Use It or Loose It

About five months ago I started running again. I didn’t think much about it. I just put on my tennis shoes one morning and ran for a while. It felt right. Since I was about to go over-the-hill in age, my body simply decided to USE IT OR LOOSE IT.

An article in the New York Post from 2014 showed the results of a study about gift cards. Since 2008 there is over 44 billion dollars left on unused gift cards. I am sure it is even higher now, three years later. That is a lot of USE IT OR LOOSE IT money hiding in our junk drawers, wallets and cars.

Living a life of faith may also be a USE IT OR LOOSE IT process. (Can we loose faith?…that would be a good conversation to have with someone this weekend.) When we engage ourselves in spiritual practices we engage our faith. It grows. It feels right. It awakens us to something more. We discover that we are living in the flow of the Holy Spirit. When we miss opportunities to experience our faith, it may feel dormant and the result is restlessness in our souls.

So here are some USE IT practices that help us in our tent and lives…maybe they will help you too. And we would love to hear what is working for you.

  • Turn Up The Music: It is easier to wake up in the morning when some good music is inviting you to open your eyes and see the beauty of a new day.  Inspiring music in the car between appointments can also give you a spiritual break.
  • Engage Your Brain: Read something that teaches you something new about God, faith, salvation, Christ, healthy habits, church or scripture. Sit in on a theology lecture. Visit with your pastor about the sermon during the week. Ask your friends what they are reading.  Check out Perkins School of Laity Week
  • Get Outside: 80 degrees in January sounds crazy, unless it is the perfect temperature for swinging in your favorite swing or taking a walk. Go enjoy some vitamin D!
  • Discover Spiritual Practices: There are so many spiritual practices to explore. God is easy to be with through practices. Discover them and use them as a family and individually.  Here is my favorite book for spiritual disciplines.

There is a lot of wisdom in USE IT OR LOOSE IT thinking. When we apply it to our faith lives, we may discover some important parts of our faith have been hiding deep in our lives (like our junk drawers). It’s a good weekend to connect to your spiritual self…that part of you is life giving!

I pray that Christ will live in your hearts by faith and that your life will be strong in love and be built on love.  Ephesians 3:17

From our Happy Tent to Yours,

Meredith Bell

God-Glasses

“Has anyone seen my glasses?” This is a question that I remember hearing as a child over and over again. It seems like my mother would ask this question just as we were trying to get to school on time. We knew we weren’t going anywhere until they were found. We also knew we had to help her because she could not see well enough without them to find her own glasses.

Guess what? I am now asking the same question, “Has anyone seen my glasses?” I am simply amazed at how dependent I have become on my glasses to see. When did that happen?

Glasses and assumptions go together. When we cannot see things clearly we make assumptions.   While doing homework with my daughter recently, she held up a picture she had drawn and asked me if I liked it. I was a few feet away cooking dinner. I said I did like it. She asked me what it was about. (I wasn’t going to fool her…she knows me too well.) I had to confess that I didn’t know simply because I could not see it. I made the humble walk over to the table and asked to see the picture again. I was then able to give her an honest answer and apologize. Then I asked her, “Have you seen my glasses?”

We make assumptions all the time. We assume that our spouse can read our mind and know what we need. We assume that the man that lives down the street by himself has friends. We assume that other people think the way we do and see the world like we do. We assume our ideas are correct. But how often do we question our assumptions? How often do we invite God to help us see things around us more clearly?

My glasses help me to see details clearly. Details are necessary to get the whole picture. Without my glasses I am in trouble. Without questioning my assumptions I am also in trouble. Assumptions without clarity simply mean trouble.

In your tent, office, church and relationships, try putting on some “God-glasses.” Pray that your “God-glasses” help you to see what God wants you to see. Look for details and truth to help you overcome assuming that you know what you don’t know.  When we are working for God, we need the truth to do our job well. Making assumptions of God and for God will only make us look foolish.

If you have lost your “God-glasses,” you know what to do. “God, have you seen my glasses? I need to find them again.”

Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.

1 Corinthians 13:12

Meredith Bell

 

 

Mr. Charlie

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,

Meredith Bell

One Fish At a Time

I started fishing in the early 1980’s around the age of three or four.  My first memory of fishing is riding with my father in a fishing trawler.  (It is just an inner tube with a fancy cover and a small motor.)  With me on his lap, we would slowly cruise around and try to catch fish in the lake.  I am not a big fan of fishing.  It is a little bit boring to me (it was then and it is now).  But I love the image of fishing.  Solitude, simplicity and peaceful fishing.

