“I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers. It would be terrible if we just skipped from September to November, wouldn’t it?” -Anne Shirley, Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery

When I was a girl, I adored Anne Shirley. I hadn’t her tragic background nor her dramatic flair, but I loved the exuberant way she expressed herself. Those monologues, when an enraptured Anne would go on and on about something she loved, charmed my socks off. That was how I talked, too — inside my head.

I remember worrying from a very young age that the monologues and scenarios I imagined in my head were an indicator of a mental health problem. (Back then, before I learned that ‘crazy’ is a pejorative, I would’ve put it like this: “I talk to imaginary people a lot. Does that mean I’m crazy?”) When I was around 10 or 11, I picked up on the  notion that what separates the mentally ill from the mentally healthy is that the latter may have an imaginary friend, but the former talks to imaginary friends and they talk back. That was probably supposed to make me feel better. I was supposed to think, “Well, golly, I’m 100% sure that this is all in my own imagination. It doesn’t feel like a separate entity no one else can perceive is speaking to me, so I’m fine.” Instead, my little brain warped it so that I thought, “Hmm, sometimes when I engage in these long conversations in my head, I really do imagine what the other people say back. Maybe that means I AM crazy.”

So you see, it felt like it was only a matter of time before my parents and the rest of the world figured out I was insane. I was sure that the clock was ticking and when they discovered my secret, I’d be in trouble at best – or at worst, hauled off to an asylum for some good old-fashioned shock therapy. (I was a weird kid and had read some admittedly unhelpful books on the subject of mental health.)

I wish I could remember having a moment of epiphany, but instead my late teens and early twenties simply gave me a gradual slide to a state of comfort with the way my mind worked. I stopped fretting about a clinical diagnosis (and I learned not to throw around the word ‘crazy,’ even in my own mind about my own self) and accepted the fact that I have an active imagination.

I eventually realized that the way I’m wired keeps my sense of wonder and laughter close to the surface – which is definitely part of what makes me a great teacher of young kids. I realized that my imagination sometimes works against me, when it manifests as generalized anxiety, and that I can control that part with medication, therapy, and mindful practices. (So: interestingly enough, I do have a mental health diagnosis, just not the one I feared when I was a kid.) I realized that my imagination is like a puppy with a lot of energy, and if I set it to the task of writing –dreaming up an entire novel-sized world of people and places and situations– it’s a lot less likely to bother me by misdirecting that energy*.

So. Like the effusive Anne Shirley, I’m glad to live in a world where we get to enjoy Octobers. This time of year is beautiful here in western Kentucky, and autumn always seems to renew my energies. I’m thankful for what I’ve learned about imagination, because embracing mine opened up the path for me to explore writing. Even if my novels never hit bookshelves, the act of writing them has been wonderful in and of itself.

Because, as Anne Shirley would say, “when you are imagining, you might as well imagine something worthwhile.”

 

 

 

*for more on that notion, I highly recommend Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert. Her analogy about creativity as an overactive dog sparked an instant sense of “hey me too!” in my heart and you might enjoy it, also.

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It’s nearly that time again, y’all. It’s about to be November, and that means NaNoWriMo is upon us! National Novel Writing Month is a really fun, inspiring initiative where folks sign up to attempt to write a 50,000 word novel in the 30 days of November.

It’s frantic. It’s beastly. It’s exhilarating. It’s insane!

I’m doing it again. I ‘won’ Nanowrimo in 2015 (anyone who completes 50,000 words by November 30th is declared a winner) and took that manuscript through another 40,000 words, beta readers, critique partners, edits and rewrites, queries and submissions and revise-and-resubmits to literary agents… and now it’s literally shelved in my office. Maybe someday I’ll pull it out and polish it up and send it back into the query trenches. Maybe it was never meant for the world’s eyes. I’m not sure, but it was a wonderful experience and I finally feel ready to try again.

I’m not quite playing by the official rules, however. Nano encourages writers to start fresh with a blank page and a brand-new idea on November 1st. They tell people to do some research, character sketches, outlining and such – but no writing until the month begins.

A few months ago — after lots of non-writing around these parts– I was laying in bed, about to drift off to sleep, when a Perfectly Formed First Line came into my head. I sat straight up and said it out loud, then tapped it into my notes app on my phone. Eventually, I daydreamed up the person behind that first line, and I got a tiny sliver of a notion of who she was and what she wants out of life.

I sat down and started writing. At the end of September, I had about 15,000 words. Enough to know that I really love this character and this setting. I’m a pantser (as opposed to a plotter, one who plots and outlines each scene before writing; I fly by the seat of my pants) so I had very little idea what the story was about in a big sense. I had no elevator pitch, no back-cover copy. But I loved this girl, as broken as she is, and I was watching her fight for redemption, and I loved it.

