Shake Your Pickles

How many times a day do you shake a jar of pickles in your fridge. Around our house, it is a new activity. It began by receiving a jar of pickles from a friend who instructed us to shake the jar at least twice a day for a week to help season the pickles. (The jar contains a secret seasoning…or at least that is what he said.) We know how to follow directions so we have been shaking the pickles, daily.

No matter what is going on in our house, we shake the pickles. During homework, we shake the pickles. While cooking dinner, we shake the pickles. In the morning while drinking coffee, we shake the pickles. We have embraced the process and we are looking forward to eating the pickles at the end of the week.

God invites us to do a lot of things in life. We are called to hang out with God in prayer during the day. We are called to play God-spy by keeping our eyes open for God at work around us. We are called to “be” more and “do” less so that our religion makes more sense. But above all, we are encouraged to embrace the experiences around us. If we are too focused on the past, we miss it. If we are too worried about the future, we miss it. Only when we can embrace the moment (and shake the pickles) do we really catch a glimpse of what Jesus meant when he said, “I have come so that you may life to it’s fullest.”

Our pickles keep us present in the moment and they make us laugh. Every time someone opens the fridge door and shake the pickles, we all laugh. This silly exercise creates a moment where we forget our stress, phones, chores and challenges and we just shake the pickles. When they are placed back in the fridge and the door is closed, all our problems do not seem as challenging.

From our Happy Tent to Yours,

Meredith Bell

P.S. Delicious pickle recipe: Buy a large jar of sliced pickles (ours are Hamburger Dill Chips made with sea salt from HEB). Add one package of powder Ranch dip. Shake your pickles for a week. Store in the fridge.

P.S.S. The season of Lent begins next week. If you need a devotional guide, order your copy of Have Mercy on Me. All proceeds will be donated to Habitat for Humanity.

Hello Humility

A familiar friend showed up for a three-day visit in our tent this week…Mrs. Humility. She came on Wednesday and stayed through Friday. She took time to visit with three of us. Mrs. Humility took advance of our insecurity, stress and mistakes to enlighten us. With each encounter, we were reminded of our sad attempts to be perfect and prideful. But like they say…after three days guests and fish begin to smell!

So what did we do? In our own little way we confessed and repented. We shared the mistakes that we made and then we asked for forgiveness. We talked to God and apologized for worshipping our idols instead of God. We listened to friends that God sent us who said just the right words. And then we experienced the best feeling…GRACE. We exchanged grace between each other. (Families are a great place to practice giving and receiving grace.) We gave it and we humbly received it. God’s forgiveness fell over us like a refreshing shower.

God’s love for us kept us from inviting Mr. Shame to come over. He is just a simple text away and always wants to partner with Mrs. Humility to strike when we are weak. But not this week. This week, Mrs. Humility grabbed our attention and we turned right back to God before we could fill our minds with destructive thoughts. Once destructive thoughts take root in our minds, the journey is even more challenging.

As we watched Mrs. Humility leave our presence, we were surprised to find that we were filled with thankfulness instead of anger. A weight fell offer our shoulders. We were free to live under God’s rule over our lives. The paradox is that we felt more freedom in that place than when we were trying to be in control.

God worked under the surface of our lives this week. We all grew in ways that we cannot measure. We were reminded that we will make mistakes, we need wise friends and we need grace.

What about you? Have you had any unexpected “friends” visit you lately? How is God working under the surface of your life and nudging you to grow in ways that cannot be measured?

Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves.  Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too. Philippians 2:3-4

From our humbled tent to yours,

Meredith Bell

P.S.  It looks like Mrs. Humility has been busy with others as well.  If you have time check out this video from Q Ideas about Humility in the Time of “Me”.

 

Dream No Small Dreams

January is a time for life changes, behavior modification, and New Year’s resolutions. Perhaps this year you have decided to focus on your health, eat less pie, eat more fruit (or cake!), spend less time on social media, spend more time with family, accumulate less stuff (now that Christmas is over!), create more memories, spend less time griping and complaining about people, spend more time worshipping God. I love a picture I saw recently about a guy who makes the comment, “My New Year’s resolution is to stop lying to myself about making lifestyle changes.” Maybe 2017 needs to be a year when we simply get honest with ourselves and cut ourselves some slack.

