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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Oh, y’all. Buckle up, this one’s going to be a rambler. I need to talk about what’s going on with Susannah’s health, but before I do that we need to back up to Sunday, March 18, 2018. That morning, I sat in a sanctuary hearing a sermon about healing.

Jamus Edwards, preaching at Pleasant Valley Community Church, taught from Matthew 21:21-22.

Jesus replied, “Truly I tell you, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only can you do what was done to the fig tree, but also you can say to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and it will be done. If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.”

(I’m paraphrasing here, from my sermon notes):

1. We are supposed to pray big, bold, mountain-sized prayers. We pray for healing because Jesus told us to.
2. And yet — we know that God is sovereign and has a mysterious will that we don’t understand. Sometimes faith is the means to bodily healing, but God doesn’t choose to heal everyone in this life.
3. Therefore — we believe that our prayers may change the course of God’s hand, and we accept that our prayers may not. (We might use the language of “Thy will be done” or “not my will, Father, but yours be done.)
4. HOWEVER, while it is possible to pray in faith for healing and not doubt, while humbly submitting to the will of God… sometimes we overqualify our prayers.

OVERqualify. Mmmm-hmmm. In other words, we rest so solidly on our laurels in that sweet spot of “thy will be done,” that we never get around to asking God to do those big, bold, mighty healing works. And the whole time, we’re feeling really good about ourselves because: gosh, isn’t that just so Christian of us to pray for the Lord’s will and not our own?

That hit me right where I live. I do that.

I keep God in the boxes that medicine hands out. When a doctor tells us, there’s a 75% chance of thus-and-so, well, I don’t usually pray outside that box. I pray, “God, help us to deal with thus-and-so with grace and give us the strength to bear our thus-and-so and Lord, if it’s Your will to cure this then we know You can, but mostly, help us to trust You through the pain of it.”

Real talk: when Chris’ oncologist told us his fertility might not come back after chemo, I did that. I kept God in that little box and didn’t hardly dare to pray for complete healing. (Praise the Lord, His plans were bigger than my scared, trifling little heart and mind could manage. i.e.: three blessed Nebel babies on earth and three more in heaven.)  And when my mom was told “terminal ovarian cancer,” I did that. I kept God in that little box and didn’t hardly dare to pray for complete healing. (Praise the Lord, He gave us eighteen months together before He healed her on His side of the veil.)

I mulled over this idea, of how maybe I use “thy will be done” as a cop-out for weak faith, all day Sunday.

Monday I woke up at 5:15 for my usual quiet time. I had started 2018 with Paul’s letters, and when I finished those I jumped into the Gospel of John. Cracking open my Bible to the bookmark, I started reading the next chapter (I usually cover one or two chapters each morning). And it was John 9. Of course it was.

As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”

“Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him. As long as it is day, we must do the works of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”

After saying this, he spit on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, and put it on the man’s eyes. “Go,” he told him, “wash in the Pool of Siloam” (this word means “Sent”). So the man went and washed, and came home seeing. (John 9:1-7)

…The man answered, “Now that is remarkable! You don’t know where he comes from, yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners. He listens to the godly person who does his will. Nobody has ever heard of opening the eyes of a man born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” (John 9:30-33)

What I noticed here was that the blind man didn’t ask Jesus to heal him. In fact, neither did the disciples. Jesus chose to heal this man, but when He did so, He asked the man to take an action. (Go & wash.) The man was obedient to do what Jesus told Him, and his faith and obedience were met with healing. Further, this passage reinforced something that Pastor Jamus had mentioned the day before – the blind man says it like this: “We know that God does not listen to sinners…” And the sermon phrased it this way: “God hears everyone’s prayer, but He is not inclined to listen to every prayer.” Because we live under Christ’s atonement, we can approach him through Christ.

So, my quiet time gave me plenty to keep stewing over.

