This week on the side of the freezer door I discovered an original piece of art work titled, “For Unto Us a Child is Born.” I discovered it late in the night while doing another load of laundry. Our washing machine decided this week was a good week to stop working. While it was on strike, mountains of laundry grew taller and taller every day. The only way to stop the annoying magic trick was to tackle the laundry during the late shift. With six minutes left on the washing cycle, my eyes drifted to the much over-looked piece of art work on the side of the freezer.
“For Unto Us a Child is Born” gave me pause. The artist focused on the star above the manger and the small stable. The manger glowed under the star. The city stayed a city. It probably did not even have time to notice what was happening just a few miles away. Everything was happening a few miles away.
Isaiah says, “For unto us a child is born and authority will be on his shoulders.” This child, Isaiah says, will help those in darkness see light, bring dawn to the dark night, increase joy, shatter burdens. This child will be wonderful, mighty, and eternal. I have to wonder, where is this child today in our lives?
The artist of “For Unto Us a Child is Born” gives us an idea of where to find this child. We can find the child who holds light in a simple place like a manger (or the laundry room). We can find the child who increases joy in a place that gives us pause so our souls can catch up. We can find the child who removes burdens under a starry night.
This original piece of art work reminds me that the Christ child is, always, and forever will be in a place we least expect, at a time we didn’t plan for and always give us a glimpse into an eternal moment that we pray will last forever.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this. Isaiah 9:7
From our Happy Christmas Tent to Yours,
We routinely hear the declarative statement, “I don’t like eggs,” in our tent every morning. This has been happening for a number of years. (Maybe even for 13 years if we are honest.)
Mr. Bell is the breakfast chef in our tent. He rises early every morning and stumbles to the coffee pot in the kitchen. Next he surveys the breakfast supplies to decide the morning menu. Then he begins to crack eggs, fry bacon, make muffins, slice apples or a number of other natural exercises that produce a well balanced breakfast. Every breakfast plate is served with his signature…a smiley face. He makes every breakfast into a smiley face. Every plate. Every morning.
Most of his well balanced breakfast plates include eggs. Fried eggs. Scrambled eggs. Poached eggs. Boiled eggs. With every egg comes a quiet statement from a member of our tent. “I don’t like eggs.” Quiche, breakfast tacos, and cheese omelets all get the same response. “I don’t like eggs.” Even eggs in a smiley face receive a response that says, “I don’t like eggs.”
Something happened the other morning that shocked our tent. We responded to the statement. Every other morning we just ignored it. But on this morning, we responded with, “You really don’t like eggs?” Then she said, “I tell you this every morning,” and bites into her bagel. Then the two leaders of our tent looked at each other with big eyes and said, “She really doesn’t like eggs!” The next morning, eggs were not a part of her smiley face. (She still had a smiley face on her plate and one appeared on her face.) We had finally heard her. (Way to go parents!)
As much as we would like the people in our tents to be just like us, they are not. Family members surprisingly like different things. They like different food, different music, different books, different movies and more different things. And yet, we pretend that everyone in the tent likes the same things. (We even get frustrated when this happens.)
When we listen to what is being said and pay attention to what is being said, we discover good useful information about someone we love. We are invited into their world when they reveal a difference and that is when the relationship grows deeper.
Jesus paid attention to words people said and their actions. He found good useful information about the people He loved. The people He loved were changed by the relationship and still are today.
I wonder what differences live in your tent? What can you learn from each other this week?
All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. 2 Timothy 3:16
From our Happy Tent to Yours,
This week, while attending a funeral I heard about a man who lived in love with the world. He loved baseball and all the small details that make baseball fun. He loved family and he had a lot of family to love. He loved his wife for 73 years! That is a lot of years to love. He loved farming. He loved sharing his opinion. While listening to the sermon sitting in the overflow section, I noticed so many people. It was easy to understand that he lived his life in love with the world and the people around him.
As we approach a natural pause in our lives this week, I wonder if we are living as people in love with the world? It seems that there is so much negative noise around us that it is hard to remember how incredible our world truly is every day. Maybe we just need to notice. This week is a perfect time to turn off our normal rhetoric about problems in the world and turn on our five senses to remember just how wonderful our world is.
Birthday candles are magical when you are 1 or 101 years old. Licking the bowl after mixing cake batter is the best bonding time with any child. Hearing owls screech in the night while you are trying to drift off to sleep is mysterious and a little scary. A hug anytime is the best way to pause life. Watching fall leaves dance down the street while driving in neighborhoods makes you feel like they are performing a fall recital with leaps and pirouettes. Walking through the front door of a home you have been away from is life giving. Sharing a meal with friends and family is love at its best.
Ordinary, simple moments every day teach us how to be in love with the world. These moments are connected to our souls. They give us breath. They center our minds. They connect us to the God who created the stars and the starfish. To miss these moments is to miss our chance to see a glimpse into eternity.