As I started thinking about 2017, I was struck by a quote from an 18th century German writer, scientist, and statesman named Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Goethe encourages us to, “Dream no small dreams for they have no power to move the hearts of men.” Dream no small dreams – now that’s something to consider at the beginning of a new year! 2017 is overflowing with opportunities to be enjoyed, days to be seized, and love to be shared. 2017 has all the potential to be another tremendous and blessed year. So here are a few tips to help you dream no small dreams in 2017:

Take the Plunge:  In Matthew 3:13 to 17 we see Jesus being baptized by John in the Jordan River. This is when Jesus goes public with his plans to change and save the world. And to make these divine plans known, he literally takes the plunge. He jumps in with both feet, and he never looks back.

Time in the Saddle:  My family received a Christmas ornament this year that includes the quote, “No hour of life is wasted that is spent in the saddle” (Winston Churchill). If you want 2017 to be a year of dreaming no small dreams, then there is work to do, and work requires time in the saddle.

Stay Motivated:  Of course along the way we will get frustrated and want to give up. Staying motivated can be difficult, but is possible when we remember the reason why we’re doing what we’re doing, have a strategy but remain flexible, monitor and recognize our progress, keep it fun, get the help we need, and reward ourselves along the way. The apostle Paul ministered in the name of Jesus for over thirty years. Remember…God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Psalm 46:1

A Dream Come True: And the time will come when that big dream becomes reality. What then? We celebrate! Nehemiah oversees the rebuilding of Jerusalem’s walls after they are destroyed by the Babylonians. When this massive project is completed, all the people gather, Ezra reads from the Law, and Nehemiah tells the crowd, “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared.”

So whatever your plan is for 2017, my prayer for you is to dream no small dreams.

Grace and Peace,

Dr. Steven Henry Bell

 

Manger Moments

Don’t you love those moments when everything falls into place?  Sometimes it’s when you are hosting a dinner party and new friendships form.  Sometimes it’s when you finish the last chore in the yard and it just looks beautiful.  Sometimes it is when someone simply says “thank you” after noticing your small act of kindness.  There are those spiritual moments too when it feels like God is whispering “peace be still” right into your soul.  They to take your breath away.  Sometimes it is during a beautiful sunset after a long and stressful day.  Sometimes it is when the person you love most holds you just right.  Sometimes it is in the middle of worship when you feel as though God is speaking directly to you.

This Christmas, we are invited to join Mary and Joseph once again for their “manger moment.”  Their moment when everything they had experienced for the past nine months falls into place.  Their moment when their hearts are so filled with joy.  Their moment when the angels are above them, the shepherds are running to them and the stars are surrounding them.  And once again, they invite us to make their “manger moment” our moment, too.

This Christmas weekend, we hope that your days are filled with “manger moments” when everything just falls into place and God fills your heart.  Enjoy the people you love.  Enjoy unwrapping gifts and giving them. Enjoy delicious treats.  Take notice of God’s presence.  Take notice of the peace.  Take notice of tiny glimpses into eternal life.  Experience as many “manger moments” as you can for it is these moments that we come back to when the pressures of life push in on us.

They hurried to the village and found Mary and Joseph. And there was the baby, lying in the manger. Luke 2:16

Merry Christmas from the Bells,

Meredith and Steven

Three Pieces A Day Rule

We have one happy, happy camper in our tent this week. The candy rule is gone and the “candy queen” is so happy. There is candy all over our house. Some of it is in the obvious places and some of it is tucked away in little corners, under blankets, and in drawers. It is everywhere and our happy camper has taken inventory and knows the location of every piece. Candy is available 24/7 in our home and life is good for a little girl.

Because we are kind, loving parents, we let the “candy queen” enjoy a few days of bliss. She even enjoyed some for breakfast a few mornings along with her protein plate. But then the time came to reintroduce the rules. “Okay, now that you have enjoyed lots of candy, we are going to go back to three pieces a day.” We expected shock, surprise or rebellion. Instead we simply got an “Okay.” Well that was easy!

There is a gift hidden in rules. They make us feel safe, secure, cared for and balanced. When we have rules that guide our choices and lives, we are able to relax within their boundaries. The big decisions have already be taken care of so we can just enjoy life within the boundaries.

There once was a psychological study of children playing on a playground by a school that I learned about recently. One group of children were encouraged to go and play on a playground without a fence. Instead of playing and exploring, this group chose to just play by the entrance into school.  They didn’t feel safe enough to play on the playground. Another group of children were given the same instructions and same choice. The difference was that a fence had been installed around the play equipment. The second group played on the monkey bars and slid down the slide. The take away was that the children felt more safe with the fence and were able to relax and play together.

