Be. Serve. Love.

The day started like every other school day.  Alarm went off waaaay too early (I couldn’t stop reading a new book deep into the night). Mr. Bell headed to the kitchen to make breakfast. I hit the snooze button too many times.  Finally we all rolled out of bed and into the day.

After a few trips to the laundry room, the school children had one shirt, one skirt, two socks and two shoes on their bodies. Success! The clock was ticking.  The coffee was hot.  Breakfast was served and then we heard the frightful words, “My stomach really hurts.”  This was supported by another voice that said, “Mine does too.”   Everybody freeze!

I will spare you the details that followed.  In one moment the day stopped and changed directions.  At times we were running in different directions.  The Bell Tent turned into the Bell Infirmary.  If you drove down our street, you could probably see the red cross on the front door.  As our school children were put in quarantine, the parents transformed into RN’s.  Appointments were canceled, school was notified and the school children were tucked back in bed.

Sometimes in life, our normal disappears suddenly.  We don’t see the change coming.  We don’t even anticipate it.  But it shows up anyways.  When this happens, plans go out the window, adjustments are made and frustration decreases as reality increases.  Reality can be a difficult pill to swallow.  There is no way around reality.  It is what it is.

But then something happens.  We begin to feel a sense of freedom.  The routine disappears.  We become more aware of our surroundings.  Time becomes a companion instead of an enemy.  Windows of opportunity appear.  Suddenly we get to BE with those we love in a new way.  We get to SERVE those we love because we are available.  We get to LOVE those we live with because they need us. And in the midst of illness, we experience life.

Jesus’ mission is to make our normal disappear.  Whether we are young or old when he comes into our life, we don’t see the change coming.  We don’t anticipate it.  But it shows up anyways.  Suddenly our lives are filled with opportunities to BE with Jesus and learn his ways through the Bible and conversations with others. We find ways to SERVE others that we had never even noticed before.  And we learn what it is like to truly LOVE.

Our day started like every other school day, but it ended with a big lesson.  Sometimes we are called to be Jesus for others because Jesus is there for us.  Sometimes we are called to be Jesus for those who live in our own tent.

Above all, maintain constant love for one another, for love covers a multitude of sins. Be hospitable to one another without complaining. Like good stewards of the manifold grace of God, serve one another with whatever gift each of you has received.

1 Peter 4:8-10

How did Jesus change your normal life into something new?  Who are you called to serve and love this week?

From our Tent to Yours,

Meredith Bell

 

 

Legends

Difficult times create great legends.  People that push through. People that overcome.  People that do the impossible.  We all know of big legends like Abraham Lincoln, Harriet Tubman and Martin Luther King.  There are big legends in the faith story like Moses, Ruth and Paul the Apostle.  There are also big legends in our families.  One of our legends is Ben Andrews (my grandfather).

Ben was born in Archer City, Texas in 1900.  His legend moment came during the Great Depression.  The Depression changed his family and in 1924 he decided the look for work in California.  As children, we were always told about his journey to California from Texas.  He made the trip in a Model T Ford.  While driving over the desert sand, he drove over railroad cross-ties.  Bump. Bump. Bump.  At the end of the day, he would simply make camp beside his car and sleep in the open.  He successfully made it to Los Angeles, California, found a job, met Will Rogers and later returned to Texas.  Ben lived to be 101.  He was a legend in many ways.

Legends inspire us by their stories, perseverance, messages and examples.  Their words cut through the noise of life and connect with something deep within each of us.  As their story is told from person to person and generation to generation, they become bigger and better.

Within each of our families there are people who are legends.  We hear their stories when we are in diapers and all the years following.  We find ourselves telling others about our family legends at dinner parties or over lunch.  Their stories are a part of our story because we stand on their shoulders and continue into the future.

This weekend one of our daughters will be making a rite of passage.  She will be publicly choosing to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ and make His story a part of her story.  Even though she has been told about Ben Andrews (and other family legends) since she was in diapers, she has also been told about Jesus Christ. The name above all names.

