Peace and Quiet

Peace and quiet is not what we experience at our dinner table when we sit down. We are loud. Everyone is talking at once. Our dinner table is a processing center. When we gather, we make a full circle centered on a meal in the middle. As the meal begins to disappear, we begin to replace it with questions, reports, plans, and thoughts. Eventually we focus on one topic to process together.

This past week, our youngest tent member shared how loud her class gets when the teacher leaves the room (the same experience we all had in elementary school). Because she doesn’t want to get in trouble, she reads during this time. Or she puts her head on her desk. Or she asks her friends to be quiet. At our dinner table this week, she shared her new strategy…peace and quiet.

In a moment of inspiration, one day this week, she put one finger over her lips and one hand in the air making a peace-sign (a practice from earlier school years). Slowly her friends did the same. The room became peaceful and quiet (and we can only image the shock from the teacher when he re-entered the room).

I wonder how many times in our days that life gets too loud? Too busy? Too overwhelming? I know in our tent it happens too many times. All you need to do is join us around the dinner table to hear the reports. The noise and pressure of life will only increase this fall. Calendars fill up fast this time of the year.

This fall, try and increase the experience of peace and quiet, too. When you need a break, put one finger over your lips to remind you to stop talking and listen to the Holy Spirit. Take a breath. Put your phone down. When you feel like you are living in chaos, put two fingers in the air with the other hand in a peace-sign to remind you of the abundant life (abundant peace) that Jesus came to give you.

It’s a gift of love.

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

John 14:27

From our Happy Tent to Yours,

Meredith Bell

A Question

On a recent car ride to a routine location, I used the moment to ask my daughter a question. I wanted her opinion.

I carefully laid out the background information that was relevant to my question. I felt like I needed to give her enough information to form an opinion, but not too much information to sway her answer. Then I asked my question.

From wisdom beyond her years, she asked, “Have you prayed about this? Because it sounds like you have a lot of negative thoughts and that tells me that you have not talked with God about this.” My mouth opened but words did not come out. Sensing my internal struggle she spoke again, “I learned at camp how to pray for guidance with my problems. My counselors said they were challenged to pray before they took their problems to each other. It helped them to be a better team and keep God in the middle of their work together.”

I know, your mouth may be open at this point, too. It is impossible to find a response to truth when it is spoken (especially when it comes from a teenager). I now know that there is one question that is more important than all questions. “Have you prayed about this?” This one question does a few things. It eliminates the need for superficial questions and problems, it keeps God in the middle of my life and it stops actions that are not of God.

I leave you with a question this week for you and your family, “Have you prayed about this?”

Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.

Matthew 26:41

From our Happy Praying Tent to Yours,

Meredith Bell

Release the Pressure

We added an instant pot to our kitchen this summer. Since we seem to run out of time most days for various reasons, we added this pressure cooker to help speed up the cooking process. So far, so good. On the top of the contraption is on button that says, “Press to vent.” When you press the button a loud sounds exits the pot. The pressure is quickly released and for some reason, it is a very satisfying sound that everyone in the kitchen stops to hear.

You and your family may feel that you often run out of time too. For families, there are a lot of activities to do in a day that are planned and unplanned. Parents of busy families are constantly “on.” Family success is measured in successful balance of their various calendar entries and the completion of these calendar entries for one day, even if it means staying up late into the night or rising early in the morning (we just began making a check list together so that we might feel a little more “successful” in finding our balance).

If your family can relate to other families living under pressure, maybe it is time to release the pressure (it is July after all). It is true that you cannot fully slow down in a fast-paced society. But can we learn to manage the pressure we feel differently? Can we learn to release it and help our family members release the pressure as well? Yes!

How to Release the Pressure:

Stop running in and out of your tent and interact with one another.

Gather around the table and serve ice cream just to make sure everyone shows up. Forget dinner plans. Ask these questions: How are you? What is stressing you lately? When was the last time you experienced God?

Recognize the spirit of truth and the spirit of error.