Our creator gives us fences (or rules) to live within simply because we are loved.  They are not intended to restrict us, punish us or frustrate us.  They are intended to remind us that we are safe, secure, and loved.  Rules for life help us draw closer to God by making space in our lives for God.  They offer us balance in the pressures of life and light in darkness.  We may go through times in life where we are like the “candy queen”…we have more than we could ever need and life feels blissful.  But then, we may feel that we have lost direction or purpose in life.  We know then that it is time to go back to “three-pieces-a-day”.  And when God calls us back to our center, we experience God’s grace. Another day and another chance to live life through God’s eyes instead of our own.

Explore your rules this week or create some.  What is your rule of life?  Share them with someone close to you.  You might find that you will enjoy God’s playground even more with a fence around it.

For the Lord is the Spirit, and wherever the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.

                                                                                                  2 Corinthians 3:17

From our Happy Tent to yours,

Meredith Bell

P.S. If you want to explore a rule of life more, check out Crafting a Rule of Life.

IDOLS…sneaky little things

This conversation would be much more enjoyable if we had time to sit down together and maybe have a cup of coffee or tea.  But that would mean we would have to align our busy, over scheduled selves in a such a way that our lives could intersect.  Making this happen for just a while, so we could talk, seems impossible most days.  A modern day miracle.

If you did have time to come over, we would visit about idols.  I think it is time we come clean about what is really driving our lives.  I think it is our idols.  You know those little things in our lives that move from “important” to “little gods” while we sleep?  Like my “to do” list.  One day I make it, then I go to sleep and the next morning before I know what is going on I am worshipping that little list. I will move mountains to get everything checked off.  Getting things done becomes my religion for the day.  Who knows what God really wanted me to do that day?  Sadly, I will never know what I missed.

Or the little children (well…one is as tall as me now!!) that really run my life.  When they were given to me, I was full of joy and completely scared.  I had no idea what to do with them or for them.  But moment by sleepless moment, I discovered what do to.  Now that they are working on their elementary and middle school careers, they have moved from needing me for basic survival to simply needing me to find their shoes or be a personal ATM machine.  When I observe our routines, I notice they need me to move their plates from the kitchen table to the dishwasher and move their clothes from the floor in their room to the laundry room. And back again.  When did I start worshipping their little lives and the messes they make?  Ugh! No wonder I am tired.  I am trying to use my two hands to keep up with six other hands and four paws!  If I keep this up, there won’t be much of me left. I am pretty sure God created me for more.

And let’s not mention this phone I carry with me every moment of every day.  Talk about an idol.  I worship what that little phone tells me from the moment I wake up to the moment I go to bed.  I am just being honest.

We serve a JEALOUS God.  A God who created us so the world would see God in our words, actions and deeds.  We work for the ALPHA and OMEGA from our beginning to our end.  We worship ADONAI (the God who sees me) alone. We seek to know our CREATOR.  We shrink before the mysteries of the great I AM. When we are about God’s work, we do not have time to worship little gods in our life.  Little gods demand more of us than we are able to give and distract us from the one true God and God’s work around us.

If you had time for a cup of coffee, we might talk about your idols as well.  I wonder what idols you would pull out of your purse or wallet.  Which ones are hiding in your closest?  We may even share the same ones.  If you are feeling overwhelmed, stressed, tired, anxious, confused, distracted or lost.  Maybe one (or more than one) of those little gods has slipped into your tent or life and it has taken over.  Take a good look through your tent (home) or routine and see what you are truly worshipping these days.

Kick them out on the curb by your next trash day because that is where they really belong.  Don’t worry about what your neighbors think…they probably have some too!  It’s best to just get them out in the open and get rid of them

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Tell the Israelites this: ‘You have seen for yourselves that I have spoken to you from heaven: Do not make any gods to be alongside me; do not make for yourselves gods of silver or gods of gold.  Exodus 20:22-23

Meredith Bell

Connection Points: Little Effort with Big Rewards

My phone has only been running on half battery all week. I haven’t given it enough time to fully charge.  It doesn’t take very long in my day for the little green battery light to turn to red.

