Make a Trade

We are busy in our tent preparing for Christmas. I am sure you are as well. Just this week my daughters rehearsed It’s a Wonderful Life for 3 nights and preformed in it as Carolers for 2 nights. Elf on the shelf has been playing with laundry. Actually, we have an Elf on the shelf family. Elfie, Elfina, little Tom and an Elf reindeer (Don’t ask!). As a team they can get into a lot of misfit in my house. They all played in the laundry one day, which meant I had a day off. They also kicked off our Advent tree. We read a scripture each morning and clip on a new ornament. Plus, this week the Tooth Fairy visited our home twice!! It has been a busy week in our home. And I forgot to mention that our two show pigs came down with pneumonia (who knew this could happen??). They are on the mend now after shots and meeting an angel who gave them the shots. (Even I know when to acknowledge my limits…giving pigs shots is not one of my talents.)

In all of the chaos that this week brought (or season brings), it makes me more determined than ever to not give in to it.  I don’t want to give into consumerism, over-booked calendar (this is where I need to work the most), or Christmas expectations and unnecessary traditions.  When I shop, I want it to be fun.  When I attend a party, I don’t want to worry about what I am missing.  When I pull out the Christmas decorations, I only want to decorate with those things that need to be in our home this year.  I am not going for perfect.  Just enough.

Here is the way I made it through this past week still intact and with Christmas spirit.

Engage Scripture–I found a this cute daily reading on Facebook this week and it has been a perfect reminder of the power baby Jesus brought with him when he was born and placed in the manger.  Read scripture every day this next week with expectant eyes.  What gift will God give you through your reading?

Listen for God’s Voice–The scripture you read will move in and out of your thoughts all day long. The voice of God will be close beside them.  We have been collecting money in a jar all year to give to someone this Christmas.  Just this week I found out who that person is through an email.  We heard God’s voice and we are so excited to give our gift.  What is God saying to you this week?  Listen.

3115751108_77b9dbd66f_bExpect Miracles–Jesus’ birth was a miracle.  John the Baptist birth was a miracle.  Zechariah (John’s father) received his voice back just in time to name John the Baptist.  That was a miracle.  There were so MANY miracles popping up around the birth of Jesus.  Guess what?  They still happen today.  I heard a young adult speak today about his recovery from being hit by a car at the age of 13.  He was asked by the audience, “What are you so proud of in your recovery?”  He quickly answered, “That I am alive!”  A miracle!

We Prepare the Way–Our task this Christmas…share the story.  Share the joy, hope and peace of the season.  Our job is to bake cookies so we can have a moment to share our faith story with the person we give the cookies to enjoy.  Our job is to serve a delicious meal so we can invited the Holy Spirit to be present at our table and breath life into our families.  Our job is to give more so that others will have the opportunity to move from poverty into stability.  Our job is to prepare the way for Christ to work in the lives of the people we meet this Christmas.

Let’s trade the crazy and the chaos of the season in for the calm presence of Christ that lives with us every minute of every day!

Meredith Bell

Pigs

The power of pigs.  Last week, I drove from my home straight to my first appointment each day.  This week, I had to leave early from my house so I would have time to stop by the barn, pull on my pig boots and feed the pigs, Pickle and Donut.  Last week, after a long day of working, my husband would come home and relax a little before working some more. This week, he comes home to pick up the pig owner and he takes her to the barn to feed the pigs, Pickle and Donut. These pigs have changed our lives.  Things are different around our tent.  My car already smells different.  Every conversation we seem to have includes information about the pigs, Pickle and Donut.

IMG_0232There is something else the pigs have done.  They have brought smiles to our faces.  The way my mother pulled them out of the delivery crate and put them in their new pen gave me a great big smile.  The 10-year-old pig owner has had a permeant smile on her face all week.  When one pig ate out of the 7-year-old assistant- pig-owner’s hand…there was a big smile looking up.  These pigs have delivered a lot of smiles this week to our family.

