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,
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,
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,
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
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,
“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
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 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 surface 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!
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!!
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
P.S. Bunnies for sale!!!
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.