In our tent, we move in many different directions at the same time.  Maybe your tent is the same.  In our effort to help everyone in our tent (even the dog, Sam) be their best self, we quickly find ourselves coming and going at a pace that would impress Olympics track athletes.  I can’t say that we are very proud of this habit, but I imagine it is similar to most American families.  American families that are plugged in, committed, scheduled and striving to be the best they can in their own community.  There are as many external pressures as there are internal pressures that keep us living this way in our post-modern world.  All these pressures can easily turn our family battery from green to red.

The crazy reality about this pace is that we are rarely together, really together even though we live in the same house.  Together like when you sit and just talk about nothing.  Together so that you can actually hear each other’s hearts.  Both joys and struggles.  Together in a way that keeps us connected to each other in a world that is moving around us.  We can go on living like this or we can live differently.

Living differently would mean that we are intentional about connecting to each other.  Until we are intentional, we will just live within the ebb and flows of the world.  From experience, that routine only leads to frustration, arguments, loneliness and anxiety.  But living in intentional connection with the people we love leads to understanding, love, companionship and contentment.  Here are a few ideas to be intentional with connecting to those you love for this week…try to work FIVE connection points in this week and see how it goes! It will help you stay connected and available to what God wants you to experience.

CONNECTION POINT IDEAS

LUNCH DATES–Planned lunch dates really help pause the day and breath life into a relationship.  The menu doesn’t matter as much as the conversation.  It’s something you can count on each week to pull you back together in a way to gives you life.

HIDDEN NOTES and TEXT–These are just fun and they are a perfect way to encourage, love, recognize and support each other.  The notes are guaranteed to create smiles and memories.  It’s amazing how God even gets in on the fun by helping you say just the right thing at the right time.

COUCH TALK–Twenty minutes and a couch is all that it takes.  Media off (including phones) and eyes on each other.  It is the best way to connect and reconnect after a busy day or week.

ROSES AND THORNS–The best way to hear each other’s hearts is to talk about the roses and thorns of the day.  This can be done in the car, one the phone, at the table or anywhere.  It always reveals how everyone is doing and helps everyone connect.

PRAYER–Rad Joy is a great company that helps busy people give their burdens back to Christ.  The best way to connect with those we love is to ask them how you can pray for them and then do it.

MEALS–Jesus and his disciples broke bread together all through the New Testament.  Preparing a meal, enjoying a meal, talking and listening to each other,  and cleaning up after the meal can be holy time for families. Even playing dinner games is fun. Everyone can be a part of the experience.

Enjoy making connections with the people you love…it’s an eternal investment and well worth the effort!

Do not love this world nor the things it offers you, for when you love the world, you do not have the love of the Father in you. For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father, but are from this world.  And this world is fading away, along with everything that people crave. But anyone who does what pleases God will live forever. 1 John 2:15-17

Meredith Bell

Homecoming

Fall is (finally) in the air which means Homecoming is here.  Mums, cheerleaders, dates, queens, pep-rallies and Friday night lights!  In Texas, Homecoming is serious and seriously fun!  For those of us who graduated a few years (time really does fly by) ago from our high school alma mater, Homecoming is a time to revisit the place that prepared us for the world.  We remember our friends that accepted us in our awkward teen years and still hold our secrets close.   We remember our teachers who put up with our short attention spans and attitudes.  We remember our communities that kept a close watch on our comings and goings always ready to call our parents to give them an update on our activity. We remember our families that cheered for us from kindergarten through high school.

This Homecoming, I am especially mindful of Coach Grace.  Tommy Grace was my basketball and track coach in high school.  He taught me how to keep my cheeks relaxed and my arms at a ninety degree angle while running.  I still think about him when I go running.  He greatly influenced my prayer life because I used to pray hard for rain all day during school.  If it rained, track practice was canceled.  His workouts were tough.  Many days I would run for him and then run right under the stands to be sick before I had to run some more.  I had good reasons to pray hard!  His gentle nature and tough workouts were life lessons for me.  Even when things get tough, you can still run a little more and make it to the finish line.

On his basketball team, I was the benchwarmer.  I loved my role.  While my team played on the court, I would practice my latest dance routine in my mind until I heard, “Remington…you’re in…we are running ‘blue’.”  He always said it at the same time every quarter…when there were five seconds left.  I would run on the basketball court trying to remember what “blue” meant and play my five seconds on the court.  I was amazing…hahaha!  Coach Grace was amazing!  With a name like “Grace”, he had to be amazing.  God used him every day to guide us into better people.  No matter how I ran or how I played he treated me with respect, love and grace. Today, no matter how the people around me play the game, I treat them with respect, love and grace.

