Category: faith

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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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

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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

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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

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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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