Birdie

Sometimes life completely surprises us in both good and bad ways.  Recently in our tent, we experienced a surprise.  We were surprised to discover that our new puppy had a kidney disease.  The extremely sad part is that she is now Jesus’ adorable puppy and no longer ours.  The extremely spiritual part is that we have moved through our loss together and relatively well.

Birdie came into our lives over the summer.  We planned six months before during Christmas to add a puppy to our tent.  Everyone in the family contributed to the “Puppy Fund” jar over those long six months.  We paid for Birdie in 1’s, 5’s, 10′, 20’s and A LOT of change.  When we handed over our jar to the breeder, we all smiled with pride.  After Birdie was ours, we went on our summer vacation.  And yes, Birdie joined us because we were NOT going to leave her behind.

She traveled to Longmont and Estes Park, Colorado.  She enjoyed the early morning coffee shop visits and met many locals over coffee.  She loved the feeling of the wind blowing on her face as we traveled to the top of Estes Park.  She couldn’t believe the view.  One evening during an outdoor jazz concert, she rolled around in the thick grass on a cool Colorado night and played with her tiny ball.  She was such a trooper on the long car rides and participated in every game and sang every song!  Birdie Bell quickly became a part of the Bell family.

Once we were home for good, Birdie enjoyed picking up our scholars in school each day and assisting with homework by keeping little laps warm. She learned tricks, greeted us in the morning and assisted with the wake up call.  She loved to visit our neighbors and was often the center of attention as neighbors were taking their routine walks.  She never met a stranger.  She even befriended our other dog, Sam, with little effort. He was a big fan of our tiny little Birdie.

Just as quickly as she came she was gone.  Of course we shed tears, asked “Why” and hugged a lot during the days after she was gone.  We still talk about her often and smile at the memories we shared with her. Some dogs need just a little bit of time to make a big impact.

In honor of Birdie, we would like to share a few lessons that we learned from her.

  • Perfect Planning Does Not Equal A Perfect Ending: We prepared for our new puppy.  We shared the responsibility of paying for her.  We all learned about the discipline of saving and waiting.  (It was very difficult to not “borrow” from the puppy fund!) We shared the responsibility by letting her out, letting her in, feeding her and playing with her.  Everyone participated with joy.  We took her to the vet for her shots and carefully selected the perfect groomer.  We gave her perfect treats.  We did everything RIGHT for Birdie.  But our ending was less than perfect.  Perfection is not a guarantee for a perfect ending.  In life, perfection is overrated.  It’s a myth.  In life, nothing is promised to us other than eternal life when we believe in Christ.
  • Take Time To Visit:  With Birdie we spent a lot of mornings and evenings outside playing. Our T.V. became a secondary activity.   Because she was a five pound adorable ball of fur, she was a neighbor magnet. During our time with Birdie, we visited with our neighbors more because we did not have the luxury of being in a hurry.  We were present with Birdie and our neighbors.  We enjoyed our spontaneous conversations each day and we looked forward to them.  Birdie taught us to hurry less and visit more.  You never know how much you need to have a conversation with a neighbor until it is over.
  • Risk Love:  We fell in love fast with Birdie, very fast.  We risked everything to love little Birdie and we loved her completely.  She had full control over our hearts.  Would you do it again?  Absolutely!  The pure love and joy that she brought into our tent and into our relationships was worth every dollar and penny that we saved in our “Puppy Fund.”  It is a risk to love someone or something other than yourself.  Birdie taught us that it is worth the risk.

One evening last week we were having dinner and we talked about Birdie.  We talked about getting another puppy.  We talking about if we wanted another one, if we wanted the same breed, and if we were ready. Everyone in our tent has strong opinions so the conversation was lively.  But one comment summed it all up.  If or when we are ready to try again, our new puppy will be named Birdie 2.0!  She was that fun and special.

Which one of the “Birdie” lessons speak to you this week?  What is special about your pet(s) and what do they teach you?

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Jeremiah 29: 11

From our Happy Tent to Yours,

Meredith Bell

 

Divine Appointments

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,

Meredith Bell

Legends

Difficult times create great legends.  People that push through. People that overcome.  People that do the impossible.  We all know of big legends like Abraham Lincoln, Harriet Tubman and Martin Luther King.  There are big legends in the faith story like Moses, Ruth and Paul the Apostle.  There are also big legends in our families.  One of our legends is Ben Andrews (my grandfather).

