The Right Question

When the New Year rolled through our tent, we were playing Clue.  Earlier that day, we found the game.  My daughters asked me to teach them how to play and before I knew it I was trying to decide if it was Professor Plum or Mrs. White that committed the crime with the lead pipe in the library.  The best way to find out the answer was to ask the right question.420140641_f7434af1e8_b

When you were six, what did you want to be when you grew up?  Do you remember someone asking you that famous, dreamy question?  I remember saying that I wanted to be a psychologist.  Honestly, I am not sure if I knew what a psychologist did, but it sounded fancy.  Steven wanted to be a crop duster.  One of our daughters wants to be a veterinarian and the other wants to be a spy.  (She enjoyed Clue!)

Questions can make a big difference.  It happens in our relationship with God too.  One question to ask yourself often is, Where have you seen God?”  Was it at the grocery store?  The school?  The park?  Your home?  The answer to that question might surprise you.  Often we think of God being in the church.  God is in the church AND God is a lot of other places too.

Another good question is, What do I see God doing and how can I join God in that mission or work?”  Is God working to care for those who lost their homes in a tornado? Is God working to encourage teachers who teach our children?  Is God working to free someone we know from a difficult situation?  Does God want to remind someone how they are wonderfully created by God? What is God doing and how can we help?

Asking good spiritual questions and taking time to discern the answer may just be what we need.  The answers will give us a clue for how we should best spend our time and resources this year.

Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened.  While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him.  And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” Luke 24:13-17

Meredith Bell

Unknown

My new hiking boots are covered with mud.  After the snow fell on our ranch last week, we went to feed the cows.  They were hungry.  While deciding where to drop the round hay bail off the back of the truck, we got stuck.  The snow had begun to melt and the mud was thick.  One grandmother, two daughters and two granddaughters stuck at the ranch.  The cows found us entertaining.  They looked at us between the bites they took of their cubes that we scattered away from the truck so they would not be in the way when we got unstuck.  This moment could have gone from bad to worse or bad to hilarious.  It went from bad to hilarious.  We talked about how much food and water we had on hand.  No water.  One pancake.  HilariIMG_1686ous.

 

As we lean into a new year, we lean into the unknown.  In 2016, some of us might drive right into the mud this year and get stuck.  We may find ourselves bored with life and relationships.  Or maybe we will rediscover some fun things in life like making mud-pies.  Some of us might be like the cows.  We will watch what is happening around us with one eye, while we have our other eye focused on what really matters, food!  As long as no one bothers us, we won’t bother anyone else.  Or some of us will throw our whole-selves into the work of getting the truck out of the mud.  We will sweat, collect rocks, sticks, and over analyze the situation until we are silly.

No matter what the unknown holds for us this year, it is worth our time to stop and listen for God’s voice this year.  A voice that sometimes wants us to be stuck so we remember who is really in control.  A voice that wants us to focus less on our needs and more on the needs of others.  A voice that reminds us of the sabbath so we can rest from our work at least one day of the week.

After we laughed ourselves silly and took plenty of pictures with our phones, we settled down long enough to think clearly.  We needed help.  We made a phone call and waited.  (We also took more pictures.)  Then one of God’s angels drove down the road and through the gate right to us.  He connected our truck to his truck and pulled us out.  The hay was lowered to the ground and we drove home.  Happy people.  Happy cows.

This year (in our family tents) let’s listen for God’s voice first, a voice that guides us, loves us and saves us.

All these blessings will come upon you and find you if you obey the Lord your God’s voice: You will be blessed in the city and blessed in the field.

Deuteronomy 28:2-3

Happy New Year from Happy Tents!

Meredith Bell

Make a Trade

We are busy in our tent preparing for Christmas. I am sure you are as well. Just this week my daughters rehearsed It’s a Wonderful Life for 3 nights and preformed in it as Carolers for 2 nights. Elf on the shelf has been playing with laundry. Actually, we have an Elf on the shelf family. Elfie, Elfina, little Tom and an Elf reindeer (Don’t ask!). As a team they can get into a lot of misfit in my house. They all played in the laundry one day, which meant I had a day off. They also kicked off our Advent tree. We read a scripture each morning and clip on a new ornament. Plus, this week the Tooth Fairy visited our home twice!! It has been a busy week in our home. And I forgot to mention that our two show pigs came down with pneumonia (who knew this could happen??). They are on the mend now after shots and meeting an angel who gave them the shots. (Even I know when to acknowledge my limits…giving pigs shots is not one of my talents.)

