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!

Summer Reading: Circle Maker

There are many ways to experience the summer. We can experience a vacation, learn how to ride a bike, go swimming (everyday), go fishing, have a picnic, or build a fort at home.

One of our favorite ways to experience summer is through books. Reading, because you can and not because you have to, is a freeing experience. Several years ago while we were camping in Estes Park, Colorado, we read The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis together as a family. Inside our tent, inside our sleeping bags, we opened the first page and read…

This is a story about something that happened long ago when your grandfather was a child. It is a very important story because it shows how all the comings and goings between our own world and the land of Narnia first began.

Every time I hear someone talk about the book, I immediately go back to our tent in my mind in the beautiful mountains and remember that night together when we started reading. Memories are attached to summer books.

This month, we will share some summer reading suggestions for your family. We hope you will discover these books for yourself. Maybe you can read them together as a family or you can read them in your favorite comfy chair on a hot summer day.

The Circle Maker by Mark Batterson

Kick off the summer with this inspiring book, The Circle Maker.  When you open the cover of this book, you will quickly discover the power of prayer in a new way. Mark Batterson writes from pure experience. He has witnessed God working through prayer in big and small ways. Based on the legend of Honi the Circle Maker who ended a great drought through prayer, Batterson invites all of us to circle our prayers. In the pages of the book, he shares how to circle prayers and encourages readers to pray through our prayers until God answers.

This book will encourage you and your family to pray and show you ways God answers prayers everyday in everyday lives…just like yours and mine.

From our Happy It’s Summer Tent to yours,

Meredith Bell

Firsts and Lasts

Social media lately is flooded with firsts and lasts.  There are first communions, first dances, first cars, first steps, first solid foods.  There are last recitals, last awards ceremony, last graduations, last day of school, last day to pack school lunches (Can I get an Amen?).  It would be difficult not to notice all the smiling faces in the pictures or the energy in our communities.  There have even been some first birthdays as new babies bounce into the world and last hugs and kisses as love ones spend their last days on earth.

Joseph Campbell once wrote, “We must let go of the life we have planned, so as to accept the one that is waiting for us.”  Whether you are experiencing a first or a last this month, you are probably leaving one life and headed into a new one.  You are leaving one normal and creating a new one.  And if you are not experiencing this yourself, simply take a look to your left and your right, you will see someone who is.  As we change from one life into the next, here are some ways to help you transition, recenter, stop, or become more aware of God’s presence:

  • Sit in your God space and listen.  Remember that the creator of the universe (your creator) is available.  Any time.  Any place.  If you have a God space in your house or office…sit in it.  Focus on one thing that never changes…God’s love for you!
  • Make a lunch date with a friend.  Spiritual friends are the best!  They listen, understand, advise, support and follow up.  They often know what you need before you know what you need.  A lunch date will provide you with a pause between all the things you have to get done before you go to bed.  Everyone can use a pause now and then.
  • Plan a selfie day with just you and things you love.  Watch a movie at 10am with popcorn and a coke.  See two movies if you have time.  Pull out your music collection and jam to you favorites.  Take a nap in the middle of the day without you cell phone in the same room.  Read a book just because.  What brings your joy? Do it!
  • Name your emotion(s). Mad, sad, angry, fearful or tender.  All emotions fall under one of these top five. Once you know your emotion, you are more able to experience it and control it before it controls you. Pretending that you are not deeply experiencing one of these emotions is like pretending that nothing is changing.  Pretending is exhausting.
  • Plan a trip.  It always helps to experience a change of scenery whether it is a day trip or a vacation.  Just having one on the calendar is life giving!  Shop in a new store.  Visit museums in your community or close by. Reconnect with a family member or old friend and drive to their town to simply spend time together.  Exploring nature in small parks or big parks like the Grand Canyon can certainly be fun! And there is always camping!!
  • Take a deep breath.  Sometimes when I am with my mom and I take a deep breath, she says, “Is that your first breath of the day?”  Sometimes you just need to take a breath and a step, a breath and a step.  Find a pace that allows your soul to catch up with your body!
  • Hug your family. A one-minute hug always does the trick.  (Set a timer.) One-minute to connect.  One-minute to freeze time and capture the moment.  One-minute of peace in the midst of chaos.  Your family is experiencing many firsts and lasts together.  Hugs, notes, texts, and hand-holding are all encouraged in the middle of transitions.

While you (or someone you know) is experiencing firsts and lasts this month, remember one thing.  Jesus is the “author and finisher” of our faith (Hebrews 12:2).  “Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made” (John 1:3).  Jesus is the Alpha and Omega, the first and the last.  When we see all of life through Christ eyes, we see the whole picture.  There are many firsts and lasts that we experience, but in the middle we experience a full, abundant life.  That is why Jesus came to this earth and why we have faith in Christ.

