Sam and Change

I have had to facilitate a change in my life recently. I love the outdoors, and more specifically I greatly enjoy hunting waterfowl. I developed this hobby when I moved in 2015. I also love dogs, and during my first duck season I decided it was time for a new Labrador retriever. Before I knew it, I had adopted Sam (an eighteen-month old black lab) into my family. With a lot of work and training, we were hunting together by the end of that first season.

Towards the end of our second season together, it became clear that Sam was developing some bad habits in the duck blind. Specifically, he whined – a lot! Maybe he didn’t like the cold. Maybe he was still suffering from the way his previous owners had neglected him (although, an animal psychologist I am not). Maybe he was simply high strung. During the off season I read everything I could get my hands on about curbing a hunting dog’s tendencies to whine, I worked with him daily, I even had him fixed, but nothing helped.

Quickly in our third season together I noticed that a change needed to be made. Ducks would fly in on us, Sam would see them before I would, he would get monstrously (weighing in at 105 pounds) restless, the whining would begin, and then his whines would turn to howls. I love to duck hunt. Sam loves to retrieve. I don’t think he quite made the connection that if he howled at the ducks, then they would spook, fly away, which would prohibit me from taking them, which would prohibit him from retrieving them.

Long story short – Sam is no longer welcome in my duck blind. He is, however, still a vital part of the team. He helps me put out the decoys (he’s a very smart dog). We play a little bit in the dark, muddy water before sunrise. And then he goes back into his crate (which is in the bed of my truck), lays down on his warm, soft bed, and goes back to sleep (until it’s time to retrieve the ducks off the water, or find birds that have lost their way). That’s what I call win-win. Sam gets to retrieve, and I get ducks.

But this change was not an easy one to make. I had to recognize the problem, I had to take it seriously, and then I had to do something about it. I worked with Sam on this specific issue for over nine months. When those efforts were not fruitful, I moved on to Plan B, and it has worked marvelously. But I miss Sam in my duck blind, and his annoying, noisy, obnoxious, impish, pesky, wet, wonderful, best-dog-in-the-world self. That being said, we are a stronger waterfowl-harvesting team now than we have ever been.

So what about you? For the remainder of this article, I have recruited a top-notch team of professionals to help us transform into new people by changing the way we think (as Paul puts it in Romans 12:2). They each have a word of wisdom to share with us on this journey of change and growth.

  • I can’t change the direction of the wind, but I can adjust my sails to always reach my destination” (Jimmy Dean) – There are many circumstances that are beyond our control, but that doesn’t mean we give up or do nothing. We grit our teeth, roll up our sleeves, and get to work.
  • If there is no struggle, there is no progress” (Frederick Douglass) – Anything worth doing is going to entail challenges, difficulties, struggles, and conflict. We are not looking for ease, we are looking for growth.
  • Only I can change my life. No one can do it for me” (Carol Burnett) – Personal growth is just that… personal! We have to own our shortcomings, and be willing to invest in ourselves if we want to experience growth.
  • Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world” (Harriet Tubman) – There is more potential inside of you than you could ever imagine. I know this because God is the very one who has placed the potential there. I pray you live into your God-given potential!
  • If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude” (Maya Angelou) – Perhaps the greatest change we need to make is internal, our attitude and our thinking (since this is what drives our behavior).
  • Change your thoughts and you change the world” (Norman Vincent Peale) – When our thinking/attitudes change, our behaviors change, our hearts change, then the world changes for the better. The internal and personal growth we experience floods our networks and neighborhoods, revealing the truth that the fruit of our labors are not limited only to ourselves.
  • You must be the change you wish to see in the world” (Mahatma Gandhi) – We can no longer say, “Somebody do something about that.” You want to live in a better world? Then the question is, “What are you doing about it?”

One last thing before we get started. Personal change is quite impossible without external help. As a Christian and a pastor, I know that this sort of growth will not happen without the presence of God and the participation of others. But with God’s help, and the support of good people, all things are possible.

Grace and Peace,

Steven (and Sam)

Easy Street

Welcome to the New Year! We started our New Year on Easy Street.  We took a road trip, rented some skis and bought lift tickets.  That is where we found Easy Street on a small mountain.  We went up and down snowy Easy Street over and over again.