Ben was born in Archer City, Texas in 1900.  His legend moment came during the Great Depression.  The Depression changed his family and in 1924 he decided the look for work in California.  As children, we were always told about his journey to California from Texas.  He made the trip in a Model T Ford.  While driving over the desert sand, he drove over railroad cross-ties.  Bump. Bump. Bump.  At the end of the day, he would simply make camp beside his car and sleep in the open.  He successfully made it to Los Angeles, California, found a job, met Will Rogers and later returned to Texas.  Ben lived to be 101.  He was a legend in many ways.

Legends inspire us by their stories, perseverance, messages and examples.  Their words cut through the noise of life and connect with something deep within each of us.  As their story is told from person to person and generation to generation, they become bigger and better.

Within each of our families there are people who are legends.  We hear their stories when we are in diapers and all the years following.  We find ourselves telling others about our family legends at dinner parties or over lunch.  Their stories are a part of our story because we stand on their shoulders and continue into the future.

This weekend one of our daughters will be making a rite of passage.  She will be publicly choosing to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ and make His story a part of her story.  Even though she has been told about Ben Andrews (and other family legends) since she was in diapers, she has also been told about Jesus Christ. The name above all names.

As time passes and generations come and go, the one legend that we cannot fail to pass on to our families is Jesus Christ. We know that sometimes life gives us our own “Great Depression” event.  In those seasons, we need our faith in Jesus Christ to help us travel from home, across the desert and to new opportunities.  Our faith in Jesus Christ empowers and equips us with all that we need to survive the unexpected events in life. And when we are camping outside under the stars on our journey, we can also appreciate how we are loved by the Creator of the universe.

This weekend,  share some of your family legend stories with your family and friends.  And share your family’s faith story…it will only grow stronger.

I will give you as many descendants as the stars in the sky, and I will give your descendants all of these lands. All of the nations of the earth will be blessed because of your descendants.  Genesis 26:4

From our Happy Tent to yours,

Meredith Bell

Connection Points: Little Effort with Big Rewards

My phone has only been running on half battery all week. I haven’t given it enough time to fully charge.  It doesn’t take very long in my day for the little green battery light to turn to red.

In our tent, we move in many different directions at the same time.  Maybe your tent is the same.  In our effort to help everyone in our tent (even the dog, Sam) be their best self, we quickly find ourselves coming and going at a pace that would impress Olympics track athletes.  I can’t say that we are very proud of this habit, but I imagine it is similar to most American families.  American families that are plugged in, committed, scheduled and striving to be the best they can in their own community.  There are as many external pressures as there are internal pressures that keep us living this way in our post-modern world.  All these pressures can easily turn our family battery from green to red.

The crazy reality about this pace is that we are rarely together, really together even though we live in the same house.  Together like when you sit and just talk about nothing.  Together so that you can actually hear each other’s hearts.  Both joys and struggles.  Together in a way that keeps us connected to each other in a world that is moving around us.  We can go on living like this or we can live differently.

Living differently would mean that we are intentional about connecting to each other.  Until we are intentional, we will just live within the ebb and flows of the world.  From experience, that routine only leads to frustration, arguments, loneliness and anxiety.  But living in intentional connection with the people we love leads to understanding, love, companionship and contentment.  Here are a few ideas to be intentional with connecting to those you love for this week…try to work FIVE connection points in this week and see how it goes! It will help you stay connected and available to what God wants you to experience.

CONNECTION POINT IDEAS

LUNCH DATES–Planned lunch dates really help pause the day and breath life into a relationship.  The menu doesn’t matter as much as the conversation.  It’s something you can count on each week to pull you back together in a way to gives you life.

HIDDEN NOTES and TEXT–These are just fun and they are a perfect way to encourage, love, recognize and support each other.  The notes are guaranteed to create smiles and memories.  It’s amazing how God even gets in on the fun by helping you say just the right thing at the right time.

COUCH TALK–Twenty minutes and a couch is all that it takes.  Media off (including phones) and eyes on each other.  It is the best way to connect and reconnect after a busy day or week.

