Grateful for the Manna

Grateful.  This word is constantly growing in our hearts and in our tent.  Over the summer, I found a hat with the word “Grateful” written across the front.  In seconds, I grabbed the hat, paid for it and left the store.  Grateful…exactly! I knew it was the right word to describe the feeling in my soul.  Unconsciously I had been on a search to discover the feeling reverberating within me. It was a deep, overwhelming feeling. For a while it didn’t have a name.

Even happy tents have bad days, weeks or months. Ours is no different.  One day in May, just before preparing dinner, our plans suddenly changed.  Before we could process what was happening, we were in an emergency room, an ambulance, another emergency room, a cat-scan, an ICU room, a surgery waiting room and then another one and then another one.  Our precious daughter was in the biggest fight for her life in her thirteen years and we were there as parents.  Scared, confused, loving parents.

The hours turned into days, the days turned into weeks and the weeks even turned into months.  Months of symptoms, medications, appointments, healing, recovery and processing.  Months.

In the midst of our happy tent nightmare, the things that we needed the most constantly appeared. The right doctor, the right nurse, the right test, the right card, the right meal, the right friend, the right text, the right diagnosis, the right family member, the right prayer, the right hospital, the right time, the right result, the right treatment, and the right place continuously began to appear.  Almost like it was falling out of the sky right into our laps.  One morning in the ICU room, I found myself eating a cookie for breakfast.  I texted a friend telling her that I was having cookies for breakfast and I didn’t even know where they came from.  She quickly responded, “Manna.”  Manna from heaven.

I will rain down bread from heaven for you. The people are to go out each day and gather enough for that day. Exodus 16: 4

A grateful heart sees beyond the immediate moment into all of the moments before this one.  A grateful heart swells with emotion where words disappear.  A grateful heart pours out its tears of deep joy that flow back into the well of gratitude that runs within all of us.  A grateful heart takes note of the smallest details in life.

As the fall leaves begin to fall and the season changes, we are grateful.  Grateful for community, prayers, friends, family, snuggles, hot chocolate, warm blankets and more days together in our tent. And for the buckets and buckets of manna!

From our Happy and Grateful Tent to Yours,

Meredith Bell

Do You Know Where My White Alligator Is?

In the early, early morning hours at the beginning of a road trip, I was asked this question, “Do you know where my white alligator is?” It would make sense if the question came from one of our younger members in the family. But this question came from my life partner and could only be answered after a period of silence. “Are you kidding me?” (I am sure he felt my hidden love in that response somewhere.)

For the past 24 hours, we have been preparing for another family road trip across part of our country. We sent numerous texts to each other about when we will leave, whose car we are taking, and what route we wanted to take. We actively  took care of the to-do list. Snacks. Check. Luggage. Check. Movies. Check. Cash. Check. Children. Check. Teamwork. Check.

If the first question of the day was about the location of the allergy medicine, I knew the answer. If it was about leaving the garage door opener for the house sitter, I knew the answer. If it was about paying a bill, I knew the answer. If he needed to know the social security number of anyone in the car, I knew the answer! BUT the question he asked is one that I could not answer. I honestly do not know where his white alligator is located at the moment. Sigh.

Jesus is an expert in asking questions. The New Testament is full of Jesus questions. Why are you so afraid? Why do you doubt? What is it you want? Do you love me? His questions went beyond the obvious and invited his followers into a deeper understanding.

One of His best questions is “Who do you say I am?” He asked this question while with his Disciples. Peter courageously answered, “You are the Messiah.”

In life, we may know all the answers about our home, family, and career. We may even know a lot about faith. We probably know the location of the extra car keys or if we are out of butter in the fridge. We often pride ourselves in knowing how to answer a question when asked by others. But sometimes we are asked a question that we do not know how to answer. (Especially if it is about a stuffed white alligator!)

No matter how much we know, it is always a good idea to know the answer to this question. In the midst of all that you know, do you also know about the abundant, grace filled life that only Jesus can give us if we truly know who he is today and every day? If so, live it.

If not, Jesus is a good person to get to know for his was present when the white alligator was created, after all.

