The Mantle

Past the kitchen and unmade beds, I discovered (felt) the meaning of the mantle.  It seems that more life lessons happen for me when the dishes are in the sink and the laundry needs to be folded. Ordinary moments.  Because my responsibilities for the day were more than I wanted to handle, I retreated to my prayer closet. I didn’t have much to say.  I just wanted to sit for a moment.

Then I saw a picture of an old friend.  It was taped to a wall in my quiet place.  My old friend, long ago, passed a mantle on to me.  In his kitchen (with dishes in the sink), he reminded me of all the times we had shared together in life.  All the good conversations we enjoyed about God, faith, mystery and journaling.  Then he said, “It’s time for you to take the mantle. I’m too old and too tired.” With a smile and tears rolling down my face, I agreed to receive his gift and commission.

The mantle is a symbolic term for passing on leadership from one person to another.  Elisha and Elijah (the great prophets of the Old Testament) set the bar for the mantle.

Elisha picked up the mantle of Elijah that had fallen from him, and went back and stood on the bank of the Jordan. He took the mantle of Elijah that had fallen from him, and struck the water, saying, “Where is the Lord, the God of Elijah?” When he had struck the water, the water was parted to the one side and to the other, and Elisha went over. Kings 2:13-14

I believe that we may be wearing more than one mantle at a time.  There are many callings on our lives. Friend, sister, father, teacher, brother, mother, child, mentor, employee, employer, Christian, leader, advocate.  I have come to understand there are different phases of the mantle that are always active.

Training Up 

Everyday training takes place.  It may feel like carpool, dinner, homework and chaos, but it is really a training ground for the next mantle team.  We train up children and teach them about the spiritual life.  We teach about Elisha and Elijah and all the other Holy stories.  We guide, correct and encourage.  We love constantly.  We pray, pray, pray that all these moments will grow into another beautiful light for Christ in this world.

Living It

The weight of it can truly be felt.  The constant call to lead, produce, solve and understand. It calls for creativity and availability.  We cast visions.  We build teams.  We faithfully live out our daily lives in a way that shows respect for the mantle we carry and an understanding that we carry it for a small fragment of time.  We pray, pray, pray that our fragment honors and pleases God.

Passing it On

With eyes that see beyond the present moment, we look for who is next.  Through a relationship, we prepare the next one.  With our words, we share our story.  Our successes and mistakes.  We bless the them.  And we send them out into the world as they cross from one side to the next.  We pray, pray, pray for wisdom and joy for the new one(s).

This mantle business is guided and sustained by the Holy Spirit.  I wonder where you are in this Holy business? Where can you encourage those in other stages?

 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper,[a] to be with you forever. John 15:16

From our Happy Tent to Yours,

Meredith Bell

Signing Off and Signing In

We have a magic power in life with a pen and paper (a tablet/stylus or computer/keyboard) when we practice signing in and signing out.  Signing in means that we are open, present, ready or prepared. Signing out says, “That’s all folks!” Drop the microphone and close the curtain because the work is done.

This week, I signed out a child from school and signed into a board meeting (x3!). I signed into my banking account and signed out of a doctor’s office. I signed up to provide refreshments and signed out of the library.  In and out, in and out, all week long.

One evening during the week I signed off my phone.  It was ringing, buzzing, and alerting me at such a rapid pace that it was practically creating an earthquake on the kitchen counter.  Someone forgot to tell the phone that the day was winding down instead of winding up.   Someone forgot to tell the phone that we were in the last act of the play that day and we needed to wrap things up.  Without thinking, I sent one more text informing the sender that I was signing off for the night.  It was an automatic response because my personal battery was on low and I needed to recharge before the next day. Enough work for one day.

Immediately, when I signed off for the day, I signed into being present with the people I love the most. I signed into awareness and curiosity. I relaxed and took a deep breath.  (Maybe the first one all day.) Dolly Parton once said, “Never get so busy making a living that you forget to make a life.”   Meredith Bell says,  “Never get so attached to a device that we forget to be present with those we love.”

My new spiritual practice is signing off.  Signing off to work at the end of the day even if there is more to do.  Signing off to busyness and hurry.  Signing off to exhaustion day after day.  I’m signing into recharging, resting and sabbath moments.  God is in those moments!

Is there a place in your life that needs a signing out spiritual practice?

