I’m Listening

I was checking out at the grocery store one night this week.  It was my sixth or seventh trip to a grocery store for the week.  This time I was there to buy ingredients for a dish for Mexican Independence Day for the seventh grade class.  I quickly collected the ingredients and checked out.

There was no one in the check out line and for some reason that small moment made me smile.  The two young men checking me out politely said hello.  Then one said, “How are you?”  Those were three brave words that he uttered.  So I decided to take him up on his offer and I answered his question.  “If you really want to know, I am exhausted. I have had a busy week and I am just tired.”  He looked at me with surprised eyes in response to my honest answer and then he said two magic words.  “I’m listening.”

Don’t worry, I did not burden him with any details.  I still had self control.  I could tell that someone in his life taught him to say those words.  Someone in church.  Someone at home.  Someone who loves him said, “I’m listening” to him before in a way that they meant it.  He actually meant it as well.

When he said, “I’m listening.”  I heard the voice of God.  I found comfort and peace in those words.  I relaxed at the sound of those words.  I even smiled when I heard those words because they resonated with my soul. God is always listening.

How has the week been for your family or your life? If you were to fill a grocery bag with all of your frustrations, joys, prayers, hopes, successes, barriers or challenges, what would you see in that bag from the week? As you think about it, add two words to the end of the experiences.

You:  “I made a good grade on my test.”  God:  “I’m listening.”

You:  “I don’t know how I’m going to get through this day.”  God:  “I’m listening.”

You:  “I can’t be perfect anymore.”  God:  “I’m listening.”

You:  “I don’t understand.”  God: “I’m listening.”

Be still before the Lord
    and wait patiently for him;
do not fret when people succeed in their ways,
    when they carry out their wicked schemes. Psalm 37:7

From our Happy (It’s the Weekend) Tent to yours,

Meredith Bell

Divine Appointments

Look back over your calendar this past week. How many “divine appointments” did you have? Divine appointments are spontaneous encounters with another person who connects with you soul to soul. They happen in the middle of a conversation when suddenly something awakens deep inside you and you spiritually pause to listen more deeply. They happen when you are praying for God to give you confirmation during a time of discernment and you encounter words from another person that are an answer to your prayers. A divine appointment feels like an encounters that is arranged so perfectly that only the Divine could orchestrate the moment.

There are a few on our calendar from this past week. Traveling mindlessly through the week, we would not have noticed them. Traveling through the week believing that the spirit of God moves among us, we encountered a few. Divine appointments interrupt agendas.

  • On a college campus this week, I encountered a new student. While visiting, it became clear that she is in the midst of “meaning-making.” She is trying to make sense of her life as it is now. The divine appointment happened when another college student overheard the conversation and spoke God’s truth into the student’s situation. Two souls connected and two lives were impacted. I became the excited and amazed observer during the encounter.
  • On a sidewalk, friends walked by that our family has not seen in a while. It was time for dinner. A spontaneous dinner plan was made and we found ourselves sitting around a table and breaking bread together. The divine appointment came when a missional project they are working on connected to a missional project we are working on. Suddenly the reason we encountered them on the sidewalk just made sense. We needed to hear about their project.
  • In a school hallway, a teacher shared that she is interested in starting a support group. After sharing the details about her plan and goals, it was easy to see our encounter as a divine appointment. All I had to say was, “I can make this happen. Let me get back in touch with you later.” Her relief and her smile were priceless. God smiled too.

The work of God is all around us through divine appointments. Each day we have an agenda and God has an agenda too.

It is the same with my word.
    I send it out, and it always produces fruit.
It will accomplish all I want it to,
    and it will prosper everywhere I send it. Isaiah 55:11

How many divine appointments did you have this past week?  Next week, I hope you have even more.

From our Happy Tent to yours,

Meredith Bell

God’s Favorite Word…And

A little over a year ago, I heard a sermon by Dr. Bill Bryan called “God’s Favorite Word.”  Bill claimed that God’s favorite word is “AND.”  This week, Bill passed away from pancreatic cancer.  But like any good preacher, Bill’s words will live on through the many sermons he preached over his lifetime and the many young clergy he mentored.  Bill lost his battle with cancer AND he now lives in God’s eternity.

