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,
I was checking out at the grocery store one night this week. It was my sixth or seventh trip to a grocery store for the week. This time I was there to buy ingredients for a dish for Mexican Independence Day for the seventh grade class. I quickly collected the ingredients and checked out.
There was no one in the check out line and for some reason that small moment made me smile. The two young men checking me out politely said hello. Then one said, “How are you?” Those were three brave words that he uttered. So I decided to take him up on his offer and I answered his question. “If you really want to know, I am exhausted. I have had a busy week and I am just tired.” He looked at me with surprised eyes in response to my honest answer and then he said two magic words. “I’m listening.”
Don’t worry, I did not burden him with any details. I still had self control. I could tell that someone in his life taught him to say those words. Someone in church. Someone at home. Someone who loves him said, “I’m listening” to him before in a way that they meant it. He actually meant it as well.
When he said, “I’m listening.” I heard the voice of God. I found comfort and peace in those words. I relaxed at the sound of those words. I even smiled when I heard those words because they resonated with my soul. God is always listening.
How has the week been for your family or your life? If you were to fill a grocery bag with all of your frustrations, joys, prayers, hopes, successes, barriers or challenges, what would you see in that bag from the week? As you think about it, add two words to the end of the experiences.
You: “I made a good grade on my test.” God: “I’m listening.”
You: “I don’t know how I’m going to get through this day.” God: “I’m listening.”
You: “I can’t be perfect anymore.” God: “I’m listening.”
You: “I don’t understand.” God: “I’m listening.”
Be still before the Lord
and wait patiently for him;
do not fret when people succeed in their ways,
when they carry out their wicked schemes. Psalm 37:7
From our Happy (It’s the Weekend) Tent to yours,
Look back over your calendar this past week. How many “divine appointments” did you have? Divine appointments are spontaneous encounters with another person who connects with you soul to soul. They happen in the middle of a conversation when suddenly something awakens deep inside you and you spiritually pause to listen more deeply. They happen when you are praying for God to give you confirmation during a time of discernment and you encounter words from another person that are an answer to your prayers. A divine appointment feels like an encounters that is arranged so perfectly that only the Divine could orchestrate the moment.
There are a few on our calendar from this past week. Traveling mindlessly through the week, we would not have noticed them. Traveling through the week believing that the spirit of God moves among us, we encountered a few. Divine appointments interrupt agendas.
- On a college campus this week, I encountered a new student. While visiting, it became clear that she is in the midst of “meaning-making.” She is trying to make sense of her life as it is now. The divine appointment happened when another college student overheard the conversation and spoke God’s truth into the student’s situation. Two souls connected and two lives were impacted. I became the excited and amazed observer during the encounter.
- On a sidewalk, friends walked by that our family has not seen in a while. It was time for dinner. A spontaneous dinner plan was made and we found ourselves sitting around a table and breaking bread together. The divine appointment came when a missional project they are working on connected to a missional project we are working on. Suddenly the reason we encountered them on the sidewalk just made sense. We needed to hear about their project.
- In a school hallway, a teacher shared that she is interested in starting a support group. After sharing the details about her plan and goals, it was easy to see our encounter as a divine appointment. All I had to say was, “I can make this happen. Let me get back in touch with you later.” Her relief and her smile were priceless. God smiled too.
The work of God is all around us through divine appointments. Each day we have an agenda and God has an agenda too.
It is the same with my word.
I send it out, and it always produces fruit.
It will accomplish all I want it to,
and it will prosper everywhere I send it. Isaiah 55:11
How many divine appointments did you have this past week? Next week, I hope you have even more.
From our Happy Tent to yours,
A little over a year ago, I heard a sermon by Dr. Bill Bryan called “God’s Favorite Word.” Bill claimed that God’s favorite word is “AND.” This week, Bill passed away from pancreatic cancer. But like any good preacher, Bill’s words will live on through the many sermons he preached over his lifetime and the many young clergy he mentored. Bill lost his battle with cancer AND he now lives in God’s eternity.
Our endings are God’s beginnings. If Bill is right and God’s favorite word is AND, then we experience life in a new way. We are often quick to end God’s story in our lives because we feel that it has come to a conclusion. We settle for our experiences in jobs, family, finances, or marriage. We begin to believe that a good enough life is the life God wants to give us. But Jesus came to give us an abundant life, not just a good life. God is quick to erase our punctuation and throw an “AND” on the end of our story. A story that God is always creating.