One year ago, if you would have asked me if we would be in the pig business, I would have quickly said, “When pigs fly…no way.”  One hour ago my family was feeding our new pigs.  My “no way”, in one year, has turn into an “OK.”  What does all of this mean??

There are pigs in everyone’s future!  There are so many big and small events in our lives that are just waiting to knock on our door and take up residence in our lives.  We just do not know what they are going to be until they arrive.  For us, it is two pigs, Pickle and Donut.  It may be a new job, another child, a fantastic trip, a new pet, a new friend or a new chance.  Or it may be a broken relationship, financial troubles, unexpected news, grief or poor health.  Some things in our future will bring us smiles and some things will bring us tears.

There is a lot that we do not know about our future.  There is one thing that we do know and it will carry us through all the “pigs” that life can bring us.  Jesus walks with us in our dark times as well as in our times of joy.  Because we know Christ, we will have the light of life.

Then Jesus again spoke to them, saying, “I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life.”  John 8:12

This week, make some time to have a date with Jesus.  Grow your relationship, smile and listen.  The same Jesus that you know today is the same Jesus you will need during the days to come.  Your relationship with Jesus is life giving.  Jesus will know exactly how to guide you when your “pigs” show up in your life.

This week, my prayer has been for Jesus to send me people who know more about pigs than the Bell clan.  My prayers are working.  All week, we have met new, wonderful people who have a lot of pig knowledge! I’m thankful!

Meredith Bell

Halloween Worms

Last Halloween, I had the most fun!  Night crawlers (fishing worms) had been living in our refrigerator for a while.  There was not a fishing trip planned for the near future.  When my husband and friends headed out the door to begin the trick-or-treat ritual, he yelled over his shoulder, “Why don’t you give away the worms!”  Then he laughed and walked out.

I was very tired of looking at the worms every morning to get the milk, every time I needed to make a sandwich and every evening when it was time to start dinner.  (I wondered if anyone else had worms in their fridge. Probably not.)  Once he left the house, I thought, “Maybe I should give them away…why not?”

That is when the fun began.  When children came to our door, my friend and me would ask them if they wanted a TRICK-or-treat.  Most of them said a treat, but there were a few curious ones that said a trick.  284902228_adb44d6bf7_bThat is when I handed them a worm with a piece of candy.  A real wiggly worm.  Screams were heard.  Laughter was everywhere.  Some worms were dropped.  Some became new pets.  Some moms came back very upset and gave the worms back.  That made ME laugh.  Up and down the sidewalk, the news spread about the worms.  We became famous.  The best quote was from a 6-year-old boy.  He said, “I heard you are giv’in away worms…there is something WRONG with this house!”  He will probably be a preacher some day.

I have no idea who started the tradition of trick-or-treating on Halloween night.  But it is a great idea.  With all the stuff we have in our homes (that we look at every day) there is probably some stuff we could give away.  Once it is out of the house, we don’t have to worry about it any more.  On Halloween night, as you enjoy giving candy away, think about other things you could give away after Halloween.

Simplicity is a spiritual discipline. The more stuff we have the less we feel we need God.  Possessions, over-loaded schedules, un-reachable expectations and clutter all serve as barriers to the relationship God wants us to have with God and others.  What can you give away this week? What possession or ideas are you holding on to that need to go out the door.  Take a leap of faith and experience something new…freedom from your burdens.

Jesus stopped and said, “Call him forward.” They called the blind man, “Be encouraged! Get up! He’s calling you.” Throwing his coat to the side, he jumped up and came to Jesus.  Jesus asked him, “What do you want me to do for you? The blind man said, “Teacher, I want to see.”  Jesus said, “Go, your faith has healed you.” At once he was able to see, and he began to follow Jesus on the way. Mark 10:49-52

And if you want to have some real fun this Halloween, add some worms to you candy give-away.  It will be your best Halloween ever!

