Dating Again

You know how you walk past people on the street and refuse to make eye contact. Or when you ride in an elevator with someone without speaking? Or when you have a relationship with someone and communicate only through texts? That has been our marriage lately. Ugh!

The other morning over coffee we just looked at each other. We didn’t have much to talk about. There are many reasons that brought us to this point; work, phones, children, projects, emails, stress, meetings, and commitments. (Maybe we are the only ones.) But really, all of those are just excuses. Excuses that tend to drain our energies for anything else. Our marriage is being robbed of so many great moments because of busyness. We are not interested in a good marriage; we want to experience a great marriage.

Tucked into the Old Testament is the Song of Songs. It is filled with glimpses into a passionate relationship with love, earthy fragrances, images and desire. The poetry may have been used as a wedding ceremony where the woman and man exchange praises for their beauty and admiration of each other. This book reflects a great marriage and one that heightens the spirituality of marriage.

Over that cup of coffee, we decided to start dating each other again. Basic dating. Door-bell ringing, make-up on, clean truck, fresh flowers, reservations kind of dating. (Dating is a strange concept when you have been married for almost 17 years.) For now, we are taking a marriage break and we are going to start dating each other again. We already have a list of ideas to get us started!

Happy Tents is about supporting families today. Families are the best place to experience grace and ask for forgiveness. We are able to do that because of the grace we receive through Christ. When we give and receive grace in a relationship, we are loving each other enough to begin again and try a different way forward. That is what makes us happy! We are committed to this marriage relationship and thankful God is wrapped up in it with us.

How about your marriage? Is it time to start dating again?

Oh, your loving is sweeter than wine! Your fragrance is sweet; your very name is perfume. Take me along with you; let’s run! Song of Songs 1:2-4

From our Happy Tent to yours,

Meredith Bell

Being Open

I am married to a duck hunter. When we married 16 years ago, he was not a duck hunter. Today he is. His friends took him hunting a year ago and he was open to the new experience. To say that he enjoyed it is an understatement. This guy dove in like a duck and has not stopped flying since. All year long, Amazon Prime has swiftly delivered much needed “supplies” for the hunts. Our garage has slowly filled up with duck decoys, duck calls, duck decoys and a lot of camo things. It now looks like an Academy supply warehouse.

For the past five mornings, I have been on a duck hunting date with my guy. I was open to this new date experience. At five o’clock we rise, he makes me hot tea and we go duck hunting. Actually…I hang out in the truck and he hunts. From the truck, I have had the privilege of watching the sunrise. Each morning it has been breath taking. Each morning it has been different. Each morning has been a new experience.

Duck hunting has given my guy a hobby…a much needed hobby. Going hunting has pulled me out of my normal morning routine and shown me a beautiful new day, every day.

As we lean into the New Year, we are called to being open. Just as every sunrise is different, every year is different. We cannot anticipate or know what lies ahead. There is no need for anxiety or fear because God travels with us.

We do know that each day will begin with a sunrise and end with a sunset. Each day God will be co-creating with us to show the world how to love one another. If we are willing to being open to something new, our breath will be taken away and we will discover new experiences.

What new experiences are you open to this year? What is God asking you to leave behind so that you can live with an attitude of being open?

For I’m going to do a brand-new thing. See, I have already begun! Don’t you see it? I will make a road through the wilderness of the world for my people to go home, and create rivers for them in the desert!  Isaiah 43:19

Happy New Year from Happy Tents,

Meredith Bell

A Wife

A few years ago, my husband wrote a book about blessing his wife.  I am still amazed that he would write such a book to bless me and other marriages.  Ever since then, I have been considering doing the same.  Getting started has been the trouble.

