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,
When I was growing up, Memorial Day weekend began our annual pilgrimage to the Lake House. My mother would pick us up on Friday (the last day of school) with the car packed to the brim. We would drive to the grocery store and buy more than enough food for our family of six. (“Lake food” was real junk food…Little Debbies, fruit roll-ups, moon-pies and more). For twenty minutes, we traveled from our town to the Lake House. That drive felt like a cleansing. For the next 3 months, we were free. Free from school, free from schedules, free from problems and responsibilities. The recitals were over. The last spelling test was history. Life was good. My wardrobe at the lake included swimsuits and a lifejacket. I remember even sleeping in my swimsuit on some nights.
More than anything, those months and years spent on the lake taught me that I am a part of nature. I am part of something bigger than myself. I spent many more hours outside than inside. Watching rain come over the lake let me know it was a good time to take a nap. Stepping on a sticker taught me to walk more carefully. Watching waves crash against my favorite rocks showed me that somethings in life never stop. They were there before I was born and they will be there afterwards. Watching the stars twinkle outside my bedroom from my bunk bed gave me deep peace. I was connected to the world around me.
So many of our problems these days come from the idea that we are not connected to anyone or anything. We feel autonomous. Even more, we feel that the purpose of the world is to serve us. This is a slippery slope to travel. Before too long our consumerism creates more waste than our Earth can handle. Our schedules are unachievable and cause more stress in ourselves and our families. Our relationship with our spiritual lives is strained simply because it is difficult to hear God speak when our life is so busy and loud. Maybe it is time to remember who we are in relationship to nature. Nature has the ability to teach us just how connected we are to creation. In fact, each one of us is a little creation made to care for the Earth around us.
Memorial Day weekend is a great time to remember. We remember those who gave their lives for us so that we may live out our days in freedom. We remember how precious life is. We remember that we are a part of something bigger than ourselves. It is also a great time to stop all the hustle and bustle of our lives and decide how we want to spend our summer days. Do we want them filled with memories or schedules? Do we plan to stay in the house or get outside? Are there people we want to connect with because we have time to do it?
Imagine packing up your car for your summer pilgrimage (“Lake food” included!!). Who’s going with you and where are you going? What needs to be on your itinerary so that you have time with nature and with God? How can you make this summer less about you and more about nature? Let’s pack up the car, the backpacks, the water bottles and get outdoors. Even a walk around your neighborhood is a big step in the right direction. And if you need a little reminder about how connected we are to God’s creation and nature, take a look at this talk by Louie Giglio. It’s amazing!
There is one God, the Father,
by whom all things were created,
and for whom we live.
And there is one Lord, Jesus Christ,
through whom all things were created,
and through whom we live. 1 Corinthians 8:6
Happy Memorial Day!
Do you remember the story about that little boy who got sent to bed by his mother? He was sent to his room and told to immediately go to bed. Five minutes later you could hear, “Mooooom!” coming from his room. His mother responded, “What do you want? You are supposed to be asleep!” The little boy replied, “I’m thirsty. Can you please bring me a glass of water?” “No,” she replied. “You had your chance to get a drink. It’s too late now. Go to sleep.” Five minutes later: “Mooooom!” “WHAT?” “I’m THIRSTY! Can you PLEASE bring me a glass of WATER!” “I told you NO! And if you ask me again then I will have to come into your room and spank you!” Five minutes later: “Mooooom!” “WHAT!” “When you come into my room to give me a spanking, will you please bring me a glass of water?”
Simply put – moms matter! Whether it’s delivering a cold glass of water to a child at bedtime, putting a Darth Vader (or Hello Kitty) Band-Aid on a possibly bleeding area of flesh, or cranking up the “people-mover” for yet another trip to yet another activity – we can’t live without mom! Moms care. Moms are supportive. Moms are compassionate. Moms nurture. Moms remember. Moms are beautiful and brilliant. Moms truly provide us a glimpse of God right here on earth. The prophet Isaiah declares the word of the Lord, “As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you; you shall be comforted in Jerusalem” (Isaiah 66:13). How amazing that the example God uses for the way he plans to comfort his people is that of a mother comforting her child. There is an old Spanish proverb that states, “An ounce of mother is worth a ton of priest.” How true!
