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,
I am over coupons. I just don’t see the point. I never have. (This may just sound like a frustrated Facebook message, but stick with me.) Just this week, I was making a purchase that totaled ninety dollars. My friend asked if I wanted to use a coupon and the total dropped to forty dollars! I recently bought a gift for my mother for her birthday. After it was wrapped and on the way to her house, I received a coupon in my email box offering fifty percent off my purchase. If I would have had the coupon, I would have saved fifty dollars! A college student was busy at my office clipping coupons. He proudly informed me that he could save eighty dollars with his coupons! (But he had to buy what they wanted him to buy.)
And let’s not mention those pesky little “thank you” cards from the grocery stores…all of them. What is the point of those? They get my personal information and in exchange, I have the privilege of digging in my purse for that tiny little card once again. I always frantically search for it because without it, I will have a significant mark up on my bill. For me, those tiny pesky little “thank you” cards create nothing but noise and business…two things I work hard to avoid.
Wouldn’t it be nice if we weren’t forced to participate in this system? What if items just cost the same no matter what?
All of this made me realize and understand why thousands and thousands of people followed Jesus around from town to town while he was on Earth. Everywhere he went, people were following him. There are many reasons why, but I believe that people discovered a different way of being through him. They too were living in a society where markups were normal and the rules constantly changed. They were unable to get ahead of the system that worked to keep them on edge, hopeless and confused. Before they met Jesus, they couldn’t even begin to think that there was another way to live. After they met him, they knew there was another way to live and they wanted it badly.
Aren’t we glad that have an alternative way of living with Jesus today. Jesus does not work through a coupon system. There are no coupon deals with Jesus that you have to be on a mailing list to receive. Jesus doesn’t set a limit on how many fruits-of-the-spirits you can have unless you have a coupon for more. There are not any fifty-percent off of confession-experience-deals where you only have to confess half of the things you have done wrong. Jesus wants all of our lives (the good and the bad) and will give us everything (a full life) in return.
The Jesus system is simply built on grace. It doesn’t matter when you come to know him, we all get the same deal. There are no coupons to clip or search for online. There is not a Black Friday or a Cyber Monday, because everyday there is grace and forgiveness. Every day we have all that we need. Everyday we can talk unlimited through prayer. No contracts. No hidden fees. No lines. No wifi necessary.
Open hearts and open minds to possibilities beyond our imaginations…that’s all Christ needs from you and me. He already took care of the rest. I am over useless systems (I am sure there are many others that I don’t recognize in my life) and coupons…my time is too precious and so is Jesus.
And now, just as you accepted Christ Jesus as your Lord, you must continue to follow him. Let your roots grow down into him, and let your lives be built on him. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness. Colossians 2:6 to 7
From Our Happy Tent to Yours,
After church one Sunday a few years ago, my husband asked our five-year-old daughter what she learned in Sunday school. She said that she learned about Jesus and the cheetahs. The theologian in him was immediately curious because he was not familiar with that story in the Bible. He asked for more information and she told him the whole story. Then he listened closely to her lesson.
Jesus and the Cheetahs
Once upon a time, Jesus was walking down the road. There were ten cheetahs that came to him. They were sick. (In Sunday school we put dots all over our clothes with cotton balls and baby powder. We looked like cheetahs. It was fun.) Jesus made the cheetahs better, but only one cheetah said “Thank you.”
Eventually my husband got it…she was talking about Jesus and the Lepers not CHEETAHS! We always get a good belly laugh from her version of the story especially since I was her Sunday school teacher that day!!
There is also a lot to truth to her story. There are a lot of cheaters in this story. Nine to be exact. In Luke, we learn that Jesus encountered ten lepers on his way to Jerusalem who begged him for mercy and healing. He did exactly what they asked. They were healed and they had their lives back. They could return to society, their families, and their careers. He had given them all that they could dream of having and more. Out of the ten healed lepers, only one returned to thank him. Only one.
This Thanksgiving we have the opportunity to be the one that returned to give thanks. Think about all the people in your life that have made your life better this year. Be the one to thank them. People like your doctor who helped you stay healthy, your friend that remembered your birthday, your co-worker who helped you meet your deadline, or your neighbor who pulls your trash bins back to your fence after they are empty. Be the one to thank them. Think about the people you see each week at the grocery store, school, bank, gas station or in your neighborhood. Be the one to thank them. Recall how they helped you have a better day or a better life. Be the one to thank them.
Since Thanksgiving is on our minds, our family took a moment after dinner this week to make a list of all the people we want to thank. We signed a cards and wrote a notes together. We had fun talking about why we wanted to thank someone. What is a creative way your family can give thanks?
When we bow our heads and give thanks to God with our family on Thursday, we will also be giving thanks for all the people God sent us this year to make our lives better. If we don’t take time to pause and give thanks, aren’t we really only cheating ourselves?
One of them, when he saw that he was healed, came back to Jesus, shouting, “Praise God!” He fell to the ground at Jesus’ feet, thanking him for what he had done. This man was a Samaritan. Jesus asked, “Didn’t I heal ten men? Where are the other nine? Has no one returned to give glory to God except this foreigner?” And Jesus said to the man, “Stand up and go. Your faith has healed you.” Luke 17:15-19
Happy Thanksgiving from our tent to yours!