Meredith Bell

Simple Math

We are working on basic math in our Tent.  With one of us in first grade, we all get to practice simple math facts.  1+1=2  2+2=4  3+3=6  We are all reminded that you have to start simple and learn the basics. Simple math facts are just as important as advanced math.

I heard a quote this week by Kevin Leman.  Leman said, “No one person is more important than the family.”  If I understand Leman, he is saying that every person in the family is important to the family.  AND there is not one person that is more important than the others.  Leman’s simple math looks like this…1+1=1  2+2=1  3+3=1

So often, we forget this simple truth about family math.  So often, we focus on one person’s needs in the family and pour all of our energy into that person.  When we spend all of our energy on one person, there is not much energy left for the rest of the family.  The whole family loses.

There is a great, humbling reminder of this in the Bible.  Remember when Jesus said, “So those who are last will be first.  And those who are first will be last”?  Jesus was speaking through a parable about a landowner who paid his workers.  No matter what time the workers began working, at the end of the day they received the same amount of pay…one denarion.  Jesus’ math is simple too.  All people are equal and precious in the eyes of Christ.  1+1=1  2+2=1  3+3=1  No matter when we accept God’s grace and begin our Christian life, we receive the same result…eternal life.  Everyone is going to the same eternal life, together.

Take some time this weekend take a tent survey to check your family’s simple math.  Is everyone important?  Does everyone feel special and a part of the family?  Is one person using up too much of the family energy supply?  Pray about what to do about the survey results.  Remember…Jesus is a part of your family too!  Working on the basic areas of family life help prepare us for the more advanced dynamics of family life.

From our Tent to yours…happy weekend!

Meredith Bell

You are Welcome

Strawberries in water.  A comfortable and warm bed to sleep in.  Soul conversations.  Laughter.  Open doors.  Delicious meals.  Simple hospitality. All of these experiences simply say, “You are welcome!”  It is a wonderful feeling to be welcomed into someone’s home and life.  It warms your heart and releases your anxiety.  It feels you with peace that can only come from God.

Some of my favorite memories of hospitality took place around someone’s table.  My conversations with my grandfather (and best friend) always took place at a table with a bowl of strawberries and sugar. 6115838231_f708cce3d0_b All teenage worries disappear with strawberries and sugar.  My grandmother’s table would often be decorated with a beautiful holiday arrangement and she would offer me a quick sandwich.  Challenges about the future seemed to feel smaller at her table.  Coffee, while sitting at my mother’s table looking at the hummingbirds, always tastes better and replenishes my soul.  The back porch of my in-laws home always makes me thankful to be a part of a loving and supportive family.  An afternoon cup of hot tea ,with a friend traveling the same parenting roads that I am on,  gives me time to pause and be thankful for the children God has placed into my care for a short time.  Strawberries and water with a nice lunch after a super stressful morning reminds me why friends are important.  And a key to the front door of a friends home makes me grateful for friendships that are deeper than I can even understand.  All of these moments simply say, “You are welcome.”

I imagine God’s eternal home is similar.  It is a place where all feel at home.  A place where stress falls away and laughter grows.  A place of community that replenishes our souls.  A place where pain does not exist. A place where love is deeper than we can even understand.  No matter if we sit at the kitchen table or on the back porch of God’s house, we know that we are welcome.

Until we personally experience God’s home, we each have the opportunity to open our homes and our hearts in a way that simply communicates, “You are welcome!” We each have an opportunity to provide a glimpse into eternal life through our hospitality to others.  Just like God is always ready and available to hear our thoughts and prayers, we too need to be available to have meaningful conversations with others and welcome them into our home and lives.  Your small, thoughtful acts of love and kindness will be remembered in the years to come.

You are always welcome in our home!

