Peace and Quiet

Peace and quiet is not what we experience at our dinner table when we sit down. We are loud. Everyone is talking at once. Our dinner table is a processing center. When we gather, we make a full circle centered on a meal in the middle. As the meal begins to disappear, we begin to replace it with questions, reports, plans, and thoughts. Eventually we focus on one topic to process together.

This past week, our youngest tent member shared how loud her class gets when the teacher leaves the room (the same experience we all had in elementary school). Because she doesn’t want to get in trouble, she reads during this time. Or she puts her head on her desk. Or she asks her friends to be quiet. At our dinner table this week, she shared her new strategy…peace and quiet.

In a moment of inspiration, one day this week, she put one finger over her lips and one hand in the air making a peace-sign (a practice from earlier school years). Slowly her friends did the same. The room became peaceful and quiet (and we can only image the shock from the teacher when he re-entered the room).

I wonder how many times in our days that life gets too loud? Too busy? Too overwhelming? I know in our tent it happens too many times. All you need to do is join us around the dinner table to hear the reports. The noise and pressure of life will only increase this fall. Calendars fill up fast this time of the year.

This fall, try and increase the experience of peace and quiet, too. When you need a break, put one finger over your lips to remind you to stop talking and listen to the Holy Spirit. Take a breath. Put your phone down. When you feel like you are living in chaos, put two fingers in the air with the other hand in a peace-sign to remind you of the abundant life (abundant peace) that Jesus came to give you.

It’s a gift of love.

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

John 14:27

From our Happy Tent to Yours,

Meredith Bell

Release the Pressure

We added an instant pot to our kitchen this summer. Since we seem to run out of time most days for various reasons, we added this pressure cooker to help speed up the cooking process. So far, so good. On the top of the contraption is on button that says, “Press to vent.” When you press the button a loud sounds exits the pot. The pressure is quickly released and for some reason, it is a very satisfying sound that everyone in the kitchen stops to hear.

You and your family may feel that you often run out of time too. For families, there are a lot of activities to do in a day that are planned and unplanned. Parents of busy families are constantly “on.” Family success is measured in successful balance of their various calendar entries and the completion of these calendar entries for one day, even if it means staying up late into the night or rising early in the morning (we just began making a check list together so that we might feel a little more “successful” in finding our balance).

If your family can relate to other families living under pressure, maybe it is time to release the pressure (it is July after all). It is true that you cannot fully slow down in a fast-paced society. But can we learn to manage the pressure we feel differently? Can we learn to release it and help our family members release the pressure as well? Yes!

How to Release the Pressure:

Stop running in and out of your tent and interact with one another.

Gather around the table and serve ice cream just to make sure everyone shows up. Forget dinner plans. Ask these questions: How are you? What is stressing you lately? When was the last time you experienced God?

Recognize the spirit of truth and the spirit of error.

1 John 4 from the Bible talks about the difference between living from the world and living from God. When we are deeply living from the world, we speak from the world’s point of view and the world listens. When we are from God, others who know God listen to us. We become Christ for others by offering healing, hope and peace. We become neighbors and friends. Help each one in your tent reflect on the motivation driving the family recently. Are you living deeply in the world or deeply with God?

Give yourself and your family members grace and hope.

Lots of grace. Everyone is trying their best. Add some hope and lean into a better tomorrow without pressure. Commit to trying a new way to be family in the next several days. When we hope, God moves away everything that is not a part of our true self and we are liberated.

Hopefully this time together in your tent will be very satisfying. July is a great month to release the pressure of life. Take advantage of it. And eat more ice cream if it helps to release the pressure.

As pressure and stress bear down on me,
    I find joy in your commands.
 Your laws are always right;
    help me to understand them so I may live.

I pray with all my heart; answer me, Lord!
    I will obey your decrees.

