(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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It’s time for another Insecure Writers’ Support Group blog hop! This month’s question is: If you could use a wish to help you write just one scene/chapter of your book, which one would it be?

An animated gif of Aladdin rubbing the magic lamp, causing a puff of smoke to appear and the Genie to whirl out.

Oh, man. This is such a fun question! I’m currently in rewrite mode for my WIP after getting a manuscript critique from an editor. She was really positive about one half of my dual-timeline narrative, but found some major weaknesses in the story arc of the other protagonist/timeline.

Here’s a look at my Scrivener “binder.”

Scrivener software is shown with a list of scene descriptions, some highlighted in pink.

In the final version, the chapters will alternate between Zola in 2000 and Erin in 2019. But for this phase of writing, I used Scrivener’s amaaaazing powers of click-and-drag-to-move-scenes-and-chapters-around to put this timeline in consecutive order. So this only shows the timeline of the weaker protagonist. The scenes highlighted pink are complete. The scenes in white are either scenes to write new from scratch, or scenes to rewrite–either to meet a new purpose, to meet their purpose more clearly, or small rewrites to accomodate a new location in the story/timeline.

If I could make a wish and a genie would help me with a scene or chapter, it would definitely be the chapter down toward the bottom of this list: “Erin’s Bad Guys Close In.”

I decided to use Save the Cat Writes a Novel to attack this rewrite. When I put my story through the filter of Jessica Brody’s scene breakdowns, I discovered this was the plot point where I was most lacking. I have four scenes to write to create this chapter (or two chapters?), and I’m most nervous about getting the tension and stakes right.

I think the buildup was solid–but this plot point was missing, so the resolution scenes were unfulfilling. I’m confident that if I can nail this section, the rest of the story will hang properly, like a well-cut dress that drapes just right.

At least, that’s what I’m wishing & hoping!

A lighthouse is shown in sepia tones, overlayed with the words "The Insecure Writer's Support Group"

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This past weekend I attended my first ever writers’ conference. #MSCWC was a huge blast in Collierville, Tennessee.

Friday

I was a bundle of nerves at first–no surprise there–but I am so deeply glad I didn’t let that stop me. I drove down on Friday after dropping the kids off at school, which left me a few hours to relax in my hotel. I’d brought my laptop and everything I would need to do a little writing on the WIP, but I was too keyed up to focus. So instead, I flipped on the TV and painted my nails.

Tim and Al from ABC's "Home Improvement"

(Funny side note: I couldn’t figure out how to change the channel. The hotel was undergoing renovation and the floor must have just been opened back up for guests, because the remote was still in plastic packaging with no batteries. I didn’t want to call the front desk to send someone up to program the remote {because Stranger Danger… I mean, honestly. Doesn’t that sound like the beginning of a horrible story Keith Morrison would narrate?} and there only seemed to be a single power button. When I turned it on, it was tuned to CMT. So I watched two and a half hours of that old Tim the Tool-Man Taylor show. And then when I was leaving the room and trying to figure out how to turn the television back off, I discovered that the single button controlled volume and channel, too. Ay yi yi.)

The Friday evening event was a meet & greet, and the whole way there I prayed that I’d meet at least one other person who was new and nervous so we could help each other out. And isn’t God good? That’s exactly what happened. I sat with a table of ladies and as we chatted, I hit it off with a new friend who writes cozy mystery!

Cake displaying "God's Plan, My Pen" at MidSouth Christian Writers' Conference

If I go back next year, I’ll know not to eat dinner right before the meet & greet, because they had a lovely spread of food (including this beautiful cake, which had a screenprint of the theme artwork by one of the board members) and I was too stuffed to eat a bite. I’ll also try to remember to take more photos! Afterward, I went back to my hotel for that rare luxury in a busy mom’s life: peace and quiet and a full night’s sleep.

Speaking of sleep: this was so amazing. Is this everywhere now, and I just need to travel more? The hotel had a white noise machine built right in on the nightstand. Genius–especially since there was a train track right by the hotel than runs, apparently, at 5:15 a.m. daily.

Saturday

Saturday morning I had just one objective: to locate a decent cup of coffee. (Hotel coffee is just always a letdown. Isn’t it?) Google came through when I asked it for “good coffee near me” with a recommendation for the Donut Hutt.

