What’s Your Flavor?

We are leaning into summer which means Snow-Biz is open and there is only one question to answer in the drive through at Snow-Biz. “What flavor?” Once we answer that question, we patiently wait for our cold treats to pass through the car window. With a snow cone in our hands, life is just right.

Snow-Biz is the kind of place that offers many flavors for snow cones. For people like me, they offer the basics. Watermelon, strawberry, coconut, lemon and other basics. No matter how many choices they offer, you can be sure that I will always drive away with a white coconut snow cone in my hand. It’s simple, less messy, and predictable. White coconut every time.

One passenger in the car always throws a sour request out the window. Flavors like pickle, lemon-lime, green apple and lemon drop are among the usual choices. Another passenger in the car always needs extra time to process the choices. Out loud she asks for the general opinion of the group. She is the risk taker and usually tries something new and trendy like Harry Potter’s Brew, Incredibles, or Moana. No matter which one she orders, they all come through the window looking like a beautiful rainbow. And we all drive away much happier than before our (cash only) purchase.

The Snow-Biz experience is a glimpse into the multiple flavors that live in our tent. Thankfully, we are different people with different tastes, perspectives, thoughts, dreams and purposes. Each one of us is a unique creation made to help God build God’s kingdom. Our differences are a blessing and an opportunity to see the world around us and each other through God’s eyes. Perfectly and beautifully created.

So often, we allow differences to create tension and frustration in our tents. Different can easily become a synonym for change, wrong, or uncertainty. We can feel anxious or insecure in situations that are different and not familiar. We can also push away family members with different opinions because it just feels safer. But all you need is one trip through Snow-Biz to see that different is actually very colorful and refreshing no matter the flavor.

This week, take some time to see each other’s uniquenesses. Explore the lives of the people you love a little more deeply. What music are they listening to and why? What book are they reading? What are they wondering about this week? What is a dream they have been thinking about lately? Share some of your unique thoughts about yourself as well.

As your family heads into summer, we highly recommend a drive to your local snow cone stand (many, many times). It will give you a glimpse into the beautiful flavors that live in your tent. That is something to celebrate.

He existed before all things, and all things are held together in him.

Colossian 1:17

From our Happy Tent to Yours,

Meredith Bell

Passenger Seat

There is one place in my daily routine that is rich with opportunity…the passenger seat. On any given day, my passenger seat welcomes a lot of people. Once a passenger buckles in safely, the passenger automatically start talking, confessing, sharing, asking, and relaxing. It’s almost magical. Here are a few glimpses into this weeks highlights.

The School Reporter

In a time span of 60 seconds, the passenger seat headlines include a new game on the playground with rocks, a slide, and a friend. A form needs to be signed but it is lost (good thing extras are filed in my driver side door). There is a missing school jacket that must be found by the Friday deadline (it was found in the closet on a hanger which is the last place we ever look). A rice crispy treat is a delicious lunch. The bunny and bear collection is a success. And finally, “Do you have anything to eat. I am starving!” Off to Sonic we go.

The Biblical Scholar

Next, my passenger seat welcomed a new and excited Biblical scholar who quickly reported that he has completed the book of Numbers. His passion about God is completely contagious and inspiring. Our topics include God’s wrath and love, Moses’ calling and leadership, desert moments in life, covenants, grace, and our lives. In a ten minute drive, I received a beautiful gift through this scholar. The ten minute drive back to the dorms, I learned all about Pureflix.

The Kidknapping

What do you do when you have not seen someone in a long time and you have to drop off someone else for an appointment? You (willingly) kidnap the first person of course! This passenger was full of surprises in the passenger seat. The conversation began by me asking, “Where have you been, I haven’t seen you in a while?” “I have been studying so hard and dealing with my pride. I have to get my grades up to get into my next college. I have been praying so hard. I have been working so hard. I will not fail to do what God is calling me to do.” Then with complete seriousness, my passenger said, “Did you know that I did not learn to read until 8th grade?”

