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

A Bad Book

I had a great idea for a summer afternoon, but it was hijacked by a bad book.  One of my daughters loves to read.  She reads so much when she is in school that she gets in trouble for not paying attention to her teacher.  I haven’t quite figured out how to discipline her for this.  It happens year after year.  I feel for the teacher, because she does the same to me at home.  But in our age of technology overload, it is just difficult to ask a child to put her book down.

Today, after a fun morning together, I decided I would pick up a book my other daughter brought home from the library (I LOVE libraries! Just thought you should know).  She has not taken to books the same way as her sister.  For her it is still a chore, not a joy.  This motivated me to turn lunch into story time.  I began reading.  My daughters were completely invested in this activity.  It made my heart smile.  Is there a better way to spend an afternoon on a hot summer day?  We were off.  We heard about the setting, the characters, the plot…wait a minute. I should have put it down long before we finished.  This story was a little twisted for two young girls.  It was about a boy who discovered an evil cell phone on the school bus and it would talk to him even if it was turned off (I will never look at cell phones the same way after today). It was a cell phone bully!  And it didn’t even have a good ending.  Our perfect activity was no longer perfect.

At the end, (yes… I read the whole book just knowing it had to have a good ending) we all just looked at each other.  We talked about how ridiculous it was to keep reading it.  We also talked about how scary it was to read.  We decided to take a turn making up a new ending.  Our endings were much better.

Tonight after I tucked my daughters into their beds (2 hours late because they were scared!!!), I had a chance to reflect on the days events.  I did make a mistake…yes.  What is done cannot be undone.  But I also remembered how I encouraged my daughters to say a special prayer for peace since our hearts and minds were troubled.  I gave them extra kisses and hugs.  I even read more stories to them… princess stories… just to fill their minds with more pleasant thoughts.  I modeled how some of our best intentions can turn out bad when we least expect it.  We need God in order to get through days like this.

For many years, I tried to be perfect in every way.  I was pretty successful at pretending, practicing, and thinking I was perfect.  And then, through God’s grace, I discovered that being perfect is not in line with our faith.  Our faith in Christ is about being in need of God’s grace.  If we are perfect, we believe grace is for other people instead of us.  I often call myself a recovering perfectionist.  It helps me to remember where I was and where I want to be.

Today was a great example–I messed up.  But instead of trying to cover up my mistake, I used it to show my daughters that I make mistakes and it is ok.  In Matthew 7:24, Jesus talks about those who hear words of mine and put them into practice are like a wise man who build their house on the rock.  The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against the house; yet it did not fall. Today I made a mistake, but thankfully there is a rock I can stand on at the end of the day end.  One that forgives and gives us another chance.  Is there something you need to let go of as well and start again tomorrow?

As for this house built on a rock… I think we will stick with princess stories and Dr. Seuss for our story time this summer!

Meredith Bell

P.S.  I discovered that you all like quotes too.  Here are a few that you sent to share… the comments are just as thoughtful as the quotes.


When you’re waiting on God to lead: When one door is closed, another one will open but these hallways are a drag!!  (Seen on a magnet.)

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“Until now….”  When I think I can’t follow where God is leading, whether it’s fear or my ego, I repeat this one over and over until I get the right perspective.
 “What I allow, I teach.” – this one helps me get back on track when I ALLOW others to hijack me. I repeat this one until I truly accept that I’m in charge of me and that others treat me the way I teach them to treat me. When I allow destructive or negative behaviors of others to affect me, I’m teaching them to keep on inflicting it!
“Mom, I am marrying the man I love, and the rest is just details”.  
A beautiful quote from a beautiful bride.
“The soul is healed by being with children.”  Fyodor Dostoevsky

 

 

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

 

Grace…It’s What We Need

I saw it again the other day…a couple arguing.  They were not exchanging grace.  I could tell from across the room that they were not talking about when they fell in love or how much they appreciate each other.  They were not planning their next date night or holding hands.   They were looking deeply into each others eyes, but I believe their pupils were restricted instead of relaxed. Smoke was shooting out of their ears and veins were sticking out on their necks.  They looked like cartoon characters!!  Maybe it was the arms waving or the tension they created…but they were arguing for sure.

It made me sad.  I wanted to reach out to them, help them, or pray with them. But it was none of my business.  (If you even see me arguing with the love of my life…feel free to break in with a prayer!!)
And then the coin flipped.  It is much easier to help others and think about them than to experience the need for help yourself. My experience happened during a family Uno game.  Uno.  That’s it.  Then I spoke and he spoke and I spoke and he spoke. Then the conversation quickly turned into an argument…with the children present and holding their Uno cards.  We were not exchanging grace.

1 Corinthians 13:4-7 is a familiar verse often read at weddings. Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude.  It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoings, but rejoices with the truth.  Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

If grace is what we receive from Christ, then we are equipped to give grace to others…especially those we love.  Yet so often, we expect grace from Christ, but are reluctant to give it to others.  In writing it seems simple.  In real life it is more difficult.  But I guess dying on the cross is more difficult in real life too!