1 John 4 from the Bible talks about the difference between living from the world and living from God. When we are deeply living from the world, we speak from the world’s point of view and the world listens. When we are from God, others who know God listen to us. We become Christ for others by offering healing, hope and peace. We become neighbors and friends. Help each one in your tent reflect on the motivation driving the family recently. Are you living deeply in the world or deeply with God?

Give yourself and your family members grace and hope.

Lots of grace. Everyone is trying their best. Add some hope and lean into a better tomorrow without pressure. Commit to trying a new way to be family in the next several days. When we hope, God moves away everything that is not a part of our true self and we are liberated.

Hopefully this time together in your tent will be very satisfying. July is a great month to release the pressure of life. Take advantage of it. And eat more ice cream if it helps to release the pressure.

As pressure and stress bear down on me,
    I find joy in your commands.
 Your laws are always right;
    help me to understand them so I may live.

I pray with all my heart; answer me, Lord!
    I will obey your decrees.

Psalm 119:143-145

From our Happy Pressure Releasing Tent to Yours,

Meredith Bell

P.S. Check out the book Busier Than Ever: Why American Families Can’t Slow Down, Charles N. Darrah, James M. Freeman, J.A. English-Lueck, if you want to gain a sense of the current state of families. It may help make sense of the pressure you feel in your family.

Challenge of the Week

The challenge of the week came through a new opportunity in our community…Altitude H20. Just the sight of this challenge drew us into it. From space, it probably looks much smaller. From our perspective, it is big. When we arrived at this new opportunity, everyone had one last chance to bail out of the challenge in the parking lot. Everyone stayed committed. Each person was given a life jacket and some instructions from the life guards.

The goal of this challenge is to overcome the obstacles on the course that are floating on water. There are lanes to race each other around the course. There are many challenges to choose from. Some are low to the water and some are thirty feet high. Some are dry from the sun and some are slippery. Some require a rope to pull on and some provide handles. ALL of the challenges are challenging!

If your family is like ours (a little crazy, bored in the summer and dangerously curious), then you will probably enjoy this challenge as well. With every challenge comes a lesson to learn. The lesson we learned from this challenge is to fall and fall often. There is freedom in falling (and failing).

A few things happen when you fall, all the stress you felt trying to overcome an obstacle immediately disappears. It is simply gone. Your muscles relax. It feels amazing. You can breathe again. You gain a different perspective. You are given the gift of time. And in our case, you simply float for a while in some nice cool water with some fish. Immediately you wonder why you were trying so hard in the first place.

Families today are under a lot of stress. Schedules, careers, commitments, health, relationships and finances all contribute to the stress. It’s true. So often we only focus on the stress that feels like a constant obstacle to overcome.

Our challenge this week reminded us of an option that we have when completely overwhelmed by life, we can simply let go and fall into God’s grace and love. We can be re-bapitzed by refreshing water (it’s called a life-jacket for a reason) and reclaim our faith that sustains us. When we remember the strength and power of God, we gain a different perspective. The stress is simply gone and we can relax. It feels amazing to breathe again. Immediately we wonder why we were trying so hard in the first place to change God’s plans or work without God’s guidance. Somethings are just not meant to happen, and it is okay.

This week, let go of those things that are causing your family to stress. Enjoy the freedom in falling (and failing). Ask God to breath new life into your family and give you a different perspective. Enjoy a moment to simply float in the grace and love of God. You may even see some stress-free fish swimming around the the water with you!

I was hard pressed and falling,
    but the Lord came to my help.

Psalm 118:13

From our Happy Tent to Yours,

Meredith Bell

417 Jars of Plum Jelly

Recently we made 417 jars of plum jelly. Wild plum jelly is sacred in our tent. The tradition goes back many generations. The wild plums grow all around the land where I grew up. They are small, sour plums. The person who picks them, usually suffers from chiggers (red bugs) days following the picking day. It is a small sacrifice, respected by all who enjoy a jar of jelly at the breakfast table in the middle of winter. Each year, we wait to see if these small plums survived the last freeze of the season. This year, they survived.

