Do You Know Where My White Alligator Is?

In the early, early morning hours at the beginning of a road trip, I was asked this question, “Do you know where my white alligator is?” It would make sense if the question came from one of our younger members in the family. But this question came from my life partner and could only be answered after a period of silence. “Are you kidding me?” (I am sure he felt my hidden love in that response somewhere.)

For the past 24 hours, we have been preparing for another family road trip across part of our country. We sent numerous texts to each other about when we will leave, whose car we are taking, and what route we wanted to take. We actively  took care of the to-do list. Snacks. Check. Luggage. Check. Movies. Check. Cash. Check. Children. Check. Teamwork. Check.

If the first question of the day was about the location of the allergy medicine, I knew the answer. If it was about leaving the garage door opener for the house sitter, I knew the answer. If it was about paying a bill, I knew the answer. If he needed to know the social security number of anyone in the car, I knew the answer! BUT the question he asked is one that I could not answer. I honestly do not know where his white alligator is located at the moment. Sigh.

Jesus is an expert in asking questions. The New Testament is full of Jesus questions. Why are you so afraid? Why do you doubt? What is it you want? Do you love me? His questions went beyond the obvious and invited his followers into a deeper understanding.

One of His best questions is “Who do you say I am?” He asked this question while with his Disciples. Peter courageously answered, “You are the Messiah.”

In life, we may know all the answers about our home, family, and career. We may even know a lot about faith. We probably know the location of the extra car keys or if we are out of butter in the fridge. We often pride ourselves in knowing how to answer a question when asked by others. But sometimes we are asked a question that we do not know how to answer. (Especially if it is about a stuffed white alligator!)

No matter how much we know, it is always a good idea to know the answer to this question. In the midst of all that you know, do you also know about the abundant, grace filled life that only Jesus can give us if we truly know who he is today and every day? If so, live it.

If not, Jesus is a good person to get to know for his was present when the white alligator was created, after all.

I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me. John 10:14

From our Happy Tent to Yours,

Meredith Bell


Happy the Horse

Since the day our daughter could talk, she asked for a horse.  She is an animal lover. She used to say, “I am a REAL animal lover” when she was younger.  A lot of animals have been adopted into our tent over the years.  A hamster that liked to bite, a dog on Christmas morning, a chicken that was actually a rooster, a turtle rescued from a parking lot, a snail who had babies, another dog, rabbits that won a blue ribbon, another dog, huge stinky pigs, and a fish just so the child would sleep in her own room. But there has always been one animal that was missing from the collection, a horse.

The tent managers (aka parents) are just like all 40 year olds that end up owning a horse. We are wondering how we got to this point.  Of course, we told our daughter she could have a horse one day. It takes a super power to tell her beautiful blue eyes “no.”  But we always assumed “one day” would never show up.  Surely, she would out grow this horse fixation.  Surely, she would realize the amount of time (and money) that goes in to owning a horse. Surely we could delay this request until she is in her 40’s and has a place to board the horse. Surely, surely, surely!

As the horse requests started to come on more frequently after we moved to the country, we made a deal with our horse loving daughter.  “If” she was willing to help cover the costs for the horse expenses, “then” we would get her a horse.  Before we knew it, she was a Red Cross certified babysitter with business cards, a loyalty card (Every 7th babysitting job is free!) and adorable two-year-old clients.

Happy the horse (he actually came with that name) joined our family in January.  Every morning for a month, we have been at the barn at sunrise and sunset, feeding Happy.  Three times a week our daughter throws a saddle on Happy and they trot off together through the pastures.  They are a beautiful site together. And of course, we all love Happy because he makes us happier.

The 40 year olds in the house (who now own a horse) have learned a lot in this experience.

  • Children have dreams and we need to help them achieve their dreams.  The spirit of youth is contagious. We all need a little more fairy dust, horse riding and magic moments in our lives.
  • Animals teach us about life.  Animals are loyal, interesting and social.  Life with nature awakens all our senses.  The more we experience animals in this life, the more we appreciate creation.
  • Responsibility is good for children.  Where else will children learn to be responsible Christians? Our tents are full of opportunities to teach responsibility.  If we take these opportunities away, we are taking away tickets to success.
  • Honor your promises.  We made a deal.  Our horse lover kept her side of the bargain.  We had to keep ours.  We all learned a lesson in this deal.

We pray our tent is always a place filled with dreams and life lessons that teach life skills.  What dreams are alive in your tent?  How can you help make them come true for you and others?