In all of the chaos that this week brought (or season brings), it makes me more determined than ever to not give in to it.  I don’t want to give into consumerism, over-booked calendar (this is where I need to work the most), or Christmas expectations and unnecessary traditions.  When I shop, I want it to be fun.  When I attend a party, I don’t want to worry about what I am missing.  When I pull out the Christmas decorations, I only want to decorate with those things that need to be in our home this year.  I am not going for perfect.  Just enough.

Here is the way I made it through this past week still intact and with Christmas spirit.

Engage Scripture–I found a this cute daily reading on Facebook this week and it has been a perfect reminder of the power baby Jesus brought with him when he was born and placed in the manger.  Read scripture every day this next week with expectant eyes.  What gift will God give you through your reading?

Listen for God’s Voice–The scripture you read will move in and out of your thoughts all day long. The voice of God will be close beside them.  We have been collecting money in a jar all year to give to someone this Christmas.  Just this week I found out who that person is through an email.  We heard God’s voice and we are so excited to give our gift.  What is God saying to you this week?  Listen.

3115751108_77b9dbd66f_bExpect Miracles–Jesus’ birth was a miracle.  John the Baptist birth was a miracle.  Zechariah (John’s father) received his voice back just in time to name John the Baptist.  That was a miracle.  There were so MANY miracles popping up around the birth of Jesus.  Guess what?  They still happen today.  I heard a young adult speak today about his recovery from being hit by a car at the age of 13.  He was asked by the audience, “What are you so proud of in your recovery?”  He quickly answered, “That I am alive!”  A miracle!

We Prepare the Way–Our task this Christmas…share the story.  Share the joy, hope and peace of the season.  Our job is to bake cookies so we can have a moment to share our faith story with the person we give the cookies to enjoy.  Our job is to serve a delicious meal so we can invited the Holy Spirit to be present at our table and breath life into our families.  Our job is to give more so that others will have the opportunity to move from poverty into stability.  Our job is to prepare the way for Christ to work in the lives of the people we meet this Christmas.

Let’s trade the crazy and the chaos of the season in for the calm presence of Christ that lives with us every minute of every day!

Meredith Bell

Simple Math

We are working on basic math in our Tent.  With one of us in first grade, we all get to practice simple math facts.  1+1=2  2+2=4  3+3=6  We are all reminded that you have to start simple and learn the basics. Simple math facts are just as important as advanced math.

I heard a quote this week by Kevin Leman.  Leman said, “No one person is more important than the family.”  If I understand Leman, he is saying that every person in the family is important to the family.  AND there is not one person that is more important than the others.  Leman’s simple math looks like this…1+1=1  2+2=1  3+3=1

So often, we forget this simple truth about family math.  So often, we focus on one person’s needs in the family and pour all of our energy into that person.  When we spend all of our energy on one person, there is not much energy left for the rest of the family.  The whole family loses.

There is a great, humbling reminder of this in the Bible.  Remember when Jesus said, “So those who are last will be first.  And those who are first will be last”?  Jesus was speaking through a parable about a landowner who paid his workers.  No matter what time the workers began working, at the end of the day they received the same amount of pay…one denarion.  Jesus’ math is simple too.  All people are equal and precious in the eyes of Christ.  1+1=1  2+2=1  3+3=1  No matter when we accept God’s grace and begin our Christian life, we receive the same result…eternal life.  Everyone is going to the same eternal life, together.

Take some time this weekend take a tent survey to check your family’s simple math.  Is everyone important?  Does everyone feel special and a part of the family?  Is one person using up too much of the family energy supply?  Pray about what to do about the survey results.  Remember…Jesus is a part of your family too!  Working on the basic areas of family life help prepare us for the more advanced dynamics of family life.