Do you even really have to ask if I got a donut? The coffee was amazing–apparently, they have their own roaster who makes them a signature blend! And they had a huge case full of fancy donuts, but I tried an original glazed and a long john and can vouch: they were excellent. If you’re in the Memphis area, jonesing for a java fix, head over to Donut Hutt.

Bag of donuts and cup of coffee beside an Erin Condren Life Planner.


Caffeinated and sugared-up, I was ready for the day. The conference is run so well and with so much kindness. I can’t say enough about how wonderful my experience was.

I met up with my new friend from the meet & greet, and we lined up together to sign up for one-on-one appointment. There was a bit of free time to mingle and chat, and then we heard Bob Hostetler‘s first keynote.

He was SO encouraging. I wish I could bottle up the effervescent feeling of sitting in a room full of writers, hearing someone urge us on to keep working, keep striving, keep our eye on the ball. (There were some baseball metaphors. I’m not a sports person, but I managed to keep up!)

Bob Hostetler gives the keynote address behind a clear lectern at the MidSouth Christian Writers' Conference.

Following the keynote, there were three breakout sessions with four offerings in each time slot. I attended an editing class called “Cut the Fluff,” by Shannon Vannatter, an author website class by Linda Fulkerson, and a craft class on “Creating Characters with Personality & Pizzazz” with Patricia Bradley and Johnnie Alexander. All three sessions were so helpful! I came away with notes and handouts and email follow-ups. It was really exciting to start brainstorming how to put their excellent advice to use on my current manuscript.

The final keynote was followed by a Q&A panel discussion with two agents, two publishers, and an editor. Attendees were given paper to submit anonymous questions, and the experts each weighed in. It was really helpful (again, I took tons of notes) and it was also very heartening to see their interactions on stage. It felt like a tiny peek behind the curtain. Yes, these folks act as gatekeepers in the industry. Yes, they have exacting standards and it can feel like a LOT of work to meet the requirements. But they’re also really kind, genuine, normal people who love great books and are happy to meet writers… even newbies like me.

If you’re looking for a conference & you live in driving distance from Memphis, I wholeheartedly recommend the Mid-South Christian Writers’ Conference. You can visit their blog all year long to get great encouragement and information, and sign up to be the first to hear their plans for next year’s speakers and presenters.

If you’ve ever been to a writers’ conference, what surprised you the most about it? Or if you’ve never been–what worries you the most about going to one? Drop me a comment below!

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Today I’m participating in the Insecure Writer’s Support Group blog hop. Click the image below, or follow along the list at the bottom of this post, to follow other insecure writers and read their responses.

This month’s prompt asks, Whose perspective do you prefer to write from: the hero/protagonist, or the villain/antagonist?

My fiction is centered around realistic women who face everyday obstacles. So far, I’ve only written from the heroine/protagonist’s perspective — because my characters aren’t going up against actual bad guys. There are no cloaked witches or creepy villains or bands of dragons or invading hordes of aliens to defeat. Most of the women in my stories have faced their biggest antagonists in the form of circumstances to overcome and misbeliefs to correct.

Maybe someday I’ll craft a novel where the main character faces down an external antagonist, but right now I’m really enjoying exploring the ways women can be our own worst enemies.

Have you ever heard Andrew Peterson’s song, “Be Kind to Yourself?” (That song never fails to make me cry, for one thing, so go download it to your phone and add it to your Spotify playlists.)


There’s a line that asks, “How does it end when the war that you’re in is just you against you against you? You gotta learn to love, learn to love your enemies too.”

See, I think there’s something inside all of us that longs for stories about defeating lies and overcoming the circumstances that tell us we can’t or won’t or don’t measure up

That’s how my life feels. My enemy — my antagonist — isn’t a scary monster or a criminal bad guy. It’s my anxiety, my anger, or my lack of faith. It’s my fear in the face of a diagnosis or the way I react to past traumas. And I have a hunch I’m not the only one. What’s more, I have a hunch that the way I’ve battled those enemies — the lessons I’ve learned — would resonate with women all over the world.

So that’s what I write. I hope & pray that my stories, whenever they hit the wider world, will be uplifting and encouraging because of the way they speak to the “villains” we all face.