For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago. Ephesians 2:10

From our Happy (the Horse) Tent to Yours,

Meredith Bell

The Mantle

Past the kitchen and unmade beds, I discovered (felt) the meaning of the mantle.  It seems that more life lessons happen for me when the dishes are in the sink and the laundry needs to be folded. Ordinary moments.  Because my responsibilities for the day were more than I wanted to handle, I retreated to my prayer closet. I didn’t have much to say.  I just wanted to sit for a moment.

Then I saw a picture of an old friend.  It was taped to a wall in my quiet place.  My old friend, long ago, passed a mantle on to me.  In his kitchen (with dishes in the sink), he reminded me of all the times we had shared together in life.  All the good conversations we enjoyed about God, faith, mystery and journaling.  Then he said, “It’s time for you to take the mantle. I’m too old and too tired.” With a smile and tears rolling down my face, I agreed to receive his gift and commission.

The mantle is a symbolic term for passing on leadership from one person to another.  Elisha and Elijah (the great prophets of the Old Testament) set the bar for the mantle.

Elisha picked up the mantle of Elijah that had fallen from him, and went back and stood on the bank of the Jordan. He took the mantle of Elijah that had fallen from him, and struck the water, saying, “Where is the Lord, the God of Elijah?” When he had struck the water, the water was parted to the one side and to the other, and Elisha went over. Kings 2:13-14

I believe that we may be wearing more than one mantle at a time.  There are many callings on our lives. Friend, sister, father, teacher, brother, mother, child, mentor, employee, employer, Christian, leader, advocate.  I have come to understand there are different phases of the mantle that are always active.

Training Up 

Everyday training takes place.  It may feel like carpool, dinner, homework and chaos, but it is really a training ground for the next mantle team.  We train up children and teach them about the spiritual life.  We teach about Elisha and Elijah and all the other Holy stories.  We guide, correct and encourage.  We love constantly.  We pray, pray, pray that all these moments will grow into another beautiful light for Christ in this world.

Living It

The weight of it can truly be felt.  The constant call to lead, produce, solve and understand. It calls for creativity and availability.  We cast visions.  We build teams.  We faithfully live out our daily lives in a way that shows respect for the mantle we carry and an understanding that we carry it for a small fragment of time.  We pray, pray, pray that our fragment honors and pleases God.

Passing it On

With eyes that see beyond the present moment, we look for who is next.  Through a relationship, we prepare the next one.  With our words, we share our story.  Our successes and mistakes.  We bless the them.  And we send them out into the world as they cross from one side to the next.  We pray, pray, pray for wisdom and joy for the new one(s).

This mantle business is guided and sustained by the Holy Spirit.  I wonder where you are in this Holy business? Where can you encourage those in other stages?

 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper,[a] to be with you forever. John 15:16

From our Happy Tent to Yours,

Meredith Bell

Spread a Little Love

Love is in the air.  According to one company on the radio, the perfect way to show that you love the man in your life is to buy him some perfect underwear.  Good to know! Another radio ad suggested that this is the perfect time to buy the love of your life a star that will be named for them and recorded in the magic book.  (Honestly, I wish I would have thought of that one because you would never, ever have to worry about running out of inventory or restocking the galaxy.)  And another radio ad suggests to express love by investing in a new perfect, amazing, incredible mattress that will last for years to come.  (This is not a bad idea!) A third grade class that we are connected to through our tent is also experiencing love. The report is that it’s hard to know who to love these days. (Adorable!)

For Christians, love is always in the air, right?  Over in the New Testament of the Bible, the Apostle John (Zebedee’s son) captured a quote from Jesus that said, “A new commandment I give you: LOVE ONE ANOTHER. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”  Good to know!

As we move closer to the Hallmark Holiday of Love (aka Valentine’s Day), let’s add a little more love to the world around us.  By adding some love around us, maybe more people will experience the love of Christ that is experienced in the blessings of clothes (and underwear), seen in the stars, felt in the comforts of home (and soft mattresses) and celebrated in the hearts of third graders.