Moms are also powerhouses. Whether the work be done in the home or beyond the home, you can bet it makes an impact. I’ve had some amazing mothers in my life. My biological mother is a very talented writer and artist. My stepmom put up with my adolescent complexities (I’m a pastor – so I’m not supposed to write what she actually had to put up with!) when I was still living at home with she and my dad (and afterwards as well, I suppose). As Mark Twain commented, “My mother had a great deal of trouble with me, but I think she enjoyed it.” My maternal grandmother lived with us on the farm. She taught me my spelling words, how to play dominoes, an appreciation of nature and the outdoors, and how to throw a really good fit. My paternal grandmother was a second grade school teacher for twenty-five years, and poured herself into me. My best friends’ mom gave me a home away from home, safety, shelter, and an ear when I most needed it growing up (and I’m excited to get to see her this weekend at his wedding!). And I’ve got one heck of a mother-in-law, who couldn’t be a better grandmother to my children. I’m not sure who or where I would be today had it not been for these virtuous women (among others I did not mention), and I thank God for their presence in my life.
Perhaps you’ve read the job description for a mother as it’s been posted in numerous places. If not, then I’d like to share it with you now…
“POSITION: Mother, Mom, Mama
JOB DESCRIPTION: Long term, team players needed, for challenging permanent work in an often chaotic environment. Candidates must possess excellent communication and organizational skills and be willing to work variable hours, which will include evenings and weekends and frequent 24 hour shifts on call. Some overnight travel required, including trips to primitive camping sites on rainy weekends and endless sports tournaments in faraway cities. Travel expenses not reimbursed. Extensive courier duties also required.
RESPONSIBILITIES: The rest of your life. Must be willing to be hated, at least temporarily, until someone needs $5. Must be willing to bite tongue repeatedly. Also, must possess the physical stamina of a pack mule and be able to go from zero to 60 mph in three seconds flat in case, this time, the screams from the backyard are not someone just crying wolf. Must be willing to face stimulating technical challenges, such as small gadget repair, mysteriously sluggish toilets and stuck zippers. Must screen phone calls, maintain calendars and coordinate production of multiple homework projects. Must have ability to plan and organize social gatherings for clients of all ages and mental outlooks. Must be willing to be indispensable one minute, an embarrassment the next. Must handle assembly and product safety testing of a half million cheap, plastic toys, and battery operated devices. Must always hope for the best but be prepared for the worst. Must assume final, complete accountability for the quality of the end product. Responsibilities also include floor maintenance and janitorial work throughout the facility.
POSSIBILITY FOR ADVANCEMENT & PROMOTION: Virtually none. Your job is to remain in the same position for years, without complaining, constantly retraining and updating your skills, so that those in your charge can ultimately surpass you
PREVIOUS EXPERIENCE: None required unfortunately. On-the-job training offered on a continually exhausting basis.
WAGES AND COMPENSATION: Get this! You pay them! Offering frequent raises and bonuses. A balloon payment is due when they turn 18 because of the assumption that college will help them become financially independent. When you die, you give them whatever is left. The oddest thing about this reverse-salary scheme is that you actually enjoy it and wish you could only do more.
BENEFITS: While no health or dental insurance, no pension, no tuition reimbursement, no paid holidays and no stock options are offered; this job supplies limitless opportunities for personal growth and free hugs for life if you play your cards right.”
So as Mother’s Day 2016 approaches, don’t forget to hug some necks and shout a big “HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY” to those moms and women in your life who made you who you are today.
Grace and Peace,
Dr. Steven Bell
Senior Pastor | First United Methodist Church of Corsicana
Some people are scared of heights. Some people are scared of spiders. I am scared of space (the universe). One time we were visiting a science museum and we watched an IMAX movie about space. I had to get up and leave after a star was born. (Of course my excuse was that I needed more popcorn.) I had to leave because I could not believe what I was seeing. The size and scope of space does not fit into my categories, my paradigms. It is too big…too different…too vast.
This week, I heard a great story on NPR about how our understanding of space has evolved over time. Nicolaus Copernicus (d.1543) claimed that the center of the universe was the Sun instead of the Earth. Edwin Hubble (d. 1953) discovered more galaxies like the Milky Way. News sources today share that Stephen Hawking plans to send postage-stamp-size probes into our solar system to make way for Interstellar travel. Wow! Not only are we NOT the center of the universe, but we are only tiny specs in the universe.
When things do not fit into my categories or my paradigms my natural response is to walk away (or use my “need more popcorn” excuse) simply because it scares me. Life is comfortable when our world and events fit into our categories and paradigms. We have a (false) sense of control. But when our world and events do not fit into what we determine as “normal” or “right”, we get uncomfortable.