This week, I was blessed to read Psalm 37:5.  It says, “Commit everything you do to the Lord, TRUST him, and he will help you.”  All week long the word TRUST has been my focus word.  I had to TRUST God that a project would be completed on time.  I had to TRUST that my idea for others was the right decision.  I had to TRUST that my children would be cared for in their new school.  TRUST has always been a challenge for me.  I think this is because I usually don’t TRUST like I fish.

When I fish, I have one pole, one hook and one worm.  I drop the hook under the surfa28477023670_18621f58fbce of the water and wait.  I may or may not catch a fish.  I may or may not catch the fish that I was trying to catch.  But whatever happens, all I can do is show up prepared, bait my hook and TRUST that the fish will eat the hook.  TRUSTing also means I will be at peace with the results because I am giving up control.  When I try to be in control instead of TRUSTing, it is as if I am fishing with a net instead of a hook.  With a net, I can throw it out wide knowing that I will catch at least one fish and probably a whole lot more than I even tried to catch.  But then I have to deal with everything else I catch including somethings that I didn’t want.

Our God is a one hook, one fish kind of God.  God desires us to TRUST God and God will help us. (Who does’t need a little help?)  It’s simple (and yet we make it sooooo complicated).  One minute at a time.  One hour at a time.  One day at a time. One week at a time.  God wants us to TRUST God.  We are called to focus on one hook and one fish at a time instead getting caught up in murky water full of the mistakes of our past or our unknown futures.

As children are going back to school and teachers are heading back into the classrooms.  As college students are packing their cars to start a new semester.  As projects are approaching their deadlines.  As bills are due.  As marriages are trying to grow deeper.  As life changes…let’s ask God to help us and TRUST in each moment that God will.  We serve a God who gives us just enough manna for one day.  We serve a God who is the bread of life and satisfies us each day.  If we deeply believe in our God as our provider, then our lives and actions need to reflect the TRUST that we say we have in our God.

Waiting for Me to work, with your eyes on Me, is evidence that you really do trust Me. Sarah Young, Jesus Calling

I hope you catch some God-filled moments this week!

Meredith Bell

 

Family Project #674: Bunnies

Whether it is the best way to parent or not, in our tent we practice “all-in” parenting.  Because of this we often find ourselves in the middle of family projects where we have NO previous experience.  Recently we started “Family Project #674: Bunnies.”  This project began just before Memorial Day.  We were given five New Zealand rabbits, pens, poop trays and a wonderful consultant (a sophomore at Texas A&M University…whoop!).  The rabbits lived on the back porch for two weeks.  And then I had a “hissy-fit”.  The rabbits could no longer stay on the back porch.  The solution…move them to the yard, cap the sprinkler heads in one section, and build a pole-barn.  We spent Memorial Day weekend building the barn.  (Our motto…family projects bring you closer!! Smile! Ugh).  The rabbits moved in and I reclaimed the back porch.

Our next step was an exciting event which we called “The Breeding Party.”  At 11 o’clock one night, I found myself sitting in chairs around the pen with a 19 year-old young man and three girls ages 11, 9, and 7.  We were watching the rabbits breed.  (Mr. Bell has already retired for the evening.)  Once the event took place, “The Breeding Party” was over and everyone went to bed.  We talked about the event for weeks.  And then we waited thirty long days before…BUNNIES!!

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These new little bunnies have filled our home with love and joy all week during a week that we needed love and joy.  These new bunnies have been moving around in their sweet little bed that their “all-in” mother made for them during a week when comfort from nurturing mothers and friends is just what we needed.  These little bunnies have shown us new life in the midst of death during a week when we have seen the fragility of life next to the promise of eternal life.

I hope and pray that you too have experienced moments of love, joy, comfort and new life in your tent this week.  Remember…God is always around even during difficult weeks.

Be still and know that I am God! I am exalted among the nations, I am exalted in the earth. Psalm 46:10

Meredith Bell

P.S.  Bunnies for sale!!!

 

Look Up

A few years ago at a colleague’s funeral, I heard a sermon that I still remember.  The pastor said when we cannot make sense of what is going on around us, one thing we can do is look up.  Look up to God.  Her words still speak truth today.  In the midst of uncertainty, fear, shock and confusion, one place we can look to for comfort is up.  When we look up, we are reminded that God is among us.

