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.
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
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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
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. Hilarious.
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.
Happy New Year from Happy Tents!
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.
Expect 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!
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!
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. 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