Outside my mother’s house are a cluster of plum bushes. She lives a few hours aways from our tent. During our morning talks, she gives me a plum update and a subtle hints about visiting. At first the hints were calm. Then the hints increased. Here is a glimpse into the daily plum report:

  • Early May: The plums are ready and I am picking them every day. I think we will have a lot this year.
  • Mid May: The plums are ready. Today I picked more than yesterday. The plumber (he was by helping with something else) even picked the ones on the top. I gave him a bag to take home. Are you coming to visit anytime soon?
  • Early June: I am freezing them. I am running out of room in my TWO freezers. Do you think you can buy some jars? I bought three 25-pound bags of sugar today. We will need Sure Jell, too. I am still picking plums.
  • Mid June: Come help me. When are you coming to help?

We arrived on a Monday night. Three generations gathered in the kitchen. Immediately we noticed the signs located in six different stations. We noticed large cooking pots and colanders, lots of sugar and many jars. Then we honestly confessed, “But we do not know how to make jelly!” Our confession was met with a gentle smile and a kiss goodnight. Tuesday morning we learned how to make plum jelly!

There is something spiritual about making plum jelly. At some point in our lives we are all like the plums. We grow wild. We need people around us who love us enough to pick us and bless us. We need to be purified and boiled down to our true selves. Then our life is simply sweetened with cups and cups of good grace.

It’s a process. It takes many small moments of vision, patiences and dedication to grow in faith. It also needs one secret ingredient, Jesus. Jesus is like the Sure-Jell of jelly. Anyone can pick, process, boil, mix and can a plum. But Sure-Jell is the one ingredient that makes sure the sweet, gooey, messy mixture stays together. Without Sure-Jell and Jesus, we would never stick together and be formed into something new.

This week, enjoy something sacred in your tent. The more sugar the better!

This is how love has been perfected in us, so that we can have confidence on the Judgment Day, because we are exactly the same as God is in this world.

1 John 4:17

From our Happy Tent to Yours,

Meredith Bell

Red Light, Green Light

Everyday we play “Red Light, Green Light.” Of course we are not all lined up on a gym floor or a playground to play this game anymore (Even though that would be fun to watch). This game travels with us on our phones.

When someone calls, it is an invitation to play “Red Light, Green Light.” I have a choice that is clearly shining back at me from my telephone screen. I can decline the call (a red circle) or accept the call (a green circle). One choice stops the process of communication (or at least delays it) and one choice connects me to another person.

Confession: In our tent, it is challenging to truly communicate. Sure, we check in with each other on the surface of our lives and we work hard to make sure the basic needs for life are met. But we often fail to communicate with each other on a deeper level. We seem to be stuck on red light when it comes to communication that matters. Decline: We don’t have enough time. Decline: We are just too tired to care. Decline: We will talk about it tomorrow.

Don’t worry. We have been in this place before. It’s easy to get in a “red light” rut. Luckily, the Divine Coach knows when to get our attention by blowing the whistle. In big and small ways, we are reminded that we are living in shallow relationships. Communication equals connection. We go back to the starting line again willing to try a different approach.

If relationships in your tent seem to be stuck on the “red light” in communication, try a new practice to turn the “green light” on again.
  • Shut the door (Or Drive Away!)–We live in a very busy world. Appointments, meetings, expectations, to-dos, activities, errands and exhaustion keep us from communicating. Being a “green light” for each other, means that we first have to spend time with each other. In our tent, we inserted our own personal “time-out” or “water-break” that puts the world on hold so we can connect to each other. It may be in the form of a date, a day trip to another town or just a slow morning together. Any form works as long as it is time to just be present with one another. When you are present and available, you can connect at a deeper place.
  • Soul Talks–Ask each other, “How is it with your soul?” If you are looking for a way to truly communicate in your tent, ask a question that matters. Jesus did not ask his followers what they ate for lunch or how their meeting went. Jesus asked his followers to questions that spoke into their souls. “Who do you say that I am?” “What do you want me to do for you?” “Do you love me?” These questions connect us to each other and to God.
  • God’s Word–A powerful way to communicate to each other is by meditating on scripture together. Reading a passage invites God back into the center of your lives. It also provides space for the Holy Spirit to be present. Individual Bible study is valuable. Bible study together leads to deeper connections. Choose one verse or one passage and talk about it together. Try Lectio Divina.
  • Pray–Communicating with each other is a priority. Communicating with God is mandatory. Through prayer, we remember that God is not dwelling in a galaxy far, far away. God is present. When we are present with God, our worries, anxieties and weaknesses dissipate. Clarity, understanding and focus become our new lens to see ourselves and each other.