I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me. John 10:14

From our Happy Tent to Yours,

Meredith Bell

 

Happy the Horse

Since the day our daughter could talk, she asked for a horse.  She is an animal lover. She used to say, “I am a REAL animal lover” when she was younger.  A lot of animals have been adopted into our tent over the years.  A hamster that liked to bite, a dog on Christmas morning, a chicken that was actually a rooster, a turtle rescued from a parking lot, a snail who had babies, another dog, rabbits that won a blue ribbon, another dog, huge stinky pigs, and a fish just so the child would sleep in her own room. But there has always been one animal that was missing from the collection, a horse.

The tent managers (aka parents) are just like all 40 year olds that end up owning a horse. We are wondering how we got to this point.  Of course, we told our daughter she could have a horse one day. It takes a super power to tell her beautiful blue eyes “no.”  But we always assumed “one day” would never show up.  Surely, she would out grow this horse fixation.  Surely, she would realize the amount of time (and money) that goes in to owning a horse. Surely we could delay this request until she is in her 40’s and has a place to board the horse. Surely, surely, surely!

As the horse requests started to come on more frequently after we moved to the country, we made a deal with our horse loving daughter.  “If” she was willing to help cover the costs for the horse expenses, “then” we would get her a horse.  Before we knew it, she was a Red Cross certified babysitter with business cards, a loyalty card (Every 7th babysitting job is free!) and adorable two-year-old clients.

Happy the horse (he actually came with that name) joined our family in January.  Every morning for a month, we have been at the barn at sunrise and sunset, feeding Happy.  Three times a week our daughter throws a saddle on Happy and they trot off together through the pastures.  They are a beautiful site together. And of course, we all love Happy because he makes us happier.

The 40 year olds in the house (who now own a horse) have learned a lot in this experience.

  • Children have dreams and we need to help them achieve their dreams.  The spirit of youth is contagious. We all need a little more fairy dust, horse riding and magic moments in our lives.
  • Animals teach us about life.  Animals are loyal, interesting and social.  Life with nature awakens all our senses.  The more we experience animals in this life, the more we appreciate creation.
  • Responsibility is good for children.  Where else will children learn to be responsible Christians? Our tents are full of opportunities to teach responsibility.  If we take these opportunities away, we are taking away tickets to success.
  • Honor your promises.  We made a deal.  Our horse lover kept her side of the bargain.  We had to keep ours.  We all learned a lesson in this deal.

We pray our tent is always a place filled with dreams and life lessons that teach life skills.  What dreams are alive in your tent?  How can you help make them come true for you and others?

For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago. Ephesians 2:10

From our Happy (the Horse) Tent to Yours,

Meredith Bell

The Mantle

Past the kitchen and unmade beds, I discovered (felt) the meaning of the mantle.  It seems that more life lessons happen for me when the dishes are in the sink and the laundry needs to be folded. Ordinary moments.  Because my responsibilities for the day were more than I wanted to handle, I retreated to my prayer closet. I didn’t have much to say.  I just wanted to sit for a moment.

Then I saw a picture of an old friend.  It was taped to a wall in my quiet place.  My old friend, long ago, passed a mantle on to me.  In his kitchen (with dishes in the sink), he reminded me of all the times we had shared together in life.  All the good conversations we enjoyed about God, faith, mystery and journaling.  Then he said, “It’s time for you to take the mantle. I’m too old and too tired.” With a smile and tears rolling down my face, I agreed to receive his gift and commission.

The mantle is a symbolic term for passing on leadership from one person to another.  Elisha and Elijah (the great prophets of the Old Testament) set the bar for the mantle.

Elisha picked up the mantle of Elijah that had fallen from him, and went back and stood on the bank of the Jordan. He took the mantle of Elijah that had fallen from him, and struck the water, saying, “Where is the Lord, the God of Elijah?” When he had struck the water, the water was parted to the one side and to the other, and Elisha went over. Kings 2:13-14

I believe that we may be wearing more than one mantle at a time.  There are many callings on our lives. Friend, sister, father, teacher, brother, mother, child, mentor, employee, employer, Christian, leader, advocate.  I have come to understand there are different phases of the mantle that are always active.

Training Up 

Everyday training takes place.  It may feel like carpool, dinner, homework and chaos, but it is really a training ground for the next mantle team.  We train up children and teach them about the spiritual life.  We teach about Elisha and Elijah and all the other Holy stories.  We guide, correct and encourage.  We love constantly.  We pray, pray, pray that all these moments will grow into another beautiful light for Christ in this world.

