It happened this year. One of our Merry Christmas Traditions ended. Our smallest tent member broke through the Santa code…she is in the know. (I cried more than she did.) So this Christmas we end a Merry Christmas Tradition in our tent and we are shopping for new ones. We are looking for new ways to connect with each other and our faith.
As we look for new traditions, we are mindful that time has changed all of us this year. We are taller, wider, wiser, grayer, happier and teenage-ier. Our Merry Christmas Traditions from last year may not reflect who we are today like they did years before. It’s time to discover some new traditions.
Family life constantly experiences change. Marriage requires an end of selfishness and a beginning to constant forgiveness. They say a baby changes everything. As that baby grows, due to a strong diet of food and water, she develops into a little adult. Just when you get used to piles of laundry and a house full of friends, that little adult packs and moves to a college (hopefully). Then she receives a pay check (we pray) one day. Family life becomes more about savoring precious moments, encouraging one another to be your best self and celebrating life together every chance you get.
The Holy Family must have shared similar experiences. Their lives were full of moves, growth, questions and divine experiences. They depended on their faith and each other to embrace their stages in life. They shared joy and they shared heartache under the same roof. They created the biggest Merry Christmas Tradition and yet we know that their experience did not stop at the manger. There was more to their story. They added new Merry Christmas Traditions each year that connected them with each other and faith.
As we are shopping for new Merry Christmas Traditions, we are discovering that there are millions of ways to spend this holiday together all around our world. The manger will always be a part of our Christmas story. We are excited to add more traditions to our story. We are also discovering how feelings that come with this season like joy, peace, love and hope are a part of every Merry Christmas Tradition. These classic feelings are unwrapped through hugs, warm fires, winter breaks, family, hot chocolate, Christmas cards, friends and beautiful music.
Enjoy your Merry Christmas Traditions this year…the old and the new ones!
“Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. Luke 2:15-16
Merry Christmas Happy Tent Families!
This week on the side of the freezer door I discovered an original piece of art work titled, “For Unto Us a Child is Born.” I discovered it late in the night while doing another load of laundry. Our washing machine decided this week was a good week to stop working. While it was on strike, mountains of laundry grew taller and taller every day. The only way to stop the annoying magic trick was to tackle the laundry during the late shift. With six minutes left on the washing cycle, my eyes drifted to the much over-looked piece of art work on the side of the freezer.
“For Unto Us a Child is Born” gave me pause. The artist focused on the star above the manger and the small stable. The manger glowed under the star. The city stayed a city. It probably did not even have time to notice what was happening just a few miles away. Everything was happening a few miles away.
Isaiah says, “For unto us a child is born and authority will be on his shoulders.” This child, Isaiah says, will help those in darkness see light, bring dawn to the dark night, increase joy, shatter burdens. This child will be wonderful, mighty, and eternal. I have to wonder, where is this child today in our lives?
The artist of “For Unto Us a Child is Born” gives us an idea of where to find this child. We can find the child who holds light in a simple place like a manger (or the laundry room). We can find the child who increases joy in a place that gives us pause so our souls can catch up. We can find the child who removes burdens under a starry night.
This original piece of art work reminds me that the Christ child is, always, and forever will be in a place we least expect, at a time we didn’t plan for and always give us a glimpse into an eternal moment that we pray will last forever.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this. Isaiah 9:7
From our Happy Christmas Tent to Yours,
We routinely hear the declarative statement, “I don’t like eggs,” in our tent every morning. This has been happening for a number of years. (Maybe even for 13 years if we are honest.)
Mr. Bell is the breakfast chef in our tent. He rises early every morning and stumbles to the coffee pot in the kitchen. Next he surveys the breakfast supplies to decide the morning menu. Then he begins to crack eggs, fry bacon, make muffins, slice apples or a number of other natural exercises that produce a well balanced breakfast. Every breakfast plate is served with his signature…a smiley face. He makes every breakfast into a smiley face. Every plate. Every morning.
Most of his well balanced breakfast plates include eggs. Fried eggs. Scrambled eggs. Poached eggs. Boiled eggs. With every egg comes a quiet statement from a member of our tent. “I don’t like eggs.” Quiche, breakfast tacos, and cheese omelets all get the same response. “I don’t like eggs.” Even eggs in a smiley face receive a response that says, “I don’t like eggs.”
