals toward the garage. Queue up at least one lost

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Leo Donald Maxwell
(my paternal grandfather)
September 14, 1921 – November 10, 2010

“13-14And regarding the question, friends, that has come up about what happens to those already dead and buried, we don’t want you in the dark any longer. First off, you must not carry on over them like people who have nothing to look forward to, as if the grave were the last word. Since Jesus died and broke loose from the grave, God will most certainly bring back to life those who died in Jesus.

15-18And then this: We can tell you with complete confidence—we have the Master’s word on it—that when the Master comes again to get us, those of us who are still alive will not get a jump on the dead and leave them behind. In actual fact, they’ll be ahead of us. The Master himself will give the command. Archangel thunder! God’s trumpet blast! He’ll come down from heaven and the dead in Christ will rise—they’ll go first. Then the rest of us who are still alive at the time will be caught up with them into the clouds to meet the Master. Oh, we’ll be walking on air! And then there will be one huge family reunion with the Master. So reassure one another with these words.” ~1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

Today, my family is sad. We will miss Granddaddy so much! We know that Grandmama will have many hard days ahead of her. They were married when she was still a teenager and just celebrated their 59th Anniversary; it will feel so strange to come home to an empty house after all these years. We have known that Granddaddy’s heart was failing, that his body was wearing out, so this isn’t completely unexpected. But still, we are sad. We will cry, we will share old photos and old stories (like this one: when we were kids, every time we asked for seconds of something at the dinner table, he would quickly answer, “Nope.” To our surprised faces, he would continue: “You might EAT IT!” and then break into a teasing grin as he handed the dish our way. Every.single.time.) and we will hug each other and sniffle together.
But we do NOT mourn ‘like those who have no hope.’ We know that Granddaddy had a deep faith – he knew Jesus as his Savior! He was a quiet man (at least during the years I’ve known him – I wonder if I’ll hear stories from his youth that are different?) and he wasn’t prone to preaching or lecturing. But he knew the truth: that he was loved by God,

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I posted on Facebook today that I heard my mother’s voice flying out of my head today. We were leaving the library, and Jonas had a stack of five books in his hands. As we passed through the automatic doors and neared the parking lot, I said, “Jonas, you have to pay attention to where you’re going. Don’t walk and read – you can read that in the car.”

WHAAAA—–????!!!!
I cannot count the number of times I heard some variant of that growing up. Don’t read and walk… don’t read at the dinner table… don’t read in the bathtub. (Although now they make these cool things, and since I read in the tub anyway, flouting conventional wisdom, how cool would that be? I digress.) The funny thing was, after a short period of time adjusting to my 5-year-old bifocals [CURB!] I was good at reading while walking. I don’t recall ever bumping into anything – anything major, that is. It was just “one of those things” my Mom always said. And today, without even thinking about it, it came out of MY mouth.
*****
Later today, Susannah was picking at a tiny scab on her leg. (This child is constantly dealing with bruises and scabs and various little injuries. Welcome to my world.) Now, here’s a dirty little secret: I’m a picker. I cannot stand to leave things like that alone. I don’t think I’ve ever just observed how long it would take my body to heal a little scab like that; I always mess with things on my skin.
But as I sat beside her, do you know what flew out of my mouth?
“Susannah, don’t pick at that. You’ll open it to infection!”
Hello, Dr. Chris Nebel, when did you take up residence in my Broca’s Area?
That was wierd.
*****
Yesterday, we had a few big rumbles of thunder. Jonas was having quiet time – not asleep, not absorbed enough in a major activity to ignore it. Down the hall he sped, onto the couch and into my arms he jumped. “Mama – it’s a storm! I’m scared of storms!”
I patted his back, and do you know what came to mind immediately?
“I know, baby. But remember: God did not give us a spirit of fear, but of power and love and a sound mind. We’re okay.”
Hmmm. Yeah, that wasn’t an original thought either.
*****
So here’s my take on losing my voice: in this case, it’s a good thing. They say that when we’re children, we think our parents know everything; when we’re teenagers we think they know nothing; when we’re parents ourselves, we realize they knew a whole darn lot. I think that this co-opting of my words is happening because the more I grow, the more I realize that the best wisdom comes from outside myself. Opening up to the wisdom of others, especially to the Creator of wisdom itself, and making it our own – that’s the only way to have a voice that matters.

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As we are preparing for Easter, it’s really amazing to see how Jonas is responding to the story this year. He is, first of all, very empathetic to the suffering of Christ this year.

The facts of Good Friday are a big deal – as we drive around town or color or take a bath, Jonas will suddenly tell me, “Mom, you know Jesus was HURT. And He DIED. On the CROSS. And he was DEAD.”

At first, I was concerned that he was too focused on that part of the story, so I made sure that we always told –as Paul Harvey would have it!– the rest of the story. On our way home from church Sunday, Jonas sounded the refrain again. This time, though, instead of telling him the Easter part of the story, I started asking him a few questions.

Jonas: Mom, you know Jesus? Was hurt. And He DIED. Up on the CROSS. And He was DEAD.
Me: Mmm-hmmm. Why did he die?
Jonas: Because the soldiers, they put Him up there, on the cross and He died.
Me: Yep, but why did He have to die there?
Jonas: For the sins. For everybody’s sins.
Me: That’s right, Jesus died for our sins. What’s a sin, buddy?
Jonas: Doing something wrong.
Me: And then what happened?
Jonas: [bursting into song] UP FROM THE GRAVE HE AROSE!

So now I think that he’s got the basic concepts down, and that in bringing it up so often he just simply wants to talk about it. There must be some detail he’s working out in his mind.

I heard someone on the radio, maybe Dr. David Jeremiah?, talk about kids who are raised in Christian homes having what he labeled “pre-conversion experiences,” where they start to understand the meaning of the cross, the basics behind salvation, maybe they even “say the prayer” at a young age – but as their knowledge and walk with the Lord develops as they grow up, they have further experiences in the journey. So I think that maybe Jonas is on the cusp of one of those kind of moments. It’s very intense for me; as a mom this is one of the most significant jobs I see before me: leading my children into a relationship with our Savior. I’m praying for wisdom and patience and the right words at the right times, and I really just have to leave it in God’s hands, I think.

*******

Susannah’s life is a little less complicated than her brother’s right now. 🙂 Her days seem to revolve around finding something to take apart and/or put back together… or something to climb… or something to knock over. As a result of these adventures, she will probably look like a prizefighter who went 8 rounds and lost in her Easter pictures. Cuts, scrapes, bruises, and bumps – oh, my! At the moment she’s got a goose-egg on her temple (running into the corner of the dresser), a big abrasion on her cheekbone

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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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