On the Inside

Almost nine years ago I became a mother again.  After rushing to the hospital, checking and settling in, I remember a text from my spiritual director.  She said, “Never again will you share the same heart beat or be completely spiritually connected with your daughter as you are now.” Time stopped when I read those words and all the activity in the hospital room stopped.  I turned my attention to what was happening on the inside instead of the activity on the outside.

A baby changes everything, right?  And everyone!  Our baby girl took center stage in our lives. Bottles, diapers, toys, little pink socks, more toys, car seats, dresses, strollers, and more toys all moved in with her. She still changes everything.  Except today life is filled with school, gymnastics, toys, friends, sleep-overs, piano recitals, dance recitals, more toys and theater.  (Over scheduled…I know!)

In the midst of all this (especially in the ridiculously-overly-busy month of May), I can’t help but remember that text.  It still helps me to turn my attention to what is happening on the inside, instead of the activity on the outside.  I may no longer share a heartbeat with my baby, but I know her heart well.  We are like old friends that have moved away from each other.  When we meet again, we simply pick up where we left off.  Because I know her well, it is my job to be in-tune with what is happening on the inside in the midst of the activity on the outside.  It is my job to make room for life giving moments, both personally and spiritually.

I know this, because this is how I experience God.  In my life that is often ridiculously-overly-busy, I depend on God to show me what is going on inside, instead of the activity outside both in myself and others.  I depend on God to give me peace in chaos, hope in darkness and love.  Because God shares a heart with me (and you), God shows up and gives me spiritual moments like a beautiful moon, the perfect verse from the Bible for the day, and of course encouraging words from my own mom.

Remember the story in Mark 10, when people were bringing children to Jesus so that he would bless them?The disciples scolded the children and Jesus scolded the disciples.  He even grew angry and said, “Allow the children to come to me. Don’t forbid them, because God’s kingdom belongs to people like these children.  I assure you that whoever doesn’t welcome God’s kingdom like a child will never enter it.” Then he hugged the children and blessed them.

We are called to do the same.  We are called to create ways for children (of all ages) to have access to Jesus on the inside in the midst of the activity on the outside.  Once a connection is made with Jesus, never again will we want to stand in its way.

From our Happy Tents to yours,

Meredith Bell

Pockets of Peace

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From our Happy Tent to yours,

Meredith Bell

Act Of Obedience

I know I am in trouble when I hear God speaking about obedience. God’s knows that I can be a stubborn person. When it comes to ignoring God, you can find my name next to Biblical professionals like Jonah who ran the other way and Moses who quickly asked if Aaron could be the hero instead of Moses. Like the professionals, I tend to believe that my plans are better than God’s plans. Or my calendar reflects that I am too busy for God.

This week, God’s message has been about obedience. The word just keeps popping up. I am reading The Circle Maker by Mark Batterson and chapter seven talks about obedience. A close friend recently told me to embrace a situation…obedience. We received our tax documents from the CPA today…we will obediently (and painfully) pay our taxes another year. But the clearest message came from Rabbi Marty.

Rabbi Marty is a Messianic Jew. I gave him a call recently to invite him to host a Passover Seder meal for a college ministry. Near the beginning of the conversation he said, “Tell me the perfect day and the perfect time that you want this meal to happen?” When I told him, he quickly responded by saying, “I’ll be there.” No questions, no negotiations. Just a solid yes. When I thanked him for driving an hour to be with us and he said, “No need to thank me. I serve God, I do not serve you.” This statement was factual, clear and confident.

Rabbi Marty is an example of how obedience leads to confidence. Sometimes God asks us to do something we just don’t want to do. But when we go, out of obedience, we have confidence that God goes with us. Jonah walked into Nineveh with confidence. Moses walked up to Pharaoh with confidence. Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane met the soldiers with confidence. They all knew that they served God and they were obedient to God’s call on their lives.

During this season of personal reflection, is God asking you to be obedient? Are you embracing the opportunity or resisting it? Why?

 Christ humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death,
 even death on a cross.  Philippians 2:8

From our happy obedient tent to yours,

Meredith Bell

MagnifiLENT

Welcome to Lent. Isn’t it magnifiLENT? That season that makes us uncomfortable every day. Every day for 40 days. How are you doing so far?

This week for Ash Wednesday, I spent my lunch on a college campus offering ashes to students as they walked into their school cafeteria. To say it was just magnifiLENT is an understatement. Every one was uncomfortable. Them and me. When I tried to explain what Ash Wednesday represented, you should have seen their reactions! Imagine big eyes, puzzled looks and awkward silence while they were taking steps away from the table. Dust to dust and ashes to ashes is not a hot topic for college-age students. You won’t find anything about it on their Snapchats. Just magnifiLENT!

In our tent, we have jumped into magnifiLENT with both feet, both hands and all our mouths. Our greatest temptations enter through our mouths. The Bell women have given up sugar (for real) and Mr. Bell gave up fast-food. (I had no idea that was a staple in his diet…magnifiLENT!) And so far we are doing well…3 days into magnifiLENT.