Tuesday morning, I prepared to leave the house with all three kids – dropping Jonas & Abigail at school, & grooving on down the road to Louisville with Susannah for her 6-month scoliosis checkup. While the house was still dim and quiet, I knelt beside the couch and I prayed.

I prayed big.

I prayed bold.

I asked God to actually HEAL Susannah’s scoliosis.

Knowing that, medically, scoliosis doesn’t heal.

Her doctors say – and the whole medical community is in agreement!  —that scoliosis, once diagnosed, can be monitored and treated, but it can’t really be cured. Curvature of the spine of 10° or more will give you a diagnosis of scoliosis. When your curve gets to 25°, doctors will create back braces. Bracing doesn’t reverse existing curvature, but it does slow down the progression of a curve. (Some folks’ curves even return after their bracing treatments end.) If a curve progresses to 45° or greater, back surgery (spinal fusion) will usually be performed to correct the curve.

When Susannah’s was found, her curve was around 11° at 7  years of age. That’s pretty young, though not unheard of (juvenile idiopathic scoliosis is somewhat less common than adolescent onset), and her doctor assured me that typically a child her age just gets X-rays and checkups every six months to monitor the curve until they’ve had their biggest growth spurt (the one that closely precedes puberty). Once a girl finishes growing, her scoliosis typically won’t continue to advance.

At 8-and-a-half, with two sets of X-rays and checkups under her belt, Susannah’s spinal curvature had progressed to 12° and we had both become comfortable with the clinic.

That Tuesday morning, freshly-turned-9-year-old Susannah & I arrived at the scoliosis clinic ready for the routine. Change into a gown, slip into the shorts we brought from home, walk down the hall for X-rays, meet the PA who comes in first to ask a bunch of questions, then speak to the orthopedist, who tells us what the X-rays showed and always reassures Susannah that her only job for the next six months is to run, jump, have fun, & just be a kid until she comes back. And this time, I walked in smiling – feeling sure that somehow, she would be healed and this would be the last time we set foot in this clinic.

My mom-senses started tingling, though, when the PA asked a bunch of questions this time they’d never asked Susannah before. Questions about her feet and legs – do they ever feel funny or do funny things? She had Susannah do a bunch of movements that seemed to be checking her muscles: thigh, calf, feet – and questions about her lifelong history of constipation – in addition to the usual questions about back pain.

When Dr. Meier came in, he continued that line of questioning and then started asking me about setting up orders for further imaging. I felt like he was working his way up to something, beating around the bush, but he finally laid out all his concerns.

Susannah’s curve had progressed three degrees in six months, without a concurrent growth spurt in height to explain it (she is now at 15°). Additionally, her curve is atypical because it’s confined to her lumbar spine (the lower part of the back – usually scoliosis presents in the thoracic spine, behind the ribcage). These factors taken together with the leg pains that began a few years ago, her current level of aches and pains, and her lifelong battles with gastrointestinal difficulties, lead him to believe there’s a good possibility that Susannah may have a tethered spinal cord. To determine that, she needs to have a sedated MRI, which we now have scheduled for April 19, 2018.

Are you with me?

I prayed for complete healing, and I drove to Louisville believing that I would really hear miraculous news. And instead, I heard a doctor tell me that my kid may have a very serious condition which requires a pretty major surgery to prevent irreparable neurological deterioration.

To be brutally honest, I came home feeling pretty shattered.

I managed to do all the mama stuff that afternoon: help with homework and get through dinner and put the kids to bed. I did a little bit of reading about tethered cord syndrome – and even though I didn’t feel good, I started to feel a bit better.

That night, just as I laid my head on the pillow, I had a thought.

One of those thoughts that doesn’t feel like it comes from yourself – it comes from Someone outside yourself.

If they find tethered cord, and perform the surgery to correct it, Susannah will be healed from her scoliosis. And not just healed from that, but she’ll be healed from all those other aches and pains and problems she’s been living with for years now.

Whoa.