Our endings are God’s beginnings.  If Bill is right and God’s favorite word is AND, then we experience life in a new way.  We are often quick to end God’s story in our lives because we feel that it has come to a conclusion. We settle for our experiences in jobs, family, finances, or marriage.  We begin to believe that a good enough life is the life God wants to give us.  But Jesus came to give us an abundant life, not just a good life.   God is quick to erase our punctuation and throw an “AND” on the end of our story.  A story that God is always creating.

I had another friend, Rev. Wally Chappell, who mentored me in my life.  When I met Wally he was already in his eighties.  Wally lived a life with a lot of ANDs.  He graduated from Rice with an engineering degree AND married the love of his life AND became a pastor AND he had four sons (he called them 1, 2,3,4) AND at the age of 70 rode his bike from Texas to Colorado AND published a book AND married his college sweetheart at the age of ninety-four. Wally never seemed to stop adding ANDs to his life and it is safe to say he lived an abundant life.

This week, our tent (like yours) has been watching Hurricane Harvey destroy home after home, tent after tent and life after life.  The destruction is overwhelming.  But I know that God is busy erasing all the punctuations marks at the end of all the news reports.  God is erasing the periods and adding a lot of ANDs.

People are suffering in terrible ways AND people are helping.  The rivers continue to rise AND volunteers are setting up shelters for their neighbors.  Families are trapped in their homes AND strangers are rescuing them in their personal boats.  Cities are experiencing chaos AND finding hope by helping one another.  Homes are destroyed AND homes will be rebuilt.  We always wonder where God is at work in the midst of destruction and darkness.  This week, I know God was busy adding a lot of ANDs to Hurricane Harvey.  Hurricane Harvey destroyed AND God will guide all of us to ways to help our neighbors.

He divided the sea and let them pass through it,
    and made the waters stand like a heap.
In the daytime he led them with a cloud,
    and all night long with a fiery light.
He split rocks open in the wilderness,
    and gave them drink abundantly as from the deep.
He made streams come out of the rock,
    and caused waters to flow down like rivers.  Psalm 78:13-16

From our praying AND helping tent to yours,

Meredith Bell

 

 

Fishing In Deep Water

Around nine o’clock we drove to the pier, the one that the locals go to for night fishing. Men, women and children were busy fishing. Seeing that the pier was full, we parked the truck a little further down the seawall and unpacked our gear.   It was dark and the stars were out. With flashlights in hand, we cast the crab nets over the wall and into the black water below. Immediately we spooked a sea snake and saw it slither away in the light beam from our flashlight.

As our “Master Angler” prepared our hooks with perfect bait, we shined our lights into the water to see what other sea creatures we could discover. Sea turtles were swimming near the edge of our light beams. Too much light seemed to scare them, we learned. Just a little light was an invitation to come to the surface. A dolphin playfully swam to the seawall and back out to sea. We checked the crab nets and caught a stone crab with an egg sack attached. We quickly and carefully put the new mother back into the water. The activity in the sea created excitement and anticipation in our little family. What would we see next?

It was time to cast our fishing lines deep into the water. The “Master Angler” handed over the rod and reels. We cast our hooks beyond the seawall and into the deep dark water. Then we waited. And waited. And waited.

Casting our hooks deep into the ocean is how we often live life. So many of us are willing to gather at the pier or along the sea wall. We seek to connect with the mystery that lives below the surface of life. The activity and the life is a part of the mystery that we know exists beneath the noise and routine of our daily lives. We know we cannot possibly see all that God wants to show us and so we go, in the cover of darkness, to cast our nets into the deep waters in hopes that God will drop something into our nets. Maybe even a personal gift. These moments inspire us to keep going. Keep living. Keep exploring.

An angler by the name of Fennel Hudson said, “There are a million-and-one ways to enjoy a day’s angling. Catching fish is but one of them.”  On that summer night, we learned the truth of this statement. Instead of fish, we caught something else. Insight into life.

We Need A Master Angler

Each of us needs someone in our life who knows how to fish for deep spiritual meaning. Someone who knows how to prepare for the experience and teaches us how to fish. There is a lot of prep work that goes into fishing. Before you can cast your rod and reel into the ocean, you have to prepare. Bait, hooks, fishing line, poles, pliers, ice, chairs and snacks all need to be bought and packed in the truck. There is a lot of prep work that goes into our spiritual lives so that we are ready when we catch something on the end of our hook.

