In our tent we have two girls and they talk. A lot. They talk the most after they put on their seat belts in the car after school. There is always a verbal challenge to see who can talk first. The one who spoke first this week said, “Mom, I have a secret! But I cannot tell you.” Excellent! The trick to this game from the drivers seat is to keep your eyes forward and focus on a plan to learn the secret. (The driver is also the parent after all and for a little while longer, it is my job to know those secrets.) With my eyes forward, I simply said, “Well you know, I am a trained professional secret keeper.”
That started the wheels turning in her developing brain and in no time, I learned ALL about the secret. Of course I cannot tell you what it was because I am a professional, but it was a good one. So good that the secret keeper came home, sat on the couch and fell asleep in less than thirty minutes. Her secret had a lot of weight to it.
Part of our rule of life in our tent is “Bells don’t keep secrets.” We recite it often. We talk about the power of a secrets. The weight of secrets. How they can divide people. How they open the door to more secret behaviors. In our tent, it is almost impossible to keep a secret…unless it is a birthday secret of course.
Part of God’s rule of life is “You will know the truth and the truth will set you free.” Webster says that secrets “keep from knowledge or view.” We can talk about the way secrets keep us in the dark. The stress of secrets. The energy it takes to keep a secret. How they keep us stuck in life. But you probably know all about those things.
Or we can talk about how good it feels to let a secret out. When we let it out a secret, all the stress of the secret goes with it. We are then available to experience truth and light again. In the absence of secrets we find freedom. And that makes Christ smile.
What are some rules your family lives by? Is there a secret you have been carrying around for a while? Today may be the perfect day to let it out and live free from its weight. You may even find the need for a good nap on the couch after the experience.
The secret things in their heart will be made known. So they will bow down and worship God. They will say, “Without a doubt, God is here with you.” 1 Corinthians 14:25
From our Secret Free Tent to Yours,
P.S. If you have time, use this TED talk to keep the secret thoughts going.
Sometimes life completely surprises us in both good and bad ways. Recently in our tent, we experienced a surprise. We were surprised to discover that our new puppy had a kidney disease. The extremely sad part is that she is now Jesus’ adorable puppy and no longer ours. The extremely spiritual part is that we have moved through our loss together and relatively well.
Birdie came into our lives over the summer. We planned six months before during Christmas to add a puppy to our tent. Everyone in the family contributed to the “Puppy Fund” jar over those long six months. We paid for Birdie in 1’s, 5’s, 10′, 20’s and A LOT of change. When we handed over our jar to the breeder, we all smiled with pride. After Birdie was ours, we went on our summer vacation. And yes, Birdie joined us because we were NOT going to leave her behind.
She traveled to Longmont and Estes Park, Colorado. She enjoyed the early morning coffee shop visits and met many locals over coffee. She loved the feeling of the wind blowing on her face as we traveled to the top of Estes Park. She couldn’t believe the view. One evening during an outdoor jazz concert, she rolled around in the thick grass on a cool Colorado night and played with her tiny ball. She was such a trooper on the long car rides and participated in every game and sang every song! Birdie Bell quickly became a part of the Bell family.
Once we were home for good, Birdie enjoyed picking up our scholars in school each day and assisting with homework by keeping little laps warm. She learned tricks, greeted us in the morning and assisted with the wake up call. She loved to visit our neighbors and was often the center of attention as neighbors were taking their routine walks. She never met a stranger. She even befriended our other dog, Sam, with little effort. He was a big fan of our tiny little Birdie.
Just as quickly as she came she was gone. Of course we shed tears, asked “Why” and hugged a lot during the days after she was gone. We still talk about her often and smile at the memories we shared with her. Some dogs need just a little bit of time to make a big impact.
In honor of Birdie, we would like to share a few lessons that we learned from her.
- Perfect Planning Does Not Equal A Perfect Ending: We prepared for our new puppy. We shared the responsibility of paying for her. We all learned about the discipline of saving and waiting. (It was very difficult to not “borrow” from the puppy fund!) We shared the responsibility by letting her out, letting her in, feeding her and playing with her. Everyone participated with joy. We took her to the vet for her shots and carefully selected the perfect groomer. We gave her perfect treats. We did everything RIGHT for Birdie. But our ending was less than perfect. Perfection is not a guarantee for a perfect ending. In life, perfection is overrated. It’s a myth. In life, nothing is promised to us other than eternal life when we believe in Christ.