As time passes and generations come and go, the one legend that we cannot fail to pass on to our families is Jesus Christ. We know that sometimes life gives us our own “Great Depression” event.  In those seasons, we need our faith in Jesus Christ to help us travel from home, across the desert and to new opportunities.  Our faith in Jesus Christ empowers and equips us with all that we need to survive the unexpected events in life. And when we are camping outside under the stars on our journey, we can also appreciate how we are loved by the Creator of the universe.

This weekend,  share some of your family legend stories with your family and friends.  And share your family’s faith story…it will only grow stronger.

I will give you as many descendants as the stars in the sky, and I will give your descendants all of these lands. All of the nations of the earth will be blessed because of your descendants.  Genesis 26:4

From our Happy Tent to yours,

Meredith Bell

Doing Some Good

Happy Easter Eve! A day filled with mystery in the tomb and excitement in our hearts.  We know something is coming and we are anxious to roll back that huge stone.  There is a lot of energy in our home this weekend and some extra time to be home.  We are simply waiting for Easter morning.

But how do we wait? By doing some good!

In our tent, we have been exploring ways to do some good.  Here is our list.  We hope it inspires you to do some good.  We thought of ways we might make Jesus smile.

Families Doing Some Good List

  • Make This Weekend About Family

We had to work at it, but we stepped out of all our extracurricular activities this weekend.  Does it make us less committed or passionate about our activities…NO. It simply says, “During this Christian Super Bowl weekend…the game above all games, the win over all wins…we are going to celebrate God’s team, together!  We will catch back up with the other teams and groups after the RESURRECTION!”

We just signed up for this cool idea.  Check it out!  SoCe Life is a non-profit organization that researches, practices and teaches about good neighboring.  They have so many great ideas about neighboring.  We are excited to get started.

  • Make Something Sweet

We are soooo excited to end our Lenten fast from SUGAR. And so we are diving into sweetness this weekend.  One of our favorite sweets to make on Easter Eve is Easter Story Cookies.  Ingredients are simple. Spiritual lesson is powerful.  The cookies on Easter morning are magical.

  • Spread Some Joy

We got dirty today planting flowers in little clay pots.  It was a lot of fun.  Then we took these little pots around town and delivered them to un-expecting friends and neighbors.  We spread some joy and we experienced some joy.  While you are waiting around on Easter Eve…think of ways you can spread joy.

  • Get Outside, Together

Bikes, scooters, roller blades, tennis rackets, fishing poles, Kubb (our all time favorite family game), camping gear and so much more live in our garage.  We walk past it most days…but why not get outside this weekend together and make some memories.  Be spontaneous and adventurous.

At the center of the Christian life stands Jesus.  Jesus who teaches, guides, strengthens and inspires us to be who God created us to be as individuals and as families.  During this Easter weekend, let’s love on each other and others a little extra by doing some good.  It will make this weekend a little sweeter and happier.

For you have been called to live in freedom, my brothers and sisters. But don’t use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature. Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love. Galatians 5:13

Happy Easter from our Happy Tent to yours,

Meredith Bell

Pockets of Peace

Do you ever notice how God shows up in the grocery store?  It happens to me often.  On the days when I only have a ten-minute-window to buy a grocery cart full of food, I meet someone (God) in the grocery store. These encounters always catch me off guard.   Usually I have my head down and my hair pulled back with an intentional look on my face that says…”Get out of my way…I’m on on an impossible mission once again.”  I must have this look down because most people stay clear.

But the other day, I had a God encounter.  I met another mom on a mission.  She has five children.  I have two.  Both our husbands are pastors.  She was on her mission with her own grocery cart and it felt as though our carts simply collided.  Then we looked up.  We saw each other.  Before we even spoke, we were communicating.  Compassion.  Encouragement.  Love.  Understanding.  These feeling were all floating between us. We saw our tired selves in each other.  We saw our determination in each other.  We saw God in each other. When we finally found our words we skipped pleasantries.  We spoke directly into our worlds as working women, moms, and wives.  “How did we over-schedule our family again?”  “How are we going to get everything done for today and tomorrow?”  “Where is the balance that keeps alluding us?” “Does balance even exist?” With a smile of encouragement and tired eyes, we went our separate ways.