ROSES AND THORNS–The best way to hear each other’s hearts is to talk about the roses and thorns of the day.  This can be done in the car, one the phone, at the table or anywhere.  It always reveals how everyone is doing and helps everyone connect.

PRAYER–Rad Joy is a great company that helps busy people give their burdens back to Christ.  The best way to connect with those we love is to ask them how you can pray for them and then do it.

MEALS–Jesus and his disciples broke bread together all through the New Testament.  Preparing a meal, enjoying a meal, talking and listening to each other,  and cleaning up after the meal can be holy time for families. Even playing dinner games is fun. Everyone can be a part of the experience.

Enjoy making connections with the people you love…it’s an eternal investment and well worth the effort!

Do not love this world nor the things it offers you, for when you love the world, you do not have the love of the Father in you. For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father, but are from this world.  And this world is fading away, along with everything that people crave. But anyone who does what pleases God will live forever. 1 John 2:15-17

Meredith Bell

Friends (aka Angels)

It was 5:30pm when I received a text from a friend asking if I wanted to join her for a last minute dinner.  Yes!   I would love to go to dinner and skip out on our normal evening ritual.  After I hit “send” on my phone, I remembered that I had not taken a shower all day! I actually had dinner planned for my family and the grill was hot.  I was exhausted after doing errands, laundry, dishes and playing all day.  Why had I said yes?

As I was trying to do something with my dirty hair, I had many thoughts of backing out.  I was about ready to do just that when I remembered how my grandmother explained friendship to me one day.  She said that our circle of friends grows in our teen years and our young adult years.  During our adult years that circle begins to get smaller.  We have less time for friends and our circle of friends gets smaller.  As we get older that circle becomes very small because some of our friends move to heaven before us.  She encouraged me to spend time with friends every time I am given the chance to keep my friend circle as large as possible for as long as possible.

Friends are God’s angels on earth.  When we need to be cheered up, a friend calls.  When we pretend that everything is just “fine”, a real friend knows we are lying.  When we just want to have fun for a few hours and watch a movie, we call a friend.  When we need a good cup of coffee and a good conversation, a friend has time to meet us at the coffee shop.  It is amazing to see how God uses friends in our lives.

In our busy, scheduled world, it is too easy to say no to a friend.  We are often tired, overwhelmed and too busy to say yes when that spontaneous text comes to us.  But, we actually need to say yes (even if we have dirty hair) to friend invitations.  They give us a chance to break out of our routine and connect to someone we care about.  When we do that, God is present too!  God did not create us to be alone.  We are called to live in community.

This week, step out of your tent and text a friend.  Set up a spontaneous dinner or coffee just to be together.  Help other people in your tent do the same.  Your time with your friends (new and old) is time well spent!

Whenever two or three of you come together in my name, I am there with you.  Matthew 18:20

From our Happy Tent to Yours,

Meredith Bell

P.S.  Here is a good article about the importance of friendship from Q Ideas. Check it out and visit about it with your friends!  “Is True Friendship Dying Away?”

Look Up

A few years ago at a colleague’s funeral, I heard a sermon that I still remember.  The pastor said when we cannot make sense of what is going on around us, one thing we can do is look up.  Look up to God.  Her words still speak truth today.  In the midst of uncertainty, fear, shock and confusion, one place we can look to for comfort is up.  When we look up, we are reminded that God is among us.

God is among us and God is at work even during our dark days.  Families have lost important members this week across our country.  Family members that have lived in their “tent”, laughed at their jokes, sat at their table and shared countless memories with over the years.  Now they are gone and their lives are in front of all of us.

As people in God’s family, we are invited to shine the light of Christ into the darkness.  We are invited to look up to God in prayer and seek direction. God uses families every day to comfort, help and love others.  Families have a front row seat in the world.   We see first hand the people who suffer, hurt, experience loneliness and more.  We live next door to strangers that become friends.  We use our phones to stay in touch with people who we know.  The family is an outpost for God in the world. And today families have the opportunity to up lift each other and to up lift their community and its needs.