Psalm 119:143-145

From our Happy Pressure Releasing Tent to Yours,

Meredith Bell

P.S. Check out the book Busier Than Ever: Why American Families Can’t Slow Down, Charles N. Darrah, James M. Freeman, J.A. English-Lueck, if you want to gain a sense of the current state of families. It may help make sense of the pressure you feel in your family.

Spread a Little Love

Love is in the air.  According to one company on the radio, the perfect way to show that you love the man in your life is to buy him some perfect underwear.  Good to know! Another radio ad suggested that this is the perfect time to buy the love of your life a star that will be named for them and recorded in the magic book.  (Honestly, I wish I would have thought of that one because you would never, ever have to worry about running out of inventory or restocking the galaxy.)  And another radio ad suggests to express love by investing in a new perfect, amazing, incredible mattress that will last for years to come.  (This is not a bad idea!) A third grade class that we are connected to through our tent is also experiencing love. The report is that it’s hard to know who to love these days. (Adorable!)

For Christians, love is always in the air, right?  Over in the New Testament of the Bible, the Apostle John (Zebedee’s son) captured a quote from Jesus that said, “A new commandment I give you: LOVE ONE ANOTHER. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”  Good to know!

As we move closer to the Hallmark Holiday of Love (aka Valentine’s Day), let’s add a little more love to the world around us.  By adding some love around us, maybe more people will experience the love of Christ that is experienced in the blessings of clothes (and underwear), seen in the stars, felt in the comforts of home (and soft mattresses) and celebrated in the hearts of third graders.

Happy Tent Ideas for Loving Others

  • Love your Neighbor–This week, choose one neighbor to check on and see how they are doing.  If you are really feeling adventurous, choose a neighbor you do not know well (even if you have lived by them for 15 years!).  Be traditional and deliver a box of chocolates, a batch of cookies or a loaf of bread.  If you need some ideas, check out SoCe Life and the Neighboring Movement.
  • Love your Spouse–Take time to discover your spouses Love Language.  It will save you lots of time and energy.  Surprise your spouse by doing the dishes, thanking them of their work, holding hands for no reason, writing a love note, or preparing their favorite meal (like the duck Mr. Bell keeps bringing home!).  Small acts of love go a long way in a happy tent!
  • Love your Children–In the coming and going of family life, sometimes the small connections get left out.  If you children are still living at home, Crafty Texas Girls gives lots of idea on how to celebrate love together.  I especially love the “love notes” in the shape of hearts.  I have been taping them to bedroom doors this week.  14 notes and 14 days until Valentine’s Day! If your children have left the nest, find a way to connect with a phone call, a visit or a lunch date.  All children (young and old) need to feel loved. They need to be reminded that they are a God’s beautiful creation.
  • Love your Friends–Can you imagine a life without friends?  Can you imagine a friend who does not love a box of chocolate, a surprise coffee date, a card in their mailbox or a phone call from you? Choose 14 friends and love them to pieces this month!
  • Love your Self–Have you experienced a stress free day lately?  Have you personally experienced God lately?  Loving yourself means many things. One important aspect of self love is to make space in your life to breath deeply from the grace of God that reminds us that we are enough.  We do enough, have enough and are loved enough by God’s standards. Take a nap, exercise, read a book, dream, relax and remember that God is big enough to handle everything else.
  • Love a Stranger–While waiting at the doctor’s office, I found myself loving a complete stranger who was obviously anxious about their doctor’s visit.  By joking that I would take their place and offer my arm for the blood sample, the stranger began to laugh and relax.  Start a conversation with a stranger, you may be exactly what they needed at that moment of their life.

From our Happy and Loving Tent to Yours,

Meredith Bell

 

Signing Off and Signing In

We have a magic power in life with a pen and paper (a tablet/stylus or computer/keyboard) when we practice signing in and signing out.  Signing in means that we are open, present, ready or prepared. Signing out says, “That’s all folks!” Drop the microphone and close the curtain because the work is done.