Keep posting those precious pictures of your abundant life, the highs and the lows.  Each day and each experience serves as a reminder that we are all in this together within the loving arms of Jesus.  And Jesus is ready to give us more of an abundant life!

From our Happy Tent to Yours,

Meredith Bell

Family Feud

The next generation has discovered Family Feud.  Do you remember that show?  I remember watching it with my family when I was a child.  Last weekend my daughter discovered it while visiting a family member and my daughter who had a REAL TV.  (We have been cable free FOREVER, so when we visit our family members our daughters always refer to TV at the REAL TV!).  The REAL TV was full of interesting shows last weekend and Family Feud was the most interesting.

I was busy doing something else while she was watching it until I saw the first red X flash up on the screen.  Then I was totally engaged.  I remembered that there were three red X’s available to each family.  After those three, they lost.  Three chances to guess the best words for the category.  This particular category was “Tell me ways in which the family dog can annoy you.”  I won’t give you the answers here.

But those three X’s have been helpful in our tent all week.  One morning while getting ready for our day, my sweet, adorable husband made an unnecessary comment about something I forgot to do (I never, ever claim to be perfect!).  I quickly threw up my hands and formed an X.  I informed him that he only had two more before the day was over…and it was only the morning.   I then had to remind him about Family Feud and the three X’s.  He caught on quickly.  It wasn’t long before he threw up his arms into a big X and reminded me that we were now tied.

I know we all try our best to treat everyone in our tent with kindness, love and respect.  That is our goal.  But some days when we are tired, stressed or overwhelmed, we tend to do more harm than good.  We say words that deserve a big red X.  We complain about small things that do not matter in the big picture.  We travel down the road of negativity not realizing that we are traveling it alone because everyone else is exhausted from listening.  That too deserves a red X.

“Pleasant words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body” (Proverbs 16:24).  Our words have power to make our relationships sweeter.  We know the right words to use to build each other up.  We know how to avoid those words that cause the big red X’s to flash up on our screen of life.

Here’s a challenge for your family this week.  See how many ways you can bring sweetness to your tent through your words.  See how you can bring health into your relationships.  See if your choice of words helps you to avoid family feuds within your home.  And remember, GRACE.  As much as we try, we will always make mistakes and say something that deserves a big red X.  Our families are the best place to practice giving and receiving grace.  Grace and forgiveness remove any X’s that exist in our relationships.  Before you begin the challenge, take a moment  to exchanged grace and give forgiveness to erase the X’s that have already been played. That way everyone starts with a fresh beginning.

Love your family, don’t feud. – Al Roker (2008)

From our Happy Tent to yours,

Meredith Bell

P.S.  Grab your neighbors this Memorial weekend and play Family Feud.  Here are some questions to get you started.

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

Doing Some Good

Happy Easter Eve! A day filled with mystery in the tomb and excitement in our hearts.  We know something is coming and we are anxious to roll back that huge stone.  There is a lot of energy in our home this weekend and some extra time to be home.  We are simply waiting for Easter morning.

But how do we wait? By doing some good!

In our tent, we have been exploring ways to do some good.  Here is our list.  We hope it inspires you to do some good.  We thought of ways we might make Jesus smile.

Families Doing Some Good List

  • Make This Weekend About Family

We had to work at it, but we stepped out of all our extracurricular activities this weekend.  Does it make us less committed or passionate about our activities…NO. It simply says, “During this Christian Super Bowl weekend…the game above all games, the win over all wins…we are going to celebrate God’s team, together!  We will catch back up with the other teams and groups after the RESURRECTION!”

We just signed up for this cool idea.  Check it out!  SoCe Life is a non-profit organization that researches, practices and teaches about good neighboring.  They have so many great ideas about neighboring.  We are excited to get started.

  • Make Something Sweet

We are soooo excited to end our Lenten fast from SUGAR. And so we are diving into sweetness this weekend.  One of our favorite sweets to make on Easter Eve is Easter Story Cookies.  Ingredients are simple. Spiritual lesson is powerful.  The cookies on Easter morning are magical.

  • Spread Some Joy

We got dirty today planting flowers in little clay pots.  It was a lot of fun.  Then we took these little pots around town and delivered them to un-expecting friends and neighbors.  We spread some joy and we experienced some joy.  While you are waiting around on Easter Eve…think of ways you can spread joy.

  • Get Outside, Together

Bikes, scooters, roller blades, tennis rackets, fishing poles, Kubb (our all time favorite family game), camping gear and so much more live in our garage.  We walk past it most days…but why not get outside this weekend together and make some memories.  Be spontaneous and adventurous.

At the center of the Christian life stands Jesus.  Jesus who teaches, guides, strengthens and inspires us to be who God created us to be as individuals and as families.  During this Easter weekend, let’s love on each other and others a little extra by doing some good.  It will make this weekend a little sweeter and happier.

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

Happy Easter from our Happy Tent to yours,

Meredith Bell

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