This encounter challenged me greatly regarding balance.  It seems like we desire balance in our lives.  We talk about it and read about it.  In my mind a balanced day is a cup-of-coffee, devotional-reading, lunches-packed, hugs-and-kisses, laundry-done, dinner-on-the-table, and bedtime-story kind of day.  But most of the time we experience a where-are-my-shoes, hurry-to-school, grocery-sprint, cereal-for-dinner, study-spelling-words-in-the-bathtub, fall-into-bed kind of day.

God taught me something about balance in the grocery store.  In order to find peace in the midst of our schedule storms we first need to be honest.  Peace will not just happen and our schedules are not going to get much better.  We are hard working Americans after all!  BUT we need to be intentional about creating pockets of peace and balance within our days.  Little pockets of peace that give us space to catch our breath and connect with God.  Little pockets of peace that empower us to keep going.  In my life, they look like a phone call to my mom, a back porch conversation at the end of the day, a little love note tucked in a lunch box, fifteen minutes in my prayer closet, a quick devotional read from a book in my purse, a cup of hot tea, a quick run, a one-minute-hug, reading two chapters in a book, a thirty minute nap before pick-up, or a phone call to a friend.  I don’t do all of them every day, but they are all in my “I need some peace emergency kit!” All of these little pockets of peace add up at the end of the day and they breathe new life back into my self-imposed-high-expectation-chaotic-schedule.

Even Jesus stepped away to speak to his Father.  Scripture tells us that Jesus would remove himself from the crowds for a little while even though they would follow him and come looking for him.  He, of all people, had an over-packed schedule during his ministry, but he knew he could serve best by staying connected to the Creator.

As we head into the end of spring and into the summer, let’s be intentional about carving out pockets of peace in our days for ourselves and our families.  They will fill us, calm us and empower us to keep going as people who love God and love others.

Be still, and know that I am God! Psalm 46:10

From our Happy Tent to yours,

Meredith Bell

Act Of Obedience

I know I am in trouble when I hear God speaking about obedience. God’s knows that I can be a stubborn person. When it comes to ignoring God, you can find my name next to Biblical professionals like Jonah who ran the other way and Moses who quickly asked if Aaron could be the hero instead of Moses. Like the professionals, I tend to believe that my plans are better than God’s plans. Or my calendar reflects that I am too busy for God.

This week, God’s message has been about obedience. The word just keeps popping up. I am reading The Circle Maker by Mark Batterson and chapter seven talks about obedience. A close friend recently told me to embrace a situation…obedience. We received our tax documents from the CPA today…we will obediently (and painfully) pay our taxes another year. But the clearest message came from Rabbi Marty.

Rabbi Marty is a Messianic Jew. I gave him a call recently to invite him to host a Passover Seder meal for a college ministry. Near the beginning of the conversation he said, “Tell me the perfect day and the perfect time that you want this meal to happen?” When I told him, he quickly responded by saying, “I’ll be there.” No questions, no negotiations. Just a solid yes. When I thanked him for driving an hour to be with us and he said, “No need to thank me. I serve God, I do not serve you.” This statement was factual, clear and confident.

Rabbi Marty is an example of how obedience leads to confidence. Sometimes God asks us to do something we just don’t want to do. But when we go, out of obedience, we have confidence that God goes with us. Jonah walked into Nineveh with confidence. Moses walked up to Pharaoh with confidence. Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane met the soldiers with confidence. They all knew that they served God and they were obedient to God’s call on their lives.

During this season of personal reflection, is God asking you to be obedient? Are you embracing the opportunity or resisting it? Why?

 Christ humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death,
 even death on a cross.  Philippians 2:8

From our happy obedient tent to yours,

Meredith Bell

MagnifiLENT

Welcome to Lent. Isn’t it magnifiLENT? That season that makes us uncomfortable every day. Every day for 40 days. How are you doing so far?

This week for Ash Wednesday, I spent my lunch on a college campus offering ashes to students as they walked into their school cafeteria. To say it was just magnifiLENT is an understatement. Every one was uncomfortable. Them and me. When I tried to explain what Ash Wednesday represented, you should have seen their reactions! Imagine big eyes, puzzled looks and awkward silence while they were taking steps away from the table. Dust to dust and ashes to ashes is not a hot topic for college-age students. You won’t find anything about it on their Snapchats. Just magnifiLENT!

