A blue Weimaraner puppy lays curled up in a fluffy gray dog bed. One green eye is looking at the camera.

Porter, my youngest Weimaraner, lays curled up in a fluffy dog bed right beside my computer desk every day while I write. Today, he’s peeking out of his nest to announce that I’m a semi-finalist in the Contemporary category for the American Christian Fiction Writers Genesis Contest!

ACFW is such a wonderful, supportive organization, and this is the first writing contest I’ve ever entered. It is so exciting to see my name among so many talented writers. The semi-finalists go on to a second round of judging, and three finalists will be announced June 15th.

I feel like “semi-finalist” is a lot like the word “half-marathon.” You know, I ran a half-marathon and let me tell you: it was a full race. It was a whole lot of work. There was nothing ‘half’ about it. And for me, being a semi-finalist feels the same. This in itself is a whole achievement, and I’m fully thrilled with it.

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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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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

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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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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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