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How on earth does a gal keep a big house looking (and functioning) mostly-organized most of the time?

It’s all about rotation of effort, y’all.

If I went through my house trying to organize every nook and cranny each and every week, I’d be mad and exhausted and I’d never be done. Furthermore, I’d probably get so overwhelmed I’d run away from home, and then you know how organized my family would be? 0%.

A few years ago, I saw a blogger’s 52-week organizing challenge and the women in my small group at church all agreed to try it. For at least eight months (I think, if memory serves, we fizzled out at the end of the year) we got a weekly email and worked on the area of our home the blogger had identified, and we texted each other before & after pictures–which was hilarious and motivating, for sure.

That group of friends wasn’t up for repeating the challenge, but I’ve stuck with that strategy ever since.

At the start of the year, I brainstorm a list of fifty spaces in our house that need to be overhauled. Yours will be unique because our homes and families are all so different, but here are mine in 2019:

    laundry area
    craft area/supplies
    wrapping paper
    cubbies
    my desk
    guest room closet
    pantry
    fridge & freezer
    kitchen: wall cabinets
    kitchen: island cabinets
    pets
    great room: drawers
    great room: bookshelves
    under-stairs closet
    buffet
    master bathroom cabinets
    first aid/medicines
    makeup/cosmetics
    my closet
    my dresser
    my shoes
    jewelry/accessories
    purses & luggage
    upstairs hall closet
    Susannah’s toys
    Susannah’s closet
    Abigail’s Toys
    Abigail’s Closet
    Jonas’ Room
    Jonas’ Closet
    rec room: books
    rec room: movies
    homework nook
    upstairs bathrooms
    garage: niche
    garage: shelves
    workout area
    emergency preparedness
    holiday decorations
    home inventory
    recipes
    phone storage
    annual family album
    wills/legal docs
    addresses & contacts
    filing cabinets
    home inventory
    family calendar
    back to school
    Abigail’s baby book

So, a few things might have jumped out at you. Some of these are going to be QUICK & EASY. It should take me 20 minutes, maybe 30, to use a critical eye on my shoes and donate the ones that I’m not wearing anymore. Some of these make sense in certain seasons of the year (for example: the holiday decorations get organized as I use them; the address books gets updated when I send Christmas cards).

And did ya notice that my 7-year-old STILL has an incomplete baby book? Ahem. Yeah. She’s noticed, too. (It is true, that thing they tell you about how you’ll overdo it with your first baby and then perhaps fall a teensy bit behind with your third baby. TRUE as can be!)

The fact that it’s STILL on this list should make it clear that this is a tool, but it’s not magic. Every year, some of these are easy for me and some fall off the beam.

I copy this list onto small stickers, and then each week when I’m planning, I choose one organizational area to focus on for the coming week. If it’s going to be stressful and crazy anyway? I pick one of the 20-minute jobs. If it’s going to be a week when I have lots of downtime, I’ll pick a longer one. Or during good weather I’ll tackle the garage. Change of seasons makes a good time to handle the kids’ closets. 🙂 Make sense?

If I get to the end of the week and the job isn’t done, the stickers have removable adhesive so I can carry them forward into the next week, or I’ll just re-write the task on a new sticker and save it for another time.

And let me explain why I do fifty and not fifty-two. We are incredibly fortunate to be able to go away on vacation most years for one week if not for two. Even if we don’t go anywhere special, I like being able to do a little less around the house during spring break and fall break when my kids are off school.

I really do try to keep most of these areas organized as we go. But no matter what, with five people and three dogs and the pace of life –somehow we do seem to end up with clutter we don’t need, arrangements that get crowded, and mess that needs to be tidied. Using my yearly rotation helps me worry less about the spaces that are getting out of hand, because usually that means they’re up next in the rotation anyway. The spaces that are spic-and-span probably JUST got attention, and everything else is at least in a livable state for a little while longer. 🙂

What’s the hardest part of whole-home organization for you? What strategies work for your family in this season of life?

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In my last installment of #OrganizeMe, I shared the way I block off my time each week to have the best chance at accomplishing all I want to. It’s the only way I’ve found to “fit it all in,” and even then –sometimes life happens, and it doesn’t “all” get done.