Six days you shall gather it; but on the seventh day, which is a sabbath, there will be none. Exodus 16:26

From our Happy Tent to yours,

Meredith Bell

 

Running Wide Open

I remember the day I learned about the term “running wide open.”  I was in the passenger seat of my new sports car.  My dad bought the car for me. (I am still not sure why that was a good idea, but I am still thankful it was my car.)  He told me not to go too fast until he could ride along with me.  It was a silver Pontiac Firebird.  The time came for him to ride along with me, but he said he would drive it just to test it out on the road.  Before I knew it, we were running wide open.  He was smiling, hugging the curves and complimenting the car like it was a person.  I had never gone so fast in a car in my whole life and I never have since.  I guess it is true that within every grown man there is a young boy!

This week in a text a friend said he was “running wide open.”  Mr. Bell and I have laughed (the other option is to cry) about that text all week!  It is the best description for our lives.  Like our friend, our life is running in our final gear and we are traveling at top speed.  Monday through Monday…top speed. With the wind blowing in our hair (or at least my hair…he’s bald) as we run from meeting to meeting, morning to morning, fire to fire, we feel like we are running wide open.

Running wide open can be a fun experience.  It creates adrenaline, excitement, busyness and purpose.  Things happen.  Decisions get made.  It is easy when you are brand new, right off the car lot kind of person.  But we are not new cars anymore.  We have some miles on us.  If you are like us, you are running wide open more days than you would like. It may be time to pull over and actively rest.

Take a pit stop and let your crew (Jesus, God and the Holy Spirit) work on your car a while.  Inspect the engine (your body) to make sure it is still working well.  Sometimes we ignore obvious signs that something is not right.  Check your oil every 50 hours of work and see what the level is as you head into the next week.  If you are low, do some things to fill it up like spending time with your family, friends or even time alone.  Take a look at the tires to make sure you are balanced between work and play.  Look for holes that are slowing you down.  Clean out the interior of your life and get rid of all the trash that builds up inside.  All the worries, fears, and anxieties will be better off in the garbage can.

While you are at the pit stop, if you can’t see to find anything wrong but you still aren’t running well, reach out to a mechanic (doctor, counselor, or spiritual friend) and let them help you run a diagnostic test.  Don’t keep running wide open until you burn up the engine or the wheels fall off.  It is easier to fix a car than it is to rebuild it.  We only get one car (life) so we need to learn to take care of the one we have soon.

There is only one reason in life that we need to be running wide open and that is in our spiritual lives. So often, we ignore the one part of life that gives us the most energy. Jesus ran wide open for God AND Jesus got away to pray.  Jesus models pit stops for life. He prayed on a hills, between meetings, in homes and gardens.  He encourages us to be still so that we know God.  He sent us a Helper when he left this earth.  He created “spiritual pit stops” if you really think about it. Jesus told us to go and run wide open to make disciples for Jesus Christ.  He didn’t tell us to go and wear your self out in my name!

While you are in your tent this weekend, take a moment and ask your some question.  Are you running wide open? How much longer can you do it?  Who are you doing it for? Is there anything you need to change in your life?  We are asking ourselves the same questions often!

When he arrived and saw this evidence of God’s blessing, he was filled with joy, and he encouraged the believers to stay true to the Lord. Acts 11:23

From our reflective and Happy Tent to yours,

Meredith Bell

 

Dating Again

You know how you walk past people on the street and refuse to make eye contact. Or when you ride in an elevator with someone without speaking? Or when you have a relationship with someone and communicate only through texts? That has been our marriage lately. Ugh!

The other morning over coffee we just looked at each other. We didn’t have much to talk about. There are many reasons that brought us to this point; work, phones, children, projects, emails, stress, meetings, and commitments. (Maybe we are the only ones.) But really, all of those are just excuses. Excuses that tend to drain our energies for anything else. Our marriage is being robbed of so many great moments because of busyness. We are not interested in a good marriage; we want to experience a great marriage.

Tucked into the Old Testament is the Song of Songs. It is filled with glimpses into a passionate relationship with love, earthy fragrances, images and desire. The poetry may have been used as a wedding ceremony where the woman and man exchange praises for their beauty and admiration of each other. This book reflects a great marriage and one that heightens the spirituality of marriage.

Over that cup of coffee, we decided to start dating each other again. Basic dating. Door-bell ringing, make-up on, clean truck, fresh flowers, reservations kind of dating. (Dating is a strange concept when you have been married for almost 17 years.) For now, we are taking a marriage break and we are going to start dating each other again. We already have a list of ideas to get us started!

Happy Tents is about supporting families today. Families are the best place to experience grace and ask for forgiveness. We are able to do that because of the grace we receive through Christ. When we give and receive grace in a relationship, we are loving each other enough to begin again and try a different way forward. That is what makes us happy! We are committed to this marriage relationship and thankful God is wrapped up in it with us.

