Sneak Away

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,

Meredith Bell

The Right Story at the Right Time

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,

Meredith bell

 

 

 

 

 

Fairy Ring

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,

Meredith Bell

Going Deep

Summer provides many opportunities for going deep. There is the deep end of the swimming pool that is inviting. You can enjoy a night out in Deep Ellum and have dinner at Deep Sushi. Deep in the heart of Texas the other night, we went back in time and watched a movie at the Drive-In with the tailgate down and our hands deep in popcorn.

Summer provides more opportunities for going deep in relationships. The days are longer and schedules are lighter. More than once our youngest has reminded us that there is no bedtime in the summer. I guess that is why we are all still awake at eleven o’clock! There is more time to talk and listen. There is more time for board games.  There is more time for hugs. There is more time for exploring new places or projects. There is more time to simply be together, deeply.

There is a childhood song I learned in Sunday School years ago called, Deep and Wide. Part of the lyrics say, “Deep and wide/ Deep and wide/ There is a fountain flowing deep and wide.” This song reminds me of God’s love. God’s love for us is deep and wide. Our love for our families is deep and wide. Summer is a great time to experience both.

Before these summer months slip by, take off your life jackets in life and do some spontaneous deep diving into the lives of the people who share your tent.

Ideas for Going Deep

  • Ask “I Wonder….” Questions: These are open-ended questions that you do not know the answer to before you ask it. They are beautiful questions for learning how someone sees the world around them. “I wonder who your favorite author is….” “I wonder where God showed up in your week…” “I wonder what our marriage will be like when we…”
  • Spontaneous Ice Cream:   One of our ninety year old friends reminds us that having a little ice cream at Braum’s at the end of the day is fun. Do something spontaneous… anything really…that is what is fun about summer.
  • Family Projects: You’ve got time to go deeper into a project this summer. Drive to the nearest craft store or hardware store. Find something to sew, crochet, build, cook, paint, organize, or create. Being elbow to elbow with another person you love (who God created) will give you time to see them through different eyes. You are guaranteed to learn something about each other.

When he finished speaking to the crowds, he said to Simon, “Row out farther, into the deep water, and drop your nets for a catch.” Luke 5:4

From our Deeply Happy Tent to yours,

Meredith Bell

 

Questions, Questions, More Questions

I visited a beautiful campus library this week. There are still a lot of books in a library.  BUT I discovered there are even more at my finger tips.  Databases after databases are available by typing a single word.  They are all connected and they are all amazing.  Amazing because they answer questions.  All of them!

God loves a beautiful mind.  Proverbs 2:2 says, “Turn your ear toward wisdom, and stretch your mind toward understanding.”  Our minds are a gift, a beautiful gift. When we use them for understanding we are using a gift from God.

What is a question that you have been thinking about lately? What have you been curious about?  What have you wondered about lately?  What has been keeping you up at night?  We always encourage children to ask questions.  Maybe children should encourage adults to ask questions, too.  Of course, as adults, we no longer need to ask simple questions like “What makes lightening?” or ‘Why are there no more dinosaurs?” We know these answers. (Or at least we can quickly google them!)   Adults are called to go deeper with their questions.  Adults are called to ask bigger questions and commit to finding the answers.  

This is a calling from God.  A calling to use our beautiful minds.  Questions like “Who is my neighbor?” or “What can I do to being healing to this situation?” or “What is behind this feeling I have about images I see?” When we engage the world (issues, images, headlines, events) around us with our minds, we discover more questions behind the first one.  With each question and answer pair, we take a step closer to understanding. And we take a step closer to creating change or awareness so others can understand as well.

Raise your hand and ask your question!

From our curious and Happy Tent to yours,

Meredith Bell

P.S. If your question has led you to a place where you want to do something, I invite you to check out DoSomething.org. It is full of young adults doing something for a cause.

