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.
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,
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.
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,
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,
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,
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,
After church one Sunday a few years ago, my husband asked our five-year-old daughter what she learned in Sunday school. She said that she learned about Jesus and the cheetahs. The theologian in him was immediately curious because he was not familiar with that story in the Bible. He asked for more information and she told him the whole story. Then he listened closely to her lesson.
Jesus and the Cheetahs
Once upon a time, Jesus was walking down the road. There were ten cheetahs that came to him. They were sick. (In Sunday school we put dots all over our clothes with cotton balls and baby powder. We looked like cheetahs. It was fun.) Jesus made the cheetahs better, but only one cheetah said “Thank you.”
Eventually my husband got it…she was talking about Jesus and the Lepers not CHEETAHS! We always get a good belly laugh from her version of the story especially since I was her Sunday school teacher that day!!
There is also a lot to truth to her story. There are a lot of cheaters in this story. Nine to be exact. In Luke, we learn that Jesus encountered ten lepers on his way to Jerusalem who begged him for mercy and healing. He did exactly what they asked. They were healed and they had their lives back. They could return to society, their families, and their careers. He had given them all that they could dream of having and more. Out of the ten healed lepers, only one returned to thank him. Only one.
This Thanksgiving we have the opportunity to be the one that returned to give thanks. Think about all the people in your life that have made your life better this year. Be the one to thank them. People like your doctor who helped you stay healthy, your friend that remembered your birthday, your co-worker who helped you meet your deadline, or your neighbor who pulls your trash bins back to your fence after they are empty. Be the one to thank them. Think about the people you see each week at the grocery store, school, bank, gas station or in your neighborhood. Be the one to thank them. Recall how they helped you have a better day or a better life. Be the one to thank them.
Since Thanksgiving is on our minds, our family took a moment after dinner this week to make a list of all the people we want to thank. We signed a cards and wrote a notes together. We had fun talking about why we wanted to thank someone. What is a creative way your family can give thanks?
When we bow our heads and give thanks to God with our family on Thursday, we will also be giving thanks for all the people God sent us this year to make our lives better. If we don’t take time to pause and give thanks, aren’t we really only cheating ourselves?
One of them, when he saw that he was healed, came back to Jesus, shouting, “Praise God!” He fell to the ground at Jesus’ feet, thanking him for what he had done. This man was a Samaritan. Jesus asked, “Didn’t I heal ten men? Where are the other nine? Has no one returned to give glory to God except this foreigner?” And Jesus said to the man, “Stand up and go. Your faith has healed you.” Luke 17:15-19
Happy Thanksgiving from our tent to yours!
I started fishing in the early 1980’s around the age of three or four. My first memory of fishing is riding with my father in a fishing trawler. (It is just an inner tube with a fancy cover and a small motor.) With me on his lap, we would slowly cruise around and try to catch fish in the lake. I am not a big fan of fishing. It is a little bit boring to me (it was then and it is now). But I love the image of fishing. Solitude, simplicity and peaceful fishing.
This week, I was blessed to read Psalm 37:5. It says, “Commit everything you do to the Lord, TRUST him, and he will help you.” All week long the word TRUST has been my focus word. I had to TRUST God that a project would be completed on time. I had to TRUST that my idea for others was the right decision. I had to TRUST that my children would be cared for in their new school. TRUST has always been a challenge for me. I think this is because I usually don’t TRUST like I fish.
When I fish, I have one pole, one hook and one worm. I drop the hook under the surface of the water and wait. I may or may not catch a fish. I may or may not catch the fish that I was trying to catch. But whatever happens, all I can do is show up prepared, bait my hook and TRUST that the fish will eat the hook. TRUSTing also means I will be at peace with the results because I am giving up control. When I try to be in control instead of TRUSTing, it is as if I am fishing with a net instead of a hook. With a net, I can throw it out wide knowing that I will catch at least one fish and probably a whole lot more than I even tried to catch. But then I have to deal with everything else I catch including somethings that I didn’t want.
Our God is a one hook, one fish kind of God. God desires us to TRUST God and God will help us. (Who does’t need a little help?) It’s simple (and yet we make it sooooo complicated). One minute at a time. One hour at a time. One day at a time. One week at a time. God wants us to TRUST God. We are called to focus on one hook and one fish at a time instead getting caught up in murky water full of the mistakes of our past or our unknown futures.
As children are going back to school and teachers are heading back into the classrooms. As college students are packing their cars to start a new semester. As projects are approaching their deadlines. As bills are due. As marriages are trying to grow deeper. As life changes…let’s ask God to help us and TRUST in each moment that God will. We serve a God who gives us just enough manna for one day. We serve a God who is the bread of life and satisfies us each day. If we deeply believe in our God as our provider, then our lives and actions need to reflect the TRUST that we say we have in our God.
Waiting for Me to work, with your eyes on Me, is evidence that you really do trust Me. Sarah Young, Jesus Calling
I hope you catch some God-filled moments this week!