From our Tent to yours…happy weekend!

Meredith Bell

You are Welcome

Strawberries in water.  A comfortable and warm bed to sleep in.  Soul conversations.  Laughter.  Open doors.  Delicious meals.  Simple hospitality. All of these experiences simply say, “You are welcome!”  It is a wonderful feeling to be welcomed into someone’s home and life.  It warms your heart and releases your anxiety.  It feels you with peace that can only come from God.

Some of my favorite memories of hospitality took place around someone’s table.  My conversations with my grandfather (and best friend) always took place at a table with a bowl of strawberries and sugar. 6115838231_f708cce3d0_b All teenage worries disappear with strawberries and sugar.  My grandmother’s table would often be decorated with a beautiful holiday arrangement and she would offer me a quick sandwich.  Challenges about the future seemed to feel smaller at her table.  Coffee, while sitting at my mother’s table looking at the hummingbirds, always tastes better and replenishes my soul.  The back porch of my in-laws home always makes me thankful to be a part of a loving and supportive family.  An afternoon cup of hot tea ,with a friend traveling the same parenting roads that I am on,  gives me time to pause and be thankful for the children God has placed into my care for a short time.  Strawberries and water with a nice lunch after a super stressful morning reminds me why friends are important.  And a key to the front door of a friends home makes me grateful for friendships that are deeper than I can even understand.  All of these moments simply say, “You are welcome.”

I imagine God’s eternal home is similar.  It is a place where all feel at home.  A place where stress falls away and laughter grows.  A place of community that replenishes our souls.  A place where pain does not exist. A place where love is deeper than we can even understand.  No matter if we sit at the kitchen table or on the back porch of God’s house, we know that we are welcome.

Until we personally experience God’s home, we each have the opportunity to open our homes and our hearts in a way that simply communicates, “You are welcome!” We each have an opportunity to provide a glimpse into eternal life through our hospitality to others.  Just like God is always ready and available to hear our thoughts and prayers, we too need to be available to have meaningful conversations with others and welcome them into our home and lives.  Your small, thoughtful acts of love and kindness will be remembered in the years to come.

You are always welcome in our home!

Don’t neglect to open up your homes to guests, because by doing this some have been hosts to angels without knowing it.  Hebrews 13:2

Meredith Bell

Pumpkins

I don’t know what it is about those cute little orange pumpkins, but they get me every year.  There is no other vegetable (are pumpkins considered a veggie or are they in their own category…pumpkin?) that I would pay $10…$15…or $20 to take home with me.  Especially when I did not plan to eat it.  But those little pumpkins, on a nice cool fall morning, all smile back to me and say, “We are worth every penny!”.  Then they load up into the back of my car, buckle in and together we take off to spread fall cheer.

Pumpkins in any other season are just ordinary.  But in the fall they become extraordinary.  Amazing.  Exciting. Fun.  We turn them into decorations, lattes, pies, cookies, breads and more thanks to Pinterest!  In our tent, they represent tradition, change, holidays, and family time.  Some of the ones that live in our home catch a glimpse of the Christmas tree on their way out the door.  They stick around for a while.  Especially the ones that make it into the Barbie house or the ones that become a “baby” after a face is added to it.  Ahhh…pumpkins.

 485 Pound Pumpkin Ashville, NC

485 Pound Pumpkin
Ashville, NC

When you catch a glimpse of a pumpkins this fall, take a moment and let that cute little round ball encourage you to find a way to use your ordinary life to do something extraordinary for God.  How can you hop on board with God and spread some cheer, hope, fun to those you know and those you have yet to meet?  There are a lot of pumpkins around us this fall.  There are also a lot of people like you and me.  If we all signed up to do one extraordinary pumpkin mission, we could spread a lot of God’s love around.

I always assume that God’s Spirit is alive and well in your life.  Tap into that Spirit and together put together a plan that may seem ordinary to you but with God will be extraordinary for someone else.

Also…add a few pumpkins to your tent this week.  They are worth every penny!

Happy Fall!