Don’t neglect to open up your homes to guests, because by doing this some have been hosts to angels without knowing it.  Hebrews 13:2

Meredith Bell

Pumpkins

I don’t know what it is about those cute little orange pumpkins, but they get me every year.  There is no other vegetable (are pumpkins considered a veggie or are they in their own category…pumpkin?) that I would pay $10…$15…or $20 to take home with me.  Especially when I did not plan to eat it.  But those little pumpkins, on a nice cool fall morning, all smile back to me and say, “We are worth every penny!”.  Then they load up into the back of my car, buckle in and together we take off to spread fall cheer.

Pumpkins in any other season are just ordinary.  But in the fall they become extraordinary.  Amazing.  Exciting. Fun.  We turn them into decorations, lattes, pies, cookies, breads and more thanks to Pinterest!  In our tent, they represent tradition, change, holidays, and family time.  Some of the ones that live in our home catch a glimpse of the Christmas tree on their way out the door.  They stick around for a while.  Especially the ones that make it into the Barbie house or the ones that become a “baby” after a face is added to it.  Ahhh…pumpkins.

 485 Pound Pumpkin Ashville, NC

485 Pound Pumpkin
Ashville, NC

When you catch a glimpse of a pumpkins this fall, take a moment and let that cute little round ball encourage you to find a way to use your ordinary life to do something extraordinary for God.  How can you hop on board with God and spread some cheer, hope, fun to those you know and those you have yet to meet?  There are a lot of pumpkins around us this fall.  There are also a lot of people like you and me.  If we all signed up to do one extraordinary pumpkin mission, we could spread a lot of God’s love around.

I always assume that God’s Spirit is alive and well in your life.  Tap into that Spirit and together put together a plan that may seem ordinary to you but with God will be extraordinary for someone else.

Also…add a few pumpkins to your tent this week.  They are worth every penny!

Happy Fall!

Meredith Bell

 

Have Courage and Be Kind

We took a break from life this week and jumped on the couch to watch Cinderella. At first, we were only going to watch the movie until bedtime, but then I was enjoying it so much there was no way I was going to turn it off.   I knew I made the right decision when I was covered in blankets and snuggles.  Bedtime is overrated… some nights.  Throughout the movie Cinderella’s mantra is “Have Courage and Be Kind.”  In one scene, the Step-Mother hosts a party in the house with card games, alcohol and loud guests.  One comment from our audience was, “She was not creating a safe and peaceful home.  She brought all those broken people into their home and all that stuff.”  How insightful!
7421665746_178988e5b9_bIn each of our homes live quiet and strong doors.  You may have two or ten doors that keep things out of your home like cold winds and things that go bump in the night.  Doors can also keep good things inside like the smell of comfort food and cool air-conditioning on a hot, hot Texas summer day.

At Happy Tents, we work toward helping families imagine more.  Today, I invite you to imagine more ways your home can become a safe place where love grows and peace rules.  I also invite you to make a mental list of things that you need to leave on the outside of the door.  Here are some ways I thought of and I would love to hear about your ideas as well.

  • A Safe Haven–Each day we all take an adventure out into the world in school, work, restaurants, traffic, etc.  At some point in the day we feel like we are probably getting life drained from us.  Our homes need to be a safe haven from stress, bullying and noise.  Harville Hendrix says,  “We can either be anxious or connected.”  If we are anxious, we will be unable to connect to each other at home.
  • Peace Please–In our tent, when we exit the car and enter our home a pile forms by the door…backpacks, shoes, purses, more backpacks, and toys. Our homes need to be ready to absorb all that we bring home.  Systems help.  Baskets help.  Organization helps.  If the house is in complete chaos the whole family will feel the absence of peace.  Make a plan and make it happen.  If you have children, they can help too with age appropriate chores.
  • All the Good Stuff–I can still remember my childhood home and how good smells drifted up the stairs to my room right before dinner or how nice it was to come home to clean smells (My mom has since confessed that she would often take a rag with lysol on it and just wipe down the walls near the door just for the smell! Wise woman!).  It’s wise to use our doors to keep all the good stuff in like Christian music, positive words (everyone has a special place in the family), nice candles, warm hugs (try one-minute hugs…they feel great!), fresh flowers and surprise notes.
  • Welcome Joy–Joy is not the absence of sadness, it is the presence of the Holy Spirit within you.  When you feel joy and you see joy, welcome it.  Laugh.  Smile.  Celebrate.  Breathe.  Life is good and joy reminds us of how good it is.  Don’t miss it because of unnecessary rules, schedules or negativity.  It’s too precious.

