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