I’m Listening

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,

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

Fishing In Deep Water

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,

Meredith Bell

A Time to Unlearn

The great writer of Ecclesiastes wrote, “There is a season for everything, a time for every matter under the sun.” We have declared this summer to be a time to UNLEARN. (No need to panic teachers, we promise not to unlearn all the great skills you taught over the year.)

We had an honest conversation in our tent at the end of the week. Six days after school and activities ended, we decided we were bored! All the girls in our tent agreed.   Only one of us was brave enough to say it out loud. (It is hard to admit how you feel when it is not what you expected.) We expected to be joyful and feel free to live our lives without a schedule, but instead we were bored, frustrated and confused.

The youngest one said she was just ready to go back to school. She said, “One week is enough of a break!” The older one said, “I have no cause!” After I stopped laughing. I reminded them that we had a LONG summer ahead of us. Then there was a period of silence.

Maybe our first week of summer is telling us something important…it’s time to UNLEARN some things. First one is to UNLEARN that we need to be entertained to feel satisfied!  Then we can move on and UNLEARN what is means to be productive, rested, and stress free.

Ellen G. White wrote, “We have many lessons to learn, and many, many to unlearn. God and heaven alone are infallible. Those who think that they will never have to give up a cherished view…will be disappointed.”

There are many experiences that we learn from in our lives. Most of them offer good lessons. Many we learned to survive a season of life. But some of them teach us skills or attitudes that we may need to UNLEARN. Feeling bored, frustrated or confused may be just what we need to recognize a time to UNLEARN something we thought we already knew. First we need to admit how we feel and then we will be open to learning a new way, idea or process.  It may take a little creativity and humility.

What do you possibly need to UNLEARN this summer?

From our Happy Tent to Yours,

Meredith Bell

Summer Reading: You Are Special

In Max Lucado’s book, You are Special, he reminds us how God sees each of us.  God sees us as special. The world doesn’t. This is something we can UNLEARN over the summer as well. Happy reading!

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

MagnifiLENT

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,

Meredith Bell

Three Pieces A Day Rule

We have one happy, happy camper in our tent this week. The candy rule is gone and the “candy queen” is so happy. There is candy all over our house. Some of it is in the obvious places and some of it is tucked away in little corners, under blankets, and in drawers. It is everywhere and our happy camper has taken inventory and knows the location of every piece. Candy is available 24/7 in our home and life is good for a little girl.

Because we are kind, loving parents, we let the “candy queen” enjoy a few days of bliss. She even enjoyed some for breakfast a few mornings along with her protein plate. But then the time came to reintroduce the rules. “Okay, now that you have enjoyed lots of candy, we are going to go back to three pieces a day.” We expected shock, surprise or rebellion. Instead we simply got an “Okay.” Well that was easy!

There is a gift hidden in rules. They make us feel safe, secure, cared for and balanced. When we have rules that guide our choices and lives, we are able to relax within their boundaries. The big decisions have already be taken care of so we can just enjoy life within the boundaries.

There once was a psychological study of children playing on a playground by a school that I learned about recently. One group of children were encouraged to go and play on a playground without a fence. Instead of playing and exploring, this group chose to just play by the entrance into school.  They didn’t feel safe enough to play on the playground. Another group of children were given the same instructions and same choice. The difference was that a fence had been installed around the play equipment. The second group played on the monkey bars and slid down the slide. The take away was that the children felt more safe with the fence and were able to relax and play together.

Our creator gives us fences (or rules) to live within simply because we are loved.  They are not intended to restrict us, punish us or frustrate us.  They are intended to remind us that we are safe, secure, and loved.  Rules for life help us draw closer to God by making space in our lives for God.  They offer us balance in the pressures of life and light in darkness.  We may go through times in life where we are like the “candy queen”…we have more than we could ever need and life feels blissful.  But then, we may feel that we have lost direction or purpose in life.  We know then that it is time to go back to “three-pieces-a-day”.  And when God calls us back to our center, we experience God’s grace. Another day and another chance to live life through God’s eyes instead of our own.

Explore your rules this week or create some.  What is your rule of life?  Share them with someone close to you.  You might find that you will enjoy God’s playground even more with a fence around it.

For the Lord is the Spirit, and wherever the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.

                                                                                                  2 Corinthians 3:17

From our Happy Tent to yours,

Meredith Bell

P.S. If you want to explore a rule of life more, check out Crafting a Rule of Life.