Get Some Help When You Are Stuck

We kept our “Master Angler” busy all night. Our hooks kept getting caught on some sea rocks. Each time the line got stuck, the “Master Angler” took over and got the hook unstuck. Often the line would break. As amateur anglers, we learned when we need help, asked for it. In life, when we are stuck it is because we are working like everything depends on us and nothing depends on God. Maybe we need to ask for help from God more and often.

Enough for One Day

As the night went on, the giggles got louder. And louder. Exhaustion was setting into our adventure. Even though the stars were beautiful and we were having fun together, we knew that we had experienced enough for one day. Rest is an important part of life. There is only so much that we can do in one day. We need time away to refresh our bodies and souls. So many people comment these days that they are working too much. And they probably are. Finding a balance between rest and work is life giving. Sometimes we have had enough adventure for one day.

We caught some more memories and insights to take back to our tent that night. We didn’t catch a fish, but that’s why it is called fishing and not catching, right?

 “Cast the net on the right side of the boat,” He told them, “and you’ll find some.”So they did,and they were unable to haul it in because of the large number of fish. John 21:6

From Our Happy Tent to Yours,

Meredith Bell

Dating Again

You know how you walk past people on the street and refuse to make eye contact. Or when you ride in an elevator with someone without speaking? Or when you have a relationship with someone and communicate only through texts? That has been our marriage lately. Ugh!

The other morning over coffee we just looked at each other. We didn’t have much to talk about. There are many reasons that brought us to this point; work, phones, children, projects, emails, stress, meetings, and commitments. (Maybe we are the only ones.) But really, all of those are just excuses. Excuses that tend to drain our energies for anything else. Our marriage is being robbed of so many great moments because of busyness. We are not interested in a good marriage; we want to experience a great marriage.

Tucked into the Old Testament is the Song of Songs. It is filled with glimpses into a passionate relationship with love, earthy fragrances, images and desire. The poetry may have been used as a wedding ceremony where the woman and man exchange praises for their beauty and admiration of each other. This book reflects a great marriage and one that heightens the spirituality of marriage.

Over that cup of coffee, we decided to start dating each other again. Basic dating. Door-bell ringing, make-up on, clean truck, fresh flowers, reservations kind of dating. (Dating is a strange concept when you have been married for almost 17 years.) For now, we are taking a marriage break and we are going to start dating each other again. We already have a list of ideas to get us started!

Happy Tents is about supporting families today. Families are the best place to experience grace and ask for forgiveness. We are able to do that because of the grace we receive through Christ. When we give and receive grace in a relationship, we are loving each other enough to begin again and try a different way forward. That is what makes us happy! We are committed to this marriage relationship and thankful God is wrapped up in it with us.

How about your marriage? Is it time to start dating again?

Oh, your loving is sweeter than wine! Your fragrance is sweet; your very name is perfume. Take me along with you; let’s run! Song of Songs 1:2-4

From our Happy Tent to yours,

Meredith Bell

Questions, Questions, More Questions

I visited a beautiful campus library this week. There are still a lot of books in a library.  BUT I discovered there are even more at my finger tips.  Databases after databases are available by typing a single word.  They are all connected and they are all amazing.  Amazing because they answer questions.  All of them!

God loves a beautiful mind.  Proverbs 2:2 says, “Turn your ear toward wisdom, and stretch your mind toward understanding.”  Our minds are a gift, a beautiful gift. When we use them for understanding we are using a gift from God.

What is a question that you have been thinking about lately? What have you been curious about?  What have you wondered about lately?  What has been keeping you up at night?  We always encourage children to ask questions.  Maybe children should encourage adults to ask questions, too.  Of course, as adults, we no longer need to ask simple questions like “What makes lightening?” or ‘Why are there no more dinosaurs?” We know these answers. (Or at least we can quickly google them!)   Adults are called to go deeper with their questions.  Adults are called to ask bigger questions and commit to finding the answers.  