Happy Tent Ideas for Loving Others

  • Love your Neighbor–This week, choose one neighbor to check on and see how they are doing.  If you are really feeling adventurous, choose a neighbor you do not know well (even if you have lived by them for 15 years!).  Be traditional and deliver a box of chocolates, a batch of cookies or a loaf of bread.  If you need some ideas, check out SoCe Life and the Neighboring Movement.
  • Love your Spouse–Take time to discover your spouses Love Language.  It will save you lots of time and energy.  Surprise your spouse by doing the dishes, thanking them of their work, holding hands for no reason, writing a love note, or preparing their favorite meal (like the duck Mr. Bell keeps bringing home!).  Small acts of love go a long way in a happy tent!
  • Love your Children–In the coming and going of family life, sometimes the small connections get left out.  If you children are still living at home, Crafty Texas Girls gives lots of idea on how to celebrate love together.  I especially love the “love notes” in the shape of hearts.  I have been taping them to bedroom doors this week.  14 notes and 14 days until Valentine’s Day! If your children have left the nest, find a way to connect with a phone call, a visit or a lunch date.  All children (young and old) need to feel loved. They need to be reminded that they are a God’s beautiful creation.
  • Love your Friends–Can you imagine a life without friends?  Can you imagine a friend who does not love a box of chocolate, a surprise coffee date, a card in their mailbox or a phone call from you? Choose 14 friends and love them to pieces this month!
  • Love your Self–Have you experienced a stress free day lately?  Have you personally experienced God lately?  Loving yourself means many things. One important aspect of self love is to make space in your life to breath deeply from the grace of God that reminds us that we are enough.  We do enough, have enough and are loved enough by God’s standards. Take a nap, exercise, read a book, dream, relax and remember that God is big enough to handle everything else.
  • Love a Stranger–While waiting at the doctor’s office, I found myself loving a complete stranger who was obviously anxious about their doctor’s visit.  By joking that I would take their place and offer my arm for the blood sample, the stranger began to laugh and relax.  Start a conversation with a stranger, you may be exactly what they needed at that moment of their life.

From our Happy and Loving Tent to Yours,

Meredith Bell


Signing Off and Signing In

We have a magic power in life with a pen and paper (a tablet/stylus or computer/keyboard) when we practice signing in and signing out.  Signing in means that we are open, present, ready or prepared. Signing out says, “That’s all folks!” Drop the microphone and close the curtain because the work is done.

This week, I signed out a child from school and signed into a board meeting (x3!). I signed into my banking account and signed out of a doctor’s office. I signed up to provide refreshments and signed out of the library.  In and out, in and out, all week long.

One evening during the week I signed off my phone.  It was ringing, buzzing, and alerting me at such a rapid pace that it was practically creating an earthquake on the kitchen counter.  Someone forgot to tell the phone that the day was winding down instead of winding up.   Someone forgot to tell the phone that we were in the last act of the play that day and we needed to wrap things up.  Without thinking, I sent one more text informing the sender that I was signing off for the night.  It was an automatic response because my personal battery was on low and I needed to recharge before the next day. Enough work for one day.

Immediately, when I signed off for the day, I signed into being present with the people I love the most. I signed into awareness and curiosity. I relaxed and took a deep breath.  (Maybe the first one all day.) Dolly Parton once said, “Never get so busy making a living that you forget to make a life.”   Meredith Bell says,  “Never get so attached to a device that we forget to be present with those we love.”

My new spiritual practice is signing off.  Signing off to work at the end of the day even if there is more to do.  Signing off to busyness and hurry.  Signing off to exhaustion day after day.  I’m signing into recharging, resting and sabbath moments.  God is in those moments!

Is there a place in your life that needs a signing out spiritual practice?

Six days you shall gather it; but on the seventh day, which is a sabbath, there will be none. Exodus 16:26

From our Happy Tent to yours,

Meredith Bell


Easy Street

Welcome to the New Year! We started our New Year on Easy Street.  We took a road trip, rented some skis and bought lift tickets.  That is where we found Easy Street on a small mountain.  We went up and down snowy Easy Street over and over again.

There was one moment of pure insanity when we decided as a group that we were ready for something other than Easy Street.  We found another way up the mountain on another, longer ski lift, and arrived at the top.  Only one of us found the view exciting.  The others were terrified.  We started down. There were falls and tears.  There were feelings of fear and defeat.  After a while, pure exhaustion set in and prayers started going up, up, up.

Hours later, in the lodge we debriefed.  While sipping on four (well earned) hot chocolates, we concluded that we were heading back to Easy Street.  Back to safety, fun and relaxation.  We confessed our sin of arrogance.  We thought we knew all we needed to know to ski down the mountain. But we were still lacking many skills.  We needed more practice and more lessons.

So often in life we believe we know everything and we humbly discover we really don’t.  When we tell a friend we understand what they are going through and they politely tell us that we can’t truly understand.  Or when we challenge someone by interrupting or arguing with them just so we can feel that we are right and not wrong.  Or when we judge people from different backgrounds based on how they are portrayed in the news instead of how we have experienced them personally.

On Easy Street, we learned about turns, stops and skills.  We discovered that our bodies know what to do naturally, if we just pay attention.  We met others who were learning and we then learned from their experiences.  They motivated us to keep going.  We also learned that if we jump off Easy Street too soon, life gets dangerous, scary and stressful.