This is a season to loosen up a little. And the best way to do that is to mix things up a bit and make some room in our lives for the work of Jesus. Some people reflect, some people serve, some people fast and some people grieve. No matter how we choose to spend the next 40 days, if we make room for Jesus, Jesus will show up in ways we can not imagine.

The Gospel of John begins with “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Among other things, this verse tells us that God is a communicator. The great communicator. God communicated God’s love for us through his son Jesus Christ and God still communicates with us daily if we will give God space to send God’s message. That is what magnifiLENT does for us. It opens up God space so God can send life-giving messages.

Isn’t that just magnifiLENT?

From our magnifiLENT Happy Tent to yours,

Meredith Bell

Jesus and the Cheetahs

Be the One

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!

Meredith Bell

God-Glasses

“Has anyone seen my glasses?” This is a question that I remember hearing as a child over and over again. It seems like my mother would ask this question just as we were trying to get to school on time. We knew we weren’t going anywhere until they were found. We also knew we had to help her because she could not see well enough without them to find her own glasses.

Guess what? I am now asking the same question, “Has anyone seen my glasses?” I am simply amazed at how dependent I have become on my glasses to see. When did that happen?

Glasses and assumptions go together. When we cannot see things clearly we make assumptions.   While doing homework with my daughter recently, she held up a picture she had drawn and asked me if I liked it. I was a few feet away cooking dinner. I said I did like it. She asked me what it was about. (I wasn’t going to fool her…she knows me too well.) I had to confess that I didn’t know simply because I could not see it. I made the humble walk over to the table and asked to see the picture again. I was then able to give her an honest answer and apologize. Then I asked her, “Have you seen my glasses?”

We make assumptions all the time. We assume that our spouse can read our mind and know what we need. We assume that the man that lives down the street by himself has friends. We assume that other people think the way we do and see the world like we do. We assume our ideas are correct. But how often do we question our assumptions? How often do we invite God to help us see things around us more clearly?

My glasses help me to see details clearly. Details are necessary to get the whole picture. Without my glasses I am in trouble. Without questioning my assumptions I am also in trouble. Assumptions without clarity simply mean trouble.

In your tent, office, church and relationships, try putting on some “God-glasses.” Pray that your “God-glasses” help you to see what God wants you to see. Look for details and truth to help you overcome assuming that you know what you don’t know.  When we are working for God, we need the truth to do our job well. Making assumptions of God and for God will only make us look foolish.

If you have lost your “God-glasses,” you know what to do. “God, have you seen my glasses? I need to find them again.”

Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.

1 Corinthians 13:12

Meredith Bell

 

 

Three Pieces A Day Rule

We have one happy, happy camper in our tent this week. The candy rule is gone and the “candy queen” is so happy. There is candy all over our house. Some of it is in the obvious places and some of it is tucked away in little corners, under blankets, and in drawers. It is everywhere and our happy camper has taken inventory and knows the location of every piece. Candy is available 24/7 in our home and life is good for a little girl.

Because we are kind, loving parents, we let the “candy queen” enjoy a few days of bliss. She even enjoyed some for breakfast a few mornings along with her protein plate. But then the time came to reintroduce the rules. “Okay, now that you have enjoyed lots of candy, we are going to go back to three pieces a day.” We expected shock, surprise or rebellion. Instead we simply got an “Okay.” Well that was easy!

There is a gift hidden in rules. They make us feel safe, secure, cared for and balanced. When we have rules that guide our choices and lives, we are able to relax within their boundaries. The big decisions have already be taken care of so we can just enjoy life within the boundaries.

There once was a psychological study of children playing on a playground by a school that I learned about recently. One group of children were encouraged to go and play on a playground without a fence. Instead of playing and exploring, this group chose to just play by the entrance into school.  They didn’t feel safe enough to play on the playground. Another group of children were given the same instructions and same choice. The difference was that a fence had been installed around the play equipment. The second group played on the monkey bars and slid down the slide. The take away was that the children felt more safe with the fence and were able to relax and play together.

Our creator gives us fences (or rules) to live within simply because we are loved.  They are not intended to restrict us, punish us or frustrate us.  They are intended to remind us that we are safe, secure, and loved.  Rules for life help us draw closer to God by making space in our lives for God.  They offer us balance in the pressures of life and light in darkness.  We may go through times in life where we are like the “candy queen”…we have more than we could ever need and life feels blissful.  But then, we may feel that we have lost direction or purpose in life.  We know then that it is time to go back to “three-pieces-a-day”.  And when God calls us back to our center, we experience God’s grace. Another day and another chance to live life through God’s eyes instead of our own.

Explore your rules this week or create some.  What is your rule of life?  Share them with someone close to you.  You might find that you will enjoy God’s playground even more with a fence around it.

For the Lord is the Spirit, and wherever the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.