A Wife

A few years ago, my husband wrote a book about blessing his wife.  I am still amazed that he would write such a book to bless me and other marriages.  Ever since then, I have been considering doing the same.  Getting started has been the trouble.

The role of a wife is a big role.  Society makes this role challenging by portraying wives through shows like “The Real House Wives” or defining a wife as a ball-and-chain.  One archaic definition of a wife goes so far as to say “a woman, especially an old or uneducated one”…really?  Our culture encourages us to fill our days with efforts that produce a perfect meal, body, children and attitude so that we can fulfill the role of a wife the right way.  (Sigh)

Luckily, our faith has another definition.  My favorite is the way women are defined through the Bible as ezers.  Carolyn Curtis James writes about the Hebrew translation of helper in a number of her books.  She defines women as ezers who are more than helpers for men, they are image bearers of God in the world around them.  This is a definition that I can wrap my mind around.  Our Bible is full of truth that guides us in relationships.  Hebrews 10:24-25 says, “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”

The role of a wife in this world is more than grocery lists, laundry, carpool, errands and overbooked schedules.  The role of a wife is to reflect God’s image in our marriage, families and our communities.  We are called to love, nurture, comfort, create, share, inspire, guide and share grace.  We start with our partner by building a life together.  Through the relationship, families and futures are built.  Our task is to keep faith alive in our hearts and in our homes so that it will be passed on to the next group of amazing wives who come behind us in the next generation.  When this is our true purpose, the to-do lists seem less important don’t they?

This week, let’s take a closer look at our calendars.  Is there enough room in our days to spend time with our spouse just to remind him that he is loved and cherished?  Is there enough room in our days to recharge our spiritual lives?  Is there enough time spent seeking God’s guidance?  With God’s grace…we can learn the ways of Christ.

From our tent to yours,

Meredith Bell

Free To Be Me

For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1).

Dr. Paula Bloom has written, “How much time have you spent wondering, or even worrying, what others think of you? What else could you be doing with that mental energy and space? Focusing on your work. Playing with your kids. Cleaning up the spare bedroom. Writing that book you’ve been talking about for years?” I think her questions are brilliant, and definitely something we need to seriously consider (not only for ourselves, but also for our children). Because the truth is, we spend an incredible amount of time and energy worrying about the opinions that others have of us.

President Abraham Lincoln once stated, “America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.” Not only is this true of our nation, but also of our own lives as individuals. I remember a time in my ministry when I was so concerned about the kind of pastor I thought other people expected me to be. I had to dress a certain way. I had to wear my hair a certain way (these days it would be nice to have a little hair!). I had to say and do the things a good pastor was supposed to say and do. This mindset towards my life and calling became quite debilitating and truly made me numb. To be honest, it made me bitter and caused me to hate my vocation. Pastoring had become a job, and it was no job I wanted. The truth of the matter, however, was that no one else imposed these unrealistic expectations upon me – I did it to myself! Thank goodness I was able to move from that dark place into the light, and have since become the kind of pastor that only Steven Bell can be. What freedom! What joy! Pastoring is no longer a job for me, but something I wake up each morning excited and privileged to do. But how many of us try to fit into a mold that isn’t suited for us as moms, dads, daughters, sons, wives, husbands, friends, neighbors, workers, church-goers, etc.? I greatly appreciate the words Fracesca Battistelli includes in her song, “Free to Be Me”:

‘Cause I got a couple dents in my Fender

Got a couple rips in my jeans

Try to fit the pieces together

But perfection is my enemy

And on my own, I’m so clumsy

But on Your shoulders I can see

I’m free to be me

We all have a few dents in our fenders and some rips in our jeans, but we are all also unique. Although we must live responsibly, it behooves each of us to be true to our gifts, our callings, our talents, our personalities, and ourselves. We’re all different, and we need each other. That being the case, here are a few thoughts on how to stop worrying so much about what other people think of us:

  • Picture a life without this burden. I think you’ll quickly see that it is a life of freedom.
  • Believe that people are basically good.
  • Believe also that, regardless of what you do or who you are, people will do/think whatever they want to do/think.
  • Your imagination is too precious to waste, so stop creating imagined scenarios in your mind.
  • Come to the understanding that you will never be able to please everyone. Dr. Seuss commented, “Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.”
  • Focus on “what is” rather than “what might be.”
  • Keep first things first.
  • Surround yourself with loving people (not just people who will agree with you, but those who will love you whether they agree or disagree with you).
  • Be you. There is only one of you in the entire world!
  • Record your accomplishments.
  • Establish boundaries, and just say “No.”
  • Get grounded (hit the pause button if you need to and clear your mind).
  • Never forget how valuable you are.

