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

A Wedding Gift

We are on our way to celebrate a wedding in Louisiana. Before we left the house, we ordered the wedding gift online. I sat down to order it. There were so many choices. I needed a second opinion, so I invited Dr. Bell to join me. He didn’t know either.

What do you get a new married couple for a gift to celebrate their new marriage? Do you give them the fancy trashcan they registered for in hopes that all the hurtful words they throw at each other after a long week just fall into the trashcan? Do you give them a knife set in hopes that they will help each other slice out unhelpful habits? Or do you give them new towels so that they can feel warm and loved in their new marriage. What about a new set of pots and pans so they can create memories together around their kitchen table? Or do you buy them a Keurig so they can make a fast cup of coffee and run out the door?  Or do you buy a traditional coffee maker just in case they have time to sit down together before their day starts.   Maybe you buy them a Bundt pan to remind them that even the bumpy times can be sweet?

What we really want to give them is our blessing and support for their new life together. We want them to know that this new journey is more about letting go than getting more. It’s about grace. It’s about seeing love in the simple things like holding hands, doing laundry and tucking children in bed. It’s about staying connected through the years. What we really want to tell them is that marriage is an amazing journey together. We are here if they need us.

We settled on buying them a hand mixer and a note from Dr. Bell that said, “Congratulations! We hope you like your mixer and make lots of cakes. My favorite cake is a yellow cake with chocolate icing. Meredith’s is a white cake with white icing.” How poetic! (He said his friend will think it’s funny!)

What new household gift do you need in your home this week to help your “tent” relationships? I think we may get a blender soon, just to mix things up a bit!

Shalom,

Meredith Bell

Now we see a reflection in a mirror; then we will see face-to-face. Now I know partially, but then I will know completely in the same way that I have been completely known. Now faith, hope, and love remain—these three things—and the greatest of these is love. I Corinthians 13: 12-13

Here to Give

Reality visited me this week (aka God’s clear voice).  We are here to GIVE and not RECEIVE.  That was it.  Thankfully it was delivered gently from a friend over a delicious cup of hot tea.  But it was delivered.  It stung just a little bit too.  Not because of the way it was delivered, but because of its truth.  I know it was God’s voice, because first it silenced me and then it liberated me.
For some reason the words lifted burdens off my shoulders that I had been nourishing and feeding for a while.  The burdens had become very comfortable right next to my ears.  My burdens like to whisper little lies to me throughout my day, just to remind me that they are still there.  Lies like, “I deserve something different” or “If I were in charge…”.  Little secular lies that make me believe that I am in control instead of God and that tell me I know more than my Creator.

Richard Rohr in his book Eager to Love writes:

If suffering is “whenever we are not in control”, then you see why some form of suffering is absolutely necessary to teach us how to live beyond the illusion of control and to give that control back to God. Then we become usable instruments, because we can share our power with God’s power.

Ever since I clearly heard God’s voice, I feel that I have been like that rich young man that visited with Jesus about eternal life.  The one that simply walked away after Jesus told him to sell all that he had and give it to the poor.  Then Jesus turns to his disciples and says… As he watched him go, Jesus told his disciples, “Do you have any idea how difficult it is for the rich to enter God’s kingdom? Let me tell you, it’s easier to gallop a camel through a needle’s eye than for the rich to enter God’s kingdom.”  Another visit from reality.  

But instead of walking away, I have been squeezing myself through the “needle’s eye” simply to shave off all of myself that I need to leave behind.  It is a painful process to give up control (again!) , but I know that I am not willing to simply walk away.  I am walking around a little bit lighter now.

Meredith Bell

 

Have Courage and Be Kind

We took a break from life this week and jumped on the couch to watch Cinderella. At first, we were only going to watch the movie until bedtime, but then I was enjoying it so much there was no way I was going to turn it off.   I knew I made the right decision when I was covered in blankets and snuggles.  Bedtime is overrated… some nights.  Throughout the movie Cinderella’s mantra is “Have Courage and Be Kind.”  In one scene, the Step-Mother hosts a party in the house with card games, alcohol and loud guests.  One comment from our audience was, “She was not creating a safe and peaceful home.  She brought all those broken people into their home and all that stuff.”  How insightful!
7421665746_178988e5b9_bIn each of our homes live quiet and strong doors.  You may have two or ten doors that keep things out of your home like cold winds and things that go bump in the night.  Doors can also keep good things inside like the smell of comfort food and cool air-conditioning on a hot, hot Texas summer day.

At Happy Tents, we work toward helping families imagine more.  Today, I invite you to imagine more ways your home can become a safe place where love grows and peace rules.  I also invite you to make a mental list of things that you need to leave on the outside of the door.  Here are some ways I thought of and I would love to hear about your ideas as well.

  • A Safe Haven–Each day we all take an adventure out into the world in school, work, restaurants, traffic, etc.  At some point in the day we feel like we are probably getting life drained from us.  Our homes need to be a safe haven from stress, bullying and noise.  Harville Hendrix says,  “We can either be anxious or connected.”  If we are anxious, we will be unable to connect to each other at home.
  • Peace Please–In our tent, when we exit the car and enter our home a pile forms by the door…backpacks, shoes, purses, more backpacks, and toys. Our homes need to be ready to absorb all that we bring home.  Systems help.  Baskets help.  Organization helps.  If the house is in complete chaos the whole family will feel the absence of peace.  Make a plan and make it happen.  If you have children, they can help too with age appropriate chores.
  • All the Good Stuff–I can still remember my childhood home and how good smells drifted up the stairs to my room right before dinner or how nice it was to come home to clean smells (My mom has since confessed that she would often take a rag with lysol on it and just wipe down the walls near the door just for the smell! Wise woman!).  It’s wise to use our doors to keep all the good stuff in like Christian music, positive words (everyone has a special place in the family), nice candles, warm hugs (try one-minute hugs…they feel great!), fresh flowers and surprise notes.
  • Welcome Joy–Joy is not the absence of sadness, it is the presence of the Holy Spirit within you.  When you feel joy and you see joy, welcome it.  Laugh.  Smile.  Celebrate.  Breathe.  Life is good and joy reminds us of how good it is.  Don’t miss it because of unnecessary rules, schedules or negativity.  It’s too precious.

Have courage and be kind…I think I will adopt this mantra for the next few days and see how my small efforts can make a big difference.

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Meredith Bell

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