I had another friend, Rev. Wally Chappell, who mentored me in my life. When I met Wally he was already in his eighties. Wally lived a life with a lot of ANDs. He graduated from Rice with an engineering degree AND married the love of his life AND became a pastor AND he had four sons (he called them 1, 2,3,4) AND at the age of 70 rode his bike from Texas to Colorado AND published a book AND married his college sweetheart at the age of ninety-four. Wally never seemed to stop adding ANDs to his life and it is safe to say he lived an abundant life.
This week, our tent (like yours) has been watching Hurricane Harvey destroy home after home, tent after tent and life after life. The destruction is overwhelming. But I know that God is busy erasing all the punctuations marks at the end of all the news reports. God is erasing the periods and adding a lot of ANDs.
People are suffering in terrible ways AND people are helping. The rivers continue to rise AND volunteers are setting up shelters for their neighbors. Families are trapped in their homes AND strangers are rescuing them in their personal boats. Cities are experiencing chaos AND finding hope by helping one another. Homes are destroyed AND homes will be rebuilt. We always wonder where God is at work in the midst of destruction and darkness. This week, I know God was busy adding a lot of ANDs to Hurricane Harvey. Hurricane Harvey destroyed AND God will guide all of us to ways to help our neighbors.
He divided the sea and let them pass through it,
and made the waters stand like a heap.
In the daytime he led them with a cloud,
and all night long with a fiery light.
He split rocks open in the wilderness,
and gave them drink abundantly as from the deep.
He made streams come out of the rock,
and caused waters to flow down like rivers. Psalm 78:13-16
From our praying AND helping tent to yours,
In 2008 our world changed. The App Store was launched that summer. On iPhones around the world, apps were created for specific tasks to make life easier, fun, and simple. The first summer 500 apps existed. Today there are 2.2 million available!
With 2.2 million apps available, we all should be free of stress because our tasks are easier. We should smile more because of the fun we have playing games on our phones. We should have more time available to do the things we love to do and get to places on time. But if you look around in your tent or people-watch in your local stores, you will probably see something different. The stressors of life still exist, everywhere just like they did before the App Store.
That is ok, because long, long before the App Store existed, we were programmed to overcome life’s stress with some simple tools. Hugs, words, relationships, Sabbath, service and patience are just a few of the tools. The list is honestly never ending because creation continues in each one of us. There is not an app for these tried and true tools. There is only the presence of the Holy Spirit…and that is all that we need.
In every tent, in every town, in every state, there is a need for families to lead by example. Around the kitchen table, families do the hard work of life with each other every day. Every day families find an opportunity to practice using God’s tools in their tents. We actively do this when we are learning how to love when we disagree. Balancing life’s demands with appropriated rest. Praying for one another. Sharing what we have with our neighbors. Encouraging each other to try harder and succeed. Comforting each other when hurt. Responding to the needs that we see around us.
In families, we learn to live together in a way that reflects the love of God to each other and to those who we meet. Family relationships are full of grace, guidance from the Holy Spirit and glimpses of eternal life when God leads and we follow.
There is not an app for the kind of work our communities and world need today. But there is a family…God’s family. It is time to take a seat at the world’s dinner table to share what we know. The world’s table is starving for hugs, encouraging words, comfort, meaningful relationships, patience and service. Let’s address this hunger together, one family at a time.
I wonder what your family can do this week?
The Lord proclaims:
Stop at the crossroads and look around; ask for the ancient paths. Where is the good way? Then walk in it and find a resting place for yourselves. Jeremiah 6:16
From our Tent to Yours,
Around nine o’clock we drove to the pier, the one that the locals go to for night fishing. Men, women and children were busy fishing. Seeing that the pier was full, we parked the truck a little further down the seawall and unpacked our gear. It was dark and the stars were out. With flashlights in hand, we cast the crab nets over the wall and into the black water below. Immediately we spooked a sea snake and saw it slither away in the light beam from our flashlight.
As our “Master Angler” prepared our hooks with perfect bait, we shined our lights into the water to see what other sea creatures we could discover. Sea turtles were swimming near the edge of our light beams. Too much light seemed to scare them, we learned. Just a little light was an invitation to come to the surface. A dolphin playfully swam to the seawall and back out to sea. We checked the crab nets and caught a stone crab with an egg sack attached. We quickly and carefully put the new mother back into the water. The activity in the sea created excitement and anticipation in our little family. What would we see next?
