Soul Keeping: Book Review

Some times the best way to reconnect with our spiritual selves is through a book.  Talented authors have a way of guiding us into a deeper understanding of experiences, words, God, ourselves and others.  We read a lot of books in our tent.  Some are required and some are just for enjoyment.

One book that has been with us for a while is Soul Keeping: Caring for the Most Important Part of You by John Ortberg. It is based on a mentoring relationship he shared with Dallas Willard.  His detailed writing about the soul and the deep conversations he enjoyed with Dallas Willard, shine a light on the heartbeat of our lives.  Our souls are our life.

When I read, I highlight the sentences that connect with my life.  Here are a few highlights:

“Hurry is the great enemy of spiritual life in our day.”

“What is running your life at any given moment is your soul.  Not external circumstances, not your thoughts, not your intentions, not even your feelings, but your soul.  The soul is that aspect of your whole being that correlates, integrates, and enlivens everything going on in the various dimensions of the self.”

“When you are connected with God and other people in life, you have a healthy soul.”

“You are an unceasing spiritual being with an eternal destiny in God’s great universe.”

“Being right is actually a very hard burden to be able to carry gracefully and humbly.  That’s why nobody likes to sit next to the kid in class who’s right all the time.  One of the hardest things in the world is to be right and not hurt other people with it.”

I wonder if you connect with any of these quotes? What does it feel like to think of your soul as your power house of life within you?

I wish we could visit more about it over coffee.  It is a conversation worth having.  If you have any good recommendations for spiritual books, I would love to hear about them too.

Bless the Lord, O my soul,
    and all that is within me,
    bless his holy name. Psalm 103

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

 

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.)

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