Perhaps you’ve heard the story of the colorless tiger. Once upon a time, there was a colorless tiger – he was completely black and white. His lack of color made him so famous that the world’s greatest painters came to the zoo to try and paint some color on him. But their paint would never stay on the colorless tiger. Then along came a quite eccentric painter. He was an odd fellow who traveled about, happily painting with his brush. To be more accurate – he moved his brush as though he was painting, but he never had any paint on his brush. He didn’t have a canvas or paper either – he simply painted the air! So everyone thought it was quite funny when the eccentric painter said that he would be the one to paint the colorless tiger. When entering the colorless tiger’s cage, the eccentric painter began whispering in the animal’s ear, and moving his dry brush up and down the colorless tiger’s fur. Quite shockingly, and to everyone’s surprise, the colorless tiger’s coat was not colorless anymore – every spot the eccentric painter touched with his dry paint brush became vivid with color. The (seemingly not-so-eccentric anymore) painter continued whispering to the tiger, and painting, until the animal had become a magnificently colorful tiger. Immediately, people began asking the painter about his secret painting technique. He shared with them that his brush could only be used for painting real life, and to do that he needed no paint. And while he painted the tiger, he kept whispering this phrase in the tiger’s ear: “In a few days you will be free again – just wait!” Seeing how sad the tiger had been in his captivity, and how joyful the tiger now seemed at the prospect of freedom, the zoo keepers transported him to the jungle and set him free, where he would never again lose his color. This is a picture of what true freedom does to us. It gives us back our color.

Rosa Parks, also known as “the mother of the freedom movement,” resisted bus segregation. She made a decisive choice to be proud of who God created her to be. She later stated, “I would like to be remembered as a person who wanted to be free… so other people would be also free.” So this July, after we’ve popped all our firecrackers, after we’ve eaten enough hotdogs to make Oscar Mayer consider retirement, and after we’ve swam so much our fingers look old and wrinkly; might we be grateful. As a person, I am grateful for men and women like Rosa Parks – people who remind me to be me. As an American, I am grateful for our men and women in uniform who serve at home and abroad for the sake of freedom (those living, and those who paid the ultimate sacrifice for our liberties). Might we be mindful of Ronald Reagan’s words, “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same.” As a Christian and a pastor, I am grateful for the sacrifice Jesus made on the cross, and how he reminds us, “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36). The question has been asked, “How come there’re no Knock Knock jokes about America?” The answer is, “Because freedom rings.” I hope your life rings with freedom – not only during the month of July, but that each and every day of your life will be an Independence Day.

Dr. Steven Bell

From the Pit

Years ago a friend asked me to describe my relationship with God and I quickly responded that I felt like I was in a Pit all alone.  God wasn’t there.  Luckily my friend did not run out of the room and down the street screaming.  My friend did not really say much because there was not much to say.  When you are in the Pit, you just want someone to sit beside you and not try to “fix it.”  The Pit feels heavy, lonely and scary.

One gift the Pit offers is time.  Lots of time.  Time to be.  Time to think.  Time to rest.  It also offers space to talk with God.  Jonah offers us an example of praying to God from a Pit…the belly of a whale.  In Jonah’s prayer he says, “I called out to the Lord in my distress, and he answered me. From the belly of the underworld I cried out for help; you have heard my voice.”  Somewhere in the midst of prayer, loneliness and fear something starts to happen.  The Pit begins to offer clarity, purpose and hope.  Jonah was vomited (gross) out of his Pit on to the shore. Clarity, purpose and hope.  Samuel Shoemaker, a great Episcopalian priest, once said, “Prayer may not change things for you, but it for sure changes you for things.”

Someone around you is probably experiencing life in the Pit this week (or month…or year).  It may be someone you live with in your tent or it may be you.  Someone you know is in the Pit.  Here is what you do for the Pit dwellers …. give them space, keep them fed and practice patience.  Sometimes life is just hard and God seems far far away (even though God is right there all the time). When life is hard, we need people around us that will not run out of the room and down the street.  We need friends who will just sit beside us until the experience passes.

When it passes, Pit dwellers become new creations.  Just like butterflies struggle to come out of their cocoons, we struggle to come out of the Pits of life.  The results are well worth the journey.

Shalom,

Meredith

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