This week, enjoy the energy and enjoy the stillness. Let’s give thanks for all the ways you are in love with the world. And maybe we can fall in love again.
The Lord is good to everyone.
He showers compassion on all his creation. Psalm 145:9
From our Thankful and Happy Tent to yours,
P.S. Here is a Netflix show, The Kindness Diaries, about a guy finding a way to stay in love with the world. Enjoy!
Almost nine years ago I became a mother again. After rushing to the hospital, checking and settling in, I remember a text from my spiritual director. She said, “Never again will you share the same heart beat or be completely spiritually connected with your daughter as you are now.” Time stopped when I read those words and all the activity in the hospital room stopped. I turned my attention to what was happening on the inside instead of the activity on the outside.
A baby changes everything, right? And everyone! Our baby girl took center stage in our lives. Bottles, diapers, toys, little pink socks, more toys, car seats, dresses, strollers, and more toys all moved in with her. She still changes everything. Except today life is filled with school, gymnastics, toys, friends, sleep-overs, piano recitals, dance recitals, more toys and theater. (Over scheduled…I know!)
In the midst of all this (especially in the ridiculously-overly-busy month of May), I can’t help but remember that text. It still helps me to turn my attention to what is happening on the inside, instead of the activity on the outside. I may no longer share a heartbeat with my baby, but I know her heart well. We are like old friends that have moved away from each other. When we meet again, we simply pick up where we left off. Because I know her well, it is my job to be in-tune with what is happening on the inside in the midst of the activity on the outside. It is my job to make room for life giving moments, both personally and spiritually.
I know this, because this is how I experience God. In my life that is often ridiculously-overly-busy, I depend on God to show me what is going on inside, instead of the activity outside both in myself and others. I depend on God to give me peace in chaos, hope in darkness and love. Because God shares a heart with me (and you), God shows up and gives me spiritual moments like a beautiful moon, the perfect verse from the Bible for the day, and of course encouraging words from my own mom.
Remember the story in Mark 10, when people were bringing children to Jesus so that he would bless them?The disciples scolded the children and Jesus scolded the disciples. He even grew angry and said, “Allow the children to come to me. Don’t forbid them, because God’s kingdom belongs to people like these children. I assure you that whoever doesn’t welcome God’s kingdom like a child will never enter it.” Then he hugged the children and blessed them.
We are called to do the same. We are called to create ways for children (of all ages) to have access to Jesus on the inside in the midst of the activity on the outside. Once a connection is made with Jesus, never again will we want to stand in its way.
From our Happy Tents to yours,
You never know when you will hear something that makes your heart smile. I was sitting in an emergency room with a college student and visiting with the doctor. The three of us were enjoying a conversation and then the doctor smiled and said, “Follow your energy…right?” My heart skipped a beat and I know it would have registered on an EKG machine if I was the patient. My heart simply smiled…following your energy just makes sense.
Think about children for a minute, they simply follow their energy. I clearly remember one Easter season when my toddler demanded that I buy some Easter candy as we were checking out of the store. She won. I lost. As I was unpacking the groceries at home, she strolled into the kitchen with her Halloween basket full of Easter candy. (She still makes my heart smile.) Before I knew it, we were going door to door and giving our neighbors chocolate Easter bunnies and saying happy Easter. They were as surprised as I was when they opened their front doors. She followed her energy. All our hearts smiled.
Think about young adults (and I guess all adults for that matter) for a minute. They seem to have more questions than answers about what major to declare, what job to pursue, who to date or what choice to make. I clearly remember surprising my friend (who became my husband) with a cup of coffee at work one night when we were in college. Our conversation began with a recap of our day and we shared the highlights with each other. By the time our rather short visit ended, we had decided to get married! Our hearts smiled! Follow your energy!
Think about Jesus for a minute. Remember the story of the brave woman who simply reached out and touched Jesus’ robe as he passed by and she was healed? She followed her energy and it led her to Jesus. At that very moment, Jesus recognized that power had gone out from him. Their energy collided and a miracle happened. Follow your energy…a miracle might be waiting!
When we are honest with ourselves, we can identify that “thing” that gives us energy in life. That project. That person. That dream. That idea. That place. Maybe it is time to simply follow your energy to where it leads you. It may not make perfect sense right now, but you know you are on the right path when your heart smiles.
Now we see a reflection in a mirror; then we will see face-to-face. Now I know partially, but then I will know completely in the same way that I have been completely known. 1 Corinthians 13:12
From our Happy Tent to yours,
A few years ago, we celebrated a family birthday in the “Big Ball” in Dallas (also known as Reunion Tower by people over 15-years-old). The night was memorable. What I remember the most was my mother’s experience on the observation deck. From that place in the tower, you can see the site where John F. Kennedy was assassinated. She stood there for a long time just looking at the street and the site where he was shot on her birthday so many years before. She was able to see the whole picture; where it happened, the shape and height of the buildings and the road that the driver took to Parkland Hospital. Just observing the site with her own eyes allowed her to see the whole experience differently.