When we were children, the game “Red light, green light” only had one winner. At the end of each game, everyone was sent back to the base line. In our faith journey, there is plenty of room for all of us to be winners. Jesus made this possible.

When we play “Red Light, Green Light” in our relationships, we need to develop a helpful and healthy filter. This filter needs to know when to decline invitations that lead us away from each other and accept invitations that lead us to one another and to God. Because who can enjoy the celebration at the finish line all alone?

Don’t stop meeting together with other believers, which some people have gotten into the habit of doing. Instead, encourage each other, especially as you see the day drawing near.

Hebrews 10:25-27

From our Happy Tent to Yours,

Meredith Bell

The Silent Banana

It is difficult to hear a silent banana when there is a lot of other noises in our tent. Over the past several weeks, we too have been living through the final weeks of school, a play, graduations, confirmations, Improv performances, field days, field trips and parties. It’s no wonder that we didn’t hear the silent banana.

Of course there were moments when the silent banana had a voice in its short life. The time it saw me in the grocery store and said, “Buy me because I can take care of snack time today.” Or the other time when it said, “I’m the last one left, I should get to go to school since I have waited for so long” (Famous last words). Once it lost its voice, it channeled it through the person with the smallest ears in our tents. A few times she said, “There is a banana in my backpack.” But this comment was ignored. We had more important items on our to-do list. We jumped in the car and drove to our next destination.

Silent items in our lives are easy to ignore. Things in our lives that are silent but make us go bananas may include a small pain in our back that just won’t go away. Or feeling conflicted over making the wrong choice that only we can make right. Or no longer being a voice for something that matters because we are tired of being turned down. Or ignoring a nudge from God to take the next step simply because we are scared.

If we continue to ignore them, their decay makes a bigger mess. The pain becomes untreatable, the conflict keeps us stressed, the advocate quits, and the ignored nudge leaves us half empty. Like the banana, they have a voice in the beginning. If we wait long enough, they loose their voice. But that doesn’t mean they are gone or taken care of. Eventually we have to heal, change, act or even remove it before we can keep going about our life… our full and abundant life that Jesus Christ died to give us.

One morning over breakfast while I was enjoying my first cup of coffee, the silent banana make one final attempt to be heard. It spoke to the person with the smallest ears again. She said, “Mom, there is a banana in my backpack.” “Where?” I asked. “In the middle pocket,” she said.

I unzipped the zipper on the middle pocket and reached down into the depths of the backpack. The first thing I felt was a dehydrated stem. I pulled it out of the darkness and into the light. It had detached from the rest of the silent banana. This was not a good sign for what else lived in the pocket. Because I am a kind person, I will spare you the details. My cup of coffee got cold as I made a lot of noise over the remains of the silent banana. I used a lot of products to complete the excavation. One good thing that did happen is that the missing cell phone was found.

Don’t be like me. Take care of the silent things in your life before they make you go bananas! God is right there beside you to help. I’m here too.

Companions as we are in this work with you, we beg you, please don’t squander one bit of this marvelous life God has given us. God reminds us,
I heard your call in the nick of time; The day you needed me, I was there to help.