P.P.S.  This week’s book suggestion is The Encyclopedia of Student and Youth Movements.  All of these movements started with questions. This book is full of stories about youth around the world that created change with their beautiful minds. This one is sure to spice up your family dinner conversations! (Not all topics in the book are appropriate for younger minds…at least not until they get older.)

Finding Your Hallelujah

When was the last time you had a hallelujah moment. These moments create a sudden pause and they feel like a surprise, a gift and a celebration all in one. They are simple moments.  Moments when you arrive safely at home or maybe it is when you finally finish a project.  They are big moments. Moments when you catch a glimpse of eternal life.

Andy Grammer sings a song called “Good To Be Alive.” My favorite line is, “I think I finally found my hallelujah!” That is how it usually feels when you find it. It seems elusive until suddenly you find yourself saying HALLELUJAH! (It also means Praise the Lord in Hebrew.)

In a moment of total frustration this week, I heard Grammer’s song and decided I was going on a Hallelujah Hunt. It sounded more fun than being frustrated. Here is what I found.

  • HALLELUJAH–I finally cleaned out a bedroom (by pulling everything out of it first) and successfully brought order to the chaos. Unused toys were donated, selves were organized and we waved good-by to a Barbie house as it moved to a 3-year-olds house!
  • HALLELUJAH—I saw a prayer ANSWERED! I had prayed for it, through it, around it and it was answered. It was amazing, exciting and amazing.
  • HALLELUJAH—I experienced a FULL nights sleep. (Sometimes it’s the simple things.)
  • HALLELUJAH—A child was healed by the miracle of modern medicine and came home!
  • HALLELUJAH—A dear friend who I invited to join a church thirteen years ago was ordained as a pastor this week.

Let’s just say that my hunt has been successful. Very successful! Hallelujah! And my total frustration seems so silly compared to everything else.

There are many reasons to praise the Lord during our weeks. Jesus is active and present in small ways and big ones. The Holy Spirit is always guiding and directing. God continues to co-create this world along side us. Though we cannot fully see all of these moments, we experience them.

Take some time to pause and reflect on your week. What were your hallelujah moments? Then prepare for a hallelujah hunt for next week. Invite your family to join you on the hunt. Keep your eyes open and position yourself in the place of most potential…in the presence of God.

Hallelujah!
    O my soul, praise God!
All my life long I’ll praise God,
    singing songs to my God as long as I live.

Psalm 146: 1-2

From Our Happy Tent to Yours,

Meredith Bell

P.S. This weeks summer reading suggestion is Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh.  It has been on book shelves for over fifty years. Once you read it you will know why.  It’s full of insight and beautiful images about life.  Enjoy!

A Time to Unlearn

The great writer of Ecclesiastes wrote, “There is a season for everything, a time for every matter under the sun.” We have declared this summer to be a time to UNLEARN. (No need to panic teachers, we promise not to unlearn all the great skills you taught over the year.)

We had an honest conversation in our tent at the end of the week. Six days after school and activities ended, we decided we were bored! All the girls in our tent agreed.   Only one of us was brave enough to say it out loud. (It is hard to admit how you feel when it is not what you expected.) We expected to be joyful and feel free to live our lives without a schedule, but instead we were bored, frustrated and confused.

The youngest one said she was just ready to go back to school. She said, “One week is enough of a break!” The older one said, “I have no cause!” After I stopped laughing. I reminded them that we had a LONG summer ahead of us. Then there was a period of silence.

Maybe our first week of summer is telling us something important…it’s time to UNLEARN some things. First one is to UNLEARN that we need to be entertained to feel satisfied!  Then we can move on and UNLEARN what is means to be productive, rested, and stress free.

Ellen G. White wrote, “We have many lessons to learn, and many, many to unlearn. God and heaven alone are infallible. Those who think that they will never have to give up a cherished view…will be disappointed.”

There are many experiences that we learn from in our lives. Most of them offer good lessons. Many we learned to survive a season of life. But some of them teach us skills or attitudes that we may need to UNLEARN. Feeling bored, frustrated or confused may be just what we need to recognize a time to UNLEARN something we thought we already knew. First we need to admit how we feel and then we will be open to learning a new way, idea or process.  It may take a little creativity and humility.