My Heart

Near the end of my day, my passenger seat held my heart, Mr. Bell. Because of schedules, careers, appointments, and many other reasons, we (like most couples) see each other at the beginning and end of the day. It may be time to revise marital vows to include, “I will love you, comfort you, honor and keep you, in sickness and in health even while surviving our family life and career lives and forsaking all others, be faithful to each other as long as we both shall live even if some days all we have left to give is an understanding smile or hug. In our short ride together, we caught up on pressing items. We talked. We processed. We laughed. We went our separate ways. After that passenger experience, a new item was put on the agenda. Everyone will sit together at dinner tonight!

Reflections Through the Rearview Mirror

The passenger seat is rich with opportunity. When we open the door, we open the opportunity to experience Christ. We invite the passenger to join us on this journey of life. Through their presence, we discover joy in life, desire for God, determination, injustice, and love.

In the Book of Acts, there is a story about another passenger seat. Philip is told by an angel of the Lord to go to a road. There he meets a man who is reading Scripture. Philip asked the man if he understands what he was reading. Because the man did not understand the words, he invited Philip into the passenger seat of his chariot. Together they experienced the presence of God through Scripture as they talked about the Good News of Jesus Christ.

In the passenger seat of life, God is the driver. Each moment, we have the opportunity to unlock the door and take a seat. In that place, we hear the Good News of Jesus Christ. We also automatically start talking, confessing, sharing, asking, and relaxing. It’s almost magical.

Here’s to the open road and the passengers who journey with us!

From our Happy Tent to Yours,

Meredith Bell

Hats

Down the street from our hotel room and around the corner, we stepped into Goorin Hats in the French Quarter. We actually had to step in because we lost sight of Mr. Bell. He has been a fan of this company for a while and felt pulled into the store when he saw the sign. The rest of us just waddled in like little baby ducks. It was after 8 o’clock and we thought it would be a quick stop before we continued down the sidewalk to enjoy the sights and sounds of the city.

Little did we know that we would fall in love with this little store and hats! We tried on every hat and admired every hat pin. We modeled for each other and processed the appeal of one hat over another. As each of us decided on a flatcap, beret, and fedora, Mr. Bell had a little worried look on his face. He had just successfully created a Bell hat frenzy and we were happy!

Hats, we discovered, are the perfect accessory for any outfit for any stage of life. A hat allows you an opportunity to express yourself. There is always room to change the look as we grow.

Hats are also a great reflection of all the phases in life that we live through together as a family and in relationship to God.

Here’s a glimpse.
  • Baby: Parents choose any cute and precious hat to put on their sweet baby’s bald head. God’s message: Love from parents is direct love from God.
  • Toddler: Parents buy ten of one special hat to avoid any repeat meltdowns. God’s message: Grace, grace, and more grace.
  • Elementary: Anything goes with anything really as long as a hat is on hand for theme days. God’s message: I have created a great big world for you to explore because I love you!
  • Teen: Words like cute, pretty, or perfect cause immediate rejection. It is best to just pay for the hats and be mute. God’s message: I am proud of your courage to discover the person I created.
  • Parents: Basically, dad looses hair. Hat becomes a necessary item. Mom doesn’t wash hair. Hat becomes a survival fashion trick. God’s message: Lean on me. Let go of the unimportant. Focus on the blessings. All the blessings!

We offer this little glimpse into our tent and our hat rack. We hope you too have a collection of hats in your tent that show the world who you are. We pray that each day of your life, you know whose you are, too. The balance of knowing and showing is a sweet spot for God to use your precious head (with or without hair) to express his love to others.

Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.

Matthew 28:20

From our Hat Happy Tent to Yours,

Meredith Bell

Snuggle In

It’s time to snuggle in our tents just like Mary did with baby Jesus.  In Luke 2, scripture tells us that Mary wrapped him “snugly.” There is nothing better than to snuggle in for a good night at home.  Especially with people you love, a fuzzy blanket, and a cup of hot chocolate.  When that perfect snuggle moment happens (maybe right after you have taken in your first deep breath all day) every thing in the world feels just right.   At that moment, you feel completely accepted and loved.