There was one moment of pure insanity when we decided as a group that we were ready for something other than Easy Street.  We found another way up the mountain on another, longer ski lift, and arrived at the top.  Only one of us found the view exciting.  The others were terrified.  We started down. There were falls and tears.  There were feelings of fear and defeat.  After a while, pure exhaustion set in and prayers started going up, up, up.

Hours later, in the lodge we debriefed.  While sipping on four (well earned) hot chocolates, we concluded that we were heading back to Easy Street.  Back to safety, fun and relaxation.  We confessed our sin of arrogance.  We thought we knew all we needed to know to ski down the mountain. But we were still lacking many skills.  We needed more practice and more lessons.

So often in life we believe we know everything and we humbly discover we really don’t.  When we tell a friend we understand what they are going through and they politely tell us that we can’t truly understand.  Or when we challenge someone by interrupting or arguing with them just so we can feel that we are right and not wrong.  Or when we judge people from different backgrounds based on how they are portrayed in the news instead of how we have experienced them personally.

On Easy Street, we learned about turns, stops and skills.  We discovered that our bodies know what to do naturally, if we just pay attention.  We met others who were learning and we then learned from their experiences.  They motivated us to keep going.  We also learned that if we jump off Easy Street too soon, life gets dangerous, scary and stressful.

As we journey through a new year together, let’s take it easy.  Let’s be open to learning new skills and being teachable.  Let us allow our humble attitudes lead us and leave our arrogance behind.  Let us learn to relax in the rhythm of life that gives us joy in learning, faith in others and a shared sense of purpose as we all make life more easy for everyone.

How can your tent model for others what it looks like to live life on Easy Street in the arms of Christ?

Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. Matthew 11: 28-30

From our Happy Tent to Yours,

Meredith Bell

Running Wide Open

I remember the day I learned about the term “running wide open.”  I was in the passenger seat of my new sports car.  My dad bought the car for me. (I am still not sure why that was a good idea, but I am still thankful it was my car.)  He told me not to go too fast until he could ride along with me.  It was a silver Pontiac Firebird.  The time came for him to ride along with me, but he said he would drive it just to test it out on the road.  Before I knew it, we were running wide open.  He was smiling, hugging the curves and complimenting the car like it was a person.  I had never gone so fast in a car in my whole life and I never have since.  I guess it is true that within every grown man there is a young boy!

This week in a text a friend said he was “running wide open.”  Mr. Bell and I have laughed (the other option is to cry) about that text all week!  It is the best description for our lives.  Like our friend, our life is running in our final gear and we are traveling at top speed.  Monday through Monday…top speed. With the wind blowing in our hair (or at least my hair…he’s bald) as we run from meeting to meeting, morning to morning, fire to fire, we feel like we are running wide open.

Running wide open can be a fun experience.  It creates adrenaline, excitement, busyness and purpose.  Things happen.  Decisions get made.  It is easy when you are brand new, right off the car lot kind of person.  But we are not new cars anymore.  We have some miles on us.  If you are like us, you are running wide open more days than you would like. It may be time to pull over and actively rest.

Take a pit stop and let your crew (Jesus, God and the Holy Spirit) work on your car a while.  Inspect the engine (your body) to make sure it is still working well.  Sometimes we ignore obvious signs that something is not right.  Check your oil every 50 hours of work and see what the level is as you head into the next week.  If you are low, do some things to fill it up like spending time with your family, friends or even time alone.  Take a look at the tires to make sure you are balanced between work and play.  Look for holes that are slowing you down.  Clean out the interior of your life and get rid of all the trash that builds up inside.  All the worries, fears, and anxieties will be better off in the garbage can.

While you are at the pit stop, if you can’t see to find anything wrong but you still aren’t running well, reach out to a mechanic (doctor, counselor, or spiritual friend) and let them help you run a diagnostic test.  Don’t keep running wide open until you burn up the engine or the wheels fall off.  It is easier to fix a car than it is to rebuild it.  We only get one car (life) so we need to learn to take care of the one we have soon.

There is only one reason in life that we need to be running wide open and that is in our spiritual lives. So often, we ignore the one part of life that gives us the most energy. Jesus ran wide open for God AND Jesus got away to pray.  Jesus models pit stops for life. He prayed on a hills, between meetings, in homes and gardens.  He encourages us to be still so that we know God.  He sent us a Helper when he left this earth.  He created “spiritual pit stops” if you really think about it. Jesus told us to go and run wide open to make disciples for Jesus Christ.  He didn’t tell us to go and wear your self out in my name!