The center of activity in most homes is the kitchen.  Maybe this week, we can use our kitchen time as our sacred time.  During our sacred time, we can work together to process the current events, God’s work around us and our own spiritual work.  All we need to do this is some good food, a little extra time together, scriptures that speak to us and hands to hold in prayer.  God can use families today to shine light in a dark world.  I wonder how God plans to use your family?

Together we pray for our communities, our country and our world as we look up to God together.

Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.

Galatians 6:2

Meredith Bell

An Oreo For Breakfast

On Wednesday evening, we received a special invitation to a birthday party.  The hostess for the party gave out handwritten invitations to each member of our family.  The honored guest was her special doll, Sarah.  Sarah was turning three the next day and the party was planned for 8 o’clock in the morning.  Throughout the evening, there was a lot of activity going on in the hostess’ bedroom.  Candles, Oreos, forks, balloons, streamers, and napkins all floated across the house from various rooms to the bedroom.  The computer paper vanished from the printer and was transformed into party hats.  No one was allowed in the bedroom for a preview.  We had to wait until 8 o’clock in the morning.  Not a second before. Finally we all fell asleep while visions of the party danced in our heads.

As 8 o’clock rolled around, we all began our short journey to the party location with coffee in hand.  (One person was almost late because they tried to play possum!)  The room was decorated with streamers and balloons.  At each place setting there was one Oreo with a fork and a glass of water.  We sang Happy Birthday to Sarah as she was presented an Oreo-tower with candles on top!  The rest of the party included a balloon toss, scavenger hunt and finally a dance party.  Three generations were dancing around the bedroom celebrating the day.  Smiles were everywhere.  Especially on the hostess.

Our little hostess threw a great party and she learned how to do it from our parties.  She had paid attention to details even when we didn’t know she was watching.  It reminded us that ALL the details that make up our busy days are seen by little eyes and ears.  The way we talk to others and the way we talk to each other is recorded in young minds.  The way we help strangers and the way we take care (or don’t take care) of ourselves is seen with fresh eyes.  The way we connect with God and share our story with others is witnessed by searching souls.  It is worth our time to think about the messages we send through our daily details.  How do we model a spiritual life?  How do we show appreciation for God’s gifts?  What does love, grace and forgiveness look like in our lives?

If you have a hard time remembering what it was like to be a child, I recommend eating an Oreo for breakfast.  It’s a good way to step out of your busy, stressed, gluten-free adult world and step into a world full of possibilities.  All of our adult agendas for the day were put on hold for a brief moment this week.  We ushered in the new day in a beautiful way.  The party became our devotional.  We spent time together and time with God because we know God was a guest too.  We could feel the joy and the love through God’s presence.

As we left the party we were given a party favor.  A hug.

Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Colossians 3:12

From our Happy Tent to yours,

Meredith Bell

Family Mission

What is yours?  What is God calling your family to do?  So often in families, we become wrapped up in what each member is doing separately.  We celebrate the achievements.  We comfort the disappointments.  We enjoy the simple days and survive the busy days.  But what if we took a step back and explored the idea that God may be using our families for specific missions.

Last week, I received an email from Family Legacy.  It is an organization in Irving, Texas that invites American families to sponsor children in Zambia.  We began sponsoring two children almost two years ago.  Monica is 7 and Edward is 11.  They are the same age as our own children.  Monica emailed us last week to let us know that she was the student of the week in her school.  She was excited to be the line leader and the teacher’s helper for the week.  Edward also emailed us to say thank you for helping him go to school.  Their emails stopped me in the middle of my day.  Halfway around the world, God is using our family to bless two young children. That is simply awesome.

It feels simple, but to the children on the receiving end it feels like God loves them.  A family mission does not need to be complicated.  Each member of your family does not need to move to another country and become a missionary.  (In fact, Christianity in North America and Europe seems to be decreasing.  Our mission field is our neighborhoods.) God is using you and can use you right where you are right now.

This week, in your tent, take a step back and call a family meeting.  Have each member share what they think the family mission is or what they want the family mission to be.  Keep one ear open to God’s voice.  You will be excited to discover what you come up with together.

