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

Unknown

My new hiking boots are covered with mud.  After the snow fell on our ranch last week, we went to feed the cows.  They were hungry.  While deciding where to drop the round hay bail off the back of the truck, we got stuck.  The snow had begun to melt and the mud was thick.  One grandmother, two daughters and two granddaughters stuck at the ranch.  The cows found us entertaining.  They looked at us between the bites they took of their cubes that we scattered away from the truck so they would not be in the way when we got unstuck.  This moment could have gone from bad to worse or bad to hilarious.  It went from bad to hilarious.  We talked about how much food and water we had on hand.  No water.  One pancake.  HilariIMG_1686ous.

 

As we lean into a new year, we lean into the unknown.  In 2016, some of us might drive right into the mud this year and get stuck.  We may find ourselves bored with life and relationships.  Or maybe we will rediscover some fun things in life like making mud-pies.  Some of us might be like the cows.  We will watch what is happening around us with one eye, while we have our other eye focused on what really matters, food!  As long as no one bothers us, we won’t bother anyone else.  Or some of us will throw our whole-selves into the work of getting the truck out of the mud.  We will sweat, collect rocks, sticks, and over analyze the situation until we are silly.

No matter what the unknown holds for us this year, it is worth our time to stop and listen for God’s voice this year.  A voice that sometimes wants us to be stuck so we remember who is really in control.  A voice that wants us to focus less on our needs and more on the needs of others.  A voice that reminds us of the sabbath so we can rest from our work at least one day of the week.

After we laughed ourselves silly and took plenty of pictures with our phones, we settled down long enough to think clearly.  We needed help.  We made a phone call and waited.  (We also took more pictures.)  Then one of God’s angels drove down the road and through the gate right to us.  He connected our truck to his truck and pulled us out.  The hay was lowered to the ground and we drove home.  Happy people.  Happy cows.

This year (in our family tents) let’s listen for God’s voice first, a voice that guides us, loves us and saves us.

All these blessings will come upon you and find you if you obey the Lord your God’s voice: You will be blessed in the city and blessed in the field.

Deuteronomy 28:2-3

Happy New Year from Happy Tents!

Meredith Bell

Remove the Tire

While in heavy traffic this week, I saw something remarkable.  I was driving behind a truck near a car wreck.  As an eye witness (I was right behind he truck), I watched as the driver of the truck stepped and pulled on a work glove.  He then stepped into the next lane, bent down and picked up a tire sitting all alone in the middle of the lane.  He threw the tire onto the side of the road, got back into his truck and drove away.

The remarkable part of this eye witness report is that the lane, where the tire had been, quickly transformed from a crawl back to normal.  Then my lane did the same thing as the driver of the truck drove away, we all followed him.  Everything was back to normal!  In one simple act and one simple moment, frustration turned to peace. What was stopped, started again.  It just took one person to step out, take care of business and then keep going.

We remove “tires” all the time in this world.  Hearts are restored with stints, toilets are fixed with plungers, and lent is removed from dryers every day.  So why do we let some things stop us from moving forward or slow us down to a crawl?  Why do we let harmful relationships keep us from moving forward?  Why do we let stressful jobs prevent us from living healthy?  Why do we let people define us instead of God?  Why do we live in chaos when we can live in peace?

One reason is because we have been moving around in the chaos caused by the “wreck” so long that we forgot what it feels like to drive the speed limit.  It’s time to remove the “tire” in your life.  That thing that is keeping you from having a full life in Christ (John 10:10).  You can decide if you are going to remove the tire from your lane or if you need help from a fellow driver (call your bravest friend and borrow their courage and faith).  Either way, it’s time to move forward.

28955012_94b21d053c_bHappy Tents is dedicated to helping people imagine more.  Can you imagine what life would be like without that “tire” in your way stopping you from being the person you were created to be? God can.  I’m not suggesting the removal of a “tire” is simple and easy.  My eye witness report comes from Central Expressway in Dallas, Texas!  But if you slow down, turn on your hazards, and put on the right gloves (or the Armor of God), you will experience a successful removal.

And the gift is that life will not only feel normal again…it will feel better than normal.  That is just how God works.

Meredith Bell

 

Pigs

The power of pigs.  Last week, I drove from my home straight to my first appointment each day.  This week, I had to leave early from my house so I would have time to stop by the barn, pull on my pig boots and feed the pigs, Pickle and Donut.  Last week, after a long day of working, my husband would come home and relax a little before working some more. This week, he comes home to pick up the pig owner and he takes her to the barn to feed the pigs, Pickle and Donut. These pigs have changed our lives.  Things are different around our tent.  My car already smells different.  Every conversation we seem to have includes information about the pigs, Pickle and Donut.

IMG_0232There is something else the pigs have done.  They have brought smiles to our faces.  The way my mother pulled them out of the delivery crate and put them in their new pen gave me a great big smile.  The 10-year-old pig owner has had a permeant smile on her face all week.  When one pig ate out of the 7-year-old assistant- pig-owner’s hand…there was a big smile looking up.  These pigs have delivered a lot of smiles this week to our family.

One year ago, if you would have asked me if we would be in the pig business, I would have quickly said, “When pigs fly…no way.”  One hour ago my family was feeding our new pigs.  My “no way”, in one year, has turn into an “OK.”  What does all of this mean??

There are pigs in everyone’s future!  There are so many big and small events in our lives that are just waiting to knock on our door and take up residence in our lives.  We just do not know what they are going to be until they arrive.  For us, it is two pigs, Pickle and Donut.  It may be a new job, another child, a fantastic trip, a new pet, a new friend or a new chance.  Or it may be a broken relationship, financial troubles, unexpected news, grief or poor health.  Some things in our future will bring us smiles and some things will bring us tears.

There is a lot that we do not know about our future.  There is one thing that we do know and it will carry us through all the “pigs” that life can bring us.  Jesus walks with us in our dark times as well as in our times of joy.  Because we know Christ, we will have the light of life.

Then Jesus again spoke to them, saying, “I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life.”  John 8:12

This week, make some time to have a date with Jesus.  Grow your relationship, smile and listen.  The same Jesus that you know today is the same Jesus you will need during the days to come.  Your relationship with Jesus is life giving.  Jesus will know exactly how to guide you when your “pigs” show up in your life.

This week, my prayer has been for Jesus to send me people who know more about pigs than the Bell clan.  My prayers are working.  All week, we have met new, wonderful people who have a lot of pig knowledge! I’m thankful!

Meredith Bell

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