Really?

Yeah, really.

I’ve found accounts from families who’ve been through tethered cord surgery. As the child grows, the spine can actually straighten, because the cord release surgery takes away what had been causing the scoliosis. (With ‘normal’ scoliosis, there’s no known cause and so no way to prevent it or to correct it.) If her leg pain is rooted in either neurological issues stemming from the compression where the cord is tethered, or in a compensatory motion type of problem due to the tight tether in her back, then that could resolve after surgery as well. And while some kids don’t get full relief from bladder and bowel troubles with tethered cord release surgery – some do.

We’re about to unplug from the daily grind for our Spring Break vacation, and then we’ll come home and chug through a few weeks of ‘normal,’ and then we’ll take our girl to Louisville for a test and some answers. I sure would love it if you would pray with us. You can pray for God’s will to be done, but you can also pray big, bold, mountain-sized prayers for healing.

Won’t He do it?

 

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In the fall of 1998, I went off to college and found my tribe. The hills of Shorter College and the sisters of Epsilon Sigma sorority gave me an amazing three-and-a-half years of growth and love and challenge and grace and support and meaning. Ep Sig was a huge part of my identity during college, and when I got a few years out of school and didn’t feel like I could keep wearing all my old college T-shirts, I also couldn’t bear to throw them away.

Me in Sept. 1998 wearing a borrowed EpSig jersey on Pledge Night. Since it wasn’t a national sorority, there was no Bid Day stuff to deal with back then. Any unpledged woman could choose to join one of my school’s three sororities. On Pledge Night, she declared her choice in a ceremony that involved, among other things, racing through a series of dormitory hallways and hollering out of a 2nd story window. She received a jersey or shirt in her org’s colors and waited on all the other new pledges to declare, and then the real fun began.

Two years later on Pledge Night. 2000 was my FAVORITE year. In 1998, as a pledge, that night was busy and crazy and fun and stressful – we learned what felt like a million ceremonies, rules, songs, and cheers. In 1999, as a Prospective Big Sis, it was busy and crazy and fun and stressful – we were observing all the Pledges and figuring out who we were going to adopt as Littles (we had so many pledges in ’99 that I actually ended up with twins!). But in 2000, I was a seasoned pro and as a Grand-Big Sis, I got to calmly support my Littles while they were busily and crazily choosing their own Littles (one single and one set of twins).

A friend and sorority sister posted a photo on Facebook last week of her college shirts, transformed into a T-shirt quilt. A few days later, my Big Sis sent me a package in the mail saying “happy 20th anniversary.” Together, those two events prompted me to get my box of shirts off the shelf and finally do something with everything I’d been saving. I did a little bit of googling around and found that this was my favorite tutorial/how-to/tips post. (I will say that I’m regretting that I didn’t go get a Plexiglas square cut out at Home Depot like she suggests, because some of my squares were off and I have a little measurement issue I’m going to have to fix.)

So this is the shirt fronts and/or backs cut into squares, backed with lightweight interfacing, and stitched into rows. (See how the 4th row is a little shorter than the rest? That’s what I’ve got to work on next.)

I’ll update when I finish it. It will be neat to see & use (albeit in a new way) these shirts all the time again, twenty(ish) years later.

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As catch-up blog posts go, this one is really fun.

In August 2016, I blogged about how I had started running for fun. Also fitness. Also I had signed up for a big race. I wrote about how much I enjoyed it and hoped it would be something I could stick with long-term. And two years after I started… I really love it. I’m not great at it. But I love it (almost 100% of the time. Maybe 92%. There are always bad days, bad runs, whatever). I’m pretty slow. I’m too socially anxious to join a running group. I’m never going to win any medals, is what I’m saying. Oh, and I’m injury prone — probably as a result of living most of my 35 years as a non-athletic, naturally fairly petite couch potato. Now that I’ve gotten more active, I have to do a lot of work to keep my body moving without aches and pains.