- Take Time To Visit: With Birdie we spent a lot of mornings and evenings outside playing. Our T.V. became a secondary activity. Because she was a five pound adorable ball of fur, she was a neighbor magnet. During our time with Birdie, we visited with our neighbors more because we did not have the luxury of being in a hurry. We were present with Birdie and our neighbors. We enjoyed our spontaneous conversations each day and we looked forward to them. Birdie taught us to hurry less and visit more. You never know how much you need to have a conversation with a neighbor until it is over.
- Risk Love: We fell in love fast with Birdie, very fast. We risked everything to love little Birdie and we loved her completely. She had full control over our hearts. Would you do it again? Absolutely! The pure love and joy that she brought into our tent and into our relationships was worth every dollar and penny that we saved in our “Puppy Fund.” It is a risk to love someone or something other than yourself. Birdie taught us that it is worth the risk.
One evening last week we were having dinner and we talked about Birdie. We talked about getting another puppy. We talking about if we wanted another one, if we wanted the same breed, and if we were ready. Everyone in our tent has strong opinions so the conversation was lively. But one comment summed it all up. If or when we are ready to try again, our new puppy will be named Birdie 2.0! She was that fun and special.
Which one of the “Birdie” lessons speak to you this week? What is special about your pet(s) and what do they teach you?
For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Jeremiah 29: 11
From our Happy Tent to Yours,
There is a quiet storm building in our tent. It is subtle. It is strong. It is powerful. Now and then we get a glimpse of it’s powers. A glimpse came one morning when a member of our family was discovered crying and yelling in the kitchen because she could not locate a shoe. One shoe. The sound coming from the kitchen was loud enough to be heard throughout the tent. We all hurried to see how we might help the situation.
In all of our collective training as pastors, parents and spiritual directing, we were speechless. Speechless. We did not know if we should offer this family member a hug or a baseball bat. So we all just stood still and watched until the storm was over. Everyone was happy to go their separate ways. Before we drove off to work and school, we heard wise words from the eye of the storm, “I think I had a hormone.”
Being human is a little overwhelming at times. Especially when internal storms are building. We do things, we say things, we think things that are not of God. We all mess up sometimes. Our families have a front row seat to our mistakes, breakdowns and failures. The people we live with sometimes see our best and worst sides all in the same day. And yet, we continue to love each other, deeply.
The only way we continue to love is through grace. We have received grace through Christ individually and therefore we are able to give grace to others. Especially to those we live with in our tents. In close relationships, we can practice giving and receiving grace day after day. Sometimes receiving it is more difficult than giving grace.
As you look back on your family this week, where have you seen grace? Who has experienced a moment of grace from someone they love? Who gave grace to someone? What did it feel like?
Grace began pouring into our family member the moment she said, “I think I had a hormone.” Hugs were given and tears were wiped away. We found the shoe. And we assured her that there were many more hormones behind that one. There are also many more moments of grace ahead of us.
For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— not the result of works, so that no one may boast. Ephesians 2:8-9
From our Happy Tent to Yours,
P.S. A wise friend shared a poem with me years ago called “When Children Turn Into Cats.” If your family has had a hormone visit lately, this poem will give you a new perspective! Enjoy!
Social media lately is flooded with firsts and lasts. There are first communions, first dances, first cars, first steps, first solid foods. There are last recitals, last awards ceremony, last graduations, last day of school, last day to pack school lunches (Can I get an Amen?). It would be difficult not to notice all the smiling faces in the pictures or the energy in our communities. There have even been some first birthdays as new babies bounce into the world and last hugs and kisses as love ones spend their last days on earth.
Joseph Campbell once wrote, “We must let go of the life we have planned, so as to accept the one that is waiting for us.” Whether you are experiencing a first or a last this month, you are probably leaving one life and headed into a new one. You are leaving one normal and creating a new one. And if you are not experiencing this yourself, simply take a look to your left and your right, you will see someone who is. As we change from one life into the next, here are some ways to help you transition, recenter, stop, or become more aware of God’s presence:
- Sit in your God space and listen. Remember that the creator of the universe (your creator) is available. Any time. Any place. If you have a God space in your house or office…sit in it. Focus on one thing that never changes…God’s love for you!