Recently I have been on my own observation deck. I decided to take a step back from my life, work, my chores and myself to just observe all of it. My step back is more abstract than literal. I am still living in the busyness of life, but I am seeing it differently. I have noticed the simplicity that exists around me that I often miss. I actually saw the people in my life that make life easier for me such as the grocery workers, my child’s teacher and friends. The sunsets and sunrises that come every day are breathtaking. I discovered a sacred time at the end of the day as my older daughter finishes her homework before bed. While she works, we just visit about the events of our day. I have been reminded of the power of positivity. Positive words can change or redirect any conversation into something meaningful and life giving. I have become more relaxed about watching the clock and more open to unexpected meetings with friends. My observation deck has simply shown me things that I needed to see.
I believe that we have a gift of making life more complicated than God ever intended life to be lived. So much of our stress comes from ourselves. We are often unable to say “no” to things we do not need to do and “yes” to things God is calling us to do. The result is too much time spent on too many things. Life becomes shallow instead of deep and meaningful.
I invite you to walk out onto your own observation deck this week. Spend some time to simply observe life around you. What do you see? What do you say? What is going on in your family? What is God doing around you? This little practice is sure to reveal something new.
Open my eyes to see wonderful things in your Word. Psalm 119:18
Don’t you love those moments when everything falls into place? Sometimes it’s when you are hosting a dinner party and new friendships form. Sometimes it’s when you finish the last chore in the yard and it just looks beautiful. Sometimes it is when someone simply says “thank you” after noticing your small act of kindness. There are those spiritual moments too when it feels like God is whispering “peace be still” right into your soul. They to take your breath away. Sometimes it is during a beautiful sunset after a long and stressful day. Sometimes it is when the person you love most holds you just right. Sometimes it is in the middle of worship when you feel as though God is speaking directly to you.
This Christmas, we are invited to join Mary and Joseph once again for their “manger moment.” Their moment when everything they had experienced for the past nine months falls into place. Their moment when their hearts are so filled with joy. Their moment when the angels are above them, the shepherds are running to them and the stars are surrounding them. And once again, they invite us to make their “manger moment” our moment, too.
This Christmas weekend, we hope that your days are filled with “manger moments” when everything just falls into place and God fills your heart. Enjoy the people you love. Enjoy unwrapping gifts and giving them. Enjoy delicious treats. Take notice of God’s presence. Take notice of the peace. Take notice of tiny glimpses into eternal life. Experience as many “manger moments” as you can for it is these moments that we come back to when the pressures of life push in on us.
They hurried to the village and found Mary and Joseph. And there was the baby, lying in the manger. Luke 2:16
Merry Christmas from the Bells,
Meredith and Steven
Last Saturday, I attended the service of a dear friend and mentor. Some people called him a mystic among us. Today, I hope you inspired by his words…his legacy.
The Sunday School teacher asked, “What legacy do you leave your family? Sons? their wives, and your great-grandchildren?” Here are some of my thoughts on the matter.
With respect to BEING:
- An example of a man of transparent integrity: true blue; real. What you see is what you get. The opposite of phony. I see this as God’s design for humanity.
- An example of a man of love: love of kin, love of “The Great Mystery” of life, and love for all humans I encounter. This is love as unbending commitment to the well-being of every one; while holding all in warm regard; a love not necessarily connected with liking people. I see this as Jesus’ understanding of love.
- An example of one who looks steadily in the eyes of all I meet, communicating openness and acceptance. I understand this to be “The Way” of Jesus and his followers, and may be labeled “utmost hospitality.”
- An example of a man who lives the call to silence: at moments each day to cease the rush, to turn off the mental chatter, to learn to “hear” the “voice” of “The Mystery” that speaks in our thoughts; and to hear so clearly, so discernibly, that the “Great Yes” of faith wells up within: “Yes” to “The Mystery”, “Yes” to grace, and “Yes” to fulfillment and an abundant life. I believe this will not happen in the noise and speed of modern life unless we attend the silences and heed the messages of the “Still Small Voice.” So my legacy is: if we do observe the silences, religion will again make sense, and “The Other” will communicate with us in ways that produce love, compassion, justice, kindness and hospitality. This I see as “spiritual” life.
- An example of a man who follows 1-4 above so diligently and consistently that a new care for the earth, its people, and its resources is established and maintained; soon; since our window of survival seems to me to be steadily closing. This is the life of a caretaker of God’s creation.
With respect to DOING:
That I leave as a pastor, churchman, servant, preacher, husband, daddy, grandfather, engineer, kinsman, educator, citizen and friend.