What do you possibly need to UNLEARN this summer?

From our Happy Tent to Yours,

Meredith Bell

Summer Reading: You Are Special

In Max Lucado’s book, You are Special, he reminds us how God sees each of us.  God sees us as special. The world doesn’t. This is something we can UNLEARN over the summer as well. Happy reading!

Summer Reading: Circle Maker

There are many ways to experience the summer. We can experience a vacation, learn how to ride a bike, go swimming (everyday), go fishing, have a picnic, or build a fort at home.

One of our favorite ways to experience summer is through books. Reading, because you can and not because you have to, is a freeing experience. Several years ago while we were camping in Estes Park, Colorado, we read The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis together as a family. Inside our tent, inside our sleeping bags, we opened the first page and read…

This is a story about something that happened long ago when your grandfather was a child. It is a very important story because it shows how all the comings and goings between our own world and the land of Narnia first began.

Every time I hear someone talk about the book, I immediately go back to our tent in my mind in the beautiful mountains and remember that night together when we started reading. Memories are attached to summer books.

This month, we will share some summer reading suggestions for your family. We hope you will discover these books for yourself. Maybe you can read them together as a family or you can read them in your favorite comfy chair on a hot summer day.

The Circle Maker by Mark Batterson

Kick off the summer with this inspiring book, The Circle Maker.  When you open the cover of this book, you will quickly discover the power of prayer in a new way. Mark Batterson writes from pure experience. He has witnessed God working through prayer in big and small ways. Based on the legend of Honi the Circle Maker who ended a great drought through prayer, Batterson invites all of us to circle our prayers. In the pages of the book, he shares how to circle prayers and encourages readers to pray through our prayers until God answers.

This book will encourage you and your family to pray and show you ways God answers prayers everyday in everyday lives…just like yours and mine.

From our Happy It’s Summer Tent to yours,

Meredith Bell

Firsts and Lasts

Social media lately is flooded with firsts and lasts.  There are first communions, first dances, first cars, first steps, first solid foods.  There are last recitals, last awards ceremony, last graduations, last day of school, last day to pack school lunches (Can I get an Amen?).  It would be difficult not to notice all the smiling faces in the pictures or the energy in our communities.  There have even been some first birthdays as new babies bounce into the world and last hugs and kisses as love ones spend their last days on earth.

Joseph Campbell once wrote, “We must let go of the life we have planned, so as to accept the one that is waiting for us.”  Whether you are experiencing a first or a last this month, you are probably leaving one life and headed into a new one.  You are leaving one normal and creating a new one.  And if you are not experiencing this yourself, simply take a look to your left and your right, you will see someone who is.  As we change from one life into the next, here are some ways to help you transition, recenter, stop, or become more aware of God’s presence:

  • Sit in your God space and listen.  Remember that the creator of the universe (your creator) is available.  Any time.  Any place.  If you have a God space in your house or office…sit in it.  Focus on one thing that never changes…God’s love for you!
  • Make a lunch date with a friend.  Spiritual friends are the best!  They listen, understand, advise, support and follow up.  They often know what you need before you know what you need.  A lunch date will provide you with a pause between all the things you have to get done before you go to bed.  Everyone can use a pause now and then.
  • Plan a selfie day with just you and things you love.  Watch a movie at 10am with popcorn and a coke.  See two movies if you have time.  Pull out your music collection and jam to you favorites.  Take a nap in the middle of the day without you cell phone in the same room.  Read a book just because.  What brings your joy? Do it!
  • Name your emotion(s). Mad, sad, angry, fearful or tender.  All emotions fall under one of these top five. Once you know your emotion, you are more able to experience it and control it before it controls you. Pretending that you are not deeply experiencing one of these emotions is like pretending that nothing is changing.  Pretending is exhausting.
  • Plan a trip.  It always helps to experience a change of scenery whether it is a day trip or a vacation.  Just having one on the calendar is life giving!  Shop in a new store.  Visit museums in your community or close by. Reconnect with a family member or old friend and drive to their town to simply spend time together.  Exploring nature in small parks or big parks like the Grand Canyon can certainly be fun! And there is always camping!!
  • Take a deep breath.  Sometimes when I am with my mom and I take a deep breath, she says, “Is that your first breath of the day?”  Sometimes you just need to take a breath and a step, a breath and a step.  Find a pace that allows your soul to catch up with your body!
  • Hug your family. A one-minute hug always does the trick.  (Set a timer.) One-minute to connect.  One-minute to freeze time and capture the moment.  One-minute of peace in the midst of chaos.  Your family is experiencing many firsts and lasts together.  Hugs, notes, texts, and hand-holding are all encouraged in the middle of transitions.