While you are in your tent this weekend, take a moment and ask your some question.  Are you running wide open? How much longer can you do it?  Who are you doing it for? Is there anything you need to change in your life?  We are asking ourselves the same questions often!

When he arrived and saw this evidence of God’s blessing, he was filled with joy, and he encouraged the believers to stay true to the Lord. Acts 11:23

From our reflective and Happy Tent to yours,

Meredith Bell

 

In Love With The World

This week, while attending a funeral I heard about a man who lived in love with the world.  He loved baseball and all the small details that make baseball fun.  He loved family and he had a lot of family to love.  He loved his wife for 73 years! That is a lot of years to love.  He loved farming.  He loved sharing his opinion.  While listening to the sermon sitting in the overflow section, I noticed so many people.  It was easy to understand that he lived his life in love with the world and the people around him.

As we approach a natural pause in our lives this week, I wonder if we are living as people in love with the world? It seems that there is so much negative noise around us that it is hard to remember how incredible our world truly is every day.  Maybe we just need to notice.  This week is a perfect time to turn off our normal rhetoric about problems in the world and turn on our five senses to remember just how wonderful our world is.

Birthday candles are magical when you are 1 or 101 years old.  Licking the bowl after mixing cake batter is the best bonding time with any child.  Hearing owls screech in the night while you are trying to drift off to sleep is mysterious and a little scary.  A hug anytime is the best way to pause life.  Watching fall leaves dance down the street while driving in neighborhoods makes you feel like they are performing a fall recital with leaps and pirouettes.  Walking through the front door of a home you have been away from is life giving.  Sharing a meal with friends and family is love at its best.

Ordinary, simple moments every day teach us how to be in love with the world. These moments are connected to our souls.  They give us breath.  They center our minds.  They connect us to the God who created the stars and the starfish.  To miss these moments is to miss our chance to see a glimpse into eternity.

This week, enjoy the energy and enjoy the stillness.  Let’s give thanks for all the ways you are in love with the world.  And maybe we can fall in love again.

The Lord is good to everyone.
    He showers compassion on all his creation. Psalm 145:9

From our Thankful and Happy Tent to yours,

Meredith Bell

P.S. Here is a Netflix show, The Kindness Diaries,  about a guy finding a way to stay in love with the world. Enjoy!

Summer: A Time with Nature

When I was growing up, Memorial Day weekend began our annual pilgrimage to the Lake House.  My mother would pick us up on Friday (the last day of school) with the car packed to the brim.  We would drive to the grocery store and buy more than enough food for our family of six.  (“Lake food” was real junk food…Little Debbies, fruit roll-ups, moon-pies and more).  For twenty minutes, we traveled from our town to the Lake House.  That drive felt like a cleansing.  For the next 3 months, we were free.  Free from school, free from schedules, free from problems and responsibilities.  The recitals were over.  The last spelling test was history.  Life was good.  My wardrobe at the lake included swimsuits and a lifejacket.  I remember even sleeping in my swimsuit on some nights.

More than anything, those months and years spent on the lake taught me that I am a part of nature.  I am part of something bigger than myself.  I spent many more hours outside than inside.  Watching rain come over the lake let me know it was a good time to take a nap.  Stepping on a sticker taught me to walk more carefully.  Watching waves crash against my favorite rocks showed me that somethings in life never stop.  They were there before I was born and they will be there afterwards.  Watching the stars twinkle outside my bedroom from my bunk bed gave me deep peace.  I was connected to the world around me.

So many of our problems these days come from the idea that we are not connected to anyone or anything.  We feel autonomous.  Even more, we feel that the purpose of the world is to serve us.  This is a slippery slope to travel.  Before too long our consumerism creates more waste than our Earth can handle.  Our schedules are unachievable and cause more stress in ourselves and our families.  Our relationship with our spiritual lives is strained simply because it is difficult to hear God speak when our life is so busy and loud.  Maybe it is time to remember who we are in relationship to nature.  Nature has the ability to teach us just how connected we are to creation.  In fact, each one of us is a little creation made to care for the Earth around us.

