Firsts and Lasts

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,

Meredith Bell

Family Project #674: Bunnies

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!!

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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

Meredith Bell

P.S.  Bunnies for sale!!!

 

An Oreo For Breakfast

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,

Meredith Bell

It’s Fine!

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

Shalom,

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

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

It Takes A Village

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!3940801067_f5bd04e54b_b

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.

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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!

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

A Bad Book

I had a great idea for a summer afternoon, but it was hijacked by a bad book.  One of my daughters loves to read.  She reads so much when she is in school that she gets in trouble for not paying attention to her teacher.  I haven’t quite figured out how to discipline her for this.  It happens year after year.  I feel for the teacher, because she does the same to me at home.  But in our age of technology overload, it is just difficult to ask a child to put her book down.

Today, after a fun morning together, I decided I would pick up a book my other daughter brought home from the library (I LOVE libraries! Just thought you should know).  She has not taken to books the same way as her sister.  For her it is still a chore, not a joy.  This motivated me to turn lunch into story time.  I began reading.  My daughters were completely invested in this activity.  It made my heart smile.  Is there a better way to spend an afternoon on a hot summer day?  We were off.  We heard about the setting, the characters, the plot…wait a minute. I should have put it down long before we finished.  This story was a little twisted for two young girls.  It was about a boy who discovered an evil cell phone on the school bus and it would talk to him even if it was turned off (I will never look at cell phones the same way after today). It was a cell phone bully!  And it didn’t even have a good ending.  Our perfect activity was no longer perfect.

At the end, (yes… I read the whole book just knowing it had to have a good ending) we all just looked at each other.  We talked about how ridiculous it was to keep reading it.  We also talked about how scary it was to read.  We decided to take a turn making up a new ending.  Our endings were much better.

Tonight after I tucked my daughters into their beds (2 hours late because they were scared!!!), I had a chance to reflect on the days events.  I did make a mistake…yes.  What is done cannot be undone.  But I also remembered how I encouraged my daughters to say a special prayer for peace since our hearts and minds were troubled.  I gave them extra kisses and hugs.  I even read more stories to them… princess stories… just to fill their minds with more pleasant thoughts.  I modeled how some of our best intentions can turn out bad when we least expect it.  We need God in order to get through days like this.

For many years, I tried to be perfect in every way.  I was pretty successful at pretending, practicing, and thinking I was perfect.  And then, through God’s grace, I discovered that being perfect is not in line with our faith.  Our faith in Christ is about being in need of God’s grace.  If we are perfect, we believe grace is for other people instead of us.  I often call myself a recovering perfectionist.  It helps me to remember where I was and where I want to be.

Today was a great example–I messed up.  But instead of trying to cover up my mistake, I used it to show my daughters that I make mistakes and it is ok.  In Matthew 7:24, Jesus talks about those who hear words of mine and put them into practice are like a wise man who build their house on the rock.  The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against the house; yet it did not fall. Today I made a mistake, but thankfully there is a rock I can stand on at the end of the day end.  One that forgives and gives us another chance.  Is there something you need to let go of as well and start again tomorrow?

As for this house built on a rock… I think we will stick with princess stories and Dr. Seuss for our story time this summer!

Meredith Bell

P.S.  I discovered that you all like quotes too.  Here are a few that you sent to share… the comments are just as thoughtful as the quotes.


When you’re waiting on God to lead: When one door is closed, another one will open but these hallways are a drag!!  (Seen on a magnet.)

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“Until now….”  When I think I can’t follow where God is leading, whether it’s fear or my ego, I repeat this one over and over until I get the right perspective.
 “What I allow, I teach.” – this one helps me get back on track when I ALLOW others to hijack me. I repeat this one until I truly accept that I’m in charge of me and that others treat me the way I teach them to treat me. When I allow destructive or negative behaviors of others to affect me, I’m teaching them to keep on inflicting it!
“Mom, I am marrying the man I love, and the rest is just details”.  
A beautiful quote from a beautiful bride.
“The soul is healed by being with children.”  Fyodor Dostoevsky

 

 

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