This week, I signed out a child from school and signed into a board meeting (x3!). I signed into my banking account and signed out of a doctor’s office. I signed up to provide refreshments and signed out of the library.  In and out, in and out, all week long.

One evening during the week I signed off my phone.  It was ringing, buzzing, and alerting me at such a rapid pace that it was practically creating an earthquake on the kitchen counter.  Someone forgot to tell the phone that the day was winding down instead of winding up.   Someone forgot to tell the phone that we were in the last act of the play that day and we needed to wrap things up.  Without thinking, I sent one more text informing the sender that I was signing off for the night.  It was an automatic response because my personal battery was on low and I needed to recharge before the next day. Enough work for one day.

Immediately, when I signed off for the day, I signed into being present with the people I love the most. I signed into awareness and curiosity. I relaxed and took a deep breath.  (Maybe the first one all day.) Dolly Parton once said, “Never get so busy making a living that you forget to make a life.”   Meredith Bell says,  “Never get so attached to a device that we forget to be present with those we love.”

My new spiritual practice is signing off.  Signing off to work at the end of the day even if there is more to do.  Signing off to busyness and hurry.  Signing off to exhaustion day after day.  I’m signing into recharging, resting and sabbath moments.  God is in those moments!

Is there a place in your life that needs a signing out spiritual practice?

Six days you shall gather it; but on the seventh day, which is a sabbath, there will be none. Exodus 16:26

From our Happy Tent to yours,

Meredith Bell

 

I Think I Had A Hormone

There is a quiet storm building in our tent. It is subtle. It is strong. It is powerful.  Now and then we get a glimpse of it’s powers.  A glimpse came one morning when a member of our family was discovered crying and yelling in the kitchen because she could not locate a shoe.  One shoe.  The sound coming from the kitchen was loud enough to be heard throughout the tent.  We all hurried to see how we might help the situation.

In all of our collective training as pastors, parents and spiritual directing, we were speechless.  Speechless. We did not know if we should offer this family member a hug or a baseball bat.  So we all just stood still and watched until the storm was over.  Everyone was happy to go their separate ways.  Before we drove off to work and school, we heard wise words from the eye of the storm, “I think I had a hormone.”

Being human is a little overwhelming at times. Especially when internal storms are building.  We do things, we say things, we think things that are not of God.  We all mess up sometimes.  Our families have a front row seat to our mistakes, breakdowns and failures.  The people we live with sometimes see our best and worst sides all in the same day.  And yet, we continue to love each other, deeply.

The only way we continue to love is through grace.  We have received grace through Christ individually and therefore we are able to give grace to others.  Especially to those we live with in our tents.  In close relationships, we can practice giving and receiving grace day after day.  Sometimes receiving it is more difficult than giving grace.

As you look back on your family this week, where have you seen grace?  Who has experienced a moment of grace from someone they love?  Who gave grace to someone?  What did it feel like?

Grace began pouring into our family member the moment she said, “I think I had a hormone.”  Hugs were given and tears were wiped away.  We found the shoe.  And we assured her that there were many more hormones behind that one.  There are also many more moments of grace ahead of us.

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— not the result of works, so that no one may boast. Ephesians 2:8-9

From our Happy Tent to Yours,

Meredith Bell

P.S. A wise friend shared a poem with me years ago called “When Children Turn Into Cats.” If your family has had a hormone visit lately, this poem will give you a new perspective! Enjoy!

Summer Reading: Circle Maker

There are many ways to experience the summer. We can experience a vacation, learn how to ride a bike, go swimming (everyday), go fishing, have a picnic, or build a fort at home.

One of our favorite ways to experience summer is through books. Reading, because you can and not because you have to, is a freeing experience. Several years ago while we were camping in Estes Park, Colorado, we read The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis together as a family. Inside our tent, inside our sleeping bags, we opened the first page and read…

This is a story about something that happened long ago when your grandfather was a child. It is a very important story because it shows how all the comings and goings between our own world and the land of Narnia first began.