As we journey through a new year together, let’s take it easy.  Let’s be open to learning new skills and being teachable.  Let us allow our humble attitudes lead us and leave our arrogance behind.  Let us learn to relax in the rhythm of life that gives us joy in learning, faith in others and a shared sense of purpose as we all make life more easy for everyone.

How can your tent model for others what it looks like to live life on Easy Street in the arms of Christ?

Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. Matthew 11: 28-30

From our Happy Tent to Yours,

Meredith Bell

Merry Christmas Traditions

It happened this year. One of our Merry Christmas Traditions ended.  Our smallest tent member broke through the Santa code…she is in the know.  (I cried more than she did.)  So this Christmas we end a Merry Christmas Tradition in our tent and we are shopping for new ones.  We are looking for new ways to connect with each other and our faith.

As we look for new traditions, we are mindful that time has changed all of us this year.  We are taller, wider, wiser, grayer, happier and teenage-ier.  Our Merry Christmas Traditions from last year may not reflect who we are today like they did years before.  It’s time to discover some new traditions.

Family life constantly experiences change.  Marriage requires an end of selfishness and a beginning to constant forgiveness.  They say a baby changes everything. As that baby grows, due to a strong diet of food and water, she develops into a little adult.  Just when you get used to piles of laundry and a house full of friends,  that little adult packs and moves to a college (hopefully).  Then she receives a pay check (we pray) one day.  Family life becomes more about savoring precious moments, encouraging one another to be your best self and celebrating life together every chance you get.

The Holy Family must have shared similar experiences.  Their lives were full of moves, growth, questions and divine experiences.  They depended on their faith and each other to embrace their stages in life.  They shared joy and they shared heartache under the same roof.  They created the biggest Merry Christmas Tradition and yet we know that their experience did not stop at the manger. There was more to their story. They added new Merry Christmas Traditions each year that connected them with each other and faith.

As we are shopping for new Merry Christmas Traditions, we are discovering that there are millions of ways to spend this holiday together all around our world.  The manger will always be a part of our Christmas story.  We are excited to add more traditions to our story.  We are also discovering how feelings that come with this season like joy, peace, love and hope are a part of every Merry Christmas Tradition.  These classic feelings are unwrapped through hugs, warm fires, winter breaks, family, hot chocolate, Christmas cards, friends and beautiful music.

Enjoy your Merry Christmas Traditions this year…the old and the new ones!

“Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. Luke 2:15-16

Merry Christmas Happy Tent Families!

Meredith Bell

For Unto Us a Child is Born

This week on the side of the freezer door I discovered an original piece of art work titled, “For Unto Us a Child is Born.” I discovered it late in the night while doing another load of laundry.  Our washing machine decided this week was a good week to stop working. While it was on strike, mountains of laundry grew taller and taller every day.  The only way to stop the annoying magic trick was to tackle the laundry during the late shift.  With six minutes left on the washing cycle, my eyes drifted to the much over-looked piece of art work on the side of the freezer.  

“For Unto Us a Child is Born” gave me pause.  The artist focused on the star above the manger and the small stable.  The manger glowed under the star.  The city stayed a city.  It probably did not even have time to notice what was happening just a few miles away.  Everything was happening a few miles away.

Isaiah says, “For unto us a child is born and authority will be on his shoulders.” This child, Isaiah says, will help those in darkness see light, bring dawn to the dark night, increase joy, shatter burdens.  This child will be wonderful, mighty, and eternal.  I have to wonder, where is this child today in our lives?

The artist of “For Unto Us a Child is Born” gives us an idea of where to find this child.  We can find the child who holds light in a simple place like a manger (or the laundry room).  We can find the child who increases joy in a place that gives us pause so our souls can catch up.  We can find the child who removes burdens under a starry night.

This original piece of art work reminds me that the Christ child is, always, and forever will be in a place we least expect, at a time we didn’t plan for and always give us a glimpse into an eternal moment that we pray will last forever.

The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this. Isaiah 9:7

From our Happy Christmas Tent to Yours,

Meredith Bell


I Don’t Like Eggs

We routinely hear the declarative statement, “I don’t like eggs,” in our tent every morning.  This has been happening for a number of years.  (Maybe even for 13 years if we are honest.)

Mr. Bell is the breakfast chef in our tent.  He rises early every morning and stumbles to the coffee pot in the kitchen.  Next he surveys the breakfast supplies to decide the morning menu.  Then he begins to crack eggs, fry bacon, make muffins, slice apples or a number of other natural exercises that produce a well balanced breakfast.  Every breakfast plate is served with his signature…a smiley face. He makes every breakfast into a smiley face.  Every plate. Every morning.