Take a look at these links to explore your mission opportunities more:

The Church Will End Extreme Poverty by Scott Todd

Family Legacy

Serving Together As A Family by Heidi Dunkley

For you have been called to live in freedom, my brothers and sisters. But don’t use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature. Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love. Galatians 5:13

From our Happy Tent to yours,

Meredith Bell

A Change In Perspective

This week, I was with a counselor friend and she shared a great tool to use when making decisions.  It went like this:

Try this process the next time you are making a big decision.  Close your eyes and imagine yourself in your favorite chair.  Take notice of all that is around you and the smells.  Now think of the decision you have to make.  It may feel big and heavy.  Next, imagine yourself sitting in the same chair with the same smells 20 years down the road.  What does the decision you have to make look like from that point?  Stretch out a few more years.  Try 40 years away, what does the decision look like from your older self in the same favorite chair? By simply changing your perspective, you can find peace in the decisions you make in your life.

Thinking about my older self reminded me of a poem that I heard while in college.  It is a great poem about perspective.  I hope it helps you and those around you to enjoy life even more.  The poem is called, “I Would Pick More Daisies.”

Shalom,

Meredith Bell

I Would Pick More Daisies

When asked “How would you have lived your life differently if you had a chance?” Nadine Stair, an 85-year-old woman, from Louisville, Kentucky, provided these poetic words as her response…

23497741820_98bdd4aa62If I had my life to live over again,
I’d dare to make more mistakes next time.
I’d relax.
I’d limber up.
I’d be sillier than I’ve been this trip.
I would take fewer things seriously.
I would take more chances,
I would eat more ice cream and less beans.

I would, perhaps, have more actual troubles but fewer imaginary ones.
you see, I’m one of those people who was sensible and sane,
hour after hour,
day after day.

Oh, I’ve had my moments.
If I had to do it over again,
I’d have more of them.
In fact, I’d try to have nothing else- just moments,
one after another, instead of living so many years ahead of each day.

I’ve been one of those persons who never goes anywhere without a thermometer, a hot-water bottle, a raincoat, and a parachute.
If I could do it again, I would travel lighter than I have.

If I had to live my life over,
I would start barefoot earlier in the spring
and stay that way later in the fall.
I would go to more dances,
I would ride more merry-go-rounds,
I would pick more daisies.

– Nadine Stair

Ladybug Day

We went for a walk today, down a sidewalk right after lunch.  The temperature was perfect and the sky was blue like Caribbean water.  It was a day that feels like God is showing off.  The plan was to walk a little bit before we headed back to the car to go home.  And then one daughter stepped off the sidewalk and shared that she was just going to walk in the grass…off the path and into open space.  I kept walking until daughter number two said, “Let’s go with her.”  Before I knew it, we were sitting in the middle of the grass in the park.

That in itself would have been fun enough, but our day turned into an adventure when we started to notice all the creepy crawly things around us in the grass.  It was as if we had just sat down in the middle of a city of bugs all very busy with their tasks for the day. The spiders scurried, the black things climbed over and under blades of grass, the ants quickly moved about and the ladybugs found their way into our hands with grace.

We were having a LADYBUG MOMENT.  A moment in our day when we just stop doing what we planned to do and take notice of what is going on around us.  It was a moment we would have missed if we would have stayed on the path trying to get more steps on our fitbit.  It was a moment where we sat together and just enjoyed each others company and the company of the creepy crawly things.

Over lunch we enjoyed a LADYBUG CONVERSATION.  A conversation that invited all of us to think more deeply and share.  We asked questions that mattered.  We asked things like, “If you were in my shoes, how would you handle the situation.” “Where do you see God in this?”  “What would you like for dessert?”

And how did we do all of this in the middle of the week?  Well….we had a LADYBUG DAY!  We played hookie from all those things that we were suppose to be doing and we did something else.  Something life giving! We took all the should of’s and could of’s in our day and just put them away so their friend guilt would go away too.  Gardeners and farmers love the ladybug because it helps control pests.  It controlled the pests in our life today very well.

As the sun sets on this day, I know it will be a day that I will remember.  God was all around us this day because we took time to notice.  When was your last LADYBUG MOMENT, CONVERSATION or DAY?  It’s time to step off the path and experience an adventure.  Your backyard is a great place to start!

Instead, desire first and foremost God’s kingdom and God’s righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore, stop worrying about tomorrow, because tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.  Matthew 6:33-34

Shalom,

Meredith Bell

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