Whether it is the best way to parent or not, in our tent we practice “all-in” parenting. Because of this we often find ourselves in the middle of family projects where we have NO previous experience. Recently we started “Family Project #674: Bunnies.” This project began just before Memorial Day. We were given five New Zealand rabbits, pens, poop trays and a wonderful consultant (a sophomore at Texas A&M University…whoop!). The rabbits lived on the back porch for two weeks. And then I had a “hissy-fit”. The rabbits could no longer stay on the back porch. The solution…move them to the yard, cap the sprinkler heads in one section, and build a pole-barn. We spent Memorial Day weekend building the barn. (Our motto…family projects bring you closer!! Smile! Ugh). The rabbits moved in and I reclaimed the back porch.
Our next step was an exciting event which we called “The Breeding Party.” At 11 o’clock one night, I found myself sitting in chairs around the pen with a 19 year-old young man and three girls ages 11, 9, and 7. We were watching the rabbits breed. (Mr. Bell has already retired for the evening.) Once the event took place, “The Breeding Party” was over and everyone went to bed. We talked about the event for weeks. And then we waited thirty long days before…BUNNIES!!
These new little bunnies have filled our home with love and joy all week during a week that we needed love and joy. These new bunnies have been moving around in their sweet little bed that their “all-in” mother made for them during a week when comfort from nurturing mothers and friends is just what we needed. These little bunnies have shown us new life in the midst of death during a week when we have seen the fragility of life next to the promise of eternal life.
I hope and pray that you too have experienced moments of love, joy, comfort and new life in your tent this week. Remember…God is always around even during difficult weeks.
Be still and know that I am God! I am exalted among the nations, I am exalted in the earth. Psalm 46:10
P.S. Bunnies for sale!!!
A few years ago at a colleague’s funeral, I heard a sermon that I still remember. The pastor said when we cannot make sense of what is going on around us, one thing we can do is look up. Look up to God. Her words still speak truth today. In the midst of uncertainty, fear, shock and confusion, one place we can look to for comfort is up. When we look up, we are reminded that God is among us.
God is among us and God is at work even during our dark days. Families have lost important members this week across our country. Family members that have lived in their “tent”, laughed at their jokes, sat at their table and shared countless memories with over the years. Now they are gone and their lives are in front of all of us.
As people in God’s family, we are invited to shine the light of Christ into the darkness. We are invited to look up to God in prayer and seek direction. God uses families every day to comfort, help and love others. Families have a front row seat in the world. We see first hand the people who suffer, hurt, experience loneliness and more. We live next door to strangers that become friends. We use our phones to stay in touch with people who we know. The family is an outpost for God in the world. And today families have the opportunity to up lift each other and to up lift their community and its needs.
The center of activity in most homes is the kitchen. Maybe this week, we can use our kitchen time as our sacred time. During our sacred time, we can work together to process the current events, God’s work around us and our own spiritual work. All we need to do this is some good food, a little extra time together, scriptures that speak to us and hands to hold in prayer. God can use families today to shine light in a dark world. I wonder how God plans to use your family?
Together we pray for our communities, our country and our world as we look up to God together.
Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.
On Wednesday evening, we received a special invitation to a birthday party. The hostess for the party gave out handwritten invitations to each member of our family. The honored guest was her special doll, Sarah. Sarah was turning three the next day and the party was planned for 8 o’clock in the morning. Throughout the evening, there was a lot of activity going on in the hostess’ bedroom. Candles, Oreos, forks, balloons, streamers, and napkins all floated across the house from various rooms to the bedroom. The computer paper vanished from the printer and was transformed into party hats. No one was allowed in the bedroom for a preview. We had to wait until 8 o’clock in the morning. Not a second before. Finally we all fell asleep while visions of the party danced in our heads.
As 8 o’clock rolled around, we all began our short journey to the party location with coffee in hand. (One person was almost late because they tried to play possum!) The room was decorated with streamers and balloons. At each place setting there was one Oreo with a fork and a glass of water. We sang Happy Birthday to Sarah as she was presented an Oreo-tower with candles on top! The rest of the party included a balloon toss, scavenger hunt and finally a dance party. Three generations were dancing around the bedroom celebrating the day. Smiles were everywhere. Especially on the hostess.
Our little hostess threw a great party and she learned how to do it from our parties. She had paid attention to details even when we didn’t know she was watching. It reminded us that ALL the details that make up our busy days are seen by little eyes and ears. The way we talk to others and the way we talk to each other is recorded in young minds. The way we help strangers and the way we take care (or don’t take care) of ourselves is seen with fresh eyes. The way we connect with God and share our story with others is witnessed by searching souls. It is worth our time to think about the messages we send through our daily details. How do we model a spiritual life? How do we show appreciation for God’s gifts? What does love, grace and forgiveness look like in our lives?
If you have a hard time remembering what it was like to be a child, I recommend eating an Oreo for breakfast. It’s a good way to step out of your busy, stressed, gluten-free adult world and step into a world full of possibilities. All of our adult agendas for the day were put on hold for a brief moment this week. We ushered in the new day in a beautiful way. The party became our devotional. We spent time together and time with God because we know God was a guest too. We could feel the joy and the love through God’s presence.
As we left the party we were given a party favor. A hug.
Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Colossians 3:12
From our Happy Tent to yours,