In our tent, we have jumped into magnifiLENT with both feet, both hands and all our mouths. Our greatest temptations enter through our mouths. The Bell women have given up sugar (for real) and Mr. Bell gave up fast-food. (I had no idea that was a staple in his diet…magnifiLENT!) And so far we are doing well…3 days into magnifiLENT.

This is a season to loosen up a little. And the best way to do that is to mix things up a bit and make some room in our lives for the work of Jesus. Some people reflect, some people serve, some people fast and some people grieve. No matter how we choose to spend the next 40 days, if we make room for Jesus, Jesus will show up in ways we can not imagine.

The Gospel of John begins with “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Among other things, this verse tells us that God is a communicator. The great communicator. God communicated God’s love for us through his son Jesus Christ and God still communicates with us daily if we will give God space to send God’s message. That is what magnifiLENT does for us. It opens up God space so God can send life-giving messages.

Isn’t that just magnifiLENT?

From our magnifiLENT Happy Tent to yours,

Meredith Bell

Life is Like a Roll of Toilet Paper

This is a quote my guy heard this week in a Bible study and he shared it with me. You would think that he would come home from a Bible study reciting scripture or sharing how he felt the Holy Spirit speak to him. Instead, he shared how a wise friend said, “Life is like a roll of toilet paper…the closer you get to the end the faster it goes!”

It’s funny…because it is full of truth. The brilliance is placing a common roll of toilet paper next to time. All people, no matter their race, beliefs, goals, faith, dreams, failures, degrees, successes, are able to connect with toilet paper and time. And if we can agree on the truth of these two common experiences, we can find other experiences of life to agree on as well.

For instance, Martin Buber, a philosopher and theologian, gave the world a gift when he discovered the I-Thou relationship in dialogue. In this relationship, two people turn to one another with openness and respect. This is possible because we experience this relationship with God and we can share it with others. When we encounter another person, it is possible to see them through the eyes of God. By recognizing the divine in another person, they recognize the divine in us. Buber said, “Meet the world with the fullness of your being and you shall meet God.”

At the end of the day we all struggle with the same ups and downs, gains and losses, friends and family, and personal and private events that life gives us. We are more alike than different. Toilet paper and time. Wouldn’t it be life-giving to engage the people we meet (and the people in our homes) through the blessing of an I-Thou relationship? I am pretty sure that we will be quoting scripture and sharing how we felt the Holy Spirit speak to us as we meet God there. Try it.

Love does no wrong to others, so love fulfills the requirements of God’s law. Romans 13:10

From our happy tent to yours,

Meredith Bell

 

Observation Deck

A few years ago, we celebrated a family birthday in the “Big Ball” in Dallas (also known as Reunion Tower by people over 15-years-old). The night was memorable. What I remember the most was my mother’s experience on the observation deck. From that place in the tower, you can see the site where John F. Kennedy was assassinated. She stood there for a long time just looking at the street and the site where he was shot on her birthday so many years before. She was able to see the whole picture; where it happened, the shape and height of the buildings and the road that the driver took to Parkland Hospital. Just observing the site with her own eyes allowed her to see the whole experience differently.

Recently I have been on my own observation deck. I decided to take a step back from my life, work, my chores and myself to just observe all of it. My step back is more abstract than literal. I am still living in the busyness of life, but I am seeing it differently. I have noticed the simplicity that exists around me that I often miss. I actually saw the people in my life that make life easier for me such as the grocery workers, my child’s teacher and friends. The sunsets and sunrises that come every day are breathtaking. I discovered a sacred time at the end of the day as my older daughter finishes her homework before bed. While she works, we just visit about the events of our day. I have been reminded of the power of positivity. Positive words can change or redirect any conversation into something meaningful and life giving. I have become more relaxed about watching the clock and more open to unexpected meetings with friends. My observation deck has simply shown me things that I needed to see.

I believe that we have a gift of making life more complicated than God ever intended life to be lived. So much of our stress comes from ourselves. We are often unable to say “no” to things we do not need to do and “yes” to things God is calling us to do. The result is too much time spent on too many things. Life becomes shallow instead of deep and meaningful.