It was time to cast our fishing lines deep into the water. The “Master Angler” handed over the rod and reels. We cast our hooks beyond the seawall and into the deep dark water. Then we waited. And waited. And waited.
Casting our hooks deep into the ocean is how we often live life. So many of us are willing to gather at the pier or along the sea wall. We seek to connect with the mystery that lives below the surface of life. The activity and the life is a part of the mystery that we know exists beneath the noise and routine of our daily lives. We know we cannot possibly see all that God wants to show us and so we go, in the cover of darkness, to cast our nets into the deep waters in hopes that God will drop something into our nets. Maybe even a personal gift. These moments inspire us to keep going. Keep living. Keep exploring.
An angler by the name of Fennel Hudson said, “There are a million-and-one ways to enjoy a day’s angling. Catching fish is but one of them.” On that summer night, we learned the truth of this statement. Instead of fish, we caught something else. Insight into life.
We Need A Master Angler
Each of us needs someone in our life who knows how to fish for deep spiritual meaning. Someone who knows how to prepare for the experience and teaches us how to fish. There is a lot of prep work that goes into fishing. Before you can cast your rod and reel into the ocean, you have to prepare. Bait, hooks, fishing line, poles, pliers, ice, chairs and snacks all need to be bought and packed in the truck. There is a lot of prep work that goes into our spiritual lives so that we are ready when we catch something on the end of our hook.
Get Some Help When You Are Stuck
We kept our “Master Angler” busy all night. Our hooks kept getting caught on some sea rocks. Each time the line got stuck, the “Master Angler” took over and got the hook unstuck. Often the line would break. As amateur anglers, we learned when we need help, asked for it. In life, when we are stuck it is because we are working like everything depends on us and nothing depends on God. Maybe we need to ask for help from God more and often.
Enough for One Day
As the night went on, the giggles got louder. And louder. Exhaustion was setting into our adventure. Even though the stars were beautiful and we were having fun together, we knew that we had experienced enough for one day. Rest is an important part of life. There is only so much that we can do in one day. We need time away to refresh our bodies and souls. So many people comment these days that they are working too much. And they probably are. Finding a balance between rest and work is life giving. Sometimes we have had enough adventure for one day.
We caught some more memories and insights to take back to our tent that night. We didn’t catch a fish, but that’s why it is called fishing and not catching, right?
“Cast the net on the right side of the boat,” He told them, “and you’ll find some.”So they did,and they were unable to haul it in because of the large number of fish. John 21:6
From Our Happy Tent to Yours,
Sometimes you just need to sneak away from the people in your tent. This is necessary when you need a little space…a little time apart. To really get away, you need to apply all of the skills you learned as a teenager about sneaking out of the house. Walk quietly. Carry your shoes in your hands. Hold your breath. Only do what is necessary. Avoid the squeaky stair. “Borrow” the car keys. Close the door quietly behind you. And once you are out of the house and back out of the driveway, you can finally breathe.
After many hours in the car together recently, it was necessary to sneak away from the people I love one morning. My need for a good cup of coffee guided me to a local coffee shop. Over a beautiful cafe latte, I found my spiritual center again. My portable quiet time tools had traveled with me. With each sip of my coffee and each word of my quiet time tools (a.k.a. Bible and devotional), I felt me shoulders relax and my spirit wake up. All that sneaking around was worth every minute. I had been born anew for another day. I felt like Nicodemus, a Jewish leader.
Nicodemus was a sneaky guy too. His shoulders were tense from all his Sanhedrin work. His spirit probably felt unsettled as he went about his work knowing that Jesus was near by, within his reach. He knew Jesus was from God because there was no other explanation for the miracles he had heard about. He certainly needed some time way from the people around him and the only way to get it was to sneak away, under the cover of darkness. So he did. The conversation that followed was mind boggling for Nicodemus. Jesus made perfect sense even though his words made no sense at all.
My conversation with Jesus at the coffee shop was mind boggling too. It always is. Usually Jesus’ words make perfect sense even though they don’t make any sense at all from my view. They are words that stir my soul, stretch my faith and satisfy my spirit. They empower me to experience another day and experience the moments I may have missed otherwise. That is why I am like Nicodemus…I must be born anew day after day.