2 Corinthians 6 (Message)

From our Happy Tent to yours,

Meredith Bell

Hurdles

Many moons ago, I was trained by a well meaning coach to run in a few races on a track team in Junior High. For some reason, my coach thought I could run fast. So I was told to run sprints. Lots of sprints which of course resulted in shin splints (whatever those are). During this season of my life, my prayer life grew. Every day during the spring, I would pray for rain so we would not have to practice or go to track meets.

Hurdle History

I clearly remember one spring day when my coach informed me that I would be running the 300 meter hurdles at the track meet on Saturday. Out of pure respect and no knowledge of the race, I agreed. Big mistake.

Saturday morning came and I dutifully walked to the starting line for the 300 meter hurdles. I tightened my cleats and settled my feet into the starting blocks. Feeling like I actually had a chance to win a race, I took off running when the gun fired. There are 8 hurdles in this race. During my race, I jumped the first few hurdles. But then, I just got tired. The rest of the hurdles were kicked over by me and I just focused on the running portion of the race. I did my job, I ran my race, and I went back to praying for rain.

Sometimes life has hurdles (especially when we get tired). Even after all our Lenten work, we experience hurdles during our daily faith race. But with the cross behind us and the power of the Holy Spirit within us, there are many ways to overcome these hurdles. From someone with experience getting over hurdles, you have permission to be creative with the hurdles in your life. We can jump over, kick, crawl under, run around or even pick them up and throw them to the side.

Hurdle Handling Tips:
  • When the day begins, put your feet on the floor by your bed and put your agenda down. Ask God for God’s agenda. This will help you prepare for and quickly see any hurdles that may come up during your day.
  • When the starting gun goes off, run towards your goal like you will win and succeed. Kick that first hurdle of doubt to the side. Keep running.
  • When you begin to encounter negative people who like to invite you to their misery party, stare that invitation right in the eyes and decline the invitation. Smile if it makes you feel better. No one has time for negativity or gossip when living for a higher purpose. Focus on the blessings around you instead. That will make you genuinely smile with joy.
  • When you begin to get tired of running and jumping all day, sit down for fifteen minutes every two hours and do nothing (set a timer if you have to). Don’t worry, you will still get everything done that you need to do, but you will stay centered and aware of God’s presence while doing it.
  • When the wind begins to blow you backwards, call that person that lifts you up! Tell them that you are feeling weak and invite them to run along beside you for a while. If your hurdle is really stubborn, call your pastor or counselor. Make an appointment and take care of that hurdle together.
  • When you are ready to quit, remember that you are not alone. A great cloud of witnesses surround you and are cheering for you from the bleachers. There is a little bit of all of them in you.
  • When you see the finish line, lean into those last few strides. All of your dedication, patience, faith, hard work, and prayers will carry you over that line and into the arms of your Coach who knew you could do it all along!

Let the award ceremony begin!

Tent Time:

This week, take some time to ask the people you love in your tent about the hurdles they are facing. What is their hurdle? How are they handling it? How can your tent be supportive? Where is God at work in the situation?

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us,  fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.  Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

Hebrews 12:1-3

From Our Happy Hurdle Jumping Tent to Yours,

Meredith Bell

Sam, Ivy, and Sam Ivy

Not long ago, Mr. Bell left the door to our tent open just a little too long and our furry friends, Sam and Ivy, took advantage of the opportunity. They ran for it. In their excitement and their new freedom in the neighborhood, they lost the ability to hear. Mr. Bell’s voice rose with each moment as he yelled and yelled. Sam, heal. Ivy, come here. Sam! Ivy! SAM! IVY! SAM! IVY! The more he yelled the more they ran.


As they ran, a man began to approach Mr. Bell. This man works with our neighbors to keep their yard beautiful all year long. When the man got close enough to Mr. Bell, he asked curiously, “Excuse me, I assume that Sam and Ivy are the names of your dogs.”  Mr. Bell quickly said yes and explained how they got out of the house. The kind man then said, “My name is Sam Ivy.” For the last several minutes, Mr. Bell had been passionately yelling for Sam and Ivy the dogs, and a man named Sam Ivy was right there in front of him. 