While you (or someone you know) is experiencing firsts and lasts this month, remember one thing.  Jesus is the “author and finisher” of our faith (Hebrews 12:2).  “Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made” (John 1:3).  Jesus is the Alpha and Omega, the first and the last.  When we see all of life through Christ eyes, we see the whole picture.  There are many firsts and lasts that we experience, but in the middle we experience a full, abundant life.  That is why Jesus came to this earth and why we have faith in Christ.

Keep posting those precious pictures of your abundant life, the highs and the lows.  Each day and each experience serves as a reminder that we are all in this together within the loving arms of Jesus.  And Jesus is ready to give us more of an abundant life!

From our Happy Tent to Yours,

Meredith Bell

Family Feud

The next generation has discovered Family Feud.  Do you remember that show?  I remember watching it with my family when I was a child.  Last weekend my daughter discovered it while visiting a family member and my daughter who had a REAL TV.  (We have been cable free FOREVER, so when we visit our family members our daughters always refer to TV at the REAL TV!).  The REAL TV was full of interesting shows last weekend and Family Feud was the most interesting.

I was busy doing something else while she was watching it until I saw the first red X flash up on the screen.  Then I was totally engaged.  I remembered that there were three red X’s available to each family.  After those three, they lost.  Three chances to guess the best words for the category.  This particular category was “Tell me ways in which the family dog can annoy you.”  I won’t give you the answers here.

But those three X’s have been helpful in our tent all week.  One morning while getting ready for our day, my sweet, adorable husband made an unnecessary comment about something I forgot to do (I never, ever claim to be perfect!).  I quickly threw up my hands and formed an X.  I informed him that he only had two more before the day was over…and it was only the morning.   I then had to remind him about Family Feud and the three X’s.  He caught on quickly.  It wasn’t long before he threw up his arms into a big X and reminded me that we were now tied.

I know we all try our best to treat everyone in our tent with kindness, love and respect.  That is our goal.  But some days when we are tired, stressed or overwhelmed, we tend to do more harm than good.  We say words that deserve a big red X.  We complain about small things that do not matter in the big picture.  We travel down the road of negativity not realizing that we are traveling it alone because everyone else is exhausted from listening.  That too deserves a red X.

“Pleasant words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body” (Proverbs 16:24).  Our words have power to make our relationships sweeter.  We know the right words to use to build each other up.  We know how to avoid those words that cause the big red X’s to flash up on our screen of life.

Here’s a challenge for your family this week.  See how many ways you can bring sweetness to your tent through your words.  See how you can bring health into your relationships.  See if your choice of words helps you to avoid family feuds within your home.  And remember, GRACE.  As much as we try, we will always make mistakes and say something that deserves a big red X.  Our families are the best place to practice giving and receiving grace.  Grace and forgiveness remove any X’s that exist in our relationships.  Before you begin the challenge, take a moment  to exchanged grace and give forgiveness to erase the X’s that have already been played. That way everyone starts with a fresh beginning.

Love your family, don’t feud. – Al Roker (2008)

From our Happy Tent to yours,

Meredith Bell

P.S.  Grab your neighbors this Memorial weekend and play Family Feud.  Here are some questions to get you started.

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