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, and I know there’s a lot in the natural world that can paint good pictures of spiritual truths.

a brass heart-shaped lock lays beside a brass key

I have a hunch that our souls were designed with similar lock-and-key mechanisms. The receptor, the hole, the empty place deep inside us is meant to drive us to God. The symptoms we feel when that place is empty are supposed to sound a warning: “we need a Savior.”

Furthermore, I think that when we fill up our locks with knockoff keys – when we use counterfeit substances to soothe the ache and take away the emptiness—we deaden our sensitivity to our real need.

To put a finer point on it: I think one empty space we feel is our need for community. We use counterfeit keys: obsessive love, toxic friendships, smothering familial bonds. When we operate in our own power, we ruin relationships with selfishness and pride. The problem isn’t the need, though. The need for community is real. That hole is there because we are each imago Dei, made in the image of God, who exists in perfect fellowship within the Trinity. We have a need for unity, for wholeness with another, because God perfectly embodies unity and wholeness as He has always been in relationship as Father, Son, and Spirit.

Or maybe the aching cavern you feel is for justice. That, too, I believe is a created need within every human soul. It’s not that we shouldn’t care about justice! It’s that, this far from Eden, the way we go about seeking justice usually misses the mark. We veer too heavily into one ditch or the other, and we rarely feel satisfied that the person or cause we are fighting for will achieve pure justice. We have a lock that yearns for justice because God, our Creator, is perfectly just. His key fits the lock and assures us of the already-not yet tension that in Christ’s kingdom, justice is here but it is also still coming—to be consummated perfectly upon His return.

Whatever gap you feel in your soul, examine what fills it. Where we are using temporal, finite, quick & easy numbing agents—anything that feels good in the moment — are we willing to admit what we really require is the eternal, unchanging, fully-satisfying presence of God?









*some scientists say serotonin is really a hormone, not a neurotransmitter. There doesn’t seem to be a consensus within the medical community at this point.

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If you’re here for the Insecure Writers Support Group blog hop, welcome! My writing life has been full of good stuff lately, and it’s so fun to have the IWSG community to share with here, both here and on Twitter.

The logo of the Insecure Writer's Support Group shows a lighthouse in sepia tones behind the lettering of the group's name.

First, I had the opportunity to write a guest blog on a topic I’m really excited about. That will go live in a few days, so be sure to subscribe to my mailing list if you want the link as soon as it’s available! (There’s no spam, just a ping in your inbox when I post.)

Then, the results of the next round of judging in the ACFW writing contest were announced.

via GIPHY

I didn’t advance to the finals, but I did get my scoresheets and comments back from the judges, and their insight and feedback is an invaluable help. If you’re thinking about entering the ACFW Genesis contest in the future, my advice is: go for it. Seriously! You’ve got nothing to lose and your writing will be stronger for it.

And finally, I wrapped this manuscript up and sent her out into the world for her first taste of the query trenches. I use QueryTracker and a homegrown spreadsheet to keep up with important details, but I also made a colorful flowchart on the whiteboard right behind my desk. It makes me HAPPY every time I see it.

But hold on. Let’s be honest. There’s never a ‘finally’ in this writing life. Because even though my completed manuscript is done-enough-to-query, I’m not done. No, I’m still getting up at 5:00 a.m. to make a cup of good coffee and flip on the desk lamp and write. There’s a new WIP [work in progress] brewing, this time with a single main character and no time slip.

Oh, and I’m also loosely researching for another story idea (by which I mean, there’s a topic that intrigues me as a jumping-off point for a plot, so I’m listening to podcasts and reading books and articles about that topic… I feel a story percolating in the far reaches of my brain, but I’m not sure yet whose story it is or where they are or how it’s going to unfurl.)

Which brings me to the July IWSG Question: What personal traits have you written in to your characters?

via GIPHY

I think my first manuscript may have been the closest I’ve come to writing characters who had my personal traits. It seems to me that a lot of writers ‘accidentally’ write an autobiographical character now and again, but the best characters are the ones who aren’t US.