Something happened the other morning that shocked our tent. We responded to the statement. Every other morning we just ignored it. But on this morning, we responded with, “You really don’t like eggs?” Then she said, “I tell you this every morning,” and bites into her bagel. Then the two leaders of our tent looked at each other with big eyes and said, “She really doesn’t like eggs!” The next morning, eggs were not a part of her smiley face. (She still had a smiley face on her plate and one appeared on her face.) We had finally heard her. (Way to go parents!)
As much as we would like the people in our tents to be just like us, they are not. Family members surprisingly like different things. They like different food, different music, different books, different movies and more different things. And yet, we pretend that everyone in the tent likes the same things. (We even get frustrated when this happens.)
When we listen to what is being said and pay attention to what is being said, we discover good useful information about someone we love. We are invited into their world when they reveal a difference and that is when the relationship grows deeper.
Jesus paid attention to words people said and their actions. He found good useful information about the people He loved. The people He loved were changed by the relationship and still are today.
I wonder what differences live in your tent? What can you learn from each other this week?
All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. 2 Timothy 3:16
From our Happy Tent to Yours,
Reading an article recently, I was reminded of the act of repurposing old pieces of furniture. There are plenty of t.v. shows and magazines that do this well everyday. Even though I like the idea of it, I usually lack the creativity and the time to actually complete the process of repurposing anything.
Repurposing translates into faith. Jesus came to repurpose the church. The church is not for setting limits like the Pharisees believed. It is for setting people free through healing, mercy, forgiveness, love and hope. We read about the ways Jesus repurposed the church and faith in the Bible. He was busy then and He is busy now doing the same time.
Talking with a new friend lately, I was reminded of the act of repurposing our lives. She is two years away from retirement and she is anxious about how she will transition from a demanding job into a slower schedule. She is also anxious about her marriage and how it will look in retirement. She is in the process of repurposing her life. She is wondering how her skills from her career will be used in new ways and how her relationship with her husband will grow in their last years together.
Repurposing translates into life. My new friend has two years to wonder what life will be like after retirement. She has two years to prepare for adapting, changing and embracing her new life. As a married couple, she and her husband have time to talk and make new goals for their marriage. (And I am going to send her a copy of Falling Upward by Richard Rohr.)
Coaching young adults lately, I found myself sharing my story of repurposing a closet into a prayer room. (Yes, I really did this after I watched the War Room and it has become my sanctuary.) I shared how writing prayers down allows me to let them go. I talked about simply being with God in that space instead of doing something for God. It fills my spirit and gives me a new lens to see the world and my life. They were listening with intensity. Our testimony matters.
Repurposing translates into spiritual practices. When we feel a disconnect with God, maybe it is time to repurpose our spiritual efforts. Instead of reading the Bible, go live the Bible by serving someone or some purpose. Instead of praying in your home, take a walk and pray in God’s creation. Instead of reading the familiar chapters of the Bible, read a book in the Bible that you have never read or studied before. Ask someone to study it with you.
There are so many areas of our lives where we may feel stuck or bored that simply need to be repurposed into something new. Here are some tips when you repurpose:
- Observe: Take note of your frustrations or areas in life where you are dissatisfied. What is on the horizon that you may need to prepare for to be ready? For a week or a month, simply observe your life.
- Pray and Seek Wisdom: The Holy Spirit is alive within each of us. Through prayer, connect with that power and pray for the things you observed. If you observed that your family is struggling to be at peace, pray that the Holy Spirit will show you all a new way to live. While in prayer, seek wisdom. Find others who have journeyed down this same road before. How did they make their way through this time in life? What did they learn? What is their advice?
- Act: We cannot change until we take a step forward. When we act, we are testing our faith. God will show up as we repurpose our lives. The bigger question is will we show up?
In our tent, repurposing is a way to live our lives for God as a family. When our routines, schedules, and results lead us away from this purpose, we know that it is time to repurpose for God. We have discovered that a repurposed life is good.
Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. Matthew 7:7
From our Happy Tent to yours,
I remember the day I learned about the term “running wide open.” I was in the passenger seat of my new sports car. My dad bought the car for me. (I am still not sure why that was a good idea, but I am still thankful it was my car.) He told me not to go too fast until he could ride along with me. It was a silver Pontiac Firebird. The time came for him to ride along with me, but he said he would drive it just to test it out on the road. Before I knew it, we were running wide open. He was smiling, hugging the curves and complimenting the car like it was a person. I had never gone so fast in a car in my whole life and I never have since. I guess it is true that within every grown man there is a young boy!