If you’re single, that might be all you need to get organized since once you master your own time, you’re set. But if you live with others –whether roommates or family– odds are, a big aspect of organizing your time revolves around coordinating the schedules of multiple people.

There are apps that some folks love for keeping a husband and wife (and even their kids, if they’re tech-connected as well) on the same digital page. If that’s the approach you’re looking for… sorry, you’ve landed in the wrong place.

I know, I know — we are each walking around with a computer in our pocket that has more power than what used to take up a while building. I hear you. I adore my phone’s GPS feature and even though I still break out my DSLR for special occasions, my phone’s camera has become my BFF❤️. HOWEVER, using the phone’s calendar/notifications/calendar-linking-apps just doesn’t work for me. My brain literally just loses information I type into my phone calendar.

But I have three kids (in 8th, 4th, and 1st grades this year) and three dogs and one general surgeon husband. We have plenty of appointments, activities, and obligations to keep track of. This is what works for me:

An Erin Condren Life Planner open to February 2019 is shown above a large wall calendar open to February 2019.

The open spiral-bound book is my Erin Condren Life Planner. (I’ve written about those before.) During the last week of the month, I sit down with my ECLP and a large wall calendar. This one is a 2018-2019 academic year that I ordered online. (Here’s a similar calendar.)

I carry my ECLP with me everywhere when I make appointments, sign the kids up for lessons or teams, buy entertainments tickets, and everything else that needs a date and time in our lives, so it’s chock-full of information about the upcoming month. If you’re comfortable setting appointments and reminders on your phone, you could use your phone calendar for this step of the process.

I transfer everything to the large wall calendar. Now the caveat: I like stickers. And I like to color-code with pens (orange for me, blue for Chris, green for Jonas, purple for Susannah, pink for Abigail, gray or black for whole-family). But hear me: you do not have to do anything cutesy to make organization work for you. Use a plain black ball-point pen if that’s more your style! The key to making this work is simply to put every time obligation in one place.

February 2019 wall calendar with color-coded time obligations filled in.

This is how you’ll know that you and your spouse need to divide and conquer next Friday night to get everyone where they need to be. This is how you’ll be able to say “yes” or “no,” confidently, to plans with a friend because you’ll already be aware of your spouse’s time commitments. This is how you’ll be able to predict that your introverted self is gonna feel overloaded and need a day of rest — or that your extroverted self is gonna feel squirrely after too many days alone with your kids and you’ll need a night with your friends!

The only things I don’t note on this calendar are some of my appointments that take place during the work/school day, because they don’t impact anyone else in the family, and our regular Sunday morning and Wednesday evening church plans, because they are so routine. I do write in special church events or services and days when I’m scheduled to serve.
Once everything is in place, this calendar is hung in our kitchen where everyone can see it.

February 2019 wall calendar hanging on cabinetry beside a coffee maker. Two clothespins above the calendar hold school notices and a receipt.

The clothespins above the calendar are attached to the cabinetry with 3M removable adhesive (extra strips from packs of hooks). I use those to keep school newsletters, library due date receipts, birthday party invitations, and other kid-centric paperwork that comes through the house.

What’s amazing is that the calendar fills in even more over the course of the month. We’re busy! Every family is.😊 But the saving grace of this kind of organization is that it allows you build in the margin you need, at this season of your life.

When we had littles, I didn’t schedule anything late in the evenings because bedtimes x3 took a lot out of me, but I did host a ladies’ Bible study in my home that doubled as a playdate for the kids. Now that my crew are in school, we still need to keep a reasonable bedtime, but they can hang much later.

The date nights on our calendar used to be evenings for free or cheap and usually at home; now we plan pretty regular nights out with a babysitter.

We now really love having folks over for dinner, and keeping our month organized helps me see when we have space to do that and who we haven’t shared a table with yet (or recently). Chris and I both enjoy getting out with groups of friends, so at some point this calendar will probably have at least one “Supper Club,” one “Mom’s Night Out,” and one “Dad’s Poker Night” in place.

Whatever season you are in –and let me encourage you that they ebb and flow!– I am 100% sure that the organization of a family calendar will be a help and a blessing.

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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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