God is among us and God is at work even during our dark days.  Families have lost important members this week across our country.  Family members that have lived in their “tent”, laughed at their jokes, sat at their table and shared countless memories with over the years.  Now they are gone and their lives are in front of all of us.

As people in God’s family, we are invited to shine the light of Christ into the darkness.  We are invited to look up to God in prayer and seek direction. God uses families every day to comfort, help and love others.  Families have a front row seat in the world.   We see first hand the people who suffer, hurt, experience loneliness and more.  We live next door to strangers that become friends.  We use our phones to stay in touch with people who we know.  The family is an outpost for God in the world. And today families have the opportunity to up lift each other and to up lift their community and its needs.

The center of activity in most homes is the kitchen.  Maybe this week, we can use our kitchen time as our sacred time.  During our sacred time, we can work together to process the current events, God’s work around us and our own spiritual work.  All we need to do this is some good food, a little extra time together, scriptures that speak to us and hands to hold in prayer.  God can use families today to shine light in a dark world.  I wonder how God plans to use your family?

Together we pray for our communities, our country and our world as we look up to God together.

Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.

Galatians 6:2

Meredith Bell

Stars

Some people are scared of heights.  Some people are scared of spiders.  I am scared of space (the universe).   One time we were visiting a science museum and we watched an IMAX movie about space.  I had to get up and leave after a star was born.  (Of course my excuse was that I needed more popcorn.)   I had to leave because I could not believe what I was seeing.  The size and scope of space does not fit into my categories, my paradigms.  It is too big…too different…too vast.

This week, I heard a great story on NPR about how our understanding of space has evolved over time. Nicolaus Copernicus (d.1543) claimed that the center of the universe was the Sun instead of the Earth.  Edwin Hubble (d. 1953) discovered more galaxies like the Milky Way.  News sources today share that Stephen Hawking plans to send postage-stamp-size probes into our solar system to make way for Interstellar travel.  Wow!  Not only are we NOT the center of the universe, but we are only tiny specs in the universe.

When things do not fit into my categories or my paradigms my natural response is to walk away (or use my “need more popcorn” excuse) simply because it scares me. Life is comfortable when our world and events fit into our categories and paradigms.  We have a (false) sense of control.  But when our world and events do not fit into what we determine as “normal” or “right”, we get uncomfortable.

A funny thing about being uncomfortable…God is there.  In that space between being comfortable and changing paradigms, God rushes in and molds us into something new.  We are just like a new star that is born in God’s universe.  In our new birth, God can use us.  Our focus is moved away from ourselves and back on God’s work in the world around us.  Right where it should be.

Saint Anselm of Canterbury (d.1109) believed that God is a being than which nothing greater can be thought. He proved that God exists simply by arguing that God is the essence of every thought because God is the creator of all things…including thoughts.  Basically, God does not fit into categories or paradigms either and the more we move away from our need for such things, the closer we move toward God.

As families, what would this world look like if we walked towards thoughts, events and people that scare us instead of away? I imagine there will be a lot of bright lights that look like stars shining out of our homes.

In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.  Genesis 1:1-2

Shalom,

Meredith Bell

 

Write it Down

It happened to me yesterday talking to my mom.  While she was talking, I remembered something to tell her.  When she finished talking, I had completely forgotten what it was that I wanted to say.  I waited a minute thinking it would come back to me and it didn’t.  I still don’t remember.  Ugh!  I have witnessed this in many people before, but I never expected it would be happening to me.  (Please, don’t share about other things like this that are waiting on the horizon.)

This happens with me in my relationship with God too.  I forget what God said to me during a prayer. I forget how God guided me during the day by the time I go to sleep.  I forget an important part of a sermon (sorry Steven!).  I forget an adorable thing a child says to me or an important thing a friend says to encourage me.  I simply forget way to many important things.

The solution…write it down.  I love the little “Field Notes” that are small and fit inside my purse that capture my thoughts before I forget.  I love to buy pretty journals to carry in my car to capture my God sightings.  I love to text someone about something that just happened with God.  I also use my notes on my phone.  All of these small tools help me to write it down.

The blessing…when I take time to write it down, I am able to enjoy it later when I read over my words.  God is so active in our days.  When we take time write it down, we are reminded that we are not alone. We are not alone on the good days or on the bad days.  We are never alone.  Mother Theresa put it beautifully when she said, “I am a little pencil in the hand of a writing God who is sending a love letter to the world.”

