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.

Free To Be Me

For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1).

Dr. Paula Bloom has written, “How much time have you spent wondering, or even worrying, what others think of you? What else could you be doing with that mental energy and space? Focusing on your work. Playing with your kids. Cleaning up the spare bedroom. Writing that book you’ve been talking about for years?” I think her questions are brilliant, and definitely something we need to seriously consider (not only for ourselves, but also for our children). Because the truth is, we spend an incredible amount of time and energy worrying about the opinions that others have of us.

President Abraham Lincoln once stated, “America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.” Not only is this true of our nation, but also of our own lives as individuals. I remember a time in my ministry when I was so concerned about the kind of pastor I thought other people expected me to be. I had to dress a certain way. I had to wear my hair a certain way (these days it would be nice to have a little hair!). I had to say and do the things a good pastor was supposed to say and do. This mindset towards my life and calling became quite debilitating and truly made me numb. To be honest, it made me bitter and caused me to hate my vocation. Pastoring had become a job, and it was no job I wanted. The truth of the matter, however, was that no one else imposed these unrealistic expectations upon me – I did it to myself! Thank goodness I was able to move from that dark place into the light, and have since become the kind of pastor that only Steven Bell can be. What freedom! What joy! Pastoring is no longer a job for me, but something I wake up each morning excited and privileged to do. But how many of us try to fit into a mold that isn’t suited for us as moms, dads, daughters, sons, wives, husbands, friends, neighbors, workers, church-goers, etc.? I greatly appreciate the words Fracesca Battistelli includes in her song, “Free to Be Me”:

‘Cause I got a couple dents in my Fender

Got a couple rips in my jeans

Try to fit the pieces together

But perfection is my enemy

And on my own, I’m so clumsy

But on Your shoulders I can see

I’m free to be me

We all have a few dents in our fenders and some rips in our jeans, but we are all also unique. Although we must live responsibly, it behooves each of us to be true to our gifts, our callings, our talents, our personalities, and ourselves. We’re all different, and we need each other. That being the case, here are a few thoughts on how to stop worrying so much about what other people think of us:

  • Picture a life without this burden. I think you’ll quickly see that it is a life of freedom.
  • Believe that people are basically good.
  • Believe also that, regardless of what you do or who you are, people will do/think whatever they want to do/think.
  • Your imagination is too precious to waste, so stop creating imagined scenarios in your mind.
  • Come to the understanding that you will never be able to please everyone. Dr. Seuss commented, “Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.”
  • Focus on “what is” rather than “what might be.”
  • Keep first things first.
  • Surround yourself with loving people (not just people who will agree with you, but those who will love you whether they agree or disagree with you).
  • Be you. There is only one of you in the entire world!
  • Record your accomplishments.
  • Establish boundaries, and just say “No.”
  • Get grounded (hit the pause button if you need to and clear your mind).
  • Never forget how valuable you are.

Perhaps you’ve heard the story of the colorless tiger. Once upon a time, there was a colorless tiger – he was completely black and white. His lack of color made him so famous that the world’s greatest painters came to the zoo to try and paint some color on him. But their paint would never stay on the colorless tiger. Then along came a quite eccentric painter. He was an odd fellow who traveled about, happily painting with his brush. To be more accurate – he moved his brush as though he was painting, but he never had any paint on his brush. He didn’t have a canvas or paper either – he simply painted the air! So everyone thought it was quite funny when the eccentric painter said that he would be the one to paint the colorless tiger. When entering the colorless tiger’s cage, the eccentric painter began whispering in the animal’s ear, and moving his dry brush up and down the colorless tiger’s fur. Quite shockingly, and to everyone’s surprise, the colorless tiger’s coat was not colorless anymore – every spot the eccentric painter touched with his dry paint brush became vivid with color. The (seemingly not-so-eccentric anymore) painter continued whispering to the tiger, and painting, until the animal had become a magnificently colorful tiger. Immediately, people began asking the painter about his secret painting technique. He shared with them that his brush could only be used for painting real life, and to do that he needed no paint. And while he painted the tiger, he kept whispering this phrase in the tiger’s ear: “In a few days you will be free again – just wait!” Seeing how sad the tiger had been in his captivity, and how joyful the tiger now seemed at the prospect of freedom, the zoo keepers transported him to the jungle and set him free, where he would never again lose his color. This is a picture of what true freedom does to us. It gives us back our color.

Rosa Parks, also known as “the mother of the freedom movement,” resisted bus segregation. She made a decisive choice to be proud of who God created her to be. She later stated, “I would like to be remembered as a person who wanted to be free… so other people would be also free.” So this July, after we’ve popped all our firecrackers, after we’ve eaten enough hotdogs to make Oscar Mayer consider retirement, and after we’ve swam so much our fingers look old and wrinkly; might we be grateful. As a person, I am grateful for men and women like Rosa Parks – people who remind me to be me. As an American, I am grateful for our men and women in uniform who serve at home and abroad for the sake of freedom (those living, and those who paid the ultimate sacrifice for our liberties). Might we be mindful of Ronald Reagan’s words, “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same.” As a Christian and a pastor, I am grateful for the sacrifice Jesus made on the cross, and how he reminds us, “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36). The question has been asked, “How come there’re no Knock Knock jokes about America?” The answer is, “Because freedom rings.” I hope your life rings with freedom – not only during the month of July, but that each and every day of your life will be an Independence Day.