The pace of our modern lives keeps us running at a rate that is unprecedented (kind of like our furry friends Sam AND Ivy who just could not stop running). Even if families desire to live a simpler, less busy life, it is next to impossible in a modern world. In the book, Busier Than Ever, three anthropologists followed fourteen carefully selected families for several years in hopes of discovering the answer to “Why American Families Can’t Slow Down.”  They quickly discovered that busyness is the common factor in American families. It is the new normal. Never before have families been so consumed with busy schedules and lifestyles.

Busyness becomes a problem when it becomes our identity. If we identify as a busy person, then we organize our life to fulfill that role in the community. We roll out of the garage with one door still open, we text instead of call, we panic when we are running behind, and apologize way too much for failing to achieve our unrealistic expectations we set for ourselves for the day (makes me tired just typing the words). 

On the other hand, our true identity is in Christ first and always. Each of us is created by God in the image of God. Each one of us is as unique as our earthly names on our birth certificates. This is true for you and Sam Ivy. When we live from our identity in Christ, we begin to discover less is more and subtraction actually equals spiritual additions to our life journey. 

The next time you find yourself in a situation like Mr. Bell. One of those days when you have more to accomplish than possible and the dogs get out. At that precious moment when you are yelling at the top of your lungs and an angel of God walks up to ask if you are truly calling for help, take a deep breath (maybe your first deep breath of the day). Because the God who created you and knows you by name is able and capable of teaching you a precious lesson through your own Sam Ivy experience. Only God can create that kind of moment.

Come near to God and he will come near to you. 

James 4:8

From our Happy Tent to Yours,

Meredith Bell

Shut My Mouth

“Today, I just shut my mouth…and it hurt,” she said from the back seat. “I wanted to keep talking, but I just didn’t. It was so hard.” At school, she engaged a person about an interpretation of the Bible that she fully disagreed with. It is no secret that we enjoy a good theology discussion and/or debate in our tent. It’s just what we do. Being the wise teenager in the family, she realized her view of the conversation and the other person’s view were so different, that it was necessary that she just shut her mouth. And she did. But it wasn’t easy. Impressive.

After we listened to the whole story, she had our attention. We responded with affirmations like, “Wow, we are proud of you,” and “How did it feel?” Then we wondered about all the conversations we experienced that day. Did we miss a few opportunities to shut our mouth? Probably. Then I remembered why I often don’t shut my mouth…anxiety. I hope using CBD oil puts my anxiety-related troubles to bed.

Anxiety is a funny friend. It comes when I least expect it and takes up residence within the empty spaces of my mind. Then, some way it drops into my mouth and comes out in strong words. The lucky (unlucky) recipient of these words does not appreciate them. But words from anxiety do not have a return policy. Once they leave the mouth, we own them. Forever. A side effect of sharing our anxiety with others through words is that their anxiety increases as well. A never-ending cycle. Unless…I shut my mouth!

One way I gently manage my anxiety is to fill my mind with positive thoughts so there is no room for anxiety. Now that I am filling my mind with positive thoughts, I’m now asking the question how long do edibles stay in your system so that I can concentrate on other ways. Here are a few mantras that often do the trick. We chose one a day this week as we headed out the door into the big wonderful world. See if you can use one.

  • Be a warrior, not a worrier.
  • Be still and know that I am God.
  • This is where I end and they begin.
  • I am loved. I am safe.
  • Wag more, bark less.
  • Don’t believe everything you think.
  • Always choose joy.
  • Let go of what you cannot control.
  • You could even look at cbd deals at PromoCodeWatch to help you manage your anxiety!

As we head into the holidays, we can purposely not invite anxiety to the party and fill our tents with positive mantras, sacred scripture and the Holy Spirit. With all three of these friends at the table, we are sure to have a day full of thankfulness and love.

Kind words are like honey, sweet to the soul and healthy for the body. Proverbs 16:24

Dear God, help me to just shut my mouth…even if it hurts.

From our Happy tent to yours,

Meredith Bell

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