This Homecoming season, go buy yourself a HUGE mum or garter!!  Grab a date and head to the game. While you are there, give thanks for the people that helped you to grow into the person you are today.  Our coaches, teachers, parents and friends are really God’s angels.  They are placed around us to give us guidance, encouragement, dreams and forgiveness when we simply messed up. Their fingerprints are all over our lives.

 Therefore encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are doing.  1 Thessalonians 5:11

From our Happy Homecoming Tent to yours,

Meredith Bell

Friends (aka Angels)

It was 5:30pm when I received a text from a friend asking if I wanted to join her for a last minute dinner.  Yes!   I would love to go to dinner and skip out on our normal evening ritual.  After I hit “send” on my phone, I remembered that I had not taken a shower all day! I actually had dinner planned for my family and the grill was hot.  I was exhausted after doing errands, laundry, dishes and playing all day.  Why had I said yes?

As I was trying to do something with my dirty hair, I had many thoughts of backing out.  I was about ready to do just that when I remembered how my grandmother explained friendship to me one day.  She said that our circle of friends grows in our teen years and our young adult years.  During our adult years that circle begins to get smaller.  We have less time for friends and our circle of friends gets smaller.  As we get older that circle becomes very small because some of our friends move to heaven before us.  She encouraged me to spend time with friends every time I am given the chance to keep my friend circle as large as possible for as long as possible.

Friends are God’s angels on earth.  When we need to be cheered up, a friend calls.  When we pretend that everything is just “fine”, a real friend knows we are lying.  When we just want to have fun for a few hours and watch a movie, we call a friend.  When we need a good cup of coffee and a good conversation, a friend has time to meet us at the coffee shop.  It is amazing to see how God uses friends in our lives.

In our busy, scheduled world, it is too easy to say no to a friend.  We are often tired, overwhelmed and too busy to say yes when that spontaneous text comes to us.  But, we actually need to say yes (even if we have dirty hair) to friend invitations.  They give us a chance to break out of our routine and connect to someone we care about.  When we do that, God is present too!  God did not create us to be alone.  We are called to live in community.

This week, step out of your tent and text a friend.  Set up a spontaneous dinner or coffee just to be together.  Help other people in your tent do the same.  Your time with your friends (new and old) is time well spent!

Whenever two or three of you come together in my name, I am there with you.  Matthew 18:20

From our Happy Tent to Yours,

Meredith Bell

P.S.  Here is a good article about the importance of friendship from Q Ideas. Check it out and visit about it with your friends!  “Is True Friendship Dying Away?”

What If

There are some things that have the ability to rob us of life.  One of those things is the “what ifs” that live in our minds.  They take up free space and cause us to loose sleep.  Sometimes our “what if” thoughts sound like this, “What if I say the wrong thing?” “What if I loose my job?” “What if my loved one doesn’t come home?”  And the list goes on and on.  These thoughts keep us from living in the present by keeping us in the past or the future.  We think of the mistakes and missed chances of the past or we think of future scenarios that we have no control over.  Once the “what ifs” calm down in our minds, they leave us a gift…anxiety.  They don’t ever really just go away, they just calm down for a while and then come back. Until, we do something really different.

In my early 30’s, I made a change.  I decided that I was no longer going to wear uncomfortable shoes.  I went to my closet and purged my shoes.  I only kept the ones that felt good.  Many of my high heals went in the donation box.  Many of my old tennis shoes went as well.  I got rid of the ones that I might wear some day and the ones that I used to wear.  I only kept the ones that felt good.  At the end of my purge, I had a lot less clutter in my closet and my feet were happy.

One little Bible verse tucked inside the New Testament says, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your request to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your heart and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7).  I don’t know about you, but this verse tells me to trade in my “what if” thoughts through prayer in return for peace. God’s peace! That sounds like a pretty good deal.

Doing something really different means that we have to create new practices to help us keep our “what if” thoughts in check.  When they attempt to take over the joy in our days or the sleep in our nights (God is always awake!), we have the option to trade them in for peace through prayer.  This is not a new idea, but it may be a new practice.  And a new practice takes practice.  One step at a time.

Shalom,

Meredith Bell

P.S. Join me in reading (or rereading) Calm My Anxious Heart  by Linda Dillow over the next few weeks.  I would love to hear about your experience with this helpful book.

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