Dr. Steven Bell

Backseat Theologian: Guide

There are some great things that come out of the backseat of my car.  If you were to just glance inside my car you would think that nothing good is back there.  But in the middle of the flip-flops, crumbs, old lunch boxes, dance shoes, books and trash, there are treasures.  Real treasures.  This week, while driving down the road, our 7-year-old (resident theologian) in the backseat of the car asked a question.  (When I no longer have little people adding to the mess in my backseat, I will have to borrow some.  Their presence is worth the mess.)

Resident Theologian:  “Mom, did you know that the Holy Spirit has two expressions?”

Driver:   “What did you say?”

Resident Theologian:  “The Holy Spirit has TWO EXPRESSIONS!”

Driver:  “Oh, Oh, what are they?”

Resident Theologian:  “A dove because the Holy Spirit is gentle and fire because the Holy spirit is powerful. Isn’t that cool?”

Driver:  “That is cool.  How were the monkey bars today?”

Throughout the rest of my week, I reflected on this conversation.  I remembered how the Holy Spirit is gentle.  It reminds me of God’s presence through a revelation when reading a book or when the right song plays in the morning.  The Holy Spirit is like a dove in the way it flies by to remind me of a person I need to call and then it flies away.  And when it moves through a worship service at an unexpected moment, it feels like the comfort of a mother or grandmother.  It knows exactly what you need when you need it.  Yes, the Holy Spirit is gentle.

I also noticed the Holy Spirit that pushed me to make a change for one of my children.  For months I could feel the Holy Spirit burning inside of me telling me to make the change.  Three weeks ago, I finally carried through with it.  Ever since, peace has surrounded the situation.  Sometimes God tells us through the Holy Spirit exactly what needs to be done. The more we ignore it the stronger it seems to get.  If you are facing a situation that you have been praying about, I imagine the Holy Spirit is telling you what steps to take.

This week, from our tent to yours, we think it is worth the time to think about the Holy Spirit.  We talk about it as our Guide in our tent.  Every journey needs a Guide.  A person that knows what is up ahead on the trail and walks along beside us so that we can experience the journey ourselves.  The Guide helps make our daily lives personal and meaningful.  Sometimes the Guide may be powerful to help us make a change or keep us safe.  Sometimes the Guide will be like a friend sitting around a campfire at the end of a good day.  We hope you can feel the presence of the Guide in your tent and your life.  If it is time to make a change, make it.  If it is time to take a nap, take it.  Your Guide knows what you need and it is best not to ignore it.  Peace is waiting for you.

But when the Father sends the Advocate as my representative—that is, the Holy Spirit—he will teach you everything and will remind you of everything I have told you. John 14:26

Meredith Bell

 

Family Mission

What is yours?  What is God calling your family to do?  So often in families, we become wrapped up in what each member is doing separately.  We celebrate the achievements.  We comfort the disappointments.  We enjoy the simple days and survive the busy days.  But what if we took a step back and explored the idea that God may be using our families for specific missions.

Last week, I received an email from Family Legacy.  It is an organization in Irving, Texas that invites American families to sponsor children in Zambia.  We began sponsoring two children almost two years ago.  Monica is 7 and Edward is 11.  They are the same age as our own children.  Monica emailed us last week to let us know that she was the student of the week in her school.  She was excited to be the line leader and the teacher’s helper for the week.  Edward also emailed us to say thank you for helping him go to school.  Their emails stopped me in the middle of my day.  Halfway around the world, God is using our family to bless two young children. That is simply awesome.

It feels simple, but to the children on the receiving end it feels like God loves them.  A family mission does not need to be complicated.  Each member of your family does not need to move to another country and become a missionary.  (In fact, Christianity in North America and Europe seems to be decreasing.  Our mission field is our neighborhoods.) God is using you and can use you right where you are right now.

This week, in your tent, take a step back and call a family meeting.  Have each member share what they think the family mission is or what they want the family mission to be.  Keep one ear open to God’s voice.  You will be excited to discover what you come up with together.

Take a look at these links to explore your mission opportunities more:

The Church Will End Extreme Poverty by Scott Todd

Family Legacy

Serving Together As A Family by Heidi Dunkley

For you have been called to live in freedom, my brothers and sisters. But don’t use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature. Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love. Galatians 5:13

From our Happy Tent to yours,

Meredith Bell

Compassion

This week my heart broke when I heard someone say that they do not have anything to look forward to when they wake up in the morning.  It broke again when I visited with someone looking for a job and they just aren’t having any luck.  And then again when I heard about a struggling friendship that has been hijacked by jealously and competition.  These moments were personally difficult for me because I knew that my words would not “fix” the suffering.  Since I could not “fix” things, I stayed frustrated.  Then I went downhill from there…my frustration led to impatience to irritation to defeat.  It wasn’t a very nice day.