After things calmed down (I actually ended up winning the Uno game…but it wasn’t as much fun to win that moment.), I remembered 1 Corinthians.  I remembered what it feels like to give and receive grace. I remembered that I am the only person that can change my behavior.  So I read scripture with fresh eyes…

Meredith is patient and kind; she does not envy or boast; She is not arrogant or rude; Meredith does not insist on her own way; she is not irritable or resentful….

I missed the mark today, but thankfully tomorrow is a new day and my heart has been renewed through scripture.  Awww…life!
Meredith Bell

Time for Camp

We usually kick off the summer by sending our daughters to camp for a week.  Prior to camp, we pull out the trunks.  Decorate the trunks. And then fill the trunks.  Three simple steps that take many many many days.  We check our list and check it twice.  We fill ziplock bag after ziplock bag of outfits, costumes, swimsuits, pajamas, and more.  It is quite the process.  (I can’t imagine sending them to college!!)

But the day we drop them off…emotions are everywhere.  One daughter captured it very well.  She said she was ner-cited (nervous + excited).  To be honest, we were all “ner-cited”…even the dog.  But we pressed on.  The trunks were already packed and in the car.  The care packages were ready to be delivered.  (By the way….I may just sign myself up for camp next year.  No laundry. No cooking. The blob. And care packages EVERYDAY!!)  We were headed to camp and nothing was going to stop us!

And then a funny thing happened in the car on the way to camp.  One daughter held my hand and one daughter leaned on my shoulder.  If I had been close enough to my mom, I probably would have held her hand too.  We were on our way to experience something new.  We were 4285426377_e67ccd8055_banticipating something around the corner that we cannot see yet.  A change was coming, we just needed a hand to hold and a shoulder to lean on for a little while.

I do not know what “camp” experience is going on in your life this week.  Maybe you have planned for something and it is finally happening.  Maybe you can’t see around the next corner but you have a feeling things are changing.  Maybe you are about to try something new.   When you find yourself “ner-cited” remember the words of found in Deuteronomy 31:8.  “It is the Lord who goes before you, He will be with you; He will not leave you or forsake you.  Do not fear or be dismayed.”  Know this…Jesus is right there with you.  And someone who loves you is available to hold your hand or let you lean on their shoulder for a while.

After we settled our youngest daughter into her cabin for camp and said our goodbyes, we walked out of the cabin.  (Honestly, I had to walk out fast before I broke down crying!)  I was so impressed with how easily she told us good-bye.  And then the door to the cabin popped open and she said, “Mom, where are my notes to write you?”  My reply was simple…”In the ziplock!”  with everything else.  And I should have added, “Right next to Jesus. He will be with you all week baby girl.”

Have a great week because he is with you too!

Meredith Bell

Simply Aware

When Our Table Grows, We Grow

Just this week I found myself in the middle a modern “fishes and loaves” story.  I did not wear any thing special that day because I did not know I was going to walk into the story as a main character.  I did not know how my ordinary day would end.

School is winding down for us (in fact today was the last day for one daughter) which means our afternoons are less busy.  Routine has been thrown out the window…hello world!  We even met friends for a snow cone after school this week… spontaneously.  (Oh how sad that even a spontaneous, unscheduled, and unplanned snow cone date can feed my adventurous side. Next week I may spontaneously take on the Appalachian Trail!)

After we cooled off with our snow cones, we headed to the park. What we found there took me by surprise.  Our neighbor.  She is a teenager and she was with her friends.  School was out and she was just hanging out before walking home.  We chatted.  Then I remembered that after her parents divorced, she is often home alone with her brother in the afternoons until her father gets home from work.  Then I remembered this has been going on for a while, but I had forgotten.

Once we returned home, my daughters invited our neighbors over to play.  I made after school snacks and started on dinner.  For dinner I was preparing a salmon dish.  (The fish in the story.  But I doubt Jesus served salmon.)  I knew the meal would feed my family of 4.  But I was not sure about company.  Before long, the dinner question arrived in my kitchen, “Can they stay for dinner?”  I looked at my fish and it looked back at me as I muttered something like, “Sure”.  (God’s response…ABSOLUTELY)

This is when my dinner plans were hijacked by God.  God had other plans for my fish…hospitality and love.  As I was finishing up the meal, God and I had a chat.  My meal prep and serving suddenly turned spiritual.  Our neighbors had a place at our table that night.  They weren’t alone on the playground or in their own home.  They were with us, their friends.  Because they were with us, our circle became wider as we simply became aware that they needed us on that day.  Our tent grew, our table grew and our love for them grew.  And by the way…somehow the salmon (fish) and loaf (well…really Jasmine rice) grew.  We all had enough and we were all filled with much more than food when we left the table.

Simply aware.  Simply Available.

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