Since taking up this sport in January 2016 I’ve run four 5Ks, one 15K, and one half-marathon.

I’ve missed weeks on end with iliotibial band syndrome, complications of hypermobility syndrome, a sprained ankle, and a fractured talus. (That’s a little bone in your foot, and that’s a ridiculous story. I’ll tell that some other day.) I’ve missed at least two races signed & paid for that I DNS (did not start) because of injury.

Yet I’m still running. I now try to run 3 or 4 days per week, and I try to do some cross-training, strength training, and yoga two days a week. I get a massage every single week, chiropractic adjustment once a month, and I’ve got my physical therapist on speed-dial in case I re-injure myself (or injure something new, just to keep life interesting).

I’m training now for my second half-marathon in May. I’ll try to remember to check in afterward and report if I’m still in this.

I kinda hope I’ll be one of those little old ladies still running when I’m sixty. (Maybe by then the field will have narrowed and I’ll win an age group medal. Ha!)

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Writing is a weird hobby pastime obsession activity. On the daily face of it, writing fiction is this radically isolating lone endeavor – which one simultaneously thinks of as deeply intimate and private but also hopes that many eyes will eventually see. It’s a little bit perverse. It’s a little bit holy. It’s almost like a relationship, in the way it elicits emotional responses: the ebb and flow of writing makes me euphoric and amused, catty and cranky, edgy and angry, calm and contented. It’s a good thing I’ve already come to terms with having a brain that’s a little bit abnormal, or else I might seriously worry that writing was driving me bonkers.

I’m still working on a novel – not the one I’ve blogged about before, a new project. Hmmm, wait. It’s been ages since I dusted off the password for this place. Have I blogged about it?

Quick recap: so a while back (holy smokes, it was 2015!) I won NaNoWriMo and I worked on that project until it was query ready in 2016, but after months in the query trenches I decided to shelve that manuscript. I started working up a new idea, reading and researching, but I never got off the ground to write a single scene. I proceeded to spend the first half 2017 bellyaching about how I wanted to be a writer but life was too much in the way. I did all my other jobs to the Nth degree, but I let writing slip to the margins. And that sucked. So at the beginning of this school year (fall 2017), I decided to dive back in. I blocked off time in my daily planner to write – 3 schooldays per week – and I plotted and planned and character-sketched my way into a new manuscript. About 13,000 words in I just… fell out of love with it. I spotted a giant plot hole and I couldn’t think my way through it. There was no way to tidy up those jaggedy edges and darn that opening back together. And thus, that manuscript got shelved, too. My mood got worse – writing makes me crazy in some ways, but now that I’ve started it seems like not writing makes me worse.

I had a giant meltdown about a week ago I don’t wanna talk about it, there was ugly-crying involved, and despair and hopelessness and frankly a lot of melodrama and then I sort of snapped out of my funk. I don’t know what happened. It’s like the meltdown was a giant bolus of emotion that pushed away whatever was clogging up my spirit or my muse or whatever you’d like to call it. I got up the next morning feeling excited to write something new. That night in bed, I checked in with my online writer’s group and clicked a link to an interview with an amazing woman – she’s the author of multiple novels and memoirs as well as a teacher of writing at some pretty impressive places – and it was precisely what I needed to hear. I loved Ms. Shapiro’s words so much that I ordered her book Still Writing the next morning.

Anyway. It’s been a good 10 days. I feel like I’m back in the saddle. I don’t think plotting and outlining work too well for me – maybe it makes more work on the back end, but I really love discovering my characters as I go, so I’m going to try the pantser approach once more with this project. And this new WIP [work in progress] is actually giving me ideas for changes and additions to the NaNo project that I shelved a year ago. They aren’t in a series but they may occupy the same fictional universe, which could be fun.

There’s no punchline or great conclusion here today. It is what it is. Writing is weird, and I think I’m becoming a weirdo writer.

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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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