The role of a wife is a big role.  Society makes this role challenging by portraying wives through shows like “The Real House Wives” or defining a wife as a ball-and-chain.  One archaic definition of a wife goes so far as to say “a woman, especially an old or uneducated one”…really?  Our culture encourages us to fill our days with efforts that produce a perfect meal, body, children and attitude so that we can fulfill the role of a wife the right way.  (Sigh)

Luckily, our faith has another definition.  My favorite is the way women are defined through the Bible as ezers.  Carolyn Curtis James writes about the Hebrew translation of helper in a number of her books.  She defines women as ezers who are more than helpers for men, they are image bearers of God in the world around them.  This is a definition that I can wrap my mind around.  Our Bible is full of truth that guides us in relationships.  Hebrews 10:24-25 says, “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”

The role of a wife in this world is more than grocery lists, laundry, carpool, errands and overbooked schedules.  The role of a wife is to reflect God’s image in our marriage, families and our communities.  We are called to love, nurture, comfort, create, share, inspire, guide and share grace.  We start with our partner by building a life together.  Through the relationship, families and futures are built.  Our task is to keep faith alive in our hearts and in our homes so that it will be passed on to the next group of amazing wives who come behind us in the next generation.  When this is our true purpose, the to-do lists seem less important don’t they?

This week, let’s take a closer look at our calendars.  Is there enough room in our days to spend time with our spouse just to remind him that he is loved and cherished?  Is there enough room in our days to recharge our spiritual lives?  Is there enough time spent seeking God’s guidance?  With God’s grace…we can learn the ways of Christ.

From our tent to yours,

Meredith Bell

A Wedding Gift

We are on our way to celebrate a wedding in Louisiana. Before we left the house, we ordered the wedding gift online. I sat down to order it. There were so many choices. I needed a second opinion, so I invited Dr. Bell to join me. He didn’t know either.

What do you get a new married couple for a gift to celebrate their new marriage? Do you give them the fancy trashcan they registered for in hopes that all the hurtful words they throw at each other after a long week just fall into the trashcan? Do you give them a knife set in hopes that they will help each other slice out unhelpful habits? Or do you give them new towels so that they can feel warm and loved in their new marriage. What about a new set of pots and pans so they can create memories together around their kitchen table? Or do you buy them a Keurig so they can make a fast cup of coffee and run out the door?  Or do you buy a traditional coffee maker just in case they have time to sit down together before their day starts.   Maybe you buy them a Bundt pan to remind them that even the bumpy times can be sweet?

What we really want to give them is our blessing and support for their new life together. We want them to know that this new journey is more about letting go than getting more. It’s about grace. It’s about seeing love in the simple things like holding hands, doing laundry and tucking children in bed. It’s about staying connected through the years. What we really want to tell them is that marriage is an amazing journey together. We are here if they need us.

We settled on buying them a hand mixer and a note from Dr. Bell that said, “Congratulations! We hope you like your mixer and make lots of cakes. My favorite cake is a yellow cake with chocolate icing. Meredith’s is a white cake with white icing.” How poetic! (He said his friend will think it’s funny!)

What new household gift do you need in your home this week to help your “tent” relationships? I think we may get a blender soon, just to mix things up a bit!

Shalom,

Meredith Bell

Now we see a reflection in a mirror; then we will see face-to-face. Now I know partially, but then I will know completely in the same way that I have been completely known. Now faith, hope, and love remain—these three things—and the greatest of these is love. I Corinthians 13: 12-13

It Takes A Village

This past spring I visited a church in Mississippi.  In the service, God wanted me to hear one thing…it takes a village.  This simple message came from the youth pastor.  He gave the announcement about the youth’s trip to the bowling alley that afternoon.  But instead of simply reminding the youth, he was actually challenging the congregation…the village.  He was challenging them to become a friend to the young people in the church.  The church goal was to partner five adults with each young person in their church.  He reminded the village of the goal and encouraged them to get started (or keep going) by going bowling that afternoon.  Sounds fun!3940801067_f5bd04e54b_b

This made me start thinking about my youthful years.  Did I have five people outside my family who I would call a friend?  Did I have five people who mentored me and believed in me?  Did you?

These people in my life are called the unsung heroes of my life.  Their names are not on any diploma, they will probably not be listed in my obituary and they probably don’t even know the impact they made on my life…but they were my heroes in many ways.  They had a conversation with me that changed my life.  They saw something in me that I did not see and  nourished it until I did see it.  They were patient.  They would answer my phone call anytime during the day or night.  I was always welcome in the homes.  Some of them were teachers, coaches, friends, fellow church members, and pastors.  They were my village.  They were my unsung heroes.