Meredith Bell

 

Pursuing a Relationship

During spring break of 2015, my family and I went to Biloxi, Mississippi for a family mission trip. We worked there in Biloxi at a homeless shelter, painting, tiling, doing some general construction-type work, and sharing the love of Jesus with the guests at the shelter.

One day at lunch our work team decided to go to a seafood restaurant right by the marina. A boat had just come in from a guided fishing trip, and the guide was filleting the fish that the group had caught while out in the Gulf of Mexico. A very peculiar thing to me was that a pelican had cozied up to the guide, and was waiting patiently for him to share a scrap of fish. I’d never seen a pelican so close to a human before – it seemed almost domesticated or tame. It goes without saying that this pelican had pursued a relationship with the fishing guide, a relationship that benefitted the pelican greatly.

Isn’t that what we do when we draw close to the Lord through prayer? We pursue a relationship with God almighty. And Jesus encourages his followers to spend considerable time and energy doing this very thing. He tells us to, “ask, seek, knock” – and we will not be disappointed. But the benefits of pursuing a relationship with God through prayer are far greater than a few scraps of fish (sorry, pelican!).woman-praying-silhoutte-9a9453118bbae4a0305011d13314d0e2

I love what M. Basil Pennington (monk, author, and prayer-warrior) has to say about pursuing a relationship with God through prayer. He states, “In prayer we seek God. We do not seek peace, quiet, tranquility, enlightenment; we do not seek anything for ourselves. We seek to give ourselves… to God. He is the all of our prayer.” The greatest benefit is the relationship itself. We get to give ourselves to this relationship – we get to give ourselves to God. We get to ask, seek, and knock; knowing that whether our prayers are answered the exact way we ask them or not, we are building the most blessed relationship this life (and the life to come) has to offer.

We pursue a relationship with the One who is our Friend, our Counselor; yet at the same time is also our Rock, Refuge, and Guide. We pursue a relationship with the One who is our God – and we will not be disappointed.

Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. Matthew 7:7-8

Dr. Steven Bell

Quotes

I live for quotes during my weeks.  Quotes and words cause me to pause…remember…reflect…be inspired.  They take me from where I am to where I probably need to be in a specific moment.  This is why I live for them…they remind me that I am alive.  I am capable.  I am creative.  Quotes give me moments in my day that cause me to collide with beliefs, the world and others.  Some push me closer to where I need to be and some remind me that my voice is important.  Some even change my life.

My all time favorite quote by Carl Sandburg who said, “Time is the most valuable coin in your life.  You and you alone will determine how that coin will be spent.  Be careful that you do not let other people spend it for you.”  I still have the email from the friend who sent it to me in 2010 and this quote serves as my filter when I take a new project.

For me, the little quotes are gifts from God.  God knows me.  God knows you. (Even if we try to pretend God’s too busy to notice us.) And God knows how to get our attention on our busy days and on our days when we are just lazy.  I need God on both days to either slow me down or pull me out of myself and back into the race for the day.  And that is why God created quotes!    God was the first in the communication business way before Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc.  God has used bushes, mountains (Moses really had all the fun), prophets,disciples, scribes, friends and more to communicate with us.  God was also the first in the recycling business…God takes us from where we are and turns us into a new creation through God’s love.

This week, I have come across some great quotes and I simply thought I would share.  And I hope you might send some of your great ones back to me.  It is kind of like a recipe exchange.  Who knows…we might even change each others lives.

97238010_e9e0fab87bWe may feel there’s way too much to do, but some of it is not his (God’s) will. The pressure is coming from you, or your employer, or your friends, or your parents, or someone else besides God!   Article by Tim Keller

Thy will be done.  From a friend fighting cancer

To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven.  Ecclesiastes 3:1 sent from a friend in the mail.

The whole world was changing and I didn’t know how I fit in.  Cecil Gaines from The Butler

img-thing

If you feel your life is terrible, just look at your own profile page on Facebook and your life looks great!  from a friend

Who says it has to be itsy bitsy? a talk by Jessica Rey

Sometimes God says yes.  Sometimes God says no.  And sometimes God says not yet.  from a sermon

Enjoy your quote hunt this week!