One for our favorite Christmas stories is by Max Lucado.  He writes a story about a crippled lamb.  The lamb grows up smaller than others, different than others and often last.  When the time came for the other lambs to move on to another pasture, the cripple lamb was left behind because he was not strong enough for the journey.  One night a new baby boy was born in the barn where the lamb stayed.  Because the lamb was at the right place at the right time, he had the opportunity to snuggle in with the new baby Jesus to help keep him warm.  At that moment, the lamb feels completely accepted and loved.

As we move closer to the “best holiday ever” in our tent, we are looking for ways to snuggle in to baby Jesus just like that little lamb.  We want to be at the right place at the right time even when we feel smaller, different, and last.  We want to snuggle in to the “best gift ever” of being accepted and loved.

For us, to snuggle in means being on the couch together to enjoy our favorite Christmas movies. By taking advantage of a slower schedule, we are careful to not over plan our way through Christmas. We also keep the fuzzy blankets close and the hot chocolate stocked.  It also means taking advantage of the season by putting ourselves in the flow of the Holy Spirit.  We use reminders of the ever green trees, twinkling lights, candy canes, presents, and never ending wreathes. They remind us of the everlasting pure light of Christ that is given to us through his sacrifice.  When we feel completely accepted and loved because of Christ, our joy is just contagious.

If you need permission this Christmas to snuggle in, you have our permission.  It’s good for the soul!

While Mary and Joseph were there, the time came for Mary to have her baby. She gave birth to her firstborn child, a son, wrapped him snugly, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the guest room. Luke 2:6-7

From Our Happy and Snuggly Tent to Yours,

Meredith Bell

Our Pianist

This week, our pianist has been playing the piano more than ever.  For hours at a time, she happily sits on the piano bench and fills our home with “Silent Night.”  Over and over and over again.  First she could only play the keys on her right hand.  Then she learned how to play the cords on her left hand. Finally, she put them all together.

If you do not know our pianist, you are probably wondering why this is interesting.  If you do know our pianist, you are probably wondering what in her world changed to create such dedication to her hobby. Normally, after she attends her weekly piano lesson she carries her bag out of the lesson (with the piano lesson books inside) and gracefully tosses it into the back of the car.  It stays there for seven days until it is time for another lesson.

But something happened over Thanksgiving.  Her grandmother visited our tent.  When her grandmother left, our pianist began to play with passion.  Curious?  Granny filled the piano bench with extra incentives for practicing the piano.  Lots and lots of motivation in the form of one dollar bills. The agreement between Granny and Grandchild is one dollar for each time the pianist practices playing the piano.  Suddenly we have a passionate pianist in our tent!

Motivation in any form is the reason we reach our goals.  Motivational speakers call us to action.  Motivational moments require a response.  Motivational grandmothers produce accomplished pianists in our tents.

As people who love Jesus, it is worth our time to look around our tents and our communities to see who needs some motivation.  Who needs someone to fill their “piano bench” to help them accomplish their goal?  How can you be that person.  This amazing event happened in our tent happened because an outsider came into our tent, assessed the situation, and made a slight change to our pattern.  The result got our attention.

As we move into a season of celebrating the birth of Jesus, let’s remember that he too motivates us every day.  God intentionally sent him into our earthly tent on a silent night as an outsider to assess the situation and make a change.  A Big Change.  The result got our attention thousands of years ago and I pray it still gets our attention today.

She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins. Matthew 1:21

From our Happy Tent to Yours,

Meredith Bell

Welcome Home

This week many of us will welcome friends and family into our homes.  Families will gather all across our country to give thanks together for God’s blessing and for each other.  This is a well honored tradition across our states.  And over the years, we have learned to master the turkey dinner. We have come a long way from the first feast.