Find a good place to write your God moments, prayer time insights and devotional thoughts down this week.  Encourage everyone in your tent to do the same.  At the end of the week, share what you wrote and where you saw God.  It is a gift to yourself and a gift to those you love.

Happy writing!

Meredith Bell

From the Pit

Years ago a friend asked me to describe my relationship with God and I quickly responded that I felt like I was in a Pit all alone.  God wasn’t there.  Luckily my friend did not run out of the room and down the street screaming.  My friend did not really say much because there was not much to say.  When you are in the Pit, you just want someone to sit beside you and not try to “fix it.”  The Pit feels heavy, lonely and scary.

One gift the Pit offers is time.  Lots of time.  Time to be.  Time to think.  Time to rest.  It also offers space to talk with God.  Jonah offers us an example of praying to God from a Pit…the belly of a whale.  In Jonah’s prayer he says, “I called out to the Lord in my distress, and he answered me. From the belly of the underworld I cried out for help; you have heard my voice.”  Somewhere in the midst of prayer, loneliness and fear something starts to happen.  The Pit begins to offer clarity, purpose and hope.  Jonah was vomited (gross) out of his Pit on to the shore. Clarity, purpose and hope.  Samuel Shoemaker, a great Episcopalian priest, once said, “Prayer may not change things for you, but it for sure changes you for things.”

Someone around you is probably experiencing life in the Pit this week (or month…or year).  It may be someone you live with in your tent or it may be you.  Someone you know is in the Pit.  Here is what you do for the Pit dwellers …. give them space, keep them fed and practice patience.  Sometimes life is just hard and God seems far far away (even though God is right there all the time). When life is hard, we need people around us that will not run out of the room and down the street.  We need friends who will just sit beside us until the experience passes.

When it passes, Pit dwellers become new creations.  Just like butterflies struggle to come out of their cocoons, we struggle to come out of the Pits of life.  The results are well worth the journey.

Shalom,

Meredith

A Lesson from our Dog about God

We currently live with an animal determined to chew up everything in site. (I always say I will never have another dog and then I get another one…sigh).  This one has already found a special place in all our hearts.  Sam is smart, playful and encourages us to get outside more than normal.  In fact, Mr. Bell keeps losing pounds all over the neighborhood because he walks the dog so much!  When I walk him, people stop just to tell me what a good-looking dog he is.  One person even stopped their car to tell me.  It is as if I was walking with Matt Damon down the street! People were just stopping to look.  It’s a bit strange, really.  But Sam is a nice looking dog.

One thing about our dog that the normal person cannot see is the amount of toys that have been chewed to their death in this house (our tent).  In anticipation of the dog, Mr. Bell and the little Bells drove off to buy a comfortable dog bed (chewed up), tennis balls (chewed up), stuffed duck (chewed up), and ropes (chewed up).  In addition, toilet paper, dish towels, a jazz shoe, precious toys (imagine the tears here) and everything else in site have met their death in the teeth of this good-looking dog.  My latest suggestion was to just start handing him $20 bills to chew up and save the gas money!IMG_0081

But of course even this dog chewing business reminds me of God.  (Stay with me.)  Everyday, God gives us opportunities to notice God’s presence.  Some days, God gives us something big such as a clear direction on which choice to make in our family or career.  Some days God puts someone in our path that gives us words of comfort or encouragement strait from God!  Those days are amazing aren’t’ they?  All of these God encounters are like the tennis balls around our house.  They are everywhere.  They come in lots of colors.  And they keep coming.

Our response is the key.  If we are like Sam, the good-looking dog, we tear right through them barely noticing they were there in the first place.  If we are aware, we resist tearing through them and we play with the ball that came our way.  We explore it.  We see what we can do with it.  We see where it will take us.  We show it to other people.  We embrace it.  God is good at gift giving.  Some balls that are tossed our way are meant to last a lifetime and others are just to get us through the day.  Either way, they are not put in our paths to be ignored or torn apart.

I hope a lot of tennis balls come your way soon and I hope you do not follow in Sam’s paw prints.  Instead, enjoy the gifts of love from God and have fun playing in God’s creation.

The wise hear them and grow in wisdom;
    those with understanding gain guidance. Proverbs 1:5

Peace,

Meredith Bell

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