Meredith Bell

Church Bells

A few weeks ago, Steven and I went hiking.  We hiked through the Hot Springs National Park .  The day of our hike, we woke up at the Spring Street Inn, enjoyed a delicious breakfast (one of those meals you can truly eat ALL of it because you know every calorie would be burned off…joy!), stepped across the street from the B&B, and began our hike. We just walked.

After a steep 2 mile climb at the beginning of our 16 mile hike, I needed to take a break.  I just sat on the ground.  When you are hiking it is amazing what feels good and comfortable…the ground.  (I made a mental note to myself to tell my trainer that we needed to work on conditioning my body to do more than a 30 minute workout.) While we were catching our breath and laughing at what we were doing, we heard a familiar noise…church bells.  They chimed over the town and through the trees with the breeze.  The sound of the bells brought a sense of calmness to us while we rested early in the morning.  It was just a moment that seemed to give purpose and peace to the day. God was with us.

181332664_d72575531c_bHistorically, church bells have been used to gather worshipers together for a church service.  One small village I visited during college in Costa Rica still used their church bells for this purpose.  When the pastor was in town, the bells rang to let the people know to come to the service.  Services were not always on Sundays.  When I was a chaplain in a hospital, bells chimed twice a day through the halls.  Their purpose was to encourage the hospital staff to pause and offer prayer for those in their care.

On our hiking day, the church bells calmed my soul.  They reminded me that I was not alone.  They gave me a chance to give thanks for a day to explore God’s natural sanctuary.  They called me back from my distractions into what is truly important…time with God and my husband.  They reminded me that 3 people were hiking that day even though we could only see each other.

Since then, I still hear the bells.  They are not as loud at home, but they are still there.  When I start my day on the wrong side of the bed, God and I meet again when I think of those bells.  Then my day gets a lot better.

I wonder what you use each day to connect your agenda for the day with God’s presence?  Prayer, service, scripture, a cup of coffee?  What are your church bells?  They can be so subtle and quiet that they are hard to hear when we are busy or in a hurry.  But I guess being busy and in a hurry is not what God wants us to be doing anyways.

When we started hiking again (up another incline…ugh), I was still struck by how the church bells connected to my soul.  I shared it with Steven.  And then I said, “Hey, those church bells…that’s our song! We are the Bells!!”  We are on this journey together.  Glad you are with us too!

Meredith Bell

 

Inside Out

Our value is more than what others see

Today I learned about a woman who lived along the Cane River in Louisiana on the Melrose Plantation.  Clementine Hunter was a farm laborer and never learned to read or write.   She lived from January 1887-Janurary 1988.  When she turned 50 years old, she decided she would paint.  Her paintings reflected the life of the plantation.  She is well known today for her work as an American Folk Artist.

The guide who shared her life with me made one comment that has stayed with me.  She shared that the reason Clementine Hunter’s paintings were so famous is because she painted from the inside; from the inside of her heart and from the inside the culture of the Creole people on the plantation.  From the inside she shared her experience of the world in her own way through painting.

We may often spend more time than necessary tending to our outsides.  Clothes. Hair. Makeup. Image.  But what about the inside?  Patience.  Acceptance.  Listening.  Prayer. Love. These are the things that really matter.  Connecting with God and others really matters.  Who we are on the inside is what we are called to show the outside.

It is good to pause now and then to take an assessment of our spiritual life on the inside.  When we stay busy and distracted by calendar items that are necessary but not life giving, we can easily silence our inner voice or inner thoughts that are inviting us to connect ourselves with our God.  When we go along enough days only living from the surface of our selves, we begin to believe that that is all there is to life, when in fact there is so much more.  What has been stirring in your heart lately?

Clementine Hunter found purpose and power in turning inside out.  I imagine we can do the same when we stop listening to outside voices and start listening to the God who dwells in all of us on the inside.

If you insist on saving our life, you will lose it.  Only those who throw away their lives for my sake and for the sake of the Good News will ever know what it means to really live.  Mark 8:35

Meredith Bell

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