I invite you to walk out onto your own observation deck this week. Spend some time to simply observe life around you. What do you see? What do you say? What is going on in your family?  What is God doing around you? This little practice is sure to reveal something new.

Open my eyes to see wonderful things in your Word. Psalm 119:18

Meredith Bell

Life-Giving News

Whew! The news is full of information, images and feelings these days.  Some is helpful and useful.  It’s good to learn about the penumbral eclipse (it sounds exciting for sure) or see a glimpse of the latest fashions. Some is not helpful.  In fact, it may simply be harmful.  It increases our experience of stress, anxiety and depression.  And it is everywhere because media is everywhere.  Our phones, pads, computers, cars and t.v.’s all send the news our way, wherever we may be, at any given moment. All of this news is about what is happening in the world that we cannot see for ourselves.

Then there is the news that we can see for ourselves…kitchen table news.  Our personal news.  Events in our day.  People we talked to and shared life with over lunch.  Experiences we had in a day.  New friends we met.  Funny things we heard.  Meals we cooked.  Mistakes we made.  Gifts we bought.  Plans we made.  Thoughts that challenged us.  Lessons we learned.  Books we read.  Conversations.  All of this news gives our lives meaning and purpose.

Then there is the news that Jesus Christ brings to our lives…spiritual news.   Here are a few headlines:

Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me.

And know that I am with you always; yes, to the end of time.

So I say to you, Ask and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you.

We need all kinds of news in our lives since we live as the light of Christ in the world around us.  But I wonder if we get too much about events we cannot see for ourselves and not enough kitchen table news or spiritual news.  Which type of news is life giving and which type is life draining?

For our tent, we find joy around the kitchen table when we share our headlines and we feel peace in our souls when we remember the spiritual power of the Good News. The other news has a place, but it is not the focus.

What about your tent?  How do you deal with news?

The angel said, “Don’t be afraid! Look! I bring good news to you—wonderful, joyous news for all people. Your savior is born today in David’s city. He is Christ the Lord. Luke 2:10-11

From our Happy Tent to yours,

Meredith Bell

 

Use It or Loose It

About five months ago I started running again. I didn’t think much about it. I just put on my tennis shoes one morning and ran for a while. It felt right. Since I was about to go over-the-hill in age, my body simply decided to USE IT OR LOOSE IT.

An article in the New York Post from 2014 showed the results of a study about gift cards. Since 2008 there is over 44 billion dollars left on unused gift cards. I am sure it is even higher now, three years later. That is a lot of USE IT OR LOOSE IT money hiding in our junk drawers, wallets and cars.

Living a life of faith may also be a USE IT OR LOOSE IT process. (Can we loose faith?…that would be a good conversation to have with someone this weekend.) When we engage ourselves in spiritual practices we engage our faith. It grows. It feels right. It awakens us to something more. We discover that we are living in the flow of the Holy Spirit. When we miss opportunities to experience our faith, it may feel dormant and the result is restlessness in our souls.

So here are some USE IT practices that help us in our tent and lives…maybe they will help you too. And we would love to hear what is working for you.

  • Turn Up The Music: It is easier to wake up in the morning when some good music is inviting you to open your eyes and see the beauty of a new day.  Inspiring music in the car between appointments can also give you a spiritual break.
  • Engage Your Brain: Read something that teaches you something new about God, faith, salvation, Christ, healthy habits, church or scripture. Sit in on a theology lecture. Visit with your pastor about the sermon during the week. Ask your friends what they are reading.  Check out Perkins School of Laity Week
  • Get Outside: 80 degrees in January sounds crazy, unless it is the perfect temperature for swinging in your favorite swing or taking a walk. Go enjoy some vitamin D!
  • Discover Spiritual Practices: There are so many spiritual practices to explore. God is easy to be with through practices. Discover them and use them as a family and individually.  Here is my favorite book for spiritual disciplines.

There is a lot of wisdom in USE IT OR LOOSE IT thinking. When we apply it to our faith lives, we may discover some important parts of our faith have been hiding deep in our lives (like our junk drawers). It’s a good weekend to connect to your spiritual self…that part of you is life giving!

I pray that Christ will live in your hearts by faith and that your life will be strong in love and be built on love.  Ephesians 3:17

From our Happy Tent to Yours,

Meredith Bell

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