Every time I hear someone talk about the book, I immediately go back to our tent in my mind in the beautiful mountains and remember that night together when we started reading. Memories are attached to summer books.

This month, we will share some summer reading suggestions for your family. We hope you will discover these books for yourself. Maybe you can read them together as a family or you can read them in your favorite comfy chair on a hot summer day.

The Circle Maker by Mark Batterson

Kick off the summer with this inspiring book, The Circle Maker.  When you open the cover of this book, you will quickly discover the power of prayer in a new way. Mark Batterson writes from pure experience. He has witnessed God working through prayer in big and small ways. Based on the legend of Honi the Circle Maker who ended a great drought through prayer, Batterson invites all of us to circle our prayers. In the pages of the book, he shares how to circle prayers and encourages readers to pray through our prayers until God answers.

This book will encourage you and your family to pray and show you ways God answers prayers everyday in everyday lives…just like yours and mine.

From our Happy It’s Summer Tent to yours,

Meredith Bell

Be. Serve. Love.

The day started like every other school day.  Alarm went off waaaay too early (I couldn’t stop reading a new book deep into the night). Mr. Bell headed to the kitchen to make breakfast. I hit the snooze button too many times.  Finally we all rolled out of bed and into the day.

After a few trips to the laundry room, the school children had one shirt, one skirt, two socks and two shoes on their bodies. Success! The clock was ticking.  The coffee was hot.  Breakfast was served and then we heard the frightful words, “My stomach really hurts.”  This was supported by another voice that said, “Mine does too.”   Everybody freeze!

I will spare you the details that followed.  In one moment the day stopped and changed directions.  At times we were running in different directions.  The Bell Tent turned into the Bell Infirmary.  If you drove down our street, you could probably see the red cross on the front door.  As our school children were put in quarantine, the parents transformed into RN’s.  Appointments were canceled, school was notified and the school children were tucked back in bed.

Sometimes in life, our normal disappears suddenly.  We don’t see the change coming.  We don’t even anticipate it.  But it shows up anyways.  When this happens, plans go out the window, adjustments are made and frustration decreases as reality increases.  Reality can be a difficult pill to swallow.  There is no way around reality.  It is what it is.

But then something happens.  We begin to feel a sense of freedom.  The routine disappears.  We become more aware of our surroundings.  Time becomes a companion instead of an enemy.  Windows of opportunity appear.  Suddenly we get to BE with those we love in a new way.  We get to SERVE those we love because we are available.  We get to LOVE those we live with because they need us. And in the midst of illness, we experience life.

Jesus’ mission is to make our normal disappear.  Whether we are young or old when he comes into our life, we don’t see the change coming.  We don’t anticipate it.  But it shows up anyways.  Suddenly our lives are filled with opportunities to BE with Jesus and learn his ways through the Bible and conversations with others. We find ways to SERVE others that we had never even noticed before.  And we learn what it is like to truly LOVE.

Our day started like every other school day, but it ended with a big lesson.  Sometimes we are called to be Jesus for others because Jesus is there for us.  Sometimes we are called to be Jesus for those who live in our own tent.

Above all, maintain constant love for one another, for love covers a multitude of sins. Be hospitable to one another without complaining. Like good stewards of the manifold grace of God, serve one another with whatever gift each of you has received.

1 Peter 4:8-10

How did Jesus change your normal life into something new?  Who are you called to serve and love this week?

From our Tent to Yours,

Meredith Bell

 

 

Pockets of Peace

Do you ever notice how God shows up in the grocery store?  It happens to me often.  On the days when I only have a ten-minute-window to buy a grocery cart full of food, I meet someone (God) in the grocery store. These encounters always catch me off guard.   Usually I have my head down and my hair pulled back with an intentional look on my face that says…”Get out of my way…I’m on on an impossible mission once again.”  I must have this look down because most people stay clear.