Have courage and be kind…I think I will adopt this mantra for the next few days and see how my small efforts can make a big difference.

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Meredith Bell

Glimpse

Some events and moments in our lives give us a clear glimpse of God and God’s relationship to us.  Scripture may describe the glimpse, your friends may tell you about their glimpse, but to experience a glimpse into the true purpose, power and character of God is a humbling experience.

On Monday, I walked my daughters into a new school in a new town.  I know I was more terrified than they were.  In the months and days leading up to this moment, I had completed the check lists like many of you.  School supplies.  Check.  School uniforms.  Check.  New backpacks.  New lunch boxes.  Check. Check.  New shoes that light up.  Check.  Meet new teachers.  Check.  Check.  Check.  Perfect prepared mom.  Check.  I had perfectly controlled the whole experience up until we walked through the doors of the school.

Then it dawned on me (the sleepy me because I didn’t sleep much the night before)…I am not in control of this.  NONE OF IT!  I am walking my children into a strange place and walking out.  UNBELIEVABLE!  I did not remember signing up for this the day they were born.  On the way out, my supportive, loving husband asked me if I was breathing.  I never gave him an answer.  He didn’t ask any more questions as Niagara Falls poured out of my eyes.

That is when I heard God whisper to me…”See, it’s hard to love your children so much.”  God created each of us.  Knows the hairs on our heads.  (The only time I was close to counting the hairs on my daughter’s head was during a lice episode…you are probably itching now!)  God created us.  Check.  Provides clothes, shelter and food.  Check.  Gives us supplies for the journey that fill way more than a backpack.  Check.  Lights our path.  Check.  Sends us new teachers and friends daily.  Check. Check. Check.

And yet, God does not control us.  God let’s us be free to choose.  Free to experience all that life offers.  God basically says, “I’ve got this! Enjoy life. Watch and see how good life is when we are together.”8455680380_3f490a1282_b

The rest of the week, I have been reminding myself that God truly is in control and present.  God loves me and you so much that it sometimes hurts.  And I have a choice. (Of course you do too.) I can live a life full of beauty, peace and adventure.  Or I can live in fear, worry and obsessive control.  It’s a pretty simple choice when you see it in writing.

Take a field trip (a walk, a conversation with a friend, a nap, a museum, attend church) this week to recapture the joy of life that easily slips away and toss all the negativity out with the garbage.

This week my mom sent me a text saying, “Every day is a miracle!” Perspective adjustment.  Check.

The Lord your God is in your midst,
    a mighty one who will save;
he will rejoice over you with gladness;
    he will quiet you by his love;
he will exult over you with loud singing.  Zephaniah 3:17

Meredith Bell

 

Popcicles

Here is another tale from our tent.  The three main props were popsicles, toilet bowl cleaner and a toilet bowl brush.  Throughout the summer, we have enjoyed popsicles in our home.  For breakfast, lunch and dinner.  It’s been great.

Our summer has also been full of sibling bonding.  I have heard phrases such as,” Mom… get her out of my room.” “Mom… she won’t play with me.” “Mom… (fill in the blank).”  Bonding.  Lots of bonding.  After one such episode, I simply explained to one daughter how the other daughter was just having a selfish day.  She had fallen into the trap of thinking that the day was all about her.