Memorial Day weekend is a great time to remember.  We remember those who gave their lives for us so that we may live out our days in freedom.  We remember how precious life is.  We remember that we are a part of something bigger than ourselves.  It is also a great time to stop all the hustle and bustle of our lives and decide how we want to spend our summer days.  Do we want them filled with memories or schedules?  Do we plan to stay in the house or get outside?  Are there people we want to connect with because we have time to do it?

Imagine packing up your car for your summer pilgrimage (“Lake food” included!!).  Who’s going with you and where are you going?  What needs to be on your itinerary so that you have time with nature and with God?  How can you make this summer less about you and more about nature?  Let’s pack up the car, the backpacks, the water bottles and get outdoors.  Even a walk around your neighborhood is a big step in the right direction.  And if you need a little reminder about how connected we are to God’s creation and nature, take a look at this talk by Louie Giglio.  It’s amazing!

There is one God, the Father,
    by whom all things were created,
    and for whom we live.
And there is one Lord, Jesus Christ,
    through whom all things were created,
    and through whom we live. 1 Corinthians 8:6

Happy Memorial Day!

Meredith Bell

A Wedding Gift

We are on our way to celebrate a wedding in Louisiana. Before we left the house, we ordered the wedding gift online. I sat down to order it. There were so many choices. I needed a second opinion, so I invited Dr. Bell to join me. He didn’t know either.

What do you get a new married couple for a gift to celebrate their new marriage? Do you give them the fancy trashcan they registered for in hopes that all the hurtful words they throw at each other after a long week just fall into the trashcan? Do you give them a knife set in hopes that they will help each other slice out unhelpful habits? Or do you give them new towels so that they can feel warm and loved in their new marriage. What about a new set of pots and pans so they can create memories together around their kitchen table? Or do you buy them a Keurig so they can make a fast cup of coffee and run out the door?  Or do you buy a traditional coffee maker just in case they have time to sit down together before their day starts.   Maybe you buy them a Bundt pan to remind them that even the bumpy times can be sweet?

What we really want to give them is our blessing and support for their new life together. We want them to know that this new journey is more about letting go than getting more. It’s about grace. It’s about seeing love in the simple things like holding hands, doing laundry and tucking children in bed. It’s about staying connected through the years. What we really want to tell them is that marriage is an amazing journey together. We are here if they need us.

We settled on buying them a hand mixer and a note from Dr. Bell that said, “Congratulations! We hope you like your mixer and make lots of cakes. My favorite cake is a yellow cake with chocolate icing. Meredith’s is a white cake with white icing.” How poetic! (He said his friend will think it’s funny!)

What new household gift do you need in your home this week to help your “tent” relationships? I think we may get a blender soon, just to mix things up a bit!

Shalom,

Meredith Bell

Now we see a reflection in a mirror; then we will see face-to-face. Now I know partially, but then I will know completely in the same way that I have been completely known. Now faith, hope, and love remain—these three things—and the greatest of these is love. I Corinthians 13: 12-13

Gloria

aka God

Let me introduce you to Gloria.  A little over two weeks ago, my family received a call and we were told we would soon be moving our tent.  Not just the new indoor tent we are enjoying, but our bigger tent.  We were all a little taken back by the news.  But to calm our initial thoughts, we decided to go and spy…tip toe spying.

When we arrived at our new location, we stopped to hsometimesave lunch at the Collin Street Bakery.  With sunglasses on and hats pulled low, we entered the welcoming eatery.  The first things we saw were cakes, pies, cookies and of course fruit cakes.  Our first reaction, this is going to turn our just fine.  Yummy!

Then we met Gloria (aka God).  Gloria was a beautiful woman and her spirit shined.  She brought us our food and quickly observed that we did not receive any chips to go with our sandwiches.  She talked to both of our daughters and said, “Little mommas…come with me, you need some chips.”  They soon returned with smiles and four packages of chips. They were so excited explaining how they were free, really free.   Later when Gloria (aka God) checked on our spy table, she observed that we did not have one cookie on our table.  Once again, she recruited our daughters to correct this problem because she recognizes good help when she sees it and said, “Little mommas…come with me, you need some cookies.”  They returned with bigger smiles and a plate full of twelve cookies.

Our spying skills seemed to slip under the table as laughter and smiles filled our hearts.  When we left we looked for Gloria (aka God) to thank her and could not find her.  Then we knew she really was God!

We are on a new adventure, but we know that God is there too!

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