- Make a lunch date with a friend. Spiritual friends are the best! They listen, understand, advise, support and follow up. They often know what you need before you know what you need. A lunch date will provide you with a pause between all the things you have to get done before you go to bed. Everyone can use a pause now and then.
- Plan a selfie day with just you and things you love. Watch a movie at 10am with popcorn and a coke. See two movies if you have time. Pull out your music collection and jam to you favorites. Take a nap in the middle of the day without you cell phone in the same room. Read a book just because. What brings your joy? Do it!
- Name your emotion(s). Mad, sad, angry, fearful or tender. All emotions fall under one of these top five. Once you know your emotion, you are more able to experience it and control it before it controls you. Pretending that you are not deeply experiencing one of these emotions is like pretending that nothing is changing. Pretending is exhausting.
- Plan a trip. It always helps to experience a change of scenery whether it is a day trip or a vacation. Just having one on the calendar is life giving! Shop in a new store. Visit museums in your community or close by. Reconnect with a family member or old friend and drive to their town to simply spend time together. Exploring nature in small parks or big parks like the Grand Canyon can certainly be fun! And there is always camping!!
- Take a deep breath. Sometimes when I am with my mom and I take a deep breath, she says, “Is that your first breath of the day?” Sometimes you just need to take a breath and a step, a breath and a step. Find a pace that allows your soul to catch up with your body!
- Hug your family. A one-minute hug always does the trick. (Set a timer.) One-minute to connect. One-minute to freeze time and capture the moment. One-minute of peace in the midst of chaos. Your family is experiencing many firsts and lasts together. Hugs, notes, texts, and hand-holding are all encouraged in the middle of transitions.
While you (or someone you know) is experiencing firsts and lasts this month, remember one thing. Jesus is the “author and finisher” of our faith (Hebrews 12:2). “Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made” (John 1:3). Jesus is the Alpha and Omega, the first and the last. When we see all of life through Christ eyes, we see the whole picture. There are many firsts and lasts that we experience, but in the middle we experience a full, abundant life. That is why Jesus came to this earth and why we have faith in Christ.
Keep posting those precious pictures of your abundant life, the highs and the lows. Each day and each experience serves as a reminder that we are all in this together within the loving arms of Jesus. And Jesus is ready to give us more of an abundant life!
From our Happy Tent to Yours,
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!!!
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,
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
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.
There 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!
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!
This past spring I visited a church in Mississippi. In the service, God wanted me to hear one thing…it takes a village. This simple message came from the youth pastor. He gave the announcement about the youth’s trip to the bowling alley that afternoon. But instead of simply reminding the youth, he was actually challenging the congregation…the village. He was challenging them to become a friend to the young people in the church. The church goal was to partner five adults with each young person in their church. He reminded the village of the goal and encouraged them to get started (or keep going) by going bowling that afternoon. Sounds fun!
This made me start thinking about my youthful years. Did I have five people outside my family who I would call a friend? Did I have five people who mentored me and believed in me? Did you?
These people in my life are called the unsung heroes of my life. Their names are not on any diploma, they will probably not be listed in my obituary and they probably don’t even know the impact they made on my life…but they were my heroes in many ways. They had a conversation with me that changed my life. They saw something in me that I did not see and nourished it until I did see it. They were patient. They would answer my phone call anytime during the day or night. I was always welcome in the homes. Some of them were teachers, coaches, friends, fellow church members, and pastors. They were my village. They were my unsung heroes.
This too made me start thinking and open my eyes. (This is probably why God wanted me to hear one thing that day.) Who needs me?…it’s time to go bowling. Who needs you? There are so many people around us young and old that need a village to love them and encourage them. And it may just be time for you and me to take them bowling (or to something else that sounds fun like eating ice cream).
Paula Gooder wrote a book called Everyday God: The Spirit of the Ordinary. I keep my copy on my back porch to read in the morning. It is warped from being wet and yellowed from being scorched by the sun, but it still shares treasures with me each morning. The other day I read these words:
Part of the point of God’s calling to each one of us is that we are called to be God’s unsung heroes and we will know we are succeeding, not when people begin to notice us but when they begin to notice God.
I would love to chat more, but I think I need to write some thank you notes and find some more people to add to my village…especially if bowling and ice cream are involved!