Jesus said, “I have compassion for these people.” (Matthew 15:32) Compassion. That is another way to look at life’s struggles.  Compassion is something that we can offer in the midst of difficult times to others.  Compassion is full of mercy, understanding, presence and comfort.  It is easy to communicate compassion through texts, calls, lunch dates, surprise visits, cards, and hugs.  Compassion is how God draws people closer to him through us.

It is clear to me that Jesus did not come and live among us to train us to “fix” things.  There are just some things that cannot be fixed.  Maybe he knew that.  Instead he came to show us how to live with compassion (among other things).  He knew that there are days when circumstances cannot be “fixed”.  On those days, he taught us to look beyond the surface and discover how to comfort the true pain a person feels.  When we connect with another person on a deeper level (a spiritual level), we can unwrap the gift of compassion.

As you travel through your week, explore compassion in your life.  When have you received the gift of compassion and who needs to receive the gift of compassion from you?  Invite everyone in your tent to join you on this path.  You will be blessed and be a blessing to others.

“They may forget what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel.”  Carl W. Buechner

Shalom,

Meredith Bell

Easter: Where Two Worlds Collide

My grandmother hand painted Easter eggs.  She began the process well before Easter.  She would make a small hole in both ends of a raw egg and blow the yoke out.  After the inside of the egg was empty, she would paint beautiful designs on the eggs.  Flowers and patterns were painted with Easter colors and glittery paint.  They were beautiful and delicate.  She also loved a party and Easter was a wonderful party.  While we enjoyed a delicious lunch after church, dyed, hardboiled eggs were magically hidden around her yard. (Sometimes these eggs were found months later in the back of my closet due to a smell!) Her Easter celebrations still remain with me.

It is no surprise that I remember her on Easter.  I also remember many more who already live in eternity.  Those who once sat with me around a table to celebrate our promise of a resurrection because of Christ.  My grandfather who gave me a corsage to wear on Easter morning on my wrist.  Another grandmother took a picture of my sisters and me in her Iris garden while wearing our Easter dresses.

For me, Easter is where two worlds collide. Those who live on earth and those who live in eternity come together at the foot of the cross. There we see a glimpse of eternal life.  There we feel peace.  There we lean into hope. There we remember that all our struggles on Earth will not last forever.  There we see God’s plan unfold before us.  At the foot of the cross we rest on Easter and then we go on living as resurrected people for our remaining days.

When my grandmother was dying, I remember sitting in the hospital hallway on the floor opposite her door. Some of my family were sitting along the wall with me.  We were talking and remembering together.  We were waiting for what we knew was coming.  She was about to die.  And then I had a strange thought…I looked across from me and imagined another family waiting on the other side of the hall.  A family that was waiting to welcome my grandmother home.  A family who had once sat around a table with her on Easter.  A family who taught her to paint beautiful eggs.  A family who had been patiently waiting to be with her after a long absence.

I found comfort in that image where two worlds collide.  It was as if the promise of the cross was standing between us in the hallway.  On one side we sat experiencing the mystery of death and on the other side they sat experiencing eternal life.

As you gather around your table this Easter, I imagine there will be others there with you that you can see and some you cannot see.  Enjoy the promises of Easter.

He isn’t here, but has been raised. Remember what he told you. Luke 24:6

Happy Easter,

Meredith Bell

P.S.  One of our favorite activities in our tent at Easter is to make Resurrection Cookies.  They are simple, fun and full of meaning.  Enjoy!

 

 

Lent: Pride

Welcome to Lent!  (That phrase would be a cute door mat this time of year wouldn’t it??)  On Tuesday, I hope you let the good times roll and enjoyed some King Cake.  On Wednesday, I hope you closed your eyes as your pastor or priest imposed a cross made from ashes on your forehead.  A beautiful symbol of the darkness of our sin made into a cross that represents hope.  This Lent, let’s explore some silent habits that we may want to sweep out of our tents before Easter arrives.

Pride. It is a character trait that is either good or bad. It is good in the sense of taking care of your home or how you wear your clothes. It is bad when it leads to arrogance or the feeling of superiority. It is good if it leads you to successful achievements and bad if it leads you to achievements that control your treatment of others.

In 1 Chronicles 21:1-17, King David let his pride turn from good to bad. He stepped away from God, just to experience what it might feel like to be God. His request to know the strength of his kingdom could have been innocent if it wasn’t covered with his pride. He wanted to know simply because he wanted to feel the power he possessed. This request led him back to God who showed his power and mercy.

Carl Jung says, “Through pride we are ever deceiving ourselves. But deep down below the surface of the average conscience a still, small voice says to us, something is out of tune.” Lent is a season for us to find that something (or somethings) that are out of tune. It is a season where we feel God’s judgment and God’s mercy. It is a season that leads us to the cross to remind us of the power of repentance and forgiveness.

How has your pride led you away from God recently? How is pride effecting your relationships with those you love the most (those in your tent)?  As you turn back to God, what changes do you feel need to be made?

Shalom,

Meredith

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