How about your marriage? Is it time to start dating again?

Oh, your loving is sweeter than wine! Your fragrance is sweet; your very name is perfume. Take me along with you; let’s run! Song of Songs 1:2-4

From our Happy Tent to yours,

Meredith Bell

Family Feud

The next generation has discovered Family Feud.  Do you remember that show?  I remember watching it with my family when I was a child.  Last weekend my daughter discovered it while visiting a family member and my daughter who had a REAL TV.  (We have been cable free FOREVER, so when we visit our family members our daughters always refer to TV at the REAL TV!).  The REAL TV was full of interesting shows last weekend and Family Feud was the most interesting.

I was busy doing something else while she was watching it until I saw the first red X flash up on the screen.  Then I was totally engaged.  I remembered that there were three red X’s available to each family.  After those three, they lost.  Three chances to guess the best words for the category.  This particular category was “Tell me ways in which the family dog can annoy you.”  I won’t give you the answers here.

But those three X’s have been helpful in our tent all week.  One morning while getting ready for our day, my sweet, adorable husband made an unnecessary comment about something I forgot to do (I never, ever claim to be perfect!).  I quickly threw up my hands and formed an X.  I informed him that he only had two more before the day was over…and it was only the morning.   I then had to remind him about Family Feud and the three X’s.  He caught on quickly.  It wasn’t long before he threw up his arms into a big X and reminded me that we were now tied.

I know we all try our best to treat everyone in our tent with kindness, love and respect.  That is our goal.  But some days when we are tired, stressed or overwhelmed, we tend to do more harm than good.  We say words that deserve a big red X.  We complain about small things that do not matter in the big picture.  We travel down the road of negativity not realizing that we are traveling it alone because everyone else is exhausted from listening.  That too deserves a red X.

“Pleasant words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body” (Proverbs 16:24).  Our words have power to make our relationships sweeter.  We know the right words to use to build each other up.  We know how to avoid those words that cause the big red X’s to flash up on our screen of life.

Here’s a challenge for your family this week.  See how many ways you can bring sweetness to your tent through your words.  See how you can bring health into your relationships.  See if your choice of words helps you to avoid family feuds within your home.  And remember, GRACE.  As much as we try, we will always make mistakes and say something that deserves a big red X.  Our families are the best place to practice giving and receiving grace.  Grace and forgiveness remove any X’s that exist in our relationships.  Before you begin the challenge, take a moment  to exchanged grace and give forgiveness to erase the X’s that have already been played. That way everyone starts with a fresh beginning.

Love your family, don’t feud. – Al Roker (2008)

From our Happy Tent to yours,

Meredith Bell

P.S.  Grab your neighbors this Memorial weekend and play Family Feud.  Here are some questions to get you started.

Pockets of Peace

Do you ever notice how God shows up in the grocery store?  It happens to me often.  On the days when I only have a ten-minute-window to buy a grocery cart full of food, I meet someone (God) in the grocery store. These encounters always catch me off guard.   Usually I have my head down and my hair pulled back with an intentional look on my face that says…”Get out of my way…I’m on on an impossible mission once again.”  I must have this look down because most people stay clear.

But the other day, I had a God encounter.  I met another mom on a mission.  She has five children.  I have two.  Both our husbands are pastors.  She was on her mission with her own grocery cart and it felt as though our carts simply collided.  Then we looked up.  We saw each other.  Before we even spoke, we were communicating.  Compassion.  Encouragement.  Love.  Understanding.  These feeling were all floating between us. We saw our tired selves in each other.  We saw our determination in each other.  We saw God in each other. When we finally found our words we skipped pleasantries.  We spoke directly into our worlds as working women, moms, and wives.  “How did we over-schedule our family again?”  “How are we going to get everything done for today and tomorrow?”  “Where is the balance that keeps alluding us?” “Does balance even exist?” With a smile of encouragement and tired eyes, we went our separate ways.

This encounter challenged me greatly regarding balance.  It seems like we desire balance in our lives.  We talk about it and read about it.  In my mind a balanced day is a cup-of-coffee, devotional-reading, lunches-packed, hugs-and-kisses, laundry-done, dinner-on-the-table, and bedtime-story kind of day.  But most of the time we experience a where-are-my-shoes, hurry-to-school, grocery-sprint, cereal-for-dinner, study-spelling-words-in-the-bathtub, fall-into-bed kind of day.