                                                                                                  2 Corinthians 3:17

From our Happy Tent to yours,

Meredith Bell

P.S. If you want to explore a rule of life more, check out Crafting a Rule of Life.

A Legacy

Last Saturday, I attended the service of a dear friend and mentor.  Some people called him a mystic among us.  Today, I hope you inspired by his words…his legacy.

My Legacy

The Sunday School teacher asked, “What legacy do you leave your family? Sons? their wives, and your great-grandchildren?” Here are some of my thoughts on the matter.

With respect to BEING:

  • An example of a man of transparent integrity: true blue; real. What you see is what you get. The opposite of phony. I see this as God’s design for humanity.
  • An example of a man of love: love of kin, love of “The Great Mystery” of life, and love for all humans I encounter. This is love as unbending commitment to the well-being of every one; while holding all in warm regard; a love not necessarily connected with liking people. I see this as Jesus’ understanding of love.
  • An example of one who looks steadily in the eyes of all I meet, communicating openness and acceptance. I understand this to be “The Way” of Jesus and his followers, and may be labeled “utmost hospitality.”
  • An example of a man who lives the call to silence: at moments each day to cease the rush, to turn off the mental chatter, to learn to “hear” the “voice” of “The Mystery” that speaks in our thoughts; and to hear so clearly, so discernibly, that the “Great Yes” of faith wells up within: “Yes” to “The Mystery”, “Yes” to grace, and “Yes” to fulfillment and an abundant life. I believe this will not happen in the noise and speed of modern life unless we attend the silences and heed the messages of the “Still Small Voice.” So my legacy is: if we do observe the silences, religion will again make sense, and “The Other” will communicate with us in ways that produce love, compassion, justice, kindness and hospitality. This I see as “spiritual” life.
  • An example of a man who follows 1-4 above so diligently and consistently that a new care for the earth, its people, and its resources is established and maintained; soon; since our window of survival seems to me to be steadily closing. This is the life of a caretaker of God’s creation.

With respect to DOING:

That I leave as a pastor, churchman, servant, preacher, husband, daddy, grandfather, engineer, kinsman, educator, citizen and friend.

With respect to GROWING:

That I hope to leave as one who is going on toward a perfection that will never be completed in this life, a perfection measured by “Holy Mystery” alone, which will continue to re-visit me, and nudge me on, as long as sentience and faith remain.

This is my legacy, as of 7-10-13; for today…

The final chapter of

Summa Junior—Stated Briefly by

Rev. Wallace Chappell

1920-2016

One Fish At a Time

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 surfa28477023670_18621f58fbce 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!

Meredith Bell

 

Secret Space

I heard a prayer this week from a friend.  He prayed that God would meet us in that secret space within us.  That space where there are only two invitations available.  One to God and one to you.  He went on to say that we needed God to meet us there because there are some things we need to talk with God about and we also needed to be reminded of how much we are loved, accepted and complete in God.  Wow!  Isn’t that a cool space?

It made me think of the best vacation I ever went on in college.  My last Spring Break of college, I flew to Ireland and toured the country for a week.  A friend of mine was in a work-abroad program in Dublin, Ireland.  I knew that if I could get to Ireland, I would have a place to stay in Dublin.  Before I left, I talked two brothers into joining me on this trip.  I invited them by saying, “Hey…for Spring Break, I think we should fly to Ireland, stay in hostels, drink beer and kiss the Blarney Stone.  Do you have a better plan than that?”  Of course they didn’t!  So they were in on the trip!

We flew to Ireland on a Sunday.  It was their first trip out of the country and our general excitement was high.  The trip exceeded our expectations.  It was the week of St. Patrick’s Day.  It was like the whole country was celebrating that we were on Spring Break too!  Nuns were dressed in green habits, the whole city was decorated in green and orange, people were celebrating and it felt like we had discovered the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.  Then we rented a car!  That was the best decision. (Whoever rented the car to us must have been a bit crazy…giving four American college students a car in a foreign country is a bit risky!)  We drove all over the southern part of Ireland touring the Waterford factory, kissing stones, visiting pubs, touring castles, listening to U2 and sleeping in hostels. When we flew home on Saturday, smiles were plastered on our faces.  It was amazing!

The secret space is like the best vacation you have ever been on.  (Or maybe it is even better than that!)  We can go to that space anytime and anywhere.  It is free.  It is filled with joy, comfort, encouragement, support, answers, fresh perspective, forgiveness, grace, love, peace, hope, direction, and so much more.  When you leave your time with God in that secret space, a smile will be on your face.

More than a smile, you will see your life through a different lens.  God’s lens.  You will remember what God has called you to do.  Our visits to our secret, sacred space with God keep us going along this journey of life.

Then Solomon, and the whole assembly with him, went to the high place that was at Gibeon; for God’s tent of meeting, which Moses the servant of the Lord had made in the wilderness, was there. 2 Chronicles 1:3

Enjoy your vacation to your secret space with God!  Send me a postcard!

Meredith Bell

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