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,
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,
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,
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,
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
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,
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,
I am married to a duck hunter. When we married 16 years ago, he was not a duck hunter. Today he is. His friends took him hunting a year ago and he was open to the new experience. To say that he enjoyed it is an understatement. This guy dove in like a duck and has not stopped flying since. All year long, Amazon Prime has swiftly delivered much needed “supplies” for the hunts. Our garage has slowly filled up with duck decoys, duck calls, duck decoys and a lot of camo things. It now looks like an Academy supply warehouse.
For the past five mornings, I have been on a duck hunting date with my guy. I was open to this new date experience. At five o’clock we rise, he makes me hot tea and we go duck hunting. Actually…I hang out in the truck and he hunts. From the truck, I have had the privilege of watching the sunrise. Each morning it has been breath taking. Each morning it has been different. Each morning has been a new experience.
Duck hunting has given my guy a hobby…a much needed hobby. Going hunting has pulled me out of my normal morning routine and shown me a beautiful new day, every day.
As we lean into the New Year, we are called to being open. Just as every sunrise is different, every year is different. We cannot anticipate or know what lies ahead. There is no need for anxiety or fear because God travels with us.
We do know that each day will begin with a sunrise and end with a sunset. Each day God will be co-creating with us to show the world how to love one another. If we are willing to being open to something new, our breath will be taken away and we will discover new experiences.
What new experiences are you open to this year? What is God asking you to leave behind so that you can live with an attitude of being open?
For I’m going to do a brand-new thing. See, I have already begun! Don’t you see it? I will make a road through the wilderness of the world for my people to go home, and create rivers for them in the desert! Isaiah 43:19
Happy New Year from Happy Tents,
My daughter loves to play dress up. Just this weekend, she was dressing up and making me guess who she was pretending to be. She would say, “Gabriel talked to me and now I have a baby, who am I?” To me she looked like my daughter in high heels holding a baby doll with a shawl wrapped around her. To her, she was Mary holding baby Jesus.
Using our imaginations can be lots of fun…even for adults. Albert Einstein said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge.”
The power of imagination is the ultimate creative power. One dramatic example of the power of vivid imagination is that of Air Force Colonel George Hall. He was a POW locked in the dark box of a North Vietnamese prison for seven grueling years. Every day Hall played a full game of golf in his imagination. One week after he was released from his POW camp he entered the Greater New Orleans Open and shot a 76.
There is a popular Christmas song called, “Mary did you know” that you have probably heard before. It is a beautiful song that taps in to our imaginations. Did Mary know that Jesus would walk on water, heal the blind, raise the dead? Did Mary know that she was holding the great I Am?
From scripture we know that Mary must have known that her encounter with the Holy Spirit was unusual and a gift from God by the way she responds with her song of praise. It is evident that Mary knew God and God knew Mary. She shares that her soul praises the Lord and her spirit rejoices. She feels blessed and chosen. Even though she may not understand her small part in God’s big plan, she certainly understands God’s mercy and God’s active role in her life and the world. Her song is a beautiful account that answers the question to the song, “Mary did you know?” In my imagination she answers back, “I did personally know God and that was all that I needed.”
As we continue to approach the manger this week, how can we tap into our imaginations to experience the birth of Jesus in a new way? What sounds come to mind when we think of the angels? What smells come to mind when we think of the stable? What do we see in the twinkling stars and in Mary’s arms? What feelings like joy or peace do you feel? Imagine being there and witnessing such a beautiful moment in our world that would change the world forever.
I imagine you still have a to-do list to take care of this week. Add some imagination time to your list. You could even play dress-up! Your errands will be a lot more fun and it may be just what you need to help your soul prepare for Christmas.
Mary responded, “Oh, how my soul praises the Lord. How my spirit rejoices in God my Savior!” Luke 1:46
No matter how much you prepare or plan, the Christmas season always brings its own surprises. Jesus’ mother Mary certainly was surprise as was her friend Elizabeth on that first Christmas. The surprises make memories (and in Mary’s case transformed the world!).
How you handle surprises is what is important. We had an unexpected guest in our tent recently. I decided to handle it with humor. Below is an amateur poem about the visit. Enjoy!
THE CHRISTMAS BAT
‘Twas the FIRST OF DECEMBER and all through the house not a creature was stirring…except for something that looked like a mouse.
Stockings (still needed to be) hung by the chimney with care because St. Nicolas would soon be there.
The children were nestled and all snug in their beds as the agenda of the day began dancing in Mamma’s head. When the alarm clock made such a clatter, I sprang from my bed and discovered the CHRISTMAS BAT (on the kitchen floor) and could not be madder.
Away from the kitchen I flew like a flash, torn open the doors and with a broom prepared to smash.
The light in the room illuminated the object below and it was indeed a little black CHRISTMAS BAT just saying HELLO!
When what to my wondering eyes should appear but small little feet, two wings and pointy ears. More rapid than eagles I shouted out names “Oh Jesus! Dear God! Oh, where is STEVEN! Go Sam (the dog) fetch the bat (duck)…why are you acting so tame?” To the top of the ceiling to the top of the shelves, the bat dashed away, dashed away, dashed away and…disappeared just like Santa’s elves.
FOUR NIGHTS LATER as I was turning around, that little CHRISTMAS BAT came back to town. He was still dressed all in fur from his head to his foot and he made five laps around the living room as I sat by the chimney soot.
He was loudly ECHOLOCATING trying to find a way out and all I could do was yell, “Steven! Get the Bat!” with a shout!
With a wink of his eye and a twist of his head, Steven soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread. He spoke not a word but went straight to his work, grabbed lots of blankets and turned with a jerk, and put on gloves, a hat and long sleeve clothes, and giving a nod, out the door that CHRISTMAS BAT goes.
He slammed the door shut and gave the dog, Sam, a little whistle and they talked about how that CHRISTMAS BAT flew like a missile. But I heard him exclaim, ere he walked out of sight.
Merry Christmas, CHRISTMAS BAT, and to all…good night!
From our Tent to Yours,