A funny thing about being uncomfortable…God is there. In that space between being comfortable and changing paradigms, God rushes in and molds us into something new. We are just like a new star that is born in God’s universe. In our new birth, God can use us. Our focus is moved away from ourselves and back on God’s work in the world around us. Right where it should be.
Saint Anselm of Canterbury (d.1109) believed that God is a being than which nothing greater can be thought. He proved that God exists simply by arguing that God is the essence of every thought because God is the creator of all things…including thoughts. Basically, God does not fit into categories or paradigms either and the more we move away from our need for such things, the closer we move toward God.
As families, what would this world look like if we walked towards thoughts, events and people that scare us instead of away? I imagine there will be a lot of bright lights that look like stars shining out of our homes.
In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Genesis 1:1-2
We went for a walk today, down a sidewalk right after lunch. The temperature was perfect and the sky was blue like Caribbean water. It was a day that feels like God is showing off. The plan was to walk a little bit before we headed back to the car to go home. And then one daughter stepped off the sidewalk and shared that she was just going to walk in the grass…off the path and into open space. I kept walking until daughter number two said, “Let’s go with her.” Before I knew it, we were sitting in the middle of the grass in the park.
That in itself would have been fun enough, but our day turned into an adventure when we started to notice all the creepy crawly things around us in the grass. It was as if we had just sat down in the middle of a city of bugs all very busy with their tasks for the day. The spiders scurried, the black things climbed over and under blades of grass, the ants quickly moved about and the ladybugs found their way into our hands with grace.
We were having a LADYBUG MOMENT. A moment in our day when we just stop doing what we planned to do and take notice of what is going on around us. It was a moment we would have missed if we would have stayed on the path trying to get more steps on our fitbit. It was a moment where we sat together and just enjoyed each others company and the company of the creepy crawly things.
Over lunch we enjoyed a LADYBUG CONVERSATION. A conversation that invited all of us to think more deeply and share. We asked questions that mattered. We asked things like, “If you were in my shoes, how would you handle the situation.” “Where do you see God in this?” “What would you like for dessert?”
And how did we do all of this in the middle of the week? Well….we had a LADYBUG DAY! We played hookie from all those things that we were suppose to be doing and we did something else. Something life giving! We took all the should of’s and could of’s in our day and just put them away so their friend guilt would go away too. Gardeners and farmers love the ladybug because it helps control pests. It controlled the pests in our life today very well.
As the sun sets on this day, I know it will be a day that I will remember. God was all around us this day because we took time to notice. When was your last LADYBUG MOMENT, CONVERSATION or DAY? It’s time to step off the path and experience an adventure. Your backyard is a great place to start!
Instead, desire first and foremost God’s kingdom and God’s righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore, stop worrying about tomorrow, because tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. Matthew 6:33-34
We have two elementary school children who live in our tent. If you were a fly on our wall in the mornings between 6:30am to 7:40am, Monday through Friday, you would be entertained. It is chaotic. We are looking for shoes, finishing homework, finding clothes, brushing hair (lots of hair), eating the most important meal of the day, emptying lunch boxes, filling lunch boxes, taking allergy medicine, still looking for shoes and more while the two adults in the house are just trying to drink a cup of coffee. Doing all of this one handed is enough entertainment for anyone.
The other morning when we finally made it to the car and one of our children spilled water on her skirt. A scream came from the backseat. Another loud noise came from the front seat in response because the precious coffee was almost spilled. “What is wrong?” said the driver. “I spilled water all over my skirt,” said the back seat. “Don’t worry, you are fine,” said the driver. “I AM NOT FINE! I AM NOT FINE AT ALL,” said the back seat. Then the tears erupted from her tiny tear ducts and rolled down her tiny, cute cheeks. But the car drove on.
Lent is a great time to stop ignoring all those things that are “not fine” in our lives. We like to pretend that things are fine as we try to hide the elephant (problem) in our lives by simply throwing an area rug over it. Or we tell ourselves that things are fine, but if anyone else looked at the same problem they would say we are anything but fine. We probably passed fine a long time ago and drove on.
Reality is a balance between all that is good and all that is bad. If we focus on one or the other too much, we are not living in reality. We need to have a balance between the two. If we pretend all is good in our lives, we are not living in reality. If we pretend all is bad in our lives, we are not living in reality either.