But the other day, I had a God encounter.  I met another mom on a mission.  She has five children.  I have two.  Both our husbands are pastors.  She was on her mission with her own grocery cart and it felt as though our carts simply collided.  Then we looked up.  We saw each other.  Before we even spoke, we were communicating.  Compassion.  Encouragement.  Love.  Understanding.  These feeling were all floating between us. We saw our tired selves in each other.  We saw our determination in each other.  We saw God in each other. When we finally found our words we skipped pleasantries.  We spoke directly into our worlds as working women, moms, and wives.  “How did we over-schedule our family again?”  “How are we going to get everything done for today and tomorrow?”  “Where is the balance that keeps alluding us?” “Does balance even exist?” With a smile of encouragement and tired eyes, we went our separate ways.

This encounter challenged me greatly regarding balance.  It seems like we desire balance in our lives.  We talk about it and read about it.  In my mind a balanced day is a cup-of-coffee, devotional-reading, lunches-packed, hugs-and-kisses, laundry-done, dinner-on-the-table, and bedtime-story kind of day.  But most of the time we experience a where-are-my-shoes, hurry-to-school, grocery-sprint, cereal-for-dinner, study-spelling-words-in-the-bathtub, fall-into-bed kind of day.

God taught me something about balance in the grocery store.  In order to find peace in the midst of our schedule storms we first need to be honest.  Peace will not just happen and our schedules are not going to get much better.  We are hard working Americans after all!  BUT we need to be intentional about creating pockets of peace and balance within our days.  Little pockets of peace that give us space to catch our breath and connect with God.  Little pockets of peace that empower us to keep going.  In my life, they look like a phone call to my mom, a back porch conversation at the end of the day, a little love note tucked in a lunch box, fifteen minutes in my prayer closet, a quick devotional read from a book in my purse, a cup of hot tea, a quick run, a one-minute-hug, reading two chapters in a book, a thirty minute nap before pick-up, or a phone call to a friend.  I don’t do all of them every day, but they are all in my “I need some peace emergency kit!” All of these little pockets of peace add up at the end of the day and they breathe new life back into my self-imposed-high-expectation-chaotic-schedule.

Even Jesus stepped away to speak to his Father.  Scripture tells us that Jesus would remove himself from the crowds for a little while even though they would follow him and come looking for him.  He, of all people, had an over-packed schedule during his ministry, but he knew he could serve best by staying connected to the Creator.

As we head into the end of spring and into the summer, let’s be intentional about carving out pockets of peace in our days for ourselves and our families.  They will fill us, calm us and empower us to keep going as people who love God and love others.

Be still, and know that I am God! Psalm 46:10

From our Happy Tent to yours,

Meredith Bell

The Christmas Bat

No matter how much you prepare or plan, the Christmas season always brings its own surprises.  Jesus’ mother Mary certainly was surprise as was her friend Elizabeth on that first Christmas.  The surprises make memories (and in Mary’s case transformed the world!).

How you handle surprises is what is important.  We had an unexpected guest in our tent recently.  I decided to handle it with humor.  Below is an amateur poem about the visit.  Enjoy!

THE CHRISTMAS BAT

‘Twas the FIRST OF DECEMBER and all through the house not a creature was stirring…except for something that looked like a mouse.

Stockings (still needed to be) hung by the chimney with care because St. Nicolas would soon be there.

The children were nestled and all snug in their beds as the agenda of the day began dancing in Mamma’s head. When the alarm clock made such a clatter, I sprang from my bed and discovered the CHRISTMAS BAT (on the kitchen floor) and could not be madder.

Away from the kitchen I flew like a flash, torn open the doors and with a broom prepared to smash.

The light in the room illuminated the object below and it was indeed a little black CHRISTMAS BAT just saying HELLO!

When what to my wondering eyes should appear but small little feet, two wings and pointy ears. More rapid than eagles I shouted out names “Oh Jesus! Dear God! Oh, where is STEVEN! Go Sam (the dog) fetch the bat (duck)…why are you acting so tame?” To the top of the ceiling to the top of the shelves, the bat dashed away, dashed away, dashed away and…disappeared just like Santa’s elves.