As the week went on, my tent people began following me to the sacred coffee shop. One at a time, they heard about the experience and the place, so they came too. At times there were two of us and other times there were five. The other faces at the shop became familiar. Strangers became friends. A whole community of people were also sneaking away from their tents temporarily to find something their soul needed…community, coffee and Jesus.
Are you in need of some time away? Find a way and make it happen. It is well worth all your efforts. Nicodemus and me will cheer you on!
From our Happy Tent to Yours,
We have a story to share with you this week. Our road trip started at seven in the morning, early in the week. As the sun was coming up, we were settling into our thirteen hour drive. Just two hours into our adventure, Dr. Bell was pulled over! Everyone sat up straight and waited for the sentencing.
The officer approached the car and said, “Sir, you were driving in the left hand lane too long. That lane is only for passing cars.” Dr. Bell quickly apologized. Then from the backseat, buried in the blankets and pillows a small voice told the right story at the right time. The small voice said, “Sir, one time my mom was stopped and the police man didn’t give her a ticket. He gave me a sticker.”
We all started giggling…respectfully. The officer was doing his best to not smile. Then he said, “I’m just giving you a warning today. I’ll be right back.” As he walked away we started laughing. I am sure the truck was rocking to the rhythm of our laughter. The officer quickly returned and said, “Sir, here is your warning and here is your sticker little lady.” On the road again!
The right story at the right time can be a powerful moment. Telling a mother in the grocery store that you remember the day when your son had a melt down in the middle of the aisle can offer the mother a moment of grace. Telling a teenager that you can remember feeling insecure and scared can give her enough courage to try something new. Telling a co-worker that you know how to help them through a challenging season at work can give them enough support to complete the project.
Our stories offer encouragement and insight into situations. Jesus was the master story teller and always told the right story at the right time. Jesus stories still speak into our lives in powerful ways right when we need them. Once we become friends with Jesus, we become a part of the Jesus story.
The right story at the right time comes when we are aware of what is happening around us and when we are willing to share (even if you are speaking from under a pile of blankets in the backseat). It takes courage and prayer. There is someone in our lives each day that can use encouragement, courage, hope, love and grace. (That someone may even live with you in your tent!) Or maybe they need to see the situation from another perspective. Driving in the left hand lane too long may not be a bad offense like you thought it was originally. Our story may be the perfect story needed to help shine light in the midst of darkness and put us back on the road again.
Jesus’ disciples came and said to him, “Why do you use parables when you speak to the crowds?” Jesus replied, “Because they haven’t received the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but you have. Matthew 13:10-11
From our Happy Tent to Yours,
Our tent recently learned about fairy rings. Natural fairy rings are rings of mushrooms that grow in a complete circle. The magical way they appear in a yard or in the woods gives these rings a mystical presence. They are known to be the place where pixie’s dance and they have been the focus of many folklore stories and songs.
I am not sure how we missed these magical rings during all the years’ fairies left gifts on our back porch night after night for one young person in our tent. Our fairies were magical too. Before bed, we would leave a small token (a piece of candy, a button, a note) and in the morning we would discover that the fairy left a flower, a rock or a perfect leaf covered in fairy dust! Magical! Now that we heard about the fairy rings…we are on a quest.
Creating an unexpected circle is also a fascinating part of the fairy rings. Every time they grow, they are in a perfect circle. The way they collectively find food beneath the ground makes them strong and difficult to remove. They make a statement and an impact where they live.
I wonder how long you have lived in your tent? We have been in ours for two years. During these two years, we have actively found ways to connect with neighbors, give back to our community, serve in the church (obviously… two pastors live in our tent!), impact a school, and donate to organizations. These are all of the visible ways we live where we have been planted.
The fairy rings make me wonder about the invisible ways we live where we are planted. The invisible ways are the things we do that no one else sees but God. In conversations, over a cup of coffee, or while we are at the grocery store, we make an impact in the lives of others.
Jesus is our model for serving others. He went from place to place, conversation to conversation and tent to tent actively transforming lives. We know about the visible ways he did this. But I wonder how many other ways he engaged people that we do not know about. How many other ways did he heal, love and save that may not recorded in our Bibles?
When we are available, connected to God and listening to the Holy Spirit as a family and individually, opportunities pop up all around us to love and serve others. We may even form circles in our communities where we do this work. And who knows, our circles may look magical to others while they make an impact where we live for Christ.
Whoever serves me must follow me. Wherever I am, there my servant will also be. My Father will honor whoever serves me. John 12:26
From our Happy Tent to Yours,