With respect to GROWING:
That I hope to leave as one who is going on toward a perfection that will never be completed in this life, a perfection measured by “Holy Mystery” alone, which will continue to re-visit me, and nudge me on, as long as sentience and faith remain.
This is my legacy, as of 7-10-13; for today…
The final chapter of
Summa Junior—Stated Briefly by
A few weeks ago, I was sitting in church with my daughters. One on each side. During the beginning of the service, I noticed a man sitting by himself on the other side of the church. It was Mr. Charlie. His precious wife had died a few months before in the spring. I whispered to my daughters that we were going to move during the first song and sit with Mr. Charlie. We have been sitting with him in church every Sunday since then. Each Sunday we sing songs together, pray together and hear God’s word as it is read over us. An “Amen” is shouted out now and then. We have a great time worshipping God together.
Today, before I left to have lunch with my daughters at school. I picked up the phone and called Mr. Charlie. I invited him to join us for lunch at school. Twenty minutes later we were having a good time driving to pick up lunch before we arrived at the school. The smile on my daughter’s faces when they saw Mr. Charlie was priceless. Hugs were exchanged and we had a great time right in the middle of the noisy and busy cafeteria.
Right in the middle of our noisy, busy lives there are people and moments that God blesses. There are people that God needs us to bless. There are moments that God does not want us to miss. When we experience God’s people and God’s moments, life makes sense. The Kingdom of God is easy to see all around us.
Mr. Charlie talks and talks about how we are a blessing to him and how we are an answer to his prayers. My response is often that it is easy to be an answer to someone’s prayer when you love them. But what he doesn’t know is that he is a blessing to us as well. An answer to our prayers.
For 90 years, Mr. Charlie has lived on this earth as a faithful follower of Christ. He has served his country, enjoyed marriage, raised children, made friends, invested in his community, lived in different towns, completed a successful career and more. Mr. Charlie is an answer to our prayers. He is full of wisdom. His faith is alive and easy to see. He laughs easily. He is just the kind of friend we need in our busy and noisy lives. He reminds us that life is good and God is great.
In your busy and noisy lives today, I hope God’s sends you someone to share this life with where you are an answer to their prayers and they are an answer to your prayers. Keep your eyes open, they are all around. If you already have that someone, give them a call and take them to lunch. Food tastes better when a friend and God are at the table.
A body is made up of many parts, and each of them has its own use. That’s how it is with us. There are many of us, but we each are part of the body of Christ, as well as part of one another. Romans 12:4-5
From our Happy Tent to yours,
I heard a prayer this week from a friend. He prayed that God would meet us in that secret space within us. That space where there are only two invitations available. One to God and one to you. He went on to say that we needed God to meet us there because there are some things we need to talk with God about and we also needed to be reminded of how much we are loved, accepted and complete in God. Wow! Isn’t that a cool space?
It made me think of the best vacation I ever went on in college. My last Spring Break of college, I flew to Ireland and toured the country for a week. A friend of mine was in a work-abroad program in Dublin, Ireland. I knew that if I could get to Ireland, I would have a place to stay in Dublin. Before I left, I talked two brothers into joining me on this trip. I invited them by saying, “Hey…for Spring Break, I think we should fly to Ireland, stay in hostels, drink beer and kiss the Blarney Stone. Do you have a better plan than that?” Of course they didn’t! So they were in on the trip!
We flew to Ireland on a Sunday. It was their first trip out of the country and our general excitement was high. The trip exceeded our expectations. It was the week of St. Patrick’s Day. It was like the whole country was celebrating that we were on Spring Break too! Nuns were dressed in green habits, the whole city was decorated in green and orange, people were celebrating and it felt like we had discovered the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Then we rented a car! That was the best decision. (Whoever rented the car to us must have been a bit crazy…giving four American college students a car in a foreign country is a bit risky!) We drove all over the southern part of Ireland touring the Waterford factory, kissing stones, visiting pubs, touring castles, listening to U2 and sleeping in hostels. When we flew home on Saturday, smiles were plastered on our faces. It was amazing!
The secret space is like the best vacation you have ever been on. (Or maybe it is even better than that!) We can go to that space anytime and anywhere. It is free. It is filled with joy, comfort, encouragement, support, answers, fresh perspective, forgiveness, grace, love, peace, hope, direction, and so much more. When you leave your time with God in that secret space, a smile will be on your face.
More than a smile, you will see your life through a different lens. God’s lens. You will remember what God has called you to do. Our visits to our secret, sacred space with God keep us going along this journey of life.
Then Solomon, and the whole assembly with him, went to the high place that was at Gibeon; for God’s tent of meeting, which Moses the servant of the Lord had made in the wilderness, was there. 2 Chronicles 1:3
Enjoy your vacation to your secret space with God! Send me a postcard!