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This too made me start thinking and open my eyes.  (This is probably why God wanted me to hear one thing that day.)  Who needs me?…it’s time to go bowling.  Who needs you?  There are so many people around us young and old that need a village to love them and encourage them.  And it may just be time for you and me to take them bowling (or to something else that sounds fun like eating ice cream).

Paula Gooder wrote a book called Everyday God: The Spirit of the Ordinary.  I keep my copy on my back porch to read in the morning.  It is warped from being wet and yellowed from being scorched by the sun, but it still shares treasures with me each morning.  The other day I read these words:

Part of the point of God’s calling to each one of us is that we are called to be God’s unsung heroes and we will know we are succeeding, not when people begin to notice us but when they begin to notice God.

I would love to chat more, but I think I need to write some thank you notes and find some more people to add to my village…especially if bowling and ice cream are involved!

Meredith Bell

 

Church Bells

A few weeks ago, Steven and I went hiking.  We hiked through the Hot Springs National Park .  The day of our hike, we woke up at the Spring Street Inn, enjoyed a delicious breakfast (one of those meals you can truly eat ALL of it because you know every calorie would be burned off…joy!), stepped across the street from the B&B, and began our hike. We just walked.

After a steep 2 mile climb at the beginning of our 16 mile hike, I needed to take a break.  I just sat on the ground.  When you are hiking it is amazing what feels good and comfortable…the ground.  (I made a mental note to myself to tell my trainer that we needed to work on conditioning my body to do more than a 30 minute workout.) While we were catching our breath and laughing at what we were doing, we heard a familiar noise…church bells.  They chimed over the town and through the trees with the breeze.  The sound of the bells brought a sense of calmness to us while we rested early in the morning.  It was just a moment that seemed to give purpose and peace to the day. God was with us.

181332664_d72575531c_bHistorically, church bells have been used to gather worshipers together for a church service.  One small village I visited during college in Costa Rica still used their church bells for this purpose.  When the pastor was in town, the bells rang to let the people know to come to the service.  Services were not always on Sundays.  When I was a chaplain in a hospital, bells chimed twice a day through the halls.  Their purpose was to encourage the hospital staff to pause and offer prayer for those in their care.

On our hiking day, the church bells calmed my soul.  They reminded me that I was not alone.  They gave me a chance to give thanks for a day to explore God’s natural sanctuary.  They called me back from my distractions into what is truly important…time with God and my husband.  They reminded me that 3 people were hiking that day even though we could only see each other.

Since then, I still hear the bells.  They are not as loud at home, but they are still there.  When I start my day on the wrong side of the bed, God and I meet again when I think of those bells.  Then my day gets a lot better.

I wonder what you use each day to connect your agenda for the day with God’s presence?  Prayer, service, scripture, a cup of coffee?  What are your church bells?  They can be so subtle and quiet that they are hard to hear when we are busy or in a hurry.  But I guess being busy and in a hurry is not what God wants us to be doing anyways.

When we started hiking again (up another incline…ugh), I was still struck by how the church bells connected to my soul.  I shared it with Steven.  And then I said, “Hey, those church bells…that’s our song! We are the Bells!!”  We are on this journey together.  Glad you are with us too!

Meredith Bell

 

Grace…It’s What We Need

I saw it again the other day…a couple arguing.  They were not exchanging grace.  I could tell from across the room that they were not talking about when they fell in love or how much they appreciate each other.  They were not planning their next date night or holding hands.   They were looking deeply into each others eyes, but I believe their pupils were restricted instead of relaxed. Smoke was shooting out of their ears and veins were sticking out on their necks.  They looked like cartoon characters!!  Maybe it was the arms waving or the tension they created…but they were arguing for sure.

It made me sad.  I wanted to reach out to them, help them, or pray with them. But it was none of my business.  (If you even see me arguing with the love of my life…feel free to break in with a prayer!!)
And then the coin flipped.  It is much easier to help others and think about them than to experience the need for help yourself. My experience happened during a family Uno game.  Uno.  That’s it.  Then I spoke and he spoke and I spoke and he spoke. Then the conversation quickly turned into an argument…with the children present and holding their Uno cards.  We were not exchanging grace.