FOUR NIGHTS LATER as I was turning around, that little CHRISTMAS BAT came back to town. He was still dressed all in fur from his head to his foot and he made five laps around the living room as I sat by the chimney soot.

He was loudly ECHOLOCATING trying to find a way out and all I could do was yell, “Steven! Get the Bat!” with a shout!

With a wink of his eye and a twist of his head, Steven soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread. He spoke not a word but went straight to his work, grabbed lots of blankets and turned with a jerk, and put on gloves, a hat and long sleeve clothes, and giving a nod, out the door that CHRISTMAS BAT goes.

He slammed the door shut and gave the dog, Sam, a little whistle and they talked about how that CHRISTMAS BAT flew like a missile. But I heard him exclaim, ere he walked out of sight.

Merry Christmas, CHRISTMAS BAT, and to all…good night!

From our Tent to Yours,

Meredith Bell

Coupons

I am over coupons.  I just don’t see the point.  I never have.  (This may just sound like a frustrated Facebook message, but stick with me.) Just this week, I was making a purchase that totaled ninety dollars.  My friend asked if I wanted to use a coupon and the total dropped to forty dollars!  I recently bought a gift for my mother for her birthday.  After it was wrapped and on the way to her house, I received a coupon in my email box offering fifty percent off my purchase.  If I would have had the coupon, I would have saved fifty dollars!  A college student was busy at my office clipping coupons.  He proudly informed me that he could save eighty dollars with his coupons! (But he had to buy what they wanted him to buy.)

And let’s not mention those pesky little “thank you” cards from the grocery stores…all of them.  What is the point of those? They get my personal information and in exchange, I have the privilege of digging in my purse for that tiny little card once again.  I always frantically search for it because without it, I will have a significant mark up on my bill.  For me, those tiny pesky little “thank you” cards create nothing but noise and business…two things I work hard to avoid.

Wouldn’t it be nice if we weren’t forced to participate in this system?  What if items just cost the same no matter what?

All of this made me realize and understand why thousands and thousands of people followed Jesus around from town to town while he was on Earth.  Everywhere he went, people were following him.  There are many reasons why, but I believe that people discovered a different way of being through him.  They too were living in a society where markups were normal and the rules constantly changed.  They were unable to get ahead of the system that worked to keep them on edge, hopeless and confused.  Before they met Jesus, they couldn’t even begin to think that there was another way to live.  After they met him, they knew there was another way to live and they wanted it badly.

Aren’t we glad that have an alternative way of living with Jesus today.  Jesus does not work through a coupon system. There are no coupon deals with Jesus that you have to be on a mailing list to receive.  Jesus doesn’t set a limit on how many fruits-of-the-spirits you can have unless you have a coupon for more.  There are not any fifty-percent off of confession-experience-deals where you only have to confess half of the things you have done wrong. Jesus wants all of our lives (the good and the bad) and will give us everything (a full life) in return.

The Jesus system is simply built on grace.  It doesn’t matter when you come to know him, we all get the same deal.  There are no coupons to clip or search for online.  There is not a Black Friday or a Cyber Monday, because everyday there is grace and forgiveness.  Every day we have all that we need.  Everyday we can talk unlimited through prayer.  No contracts.  No hidden fees.  No lines.  No wifi necessary.

Open hearts and open minds to possibilities beyond our imaginations…that’s all Christ needs from you and me.  He already took care of the rest.  I am over useless systems (I am sure there are many others that I don’t recognize in my life) and coupons…my time is too precious and so is Jesus.

And now, just as you accepted Christ Jesus as your Lord, you must continue to follow him. Let your roots grow down into him, and let your lives be built on him. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness. Colossians 2:6 to 7

From Our Happy Tent to Yours,

Meredith Bell

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