This week in a text a friend said he was “running wide open.” Mr. Bell and I have laughed (the other option is to cry) about that text all week! It is the best description for our lives. Like our friend, our life is running in our final gear and we are traveling at top speed. Monday through Monday…top speed. With the wind blowing in our hair (or at least my hair…he’s bald) as we run from meeting to meeting, morning to morning, fire to fire, we feel like we are running wide open.
Running wide open can be a fun experience. It creates adrenaline, excitement, busyness and purpose. Things happen. Decisions get made. It is easy when you are brand new, right off the car lot kind of person. But we are not new cars anymore. We have some miles on us. If you are like us, you are running wide open more days than you would like. It may be time to pull over and actively rest.
Take a pit stop and let your crew (Jesus, God and the Holy Spirit) work on your car a while. Inspect the engine (your body) to make sure it is still working well. Sometimes we ignore obvious signs that something is not right. Check your oil every 50 hours of work and see what the level is as you head into the next week. If you are low, do some things to fill it up like spending time with your family, friends or even time alone. Take a look at the tires to make sure you are balanced between work and play. Look for holes that are slowing you down. Clean out the interior of your life and get rid of all the trash that builds up inside. All the worries, fears, and anxieties will be better off in the garbage can.
While you are at the pit stop, if you can’t see to find anything wrong but you still aren’t running well, reach out to a mechanic (doctor, counselor, or spiritual friend) and let them help you run a diagnostic test. Don’t keep running wide open until you burn up the engine or the wheels fall off. It is easier to fix a car than it is to rebuild it. We only get one car (life) so we need to learn to take care of the one we have soon.
There is only one reason in life that we need to be running wide open and that is in our spiritual lives. So often, we ignore the one part of life that gives us the most energy. Jesus ran wide open for God AND Jesus got away to pray. Jesus models pit stops for life. He prayed on a hills, between meetings, in homes and gardens. He encourages us to be still so that we know God. He sent us a Helper when he left this earth. He created “spiritual pit stops” if you really think about it. Jesus told us to go and run wide open to make disciples for Jesus Christ. He didn’t tell us to go and wear your self out in my name!
While you are in your tent this weekend, take a moment and ask your some question. Are you running wide open? How much longer can you do it? Who are you doing it for? Is there anything you need to change in your life? We are asking ourselves the same questions often!
When he arrived and saw this evidence of God’s blessing, he was filled with joy, and he encouraged the believers to stay true to the Lord. Acts 11:23
From our reflective and Happy Tent to yours,
This week, while attending a funeral I heard about a man who lived in love with the world. He loved baseball and all the small details that make baseball fun. He loved family and he had a lot of family to love. He loved his wife for 73 years! That is a lot of years to love. He loved farming. He loved sharing his opinion. While listening to the sermon sitting in the overflow section, I noticed so many people. It was easy to understand that he lived his life in love with the world and the people around him.
As we approach a natural pause in our lives this week, I wonder if we are living as people in love with the world? It seems that there is so much negative noise around us that it is hard to remember how incredible our world truly is every day. Maybe we just need to notice. This week is a perfect time to turn off our normal rhetoric about problems in the world and turn on our five senses to remember just how wonderful our world is.
Birthday candles are magical when you are 1 or 101 years old. Licking the bowl after mixing cake batter is the best bonding time with any child. Hearing owls screech in the night while you are trying to drift off to sleep is mysterious and a little scary. A hug anytime is the best way to pause life. Watching fall leaves dance down the street while driving in neighborhoods makes you feel like they are performing a fall recital with leaps and pirouettes. Walking through the front door of a home you have been away from is life giving. Sharing a meal with friends and family is love at its best.
Ordinary, simple moments every day teach us how to be in love with the world. These moments are connected to our souls. They give us breath. They center our minds. They connect us to the God who created the stars and the starfish. To miss these moments is to miss our chance to see a glimpse into eternity.
This week, enjoy the energy and enjoy the stillness. Let’s give thanks for all the ways you are in love with the world. And maybe we can fall in love again.
The Lord is good to everyone.
He showers compassion on all his creation. Psalm 145:9
From our Thankful and Happy Tent to yours,
P.S. Here is a Netflix show, The Kindness Diaries, about a guy finding a way to stay in love with the world. Enjoy!
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,