God taught me something about balance in the grocery store.  In order to find peace in the midst of our schedule storms we first need to be honest.  Peace will not just happen and our schedules are not going to get much better.  We are hard working Americans after all!  BUT we need to be intentional about creating pockets of peace and balance within our days.  Little pockets of peace that give us space to catch our breath and connect with God.  Little pockets of peace that empower us to keep going.  In my life, they look like a phone call to my mom, a back porch conversation at the end of the day, a little love note tucked in a lunch box, fifteen minutes in my prayer closet, a quick devotional read from a book in my purse, a cup of hot tea, a quick run, a one-minute-hug, reading two chapters in a book, a thirty minute nap before pick-up, or a phone call to a friend.  I don’t do all of them every day, but they are all in my “I need some peace emergency kit!” All of these little pockets of peace add up at the end of the day and they breathe new life back into my self-imposed-high-expectation-chaotic-schedule.

Even Jesus stepped away to speak to his Father.  Scripture tells us that Jesus would remove himself from the crowds for a little while even though they would follow him and come looking for him.  He, of all people, had an over-packed schedule during his ministry, but he knew he could serve best by staying connected to the Creator.

As we head into the end of spring and into the summer, let’s be intentional about carving out pockets of peace in our days for ourselves and our families.  They will fill us, calm us and empower us to keep going as people who love God and love others.

Be still, and know that I am God! Psalm 46:10

From our Happy Tent to yours,

Meredith Bell

Hello Humility

A familiar friend showed up for a three-day visit in our tent this week…Mrs. Humility. She came on Wednesday and stayed through Friday. She took time to visit with three of us. Mrs. Humility took advance of our insecurity, stress and mistakes to enlighten us. With each encounter, we were reminded of our sad attempts to be perfect and prideful. But like they say…after three days guests and fish begin to smell!

So what did we do? In our own little way we confessed and repented. We shared the mistakes that we made and then we asked for forgiveness. We talked to God and apologized for worshipping our idols instead of God. We listened to friends that God sent us who said just the right words. And then we experienced the best feeling…GRACE. We exchanged grace between each other. (Families are a great place to practice giving and receiving grace.) We gave it and we humbly received it. God’s forgiveness fell over us like a refreshing shower.

God’s love for us kept us from inviting Mr. Shame to come over. He is just a simple text away and always wants to partner with Mrs. Humility to strike when we are weak. But not this week. This week, Mrs. Humility grabbed our attention and we turned right back to God before we could fill our minds with destructive thoughts. Once destructive thoughts take root in our minds, the journey is even more challenging.

As we watched Mrs. Humility leave our presence, we were surprised to find that we were filled with thankfulness instead of anger. A weight fell offer our shoulders. We were free to live under God’s rule over our lives. The paradox is that we felt more freedom in that place than when we were trying to be in control.

God worked under the surface of our lives this week. We all grew in ways that we cannot measure. We were reminded that we will make mistakes, we need wise friends and we need grace.

What about you? Have you had any unexpected “friends” visit you lately? How is God working under the surface of your life and nudging you to grow in ways that cannot be measured?

Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves.  Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too. Philippians 2:3-4

From our humbled tent to yours,

Meredith Bell

P.S.  It looks like Mrs. Humility has been busy with others as well.  If you have time check out this video from Q Ideas about Humility in the Time of “Me”.

 

Being Open

I am married to a duck hunter. When we married 16 years ago, he was not a duck hunter. Today he is. His friends took him hunting a year ago and he was open to the new experience. To say that he enjoyed it is an understatement. This guy dove in like a duck and has not stopped flying since. All year long, Amazon Prime has swiftly delivered much needed “supplies” for the hunts. Our garage has slowly filled up with duck decoys, duck calls, duck decoys and a lot of camo things. It now looks like an Academy supply warehouse.

For the past five mornings, I have been on a duck hunting date with my guy. I was open to this new date experience. At five o’clock we rise, he makes me hot tea and we go duck hunting. Actually…I hang out in the truck and he hunts. From the truck, I have had the privilege of watching the sunrise. Each morning it has been breath taking. Each morning it has been different. Each morning has been a new experience.

Duck hunting has given my guy a hobby…a much needed hobby. Going hunting has pulled me out of my normal morning routine and shown me a beautiful new day, every day.

As we lean into the New Year, we are called to being open. Just as every sunrise is different, every year is different. We cannot anticipate or know what lies ahead. There is no need for anxiety or fear because God travels with us.

We do know that each day will begin with a sunrise and end with a sunset. Each day God will be co-creating with us to show the world how to love one another. If we are willing to being open to something new, our breath will be taken away and we will discover new experiences.