I set a goal to double my word count by the end of October. If I added 500 words per day, I could hit 30,000; then if I play along with Nanowrimo and add another 50,000 words, I would have a complete (or very nearly so) first draft by November 30th. Today is October 24, and I have 28,625 words in this manuscript. (I know, if you’re a nonwriter that is total gobbledygook! I apologize. It’s about ten chapters, or not-quite-100-pages in an average sized novel.

If you need me, I’ll be up every morning for the next six weeks at least at 5:00 a.m. making coffee, stumbling to my computer, and trying to dream up the resolution to this drama that has played out in my brain. (And then midday I’ll probably be napping on the couch because writing plus full-time momming wears me out.)

Anyone else trying Nano? Let me know if you need a Writing Buddy!

 

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I believe in the power of story.

I love once-upon-a-times and remember-whens and me-toos and what-ifs.

I believe that writing down, speaking up, typing out all give life and color and meaning to ideas that need to be shared.

I love when a turn of phrase or a perfect analogy lodge in my head for days.

I believe that stories give us connections – to our past, to our future, to folks we’ve never met halfway around the globe or the guy on the corner or the lady down the street.

I love pressing a book into someone’s hand with an urgent “you have to read this” and I love retelling my favorite memories with my favorite people for the hundred-millionth repetition, with no urgency at all.

I believe that my heart contains sparks of story that are begging to be told, shared, repeated & remembered.

I love storytelling.

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Last time I blogged, I wrote: I’m praying for full healing of Susannah’s kidney cyst, or that if it’s still present when we get to nephrology that they’ll decide it’s a simple cyst which needs no intervention. I’m praying for the results of her echocardiogram, that it would show her little heart beating in perfect rhythm. I believe God is able to give us both those good gifts.

And in the past 21 days, God has answered both of these prayers. On June 28, Susannah had her echocardiogram, and the results were completely normal. No arrhythmias or anatomical problems. Her heart is perfectly healthy. Praise the Lord!

On July 19, we met with the nephrologist about her kidney cyst. It is small (6mm x 7mm) and appears to be simple. (This terminology is in contrast to a complex cyst, which is more likely to be precancerous than a simple cyst.) At this time, the cyst does not require intervention or treatment. Praise the Lord!

However, simple renal cysts are rare in children. So Dr. Shah has recommended the following plan:

–immediately discontinue the use of ibuprofen/Motrin/Advil (because anti-inflammatories can be nephrotoxic; she may still use Tylenol/acetaminophen for pain or fever)
–monitor blood pressure any time she is seen by pediatrician (our pediatric clinic already does this because they are the best)
–encourage her to stay hydrated and to not “hold it” when she needs to urinate

plus:
–blood work (a renal function panel) and urinalysis (checking for protein in urine)
–renal ultrasound (to have baseline measurements of the cyst)
–follow-up visit in 6 months to include repeating labs & ultrasound.

 

If her labwork now is normal, we maintain the care plan until her 6 month follow-up. At the 6-month visit, if the labwork is still normal and the cyst is unchanged, then she will need only yearly or biennial monitoring.

So, how can you pray for us? Please pray: that Susannah’s bloodwork would show healthy renal function; that her ultrasound would confirm that the cyst is simple in structure and size; that her blood pressure would remain normal; and that the cyst will not grow or duplicate. 

 

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”  ~Philippians 4:6-7

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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 get to the end of the book.

I’m praying for full healing of Susannah’s kidney cyst, or that if it’s still present when we get to nephrology that they’ll decide it’s a simple cyst which needs no intervention. I’m praying for the results of her echocardiogram, that it would show her little heart beating in perfect rhythm. I believe God is able to give us both those good gifts.

And even if He doesn’t, I still trust that the Author of my girl’s story is working out something glorious.

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Y’all, I’m in love with a new ‘gram. I mean, I’m still on Insta, but my heart belongs to another.

Have you met… the Enneagram?

Folks. Folks! This thing has blown me away. I heard about it first online somewhere. (Probably Instagram, honestly. I follow a lot of thinkers and writers and I’m not sure who first mentioned it there.) Then a college friend, who’s now an awesome pastor doing amazing justice work in Atlanta, mentioned his Enneagram (pronounced: any-uh-gram) number on Facebook – which perked my ears up a little. If he’s into it, it must be something worth a look.

I remember Googling it and immediately feeling skeptical and distrustful. Like, who needs another personality survey in her life? I’m an INFP and my love languages are time & touch; I’m a Red and a Phlegmatic. What good is a number?