Living It

The weight of it can truly be felt.  The constant call to lead, produce, solve and understand. It calls for creativity and availability.  We cast visions.  We build teams.  We faithfully live out our daily lives in a way that shows respect for the mantle we carry and an understanding that we carry it for a small fragment of time.  We pray, pray, pray that our fragment honors and pleases God.

Passing it On

With eyes that see beyond the present moment, we look for who is next.  Through a relationship, we prepare the next one.  With our words, we share our story.  Our successes and mistakes.  We bless the them.  And we send them out into the world as they cross from one side to the next.  We pray, pray, pray for wisdom and joy for the new one(s).

This mantle business is guided and sustained by the Holy Spirit.  I wonder where you are in this Holy business? Where can you encourage those in other stages?

 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper,[a] to be with you forever. John 15:16

From our Happy Tent to Yours,

Meredith Bell

Spread a Little Love

Love is in the air.  According to one company on the radio, the perfect way to show that you love the man in your life is to buy him some perfect underwear.  Good to know! Another radio ad suggested that this is the perfect time to buy the love of your life a star that will be named for them and recorded in the magic book.  (Honestly, I wish I would have thought of that one because you would never, ever have to worry about running out of inventory or restocking the galaxy.)  And another radio ad suggests to express love by investing in a new perfect, amazing, incredible mattress that will last for years to come.  (This is not a bad idea!) A third grade class that we are connected to through our tent is also experiencing love. The report is that it’s hard to know who to love these days. (Adorable!)

For Christians, love is always in the air, right?  Over in the New Testament of the Bible, the Apostle John (Zebedee’s son) captured a quote from Jesus that said, “A new commandment I give you: LOVE ONE ANOTHER. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”  Good to know!

As we move closer to the Hallmark Holiday of Love (aka Valentine’s Day), let’s add a little more love to the world around us.  By adding some love around us, maybe more people will experience the love of Christ that is experienced in the blessings of clothes (and underwear), seen in the stars, felt in the comforts of home (and soft mattresses) and celebrated in the hearts of third graders.

Happy Tent Ideas for Loving Others

  • Love your Neighbor–This week, choose one neighbor to check on and see how they are doing.  If you are really feeling adventurous, choose a neighbor you do not know well (even if you have lived by them for 15 years!).  Be traditional and deliver a box of chocolates, a batch of cookies or a loaf of bread.  If you need some ideas, check out SoCe Life and the Neighboring Movement.
  • Love your Spouse–Take time to discover your spouses Love Language.  It will save you lots of time and energy.  Surprise your spouse by doing the dishes, thanking them of their work, holding hands for no reason, writing a love note, or preparing their favorite meal (like the duck Mr. Bell keeps bringing home!).  Small acts of love go a long way in a happy tent!
  • Love your Children–In the coming and going of family life, sometimes the small connections get left out.  If you children are still living at home, Crafty Texas Girls gives lots of idea on how to celebrate love together.  I especially love the “love notes” in the shape of hearts.  I have been taping them to bedroom doors this week.  14 notes and 14 days until Valentine’s Day! If your children have left the nest, find a way to connect with a phone call, a visit or a lunch date.  All children (young and old) need to feel loved. They need to be reminded that they are a God’s beautiful creation.
  • Love your Friends–Can you imagine a life without friends?  Can you imagine a friend who does not love a box of chocolate, a surprise coffee date, a card in their mailbox or a phone call from you? Choose 14 friends and love them to pieces this month!
  • Love your Self–Have you experienced a stress free day lately?  Have you personally experienced God lately?  Loving yourself means many things. One important aspect of self love is to make space in your life to breath deeply from the grace of God that reminds us that we are enough.  We do enough, have enough and are loved enough by God’s standards. Take a nap, exercise, read a book, dream, relax and remember that God is big enough to handle everything else.
  • Love a Stranger–While waiting at the doctor’s office, I found myself loving a complete stranger who was obviously anxious about their doctor’s visit.  By joking that I would take their place and offer my arm for the blood sample, the stranger began to laugh and relax.  Start a conversation with a stranger, you may be exactly what they needed at that moment of their life.

From our Happy and Loving Tent to Yours,

Meredith Bell

 

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

 

Deeper Knowing

From the backseat, “Mom, have you ever seen a ghost? Because my friend has. But I haven’t.” I knew that Halloween must be around the corner since we are talking about ghosts. I answered, “Maybe.” “Either you have or you haven’t Mom. You can’t maybe see a ghost.”

