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,
A little over a year ago, I heard a sermon by Dr. Bill Bryan called “God’s Favorite Word.” Bill claimed that God’s favorite word is “AND.” This week, Bill passed away from pancreatic cancer. But like any good preacher, Bill’s words will live on through the many sermons he preached over his lifetime and the many young clergy he mentored. Bill lost his battle with cancer AND he now lives in God’s eternity.
Our endings are God’s beginnings. If Bill is right and God’s favorite word is AND, then we experience life in a new way. We are often quick to end God’s story in our lives because we feel that it has come to a conclusion. We settle for our experiences in jobs, family, finances, or marriage. We begin to believe that a good enough life is the life God wants to give us. But Jesus came to give us an abundant life, not just a good life. God is quick to erase our punctuation and throw an “AND” on the end of our story. A story that God is always creating.
I had another friend, Rev. Wally Chappell, who mentored me in my life. When I met Wally he was already in his eighties. Wally lived a life with a lot of ANDs. He graduated from Rice with an engineering degree AND married the love of his life AND became a pastor AND he had four sons (he called them 1, 2,3,4) AND at the age of 70 rode his bike from Texas to Colorado AND published a book AND married his college sweetheart at the age of ninety-four. Wally never seemed to stop adding ANDs to his life and it is safe to say he lived an abundant life.
This week, our tent (like yours) has been watching Hurricane Harvey destroy home after home, tent after tent and life after life. The destruction is overwhelming. But I know that God is busy erasing all the punctuations marks at the end of all the news reports. God is erasing the periods and adding a lot of ANDs.
People are suffering in terrible ways AND people are helping. The rivers continue to rise AND volunteers are setting up shelters for their neighbors. Families are trapped in their homes AND strangers are rescuing them in their personal boats. Cities are experiencing chaos AND finding hope by helping one another. Homes are destroyed AND homes will be rebuilt. We always wonder where God is at work in the midst of destruction and darkness. This week, I know God was busy adding a lot of ANDs to Hurricane Harvey. Hurricane Harvey destroyed AND God will guide all of us to ways to help our neighbors.
He divided the sea and let them pass through it,
and made the waters stand like a heap.
In the daytime he led them with a cloud,
and all night long with a fiery light.
He split rocks open in the wilderness,
and gave them drink abundantly as from the deep.
He made streams come out of the rock,
and caused waters to flow down like rivers. Psalm 78:13-16
From our praying AND helping tent to yours,
In 2008 our world changed. The App Store was launched that summer. On iPhones around the world, apps were created for specific tasks to make life easier, fun, and simple. The first summer 500 apps existed. Today there are 2.2 million available!
With 2.2 million apps available, we all should be free of stress because our tasks are easier. We should smile more because of the fun we have playing games on our phones. We should have more time available to do the things we love to do and get to places on time. But if you look around in your tent or people-watch in your local stores, you will probably see something different. The stressors of life still exist, everywhere just like they did before the App Store.
That is ok, because long, long before the App Store existed, we were programmed to overcome life’s stress with some simple tools. Hugs, words, relationships, Sabbath, service and patience are just a few of the tools. The list is honestly never ending because creation continues in each one of us. There is not an app for these tried and true tools. There is only the presence of the Holy Spirit…and that is all that we need.
In every tent, in every town, in every state, there is a need for families to lead by example. Around the kitchen table, families do the hard work of life with each other every day. Every day families find an opportunity to practice using God’s tools in their tents. We actively do this when we are learning how to love when we disagree. Balancing life’s demands with appropriated rest. Praying for one another. Sharing what we have with our neighbors. Encouraging each other to try harder and succeed. Comforting each other when hurt. Responding to the needs that we see around us.
In families, we learn to live together in a way that reflects the love of God to each other and to those who we meet. Family relationships are full of grace, guidance from the Holy Spirit and glimpses of eternal life when God leads and we follow.