The novel that’s out in the trenches right now has two main characters: one’s in her sixties and the other’s in her twenties. Both of them materialized pretty fully in my mind’s eye, and they’re definitely not aspects of myself. They don’t share my penchant for reading, coffee, or a village full of friendships to keep them on an even keel. I suppose both of them are great in the kitchen, and I do love to cook & bake–but that’s it. My new WIP is still a glimmer in my eye with a half-formed protagonist, but I won’t intentionally give her any of my personal traits.

So talk to me, friends: do you ever guest blog? Do you love it? Have you ever participated in a writing contest–good, bad, or ugly? If you’re querying, what do you use to stay organized and happy through the process? I’ll make my way through as much of the IWSG blog hop as I can. I’m excited to read your answers to the July question!

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Hi, friends! It’s the first week of June, and you know what that means: a new edition of the Insecure Writers’ Support Group Blog Hop!

This month’s question is: Of all the genres you read and write, which is your favorite to write in and why?

First, let’s talk reading. Stephen King said, “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There’s no way around these two things that I’m aware of, no shortcut. I’m a slow reader, but I usually get through seventy or eighty books a year, mostly fiction. I don’t read in order to study the craft; I read because I like to read.” (On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, 10th Anniversary Edition, p.145)

I’m not quite as voracious as Mr. King. (Then again, I suspect he’s not parenting three kids and doing all his own housework, so I’m giving myself some grace on this whole book-count situation.) A few years ago, I started keeping records of the books I read. I finished fifty-six in 2016, forty-five in 2017, and sixty-seven in 2018. Not too shabby for this season of life!

To break it down by genre, in the past six months I’ve read the following:
7 mainstream women’s fiction
6 Christian Living (non-fiction)
4 Christian speculative fiction
3 Christian women’s fiction
1 writing craft (non fiction)
1 mainstream thriller/suspense 
1 mainstream comedy
1 Christian romance

My tastes in reading material are a little like my tastes in breakfast food: I’ll eat ANYTHING, but I tend to get stuck with a favorite and eating oatmeal every day for a month until I burn out and switch to bagels. I sometimes read lots of light-hearted fiction (chick lit or up lit or women’s fiction with romantic subplots) and then switch to heavy documentary style nonfiction for ages.  I also enjoy the occasional memoirs, mainstream nonfiction, YA contemporaries, and YA fantasies. So, if I zoomed out to look at the stats for what I’ve read over the past year or nine months, you’d probably see some representation in those genres, too.

My favorite genre to write in is women’s fiction—but (confession) it’s the only genre I’ve written in long-form seriously. I’ve written a few articles for magazines and a few children’s stories for my own kids, and of course I’ve been blogging here for years. But when I decided to jump into novel writing, the stories I really wanted to tell were definitely women’s fiction. The first manuscript was mainstream and my second is Christian, but both center around women’s lives and the friendships and family relationships that carry them through their emotional journeys.

And you? If you’re a reader, what’s your jam? If you’re a writer, join us on the blog hop!

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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 has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.

Romans 12:3-5

I was clapping and cheering: “Yeah, that’s right, y’all quit thinking of yourselves more highly than you ought.” But as weeks went by, I kept encountering verses like:

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.

Philippians 2:3-4

And I started to feel that lemon-juice-on-a-papercut sting. The oooh, that’s me, Lord burn. I’m self-centered. I’m selfish. I feel resentful when I don’t get my way, when I have to work harder than I perceive someone else is, when my kids or spouse don’t seem to appreciate my role.

Maybe self-centeredness isn’t the hill you’re dying on. That’s okay. My point stands. You may very well have something in your heart, in your life, that’s sinful. And you don’t even know it’s there.

The best way to uncover it is to pour God’s word over yourself and see what stings.

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

2 Timothy 3:16-17

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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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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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