Then I shared the story about when my grandmother died. She was the first person in my life that I deeply loved to die. I was by her bed in the hospital when she died. It was a deeply moving experience in many ways.

My grandmother was a cowgirl and a rancher. She always talked about the rain. Either the tanks were too dry or too full. Either the wheat was too wet or too dry. The letters she wrote to me in college (way before email was created) always contained a rain report. In the months leading up to her death, we didn’t have enough rain for the ranch. The moment she died, the rains began. We all knew that she must have told God to send rain to the ranch immediately.

The rain continued for days. It was a light drizzle most of the time. The night after she died I was unable to sleep. Instead, I decided to walk to my aunt’s house deep in the night in the drizzling rain. When I arrived at her home, I was not surprised to see her house lights glowing. She could not sleep either. Surprised to see me, she suggested that we walk to my grandmother’s house. Walking in the rain through our sleeping town calmed our souls.

When we arrived, my grandfather was sleeping. Quietly we settled into the familiar house and it was then that I finally fell asleep. It was also then when I saw my first ghost. I use the term “ghost” lightly. What I actually saw or deeply felt was my grandmother’s presence so strongly that I could actually see her as I drifted off to sleep. I experienced a deep knowing that she was no longer here but still with us.

From the backseat, “Mom, you saw a ghost!” This news has been shared with many people since this car conversation. I always want to explain the situation, but I usually never have time. But I have learned to embrace the moments of deeper knowing because in those moments we find peace and purpose.

For years I practiced journaling, Intensive Journaling to be specific. This style of journaling is an open door to journey deep within oneself to connect to the deeper knowing that is within each of us. This deeper knowing has many names such as “spirit,” “intuition,” “nudges,” and “hunches.” These days, I find myself living from that place of deep knowing. Beneath the busy calendar that I keep lately, there is a deeper knowing. A deeper knowing that lives below labels, updates, trends or agendas.

Share your story of deeper knowing with someone.  How does it speak to your life today?

The Lord came and stood there, calling as at the other times, “Samuel! Samuel!”

Then Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”  1 Samuel 3:10

From our Happy Tent to yours,

Meredith Bell

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

Going Deep

Summer provides many opportunities for going deep. There is the deep end of the swimming pool that is inviting. You can enjoy a night out in Deep Ellum and have dinner at Deep Sushi. Deep in the heart of Texas the other night, we went back in time and watched a movie at the Drive-In with the tailgate down and our hands deep in popcorn.

Summer provides more opportunities for going deep in relationships. The days are longer and schedules are lighter. More than once our youngest has reminded us that there is no bedtime in the summer. I guess that is why we are all still awake at eleven o’clock! There is more time to talk and listen. There is more time for board games.  There is more time for hugs. There is more time for exploring new places or projects. There is more time to simply be together, deeply.

There is a childhood song I learned in Sunday School years ago called, Deep and Wide. Part of the lyrics say, “Deep and wide/ Deep and wide/ There is a fountain flowing deep and wide.” This song reminds me of God’s love. God’s love for us is deep and wide. Our love for our families is deep and wide. Summer is a great time to experience both.

Before these summer months slip by, take off your life jackets in life and do some spontaneous deep diving into the lives of the people who share your tent.

Ideas for Going Deep

  • Ask “I Wonder….” Questions: These are open-ended questions that you do not know the answer to before you ask it. They are beautiful questions for learning how someone sees the world around them. “I wonder who your favorite author is….” “I wonder where God showed up in your week…” “I wonder what our marriage will be like when we…”
  • Spontaneous Ice Cream:   One of our ninety year old friends reminds us that having a little ice cream at Braum’s at the end of the day is fun. Do something spontaneous… anything really…that is what is fun about summer.
  • Family Projects: You’ve got time to go deeper into a project this summer. Drive to the nearest craft store or hardware store. Find something to sew, crochet, build, cook, paint, organize, or create. Being elbow to elbow with another person you love (who God created) will give you time to see them through different eyes. You are guaranteed to learn something about each other.

When he finished speaking to the crowds, he said to Simon, “Row out farther, into the deep water, and drop your nets for a catch.” Luke 5:4

From our Deeply 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!

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