There is not an app for the kind of work our communities and world need today. But there is a family…God’s family. It is time to take a seat at the world’s dinner table to share what we know. The world’s table is starving for hugs, encouraging words, comfort, meaningful relationships, patience and service. Let’s address this hunger together, one family at a time.
I wonder what your family can do this week?
The Lord proclaims:
Stop at the crossroads and look around; ask for the ancient paths. Where is the good way? Then walk in it and find a resting place for yourselves. Jeremiah 6:16
From our Tent to Yours,
Around nine o’clock we drove to the pier, the one that the locals go to for night fishing. Men, women and children were busy fishing. Seeing that the pier was full, we parked the truck a little further down the seawall and unpacked our gear. It was dark and the stars were out. With flashlights in hand, we cast the crab nets over the wall and into the black water below. Immediately we spooked a sea snake and saw it slither away in the light beam from our flashlight.
As our “Master Angler” prepared our hooks with perfect bait, we shined our lights into the water to see what other sea creatures we could discover. Sea turtles were swimming near the edge of our light beams. Too much light seemed to scare them, we learned. Just a little light was an invitation to come to the surface. A dolphin playfully swam to the seawall and back out to sea. We checked the crab nets and caught a stone crab with an egg sack attached. We quickly and carefully put the new mother back into the water. The activity in the sea created excitement and anticipation in our little family. What would we see next?
It was time to cast our fishing lines deep into the water. The “Master Angler” handed over the rod and reels. We cast our hooks beyond the seawall and into the deep dark water. Then we waited. And waited. And waited.
Casting our hooks deep into the ocean is how we often live life. So many of us are willing to gather at the pier or along the sea wall. We seek to connect with the mystery that lives below the surface of life. The activity and the life is a part of the mystery that we know exists beneath the noise and routine of our daily lives. We know we cannot possibly see all that God wants to show us and so we go, in the cover of darkness, to cast our nets into the deep waters in hopes that God will drop something into our nets. Maybe even a personal gift. These moments inspire us to keep going. Keep living. Keep exploring.
An angler by the name of Fennel Hudson said, “There are a million-and-one ways to enjoy a day’s angling. Catching fish is but one of them.” On that summer night, we learned the truth of this statement. Instead of fish, we caught something else. Insight into life.
We Need A Master Angler
Each of us needs someone in our life who knows how to fish for deep spiritual meaning. Someone who knows how to prepare for the experience and teaches us how to fish. There is a lot of prep work that goes into fishing. Before you can cast your rod and reel into the ocean, you have to prepare. Bait, hooks, fishing line, poles, pliers, ice, chairs and snacks all need to be bought and packed in the truck. There is a lot of prep work that goes into our spiritual lives so that we are ready when we catch something on the end of our hook.
Get Some Help When You Are Stuck
We kept our “Master Angler” busy all night. Our hooks kept getting caught on some sea rocks. Each time the line got stuck, the “Master Angler” took over and got the hook unstuck. Often the line would break. As amateur anglers, we learned when we need help, asked for it. In life, when we are stuck it is because we are working like everything depends on us and nothing depends on God. Maybe we need to ask for help from God more and often.
Enough for One Day
As the night went on, the giggles got louder. And louder. Exhaustion was setting into our adventure. Even though the stars were beautiful and we were having fun together, we knew that we had experienced enough for one day. Rest is an important part of life. There is only so much that we can do in one day. We need time away to refresh our bodies and souls. So many people comment these days that they are working too much. And they probably are. Finding a balance between rest and work is life giving. Sometimes we have had enough adventure for one day.
We caught some more memories and insights to take back to our tent that night. We didn’t catch a fish, but that’s why it is called fishing and not catching, right?
“Cast the net on the right side of the boat,” He told them, “and you’ll find some.”So they did,and they were unable to haul it in because of the large number of fish. John 21:6
From Our Happy Tent to Yours,
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,
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,
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,
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,
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,
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.)