It is time to take ownership of what is “not fine” in our lives and let Jesus into our brokenness. If we are always pretending everything is fine, we have no need for Jesus. When we let Jesus in, we see that we may need to change, need help, or need time to sort out our lives. When you take off on this kind of journey, you know you are on the right path because you feel relieved that you don’t have to pretend anymore.
What is “not fine” in your life right now? What is your backseat telling you that you ignore and drive on down the road hoping it will go away? Tell a friend or someone you can trust. Jesus will be there too.
My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style. Maya Angelou
We currently live with an animal determined to chew up everything in site. (I always say I will never have another dog and then I get another one…sigh). This one has already found a special place in all our hearts. Sam is smart, playful and encourages us to get outside more than normal. In fact, Mr. Bell keeps losing pounds all over the neighborhood because he walks the dog so much! When I walk him, people stop just to tell me what a good-looking dog he is. One person even stopped their car to tell me. It is as if I was walking with Matt Damon down the street! People were just stopping to look. It’s a bit strange, really. But Sam is a nice looking dog.
One thing about our dog that the normal person cannot see is the amount of toys that have been chewed to their death in this house (our tent). In anticipation of the dog, Mr. Bell and the little Bells drove off to buy a comfortable dog bed (chewed up), tennis balls (chewed up), stuffed duck (chewed up), and ropes (chewed up). In addition, toilet paper, dish towels, a jazz shoe, precious toys (imagine the tears here) and everything else in site have met their death in the teeth of this good-looking dog. My latest suggestion was to just start handing him $20 bills to chew up and save the gas money!
But of course even this dog chewing business reminds me of God. (Stay with me.) Everyday, God gives us opportunities to notice God’s presence. Some days, God gives us something big such as a clear direction on which choice to make in our family or career. Some days God puts someone in our path that gives us words of comfort or encouragement strait from God! Those days are amazing aren’t’ they? All of these God encounters are like the tennis balls around our house. They are everywhere. They come in lots of colors. And they keep coming.
Our response is the key. If we are like Sam, the good-looking dog, we tear right through them barely noticing they were there in the first place. If we are aware, we resist tearing through them and we play with the ball that came our way. We explore it. We see what we can do with it. We see where it will take us. We show it to other people. We embrace it. God is good at gift giving. Some balls that are tossed our way are meant to last a lifetime and others are just to get us through the day. Either way, they are not put in our paths to be ignored or torn apart.
I hope a lot of tennis balls come your way soon and I hope you do not follow in Sam’s paw prints. Instead, enjoy the gifts of love from God and have fun playing in God’s creation.
My new hiking boots are covered with mud. After the snow fell on our ranch last week, we went to feed the cows. They were hungry. While deciding where to drop the round hay bail off the back of the truck, we got stuck. The snow had begun to melt and the mud was thick. One grandmother, two daughters and two granddaughters stuck at the ranch. The cows found us entertaining. They looked at us between the bites they took of their cubes that we scattered away from the truck so they would not be in the way when we got unstuck. This moment could have gone from bad to worse or bad to hilarious. It went from bad to hilarious. We talked about how much food and water we had on hand. No water. One pancake. Hilarious.
As we lean into a new year, we lean into the unknown. In 2016, some of us might drive right into the mud this year and get stuck. We may find ourselves bored with life and relationships. Or maybe we will rediscover some fun things in life like making mud-pies. Some of us might be like the cows. We will watch what is happening around us with one eye, while we have our other eye focused on what really matters, food! As long as no one bothers us, we won’t bother anyone else. Or some of us will throw our whole-selves into the work of getting the truck out of the mud. We will sweat, collect rocks, sticks, and over analyze the situation until we are silly.
No matter what the unknown holds for us this year, it is worth our time to stop and listen for God’s voice this year. A voice that sometimes wants us to be stuck so we remember who is really in control. A voice that wants us to focus less on our needs and more on the needs of others. A voice that reminds us of the sabbath so we can rest from our work at least one day of the week.
After we laughed ourselves silly and took plenty of pictures with our phones, we settled down long enough to think clearly. We needed help. We made a phone call and waited. (We also took more pictures.) Then one of God’s angels drove down the road and through the gate right to us. He connected our truck to his truck and pulled us out. The hay was lowered to the ground and we drove home. Happy people. Happy cows.
This year (in our family tents) let’s listen for God’s voice first, a voice that guides us, loves us and saves us.
All these blessings will come upon you and find you if you obey the Lord your God’s voice: You will be blessed in the city and blessed in the field.
Happy New Year from Happy Tents!