What new experiences are you open to this year? What is God asking you to leave behind so that you can live with an attitude of being open?

For I’m going to do a brand-new thing. See, I have already begun! Don’t you see it? I will make a road through the wilderness of the world for my people to go home, and create rivers for them in the desert!  Isaiah 43:19

Happy New Year from Happy Tents,

Meredith Bell

Three Pieces A Day Rule

We have one happy, happy camper in our tent this week. The candy rule is gone and the “candy queen” is so happy. There is candy all over our house. Some of it is in the obvious places and some of it is tucked away in little corners, under blankets, and in drawers. It is everywhere and our happy camper has taken inventory and knows the location of every piece. Candy is available 24/7 in our home and life is good for a little girl.

Because we are kind, loving parents, we let the “candy queen” enjoy a few days of bliss. She even enjoyed some for breakfast a few mornings along with her protein plate. But then the time came to reintroduce the rules. “Okay, now that you have enjoyed lots of candy, we are going to go back to three pieces a day.” We expected shock, surprise or rebellion. Instead we simply got an “Okay.” Well that was easy!

There is a gift hidden in rules. They make us feel safe, secure, cared for and balanced. When we have rules that guide our choices and lives, we are able to relax within their boundaries. The big decisions have already be taken care of so we can just enjoy life within the boundaries.

There once was a psychological study of children playing on a playground by a school that I learned about recently. One group of children were encouraged to go and play on a playground without a fence. Instead of playing and exploring, this group chose to just play by the entrance into school.  They didn’t feel safe enough to play on the playground. Another group of children were given the same instructions and same choice. The difference was that a fence had been installed around the play equipment. The second group played on the monkey bars and slid down the slide. The take away was that the children felt more safe with the fence and were able to relax and play together.

Our creator gives us fences (or rules) to live within simply because we are loved.  They are not intended to restrict us, punish us or frustrate us.  They are intended to remind us that we are safe, secure, and loved.  Rules for life help us draw closer to God by making space in our lives for God.  They offer us balance in the pressures of life and light in darkness.  We may go through times in life where we are like the “candy queen”…we have more than we could ever need and life feels blissful.  But then, we may feel that we have lost direction or purpose in life.  We know then that it is time to go back to “three-pieces-a-day”.  And when God calls us back to our center, we experience God’s grace. Another day and another chance to live life through God’s eyes instead of our own.

Explore your rules this week or create some.  What is your rule of life?  Share them with someone close to you.  You might find that you will enjoy God’s playground even more with a fence around it.

For the Lord is the Spirit, and wherever the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.

                                                                                                  2 Corinthians 3:17

From our Happy Tent to yours,

Meredith Bell

P.S. If you want to explore a rule of life more, check out Crafting a Rule of Life.

A Wife

A few years ago, my husband wrote a book about blessing his wife.  I am still amazed that he would write such a book to bless me and other marriages.  Ever since then, I have been considering doing the same.  Getting started has been the trouble.

The role of a wife is a big role.  Society makes this role challenging by portraying wives through shows like “The Real House Wives” or defining a wife as a ball-and-chain.  One archaic definition of a wife goes so far as to say “a woman, especially an old or uneducated one”…really?  Our culture encourages us to fill our days with efforts that produce a perfect meal, body, children and attitude so that we can fulfill the role of a wife the right way.  (Sigh)

Luckily, our faith has another definition.  My favorite is the way women are defined through the Bible as ezers.  Carolyn Curtis James writes about the Hebrew translation of helper in a number of her books.  She defines women as ezers who are more than helpers for men, they are image bearers of God in the world around them.  This is a definition that I can wrap my mind around.  Our Bible is full of truth that guides us in relationships.  Hebrews 10:24-25 says, “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”

The role of a wife in this world is more than grocery lists, laundry, carpool, errands and overbooked schedules.  The role of a wife is to reflect God’s image in our marriage, families and our communities.  We are called to love, nurture, comfort, create, share, inspire, guide and share grace.  We start with our partner by building a life together.  Through the relationship, families and futures are built.  Our task is to keep faith alive in our hearts and in our homes so that it will be passed on to the next group of amazing wives who come behind us in the next generation.  When this is our true purpose, the to-do lists seem less important don’t they?

This week, let’s take a closer look at our calendars.  Is there enough room in our days to spend time with our spouse just to remind him that he is loved and cherished?  Is there enough room in our days to recharge our spiritual lives?  Is there enough time spent seeking God’s guidance?  With God’s grace…we can learn the ways of Christ.

From our tent to yours,

Meredith Bell

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