Most of his well balanced breakfast plates include eggs.  Fried eggs.  Scrambled eggs.  Poached eggs.  Boiled eggs.  With every egg comes a quiet statement from a member of our tent.  “I don’t like eggs.”  Quiche, breakfast tacos, and cheese omelets all get the same response.  “I don’t like eggs.”  Even eggs in a smiley face receive a response that says, “I don’t like eggs.”

Something happened the other morning that shocked our tent.  We responded to the statement.  Every other morning we just ignored it.  But on this morning, we responded with, “You really don’t like eggs?”  Then she said, “I tell you this every morning,” and bites into her bagel.  Then the two leaders of our tent looked at each other with big eyes and said, “She really doesn’t like eggs!”  The next morning, eggs were not a part of her smiley face.  (She still had a smiley face on her plate and one appeared on her face.) We had finally heard her. (Way to go parents!)

As much as we would like the people in our tents to be just like us, they are not.  Family members surprisingly like different things.  They like different food, different music, different books, different movies and more different things.  And yet, we pretend that everyone in the tent likes the same things. (We even get frustrated when this happens.)

When we listen to what is being said and pay attention to what is being said, we discover good useful information about someone we love.  We are invited into their world when they reveal a difference and that is when the relationship grows deeper.

Jesus paid attention to words people said and their actions.  He found good useful information about the people He loved.  The people He loved were changed by the relationship and still are today.

I wonder what differences live in your tent? What can you learn from each other this week?

All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. 2 Timothy 3:16

From our Happy Tent to Yours,

Meredith Bell


Reading an article recently, I was reminded of the act of repurposing old pieces of furniture.  There are plenty of t.v. shows and magazines that do this well everyday.  Even though I like the idea of it, I usually lack the creativity and the time to actually complete the process of repurposing anything.

Repurposing translates into faith.  Jesus came to repurpose the church.  The church is not for setting limits like the Pharisees believed.  It is for setting people free through healing, mercy, forgiveness, love and hope. We read about the ways Jesus repurposed the church and faith in the Bible.  He was busy then and He is busy now doing the same time.

Talking with a new friend lately, I was reminded of the act of repurposing our lives.  She is two years away from retirement and she is anxious about how she will transition from a demanding job into a slower schedule.  She is also anxious about her marriage and how it will look in retirement.  She is in the process of repurposing her life.  She is wondering how her skills from her career will be used in new ways and how her relationship with her husband will grow in their last years together.

Repurposing translates into life.  My new friend has two years to wonder what life will be like after retirement.  She has two years to prepare for adapting, changing and embracing her new life.  As a married couple, she and her husband have time to talk and make new goals for their marriage.  (And I am going to send her a copy of Falling Upward by Richard Rohr.)

Coaching young adults lately, I found myself sharing my story of repurposing a closet into a prayer room. (Yes, I really did this after I watched the War Room and it has become my sanctuary.) I shared how writing prayers down allows me to let them go.  I talked about simply being with God in that space instead of doing something for God.  It fills my spirit and gives me a new lens to see the world and my life.  They were listening with intensity.  Our testimony matters.

Repurposing translates into spiritual practices.  When we feel a disconnect with God, maybe it is time to repurpose our spiritual efforts.  Instead of reading the Bible, go live the Bible by serving someone or some purpose.  Instead of praying in your home, take a walk and pray in God’s creation.  Instead of reading the familiar chapters of the Bible, read a book in the Bible that you have never read or studied before.  Ask someone to study it with you.

There are so many areas of our lives where we may feel stuck or bored that simply need to be repurposed into something new.  Here are some tips when you repurpose:

  • Observe: Take note of your frustrations or areas in life where you are dissatisfied.  What is on the horizon that you may need to prepare for to be ready?  For a week or a month, simply observe your life.
  • Pray and Seek Wisdom: The Holy Spirit is alive within each of us.  Through prayer, connect with that power and pray for the things you observed.  If you observed that your family is struggling to be at peace, pray that the Holy Spirit will show you all a new way to live.  While in prayer, seek wisdom. Find others who have journeyed down this same road before.  How did they make their way through this time in life?  What did they learn? What is their advice?
  • Act:  We cannot change until we take a step forward.  When we act, we are testing our faith.  God will show up as we repurpose our lives.  The bigger question is will we show up?

In our tent, repurposing is a way to live our lives for God as a family.  When our routines, schedules, and results lead us away from this purpose, we know that it is time to repurpose for God.  We have discovered that a repurposed life is good.

Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. Matthew 7:7

From our Happy Tent to yours,

Meredith Bell

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