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.

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.  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.

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

Precious Pumpkins

Stanton Studios is located in Central Texas…in the woods.  They are an art company that specialize in wood, glass and metal, including blown glass.  In the fall, they make blown glass pumpkins for visitors.  I made an appointment one day and our search for the precious pumpkins began.

Driving down a country road, we talked about…about nothing really.  “Minecraft passenger” was aggressively looking for Atlantis at the bottom of ocean world. “Book-reading passenger” was lost in another world.  As we drove deeper into the woods, the pilot and co-pilot were wondering if this pumpkin trip was still a good idea.

When we arrived, we were warmly greeted, carefully instructed and perfectly coached.  One at a time we watched our color choices melt into the hot, hot glass before it was transformed into a precious pumpkin.  The experience was fascinating and satisfying.  We created our own precious pumpkins with our own breath.  Magical.

But it really wasn’t magic that made our precious pumpkins. It was the artist.  The man in the warehouse that had worked long hours, many months, and years to master the art of blown glass.  He made the experience seem effortless, but we know it took a lot of effort on his side of the experience.

Our lives are like the precious pumpkins.  God is the artist. Some days life just seems magical.  We enjoy the people around us, the fall colors, hope, joy, and peace.  But it is not really magic that we are experiencing. A lot of effort created the opportunity for us to freely live everyday.  Because we are precious pumpkins to God,  Jesus made a way for us to experience “magical” days every day. These days may be available, but we often live with agendas in our tents that prevent us from the full experience of life.

If your happy tent is looking to experience a little more hope, joy, and peace, here are a few tips that helped us create our precious pumpkin adventure:

Availability: First, make yourself available for an experience…a precious life experience.  This may mean that you will miss a few gatherings, games or meetings.  It may even mean that you leave the dirty laundry in the hamper and the dishes in the sink a little longer (Don’t worry your friends will still love you and the work will be there when you get back). Simply making yourself available for something different causes you to hurry less and focus more on what is truly precious around you (Hint…it is not Minecraft, work, phones or books).

Show up:Talking about something is one experience.  Doing something is another. We knew about these precious pumpkins for a while, but kept finding reasons to not go. What have you wanted to do for a while?  Get on the road and do it…even if you have to travel through the woods to get there!   Leaving our comfort zones and trying something new can be uncomfortable or even frightening.  But for all that we lose, look how much we gain.

Experience it:  Creative moments are full of potential.  Creative moments help us experience the color and the depth that life offers.   Creative moments make space for better conversations and insights. Everyone in your tent is a precious pumpkin.  As long as we have breath, we have the opportunity to breathe life into  the people around us that is full of creativity, hope, joy, and peace.  Together, discover an experience that takes your breath away.

When our precious pumpkin patch was complete, we noticed the beauty in each pumpkin and the beauty in the pumpkins together.  Each pumpkin is shaped differently and colored differently.  On our dining table, they look good together.  They are precious pumpkins in this precious life.

Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits in the place of honor at God’s right hand. Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth. 1 Colossians 3:1-2

From our Happy Tent to Yours,

Meredith Bell

P.S. Stanton Studios also makes Christmas ornaments if you are looking for a way to experience your own creative moment.

 

Grateful for the Manna

Grateful.  This word is constantly growing in our hearts and in our tent.  Over the summer, I found a hat with the word “Grateful” written across the front.  In seconds, I grabbed the hat, paid for it and left the store.  Grateful…exactly! I knew it was the right word to describe the feeling in my soul.  Unconsciously I had been on a search to discover the feeling reverberating within me. It was a deep, overwhelming feeling. For a while it didn’t have a name.

Even happy tents have bad days, weeks or months. Ours is no different.  One day in May, just before preparing dinner, our plans suddenly changed.  Before we could process what was happening, we were in an emergency room, an ambulance, another emergency room, a cat-scan, an ICU room, a surgery waiting room and then another one and then another one.  Our precious daughter was in the biggest fight for her life in her thirteen years and we were there as parents.  Scared, confused, loving parents.

The hours turned into days, the days turned into weeks and the weeks even turned into months.  Months of symptoms, medications, appointments, healing, recovery and processing.  Months.

In the midst of our happy tent nightmare, the things that we needed the most constantly appeared. The right doctor, the right nurse, the right test, the right card, the right meal, the right friend, the right text, the right diagnosis, the right family member, the right prayer, the right hospital, the right time, the right result, the right treatment, and the right place continuously began to appear.  Almost like it was falling out of the sky right into our laps.  One morning in the ICU room, I found myself eating a cookie for breakfast.  I texted a friend telling her that I was having cookies for breakfast and I didn’t even know where they came from.  She quickly responded, “Manna.”  Manna from heaven.

I will rain down bread from heaven for you. The people are to go out each day and gather enough for that day. Exodus 16: 4

A grateful heart sees beyond the immediate moment into all of the moments before this one.  A grateful heart swells with emotion where words disappear.  A grateful heart pours out its tears of deep joy that flow back into the well of gratitude that runs within all of us.  A grateful heart takes note of the smallest details in life.

As the fall leaves begin to fall and the season changes, we are grateful.  Grateful for community, prayers, friends, family, snuggles, hot chocolate, warm blankets and more days together in our tent. And for the buckets and buckets of manna!

From our Happy and Grateful Tent to Yours,

Meredith Bell

Roody the Rabbit

In the back corner of our yard lives Roody the Rabbit.  Roody is a black New Zealand rabbit.  He is fat and happy.  Every day he keeps the same routine.  He eats rabbit chow with alfalfa hay and drinks water. Every day, all day.

This week, Roody took a field trip to the local youth expo where all the youth in the county gather with their animal friends once a year.  It’s a real barn yard.  Goats. Sheep. Steers. Pigs. Rabbits. Llamas. Chickens.

Roody rode into the barn with confidence in his cage.  With his ears back and his tail out, he patiently waited while he was checked into the barn.  He knew the routine because he has been through it before. He settled into his temporary cage and endured his pre-show grooming routine.  When the time came, the judge looked him over from ears to tail.  After the cameras and smiles.  Roody came home with another blue ribbon. Roody the Rabbit did his job.

We each have a job to do as well.  As followers of Christ, individually and as families, we have a job to represent our living faith in all that we do.  The way we do this is through creativity.  We creatively look for moments of opportunity at work to treat others with respect.  At home, we invest in the moments of conversation that reach beyond the superficial and reach into our souls.  Around town, we quietly pray for people we meet at the store, the bank or the cafe.  And when that moment comes that we need to speak up for those who are voiceless, we speak truth.  Our job is to set others free from darkness by sharing the light of Christ. Each day, every day.

At the end of the day, after the sun goes down we reflect on our day.  We ask ourselves if we did our job. Did we come home with a blue ribbon today?  God has an endless supply of blue ribbons and sees an endless supply of needs for us to meet.

And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. Colossians 3:17

From Our Happy Tent to Yours,

Meredith Bell

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

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