Although this time together is much anticipated, the days before offer us an opportunity to give thanks as well.  So often in daily family life, we are caught in the business of life.  Going here and there, on time and late, seven days a week robs us of the relationships we enjoy.  Our family relationships are reduced to a quick text, a quick kiss and a quick hug good bye.  We easily fall into our beds in an attempt to get enough sleep so we can do it all again the next day.  Or maybe this is just happening in our family! Exhausting.

In the days leading up to thanksgiving, there are some spiritual practices we can exercise to re-set our hearts on each other.

Yummy Breakfast–Breaking bread together in a special way, is a yummy practice. If the children in your tent are enjoying a school break, take time around the breakfast table to enjoy each other a little more.  Nothing says good morning like the smell of warm biscuits, bacon, pancakes, sausage, eggs, muffins and other yummy creations.  A delicious breakfast will help everyone recognize that something special is happening this week.

Set the Table Together–Prayerfully preparing your heart for the guests you love is another practice. If you are the one hosting this year, do it with a heart of joy.  Joy is contagious.  Invite other people in your tent to join you. While setting the table, pray for those who will be gathering around your table.  Pray that your Thanksgiving Feast is a place that is life giving.  Make it a place where the Holy Spirit can be experienced by all.

Tell Your Story–Remembering God’s story and how it connects with your story opens awareness in your heart. While you are gathered together, share your family story.  Duke Marshall is a psychologist at Emory University.  His work with families shows that families who share their family narrative and build it together help children in the family know who they are.  It helps children successfully navigate their lives.  It also helps the adults remember who they are as well.

Give Thanks–Gratitude is a life giving practice.  Our families may not look the same as they did this time last year.  Some members have grown taller, some will have more wrinkles and some will be missing from our tables.  Life is precious.  As your gather, give thanks for this moment and this time together.

Be rooted and built up in him, be established in faith, and overflow with thanksgiving just as you were taught. Colossians 2:7

We hope you and your family enjoy a wonderful Thanksgiving Holiday together.

From our Happy Tent to Yours,

Meredith Bell

 

 

Pep Rally Week

Back in the day, my favorite week in school was pep rally week.  Pep rally week was a signal to me that the work was done and the celebration began.  Before pep rally week, my friends and I worked all summer.

We gathered over the summer at various houses and painted vertical pep rally signs, on hot driveways. Some signs were made to hang from the gym ceiling and HUGE run-through signs were made to hold while the football team enter the football field on Friday nights.  We spent one week during the summer learning new chants and cheers to teach our hometown.  We practiced building human pyramids on our shoulders in the city pool during the afternoons.  We fell in the water again and again.

When the summer came to a close and school began, it was time for the first pep rally.  At the pep rally, we gave it our best.  We yelled.  We jumped.  We nailed our human pyramid.  We smiled.  The spirit of the school and the town grew week after week.  The football players felt like heroes and we were all ready for the competition.

Holy Week is like a pep rally week for Christians.  For the past forty days, we have prepared.  We looked for signs of selfishness, sin, and doubt.  We discovered our deep need for forgiveness and grace.  We unplugged, fasted, prayed, discerned and listened.  We remembered the final act of death on a cross so that we can find hope in our darkness.  We patiently waited.

When the sun comes up on Sunday, let us cheer.  Hallelujah!  Let us lift up the Spirit.  Our helper.  Our advocate.  Let us paint signs all around us for others to see. Signs of love, hope and peace.  Let us see Jesus in unexpected places.  Testimony. Sunrise. Stillness.  When the sun comes up on Sunday (and every day), Jesus is our hero and we are ready for the competition.

Go Jesus!

Now when the centurion and those with him, who were keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were terrified and said, “Truly this man was God’s Son!”  Matthew 27:54

From our Happy Easter Tent to Yours,

Meredith Bell

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

 

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