This is a calling from God.  A calling to use our beautiful minds.  Questions like “Who is my neighbor?” or “What can I do to being healing to this situation?” or “What is behind this feeling I have about images I see?” When we engage the world (issues, images, headlines, events) around us with our minds, we discover more questions behind the first one.  With each question and answer pair, we take a step closer to understanding. And we take a step closer to creating change or awareness so others can understand as well.

Raise your hand and ask your question!

From our curious and Happy Tent to yours,

Meredith Bell

P.S. If your question has led you to a place where you want to do something, I invite you to check out DoSomething.org. It is full of young adults doing something for a cause.

P.P.S.  This week’s book suggestion is The Encyclopedia of Student and Youth Movements.  All of these movements started with questions. This book is full of stories about youth around the world that created change with their beautiful minds. This one is sure to spice up your family dinner conversations! (Not all topics in the book are appropriate for younger minds…at least not until they get older.)

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

Act Of Obedience

I know I am in trouble when I hear God speaking about obedience. God’s knows that I can be a stubborn person. When it comes to ignoring God, you can find my name next to Biblical professionals like Jonah who ran the other way and Moses who quickly asked if Aaron could be the hero instead of Moses. Like the professionals, I tend to believe that my plans are better than God’s plans. Or my calendar reflects that I am too busy for God.

This week, God’s message has been about obedience. The word just keeps popping up. I am reading The Circle Maker by Mark Batterson and chapter seven talks about obedience. A close friend recently told me to embrace a situation…obedience. We received our tax documents from the CPA today…we will obediently (and painfully) pay our taxes another year. But the clearest message came from Rabbi Marty.

Rabbi Marty is a Messianic Jew. I gave him a call recently to invite him to host a Passover Seder meal for a college ministry. Near the beginning of the conversation he said, “Tell me the perfect day and the perfect time that you want this meal to happen?” When I told him, he quickly responded by saying, “I’ll be there.” No questions, no negotiations. Just a solid yes. When I thanked him for driving an hour to be with us and he said, “No need to thank me. I serve God, I do not serve you.” This statement was factual, clear and confident.

Rabbi Marty is an example of how obedience leads to confidence. Sometimes God asks us to do something we just don’t want to do. But when we go, out of obedience, we have confidence that God goes with us. Jonah walked into Nineveh with confidence. Moses walked up to Pharaoh with confidence. Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane met the soldiers with confidence. They all knew that they served God and they were obedient to God’s call on their lives.

During this season of personal reflection, is God asking you to be obedient? Are you embracing the opportunity or resisting it? Why?

 Christ humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death,
 even death on a cross.  Philippians 2:8

From our happy obedient tent to yours,

Meredith Bell

Life is Like a Roll of Toilet Paper

This is a quote my guy heard this week in a Bible study and he shared it with me. You would think that he would come home from a Bible study reciting scripture or sharing how he felt the Holy Spirit speak to him. Instead, he shared how a wise friend said, “Life is like a roll of toilet paper…the closer you get to the end the faster it goes!”

It’s funny…because it is full of truth. The brilliance is placing a common roll of toilet paper next to time. All people, no matter their race, beliefs, goals, faith, dreams, failures, degrees, successes, are able to connect with toilet paper and time. And if we can agree on the truth of these two common experiences, we can find other experiences of life to agree on as well.

For instance, Martin Buber, a philosopher and theologian, gave the world a gift when he discovered the I-Thou relationship in dialogue. In this relationship, two people turn to one another with openness and respect. This is possible because we experience this relationship with God and we can share it with others. When we encounter another person, it is possible to see them through the eyes of God. By recognizing the divine in another person, they recognize the divine in us. Buber said, “Meet the world with the fullness of your being and you shall meet God.”

At the end of the day we all struggle with the same ups and downs, gains and losses, friends and family, and personal and private events that life gives us. We are more alike than different. Toilet paper and time. Wouldn’t it be life-giving to engage the people we meet (and the people in our homes) through the blessing of an I-Thou relationship? I am pretty sure that we will be quoting scripture and sharing how we felt the Holy Spirit speak to us as we meet God there. Try it.

Love does no wrong to others, so love fulfills the requirements of God’s law. Romans 13:10

From our happy tent to yours,

Meredith Bell

 

Observation Deck

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

Meredith Bell

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