Then Jen Hatmaker interviewed Chris Heuertz on her podcast and he talked about the Ennegram as a whole and his book, The Sacred Enneagram, which delves into how the Enneagram works as a spiritual development tool.

And my brain exploded.

Unlike the Meyers-Briggs, the Enneagram doesn’t just tell you where you fit in a little box (or in this case, on a little circle). The Enneagram is dynamic – it’s all about movement.

The idea, as I understand it, is that we’re all born with something of every number in us. But over time during childhood, we begin to use one number as our primary means of coping with the world. This personality is a mask, a shield, and we use it to function. As adults, we can “live” right there in our number – but when we are healthy emotionally & spiritually, we move across the circle and take on the “high side” characteristics of a different number. And conversely, when we are in stress or in an unhealthy spiritual and emotional zone, we move across the circle to embody the “low side” or “shadow” characteristics of yet a third number.

Lightbulbs all over the place.

Furthermore, every number on the Enneagram has a primary sin to grapple with – and thus, every number needs to practice a different spiritual discipline in order to grow.

The Enneagram, you guys! It doesn’t just slap a label on you: “Hi, I’m A Four!” It takes your hand and says, “You’ve been moving through the world as a Four, but that’s not your true self. You’ve been using Four thoughts, feelings, and behaviors to avoid grappling with the sin that plagues your soul. Move in this direction, friend, and discover the true self that God wants you to be. Teach your spirit how to do this thing, and discover the virtue which counteracts that sin.”

Intrigued? Oh, goody! I’m a newbie, guys, but here are my recommendations (I don’t do affiliate links; I’m not making any kickbacks. I just love these resources):

The Road Back to You, by Ian Morgan Cron & Suzanne Stabile — super easy read. Funny and conversational in tone. These folks love people and love helping people on the Enneagram journey. Companion materials:

The Road Back to You podcast – start with the overview episodes (1 & 2) and then either listen through the entire series, or jump to the ones that talk about your number!

Typology podcast – hosted by Ian Morgan Cron, he has done AWESOME panel discussions with groups of people who embody the same number, and interviews with individuals about their Enneagram journey.

The Road Back To You website with a free Enneagram test. Ian has said on his podcast that online tests, even his own!, is only about 55% accurate. It takes a lot of humility and self-awareness to answer the tests legitimately. But, this test is my favorite of the free options online.

The Enneagram Institute – the information available on this website is at LEAST a whole book’s worth. I love their sections that cover each number’s tendencies “in real life.” The RHETI test is available here for $12. It’s extremely well-researched and takes something like 45 minutes to take, but if you want the reassurance of a “real result” I think it’s worth every dollar.

The Sacred Enneagram, by Chris Heuertz. This book is a little “deeper,” and if you read it first you may find it a little harder to pinpoint your type. But if you are mostly interested in what I’ve said about the Enneagram because of the Christianity connection, this is the book for you. Chris explains the motivations and sin patterns of each type with clarity and meets each type with a recommended spiritual practice that will help them grow in the grace and knowledge of God.

The Complete Enneagram, by Beatrice Chestnut. I first heard Ms. Chestnut on the Typology podcast, and I was drawn in by her warmth and her comprehensive knowledge of the Enneagram. Her studies have focused on the subtypes of each of the 9 numbers. (There are 3 subtypes: Self-Preservation, Social, and One-on-One.) For a few types, the subtypes all look about the same out in the world. But for a few numbers, the subtypes can make a person look and act very differently – which can make it very challenging to figure out your type if you’re just working with the freebie online tests. Not only can this book unlock the question marks if you’re feeling stuck between two numbers, but she lays out excellent questions for self-examination, prayer, and meditation when you are ready to “do the work” of growing beyond the limits of your number.

The Enneagram: A Christian Perspective, by Richard Rohr & Andreas Ebert. This is my latest purchase and I haven’t finished it, so I can’t say much, but the reason I bought it was because so many of the Enneagram teachers I have grown to love and respect site the wisdom and work of Father Richard Rohr. He’s a Franciscan of the Cincinnati Province, and has been teaching the Enneagram for over a decade.

 

Now here’s the thing: if you are thinking it’s all poppycock, that’s okay. There’s a saying that people come to the Enneagram at just the right time for them. If you aren’t interested, I’m totally cool with that. But if this plucks one of your heartstrings, OH MAN!, come and sing a few bars with me. I love talking through this stuff. I’d happily chat about everything you love or hate or question about it – I’d happily share what I know so far and would love nothing more than to be a sounding board if you’re trying to sort out your number. Email me, comment here, text me, whatever. 😊 XOXO, Michelle

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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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