Fast forward to the evening.  While we were playing a game, our lawn men came to mow our lawn.  (The last time I mowed the lawn was after my husband almost lost four fingers trimming the hedges. Spring 2010. I am retired now.)  It was hot outside and they were hard at work while we sat inside the cool house and looked out.  I asked our popsicle manager (age 7) how many popsicles we had in the freezer and she said 8.  I suggested that after our yard team finished their job we should offer them popsicles.  This is a big deal for our manager to give up that much of her stock.  But she agreed with the plan.  The lawn mowing team enjoyed their popsicles.

44668-1__61351.1383858700.1280.1280The next thing I knew, the manager of the popsicles came to me (the manager of the house) with a toilet bowl brush and cleaner.  She announced she was going to clean her sister’s toilet. (She has NEVER cleaned toilets before in her 7 years!!!).  She not only cleaned one toilet, she cleaned ALL the toilets, showers and bathtubs in our house.  Her sister decided to mop the floors.  I grabbed the vacuum (I didn’t want to look like a slacker) and attacked the carpets.  I asked the popsicle manager why she was cleaning?  She said, “Because it was fun and I am not thinking about myself!”

When he (Jesus) had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, “Do you understand what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am.  If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you.   John 13: 12-15

Our popsicle manager gave us an example this week too…serving others IS fun and it helps us think less about ourselves and more about others.  Her gift kept giving as our house transformed into a clean house full of laughter and clean smells.  (The manager of the house was certainly happy!)

It’s your turn to serve this week.  Find an opportunity to serve someone else just as Christ served others.  I guarantee you will discover fun!  Especially if you use popsicles!!

Meredith Bell

Delightful Days

A few years ago while I was a chaplain in a hospital, one of our instructors asked a group of us, “What makes a good day?” Because we worked in a hospital day after day and saw things we wish we could forget, we quickly escaped in our minds. Someone said, “A day on the beach.” Another one said, “A long hike in Colorado.” The one next to me said, “Time with my wife and kids.” I remember saying something like, “A airplane ticket to any destination.” We had a lot of fun with our answers. Basically it was anywhere but where we were.

That is what our instructor hoped we would say. He hoped we would define a good day with dreams, because then he gave us a follow up question, “Why does a good day have to be an extraordinary day…what about ordinary days? Aren’t they good too.” Of course he was right. Because isn’t it the ordinary days that we miss the most when we look back on our lives? Or if we are in the midst of grief…we miss the normal days. The days where we have a cup of coffee together with someone we love at the kitchen table.  The days when we laugh because of something one of our children says from the back seat. The days when we read a good book or cook a simple dinner for our family to enjoy. Ordinary days. They are good days too…maybe even the best days.

There is something that happens in life. It is subtle and silent. Through all the information we receive on a daily basis, there is a subtle message that says we have less than what we deserve. Our lives are not exciting enough.  Our car, washing machine, grill (I have heard that the Green Egg grill is pretty cool), are out of date and we need a new one. Message after message, we start to believe these subtle messages. They become a part of our daily chatter. And before we know it, ordinary days loose their shine.

169898633_551c123e2eIn my life, my delightful days begin with a to-do-list. I keep a running list in my kitchen and attend to it before I go to bed. That way I know what I need to do and I do not have to worry about it all night. Then in the morning, I make a cup of coffee and read a chapter or two of a book that enlightens me or gives me something to think about concerning my faith. I write my prayers down in a prayer journal. It is a gift to read back over prayers that have been answered. I choose to have a good attitude for the day. And then I work for God. I listen to the nudges God sends me to call a friend, write a note or serve someone. I work on our non-profit because that is my current mission.

And in all of this, my day turns out to be delightful simply because my day is less about me and more about God. I encourage you to find your rhythm. Find your recipe for a delightful day. Claim your place in God’s plan for this world and make things happen. If you are willing, God will use you.

You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.  Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.  Matthew 5:14-16

Meredith Bell

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