1 Corinthians 13:4-7 is a familiar verse often read at weddings. Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude.  It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoings, but rejoices with the truth.  Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

If grace is what we receive from Christ, then we are equipped to give grace to others…especially those we love.  Yet so often, we expect grace from Christ, but are reluctant to give it to others.  In writing it seems simple.  In real life it is more difficult.  But I guess dying on the cross is more difficult in real life too!

After things calmed down (I actually ended up winning the Uno game…but it wasn’t as much fun to win that moment.), I remembered 1 Corinthians.  I remembered what it feels like to give and receive grace. I remembered that I am the only person that can change my behavior.  So I read scripture with fresh eyes…

Meredith is patient and kind; she does not envy or boast; She is not arrogant or rude; Meredith does not insist on her own way; she is not irritable or resentful….

I missed the mark today, but thankfully tomorrow is a new day and my heart has been renewed through scripture.  Awww…life!
Meredith Bell

Love is…

…why we are here

When I was in college, I collected “Love Is…” comics by Kim Grove Casali.  I found them in the Dallas Morning News.  I cut them out and filed them in an old wooden box that had belonged to my grandmother.  The comics were cute and they helped me to dream about a marriage I would enjoy one day.  They were also insightful…love is a lot of things and it is not simple. But it is what makes life full.  Some of the comics include love is…watching shooting starts together.  Love is…protecting her when lightening flashes.  Love is…picking up the dry cleaning.  Love is…sometimes tough.

Every now and then I will pull one of these comics out of the box (that I collected almost 20 years ago) and place them by my husbands sink as a surprise.  I enjoy finding one that reflects our relationship on that day.  They remind me of how rich life is because I have love.

love-is-kim-grove-comics-15This week, love has meant a lot in a lot of different ways.  When tucking my daughter into bed she reminded me that love is…reading her a bedtime story even if it is ten o’clock at night and I am so tired.  My other daughter reminded me that love is…simply holding her because she is scared even if she is almost as tall as me.  My husband reminded me that love is…moving forward together.  My friend reminded me that love is…just spending the day together and enjoying friendship.

In my bathroom, I have a sign that reads, “Love is why we’re here.”  It is a good reminder…all the other stuff that gets in the way of pure love is just stuff.  This week, let’s focus on why we are here…simply to love.

So now faith, hope and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love. 1 Cor 13:13

Love,

Meredith Bell

Presence

GlimpseA few years ago, while working as a chaplain, I was taught a very important skill about presence. I explored how my presence mattered even when I felt it did not. I explored clearing my agenda, my mind, so that I would be available to others. I also learned about being a non-anxious presence. This final skill has been helpful in every corner of my life. Being a non-anxious presence with my children is to communicate to them that they are “OK” and I am “OK.” It is protection that they need to see and feel. In my marriage, being a non-anxious presence means patience and listening without judgment. In my home, it means creating peace instead of chaos.

When I call on Jesus in a stressful situation, I imagine a non-anxious presence. One that reminds me to take a breath, relax and take in the whole picture. I am also invited to remember that Jesus has already saved the world. He does not really need my help to do something that has already been done. Yet he invites me to help others experience His peace.

In Luke chapter 4, we learn about Jesus and his temptation in the wilderness. After spending 40 days with temptation, the returns to Nazareth to worship in the synagogue.

The synagogue assistant gave him the scroll of the prophet Isaiah. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:

            The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me.

            He has sent me to preach good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the

prisoners and recovery of sight to the blind,

to liberate the oppressed, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

He rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the synagogue assistant and sat down. Every eye in the synagogue was fixed on him. He began to explain to them, “Today, the scripture has been fulfilled just as you heard it.”                                     Luke 4:17-21

This scripture that Jesus read comes from Isaiah. Jesus knew the scripture, as did others in the synagogue that day. Anxiety could have taken over the presence of God in the room, but it didn’t. From baptism to temptation to beginning His ministry, Jesus models for us a non-anxious presence.

Each day as activity picks up around our homes, I invite you to think about your presence with those you love.  Those inside your tent.  How can a non-anxious presence bless those around you? How can it bless you and your walk with Christ?

Meredith

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