Almost nine years ago I became a mother again. After rushing to the hospital, checking and settling in, I remember a text from my spiritual director. She said, “Never again will you share the same heart beat or be completely spiritually connected with your daughter as you are now.” Time stopped when I read those words and all the activity in the hospital room stopped. I turned my attention to what was happening on the inside instead of the activity on the outside.
A baby changes everything, right? And everyone! Our baby girl took center stage in our lives. Bottles, diapers, toys, little pink socks, more toys, car seats, dresses, strollers, and more toys all moved in with her. She still changes everything. Except today life is filled with school, gymnastics, toys, friends, sleep-overs, piano recitals, dance recitals, more toys and theater. (Over scheduled…I know!)
In the midst of all this (especially in the ridiculously-overly-busy month of May), I can’t help but remember that text. It still helps me to turn my attention to what is happening on the inside, instead of the activity on the outside. I may no longer share a heartbeat with my baby, but I know her heart well. We are like old friends that have moved away from each other. When we meet again, we simply pick up where we left off. Because I know her well, it is my job to be in-tune with what is happening on the inside in the midst of the activity on the outside. It is my job to make room for life giving moments, both personally and spiritually.
I know this, because this is how I experience God. In my life that is often ridiculously-overly-busy, I depend on God to show me what is going on inside, instead of the activity outside both in myself and others. I depend on God to give me peace in chaos, hope in darkness and love. Because God shares a heart with me (and you), God shows up and gives me spiritual moments like a beautiful moon, the perfect verse from the Bible for the day, and of course encouraging words from my own mom.
Remember the story in Mark 10, when people were bringing children to Jesus so that he would bless them?The disciples scolded the children and Jesus scolded the disciples. He even grew angry and said, “Allow the children to come to me. Don’t forbid them, because God’s kingdom belongs to people like these children. I assure you that whoever doesn’t welcome God’s kingdom like a child will never enter it.” Then he hugged the children and blessed them.
We are called to do the same. We are called to create ways for children (of all ages) to have access to Jesus on the inside in the midst of the activity on the outside. Once a connection is made with Jesus, never again will we want to stand in its way.
From our Happy Tents to yours,
Whew! The news is full of information, images and feelings these days. Some is helpful and useful. It’s good to learn about the penumbral eclipse (it sounds exciting for sure) or see a glimpse of the latest fashions. Some is not helpful. In fact, it may simply be harmful. It increases our experience of stress, anxiety and depression. And it is everywhere because media is everywhere. Our phones, pads, computers, cars and t.v.’s all send the news our way, wherever we may be, at any given moment. All of this news is about what is happening in the world that we cannot see for ourselves.
Then there is the news that we can see for ourselves…kitchen table news. Our personal news. Events in our day. People we talked to and shared life with over lunch. Experiences we had in a day. New friends we met. Funny things we heard. Meals we cooked. Mistakes we made. Gifts we bought. Plans we made. Thoughts that challenged us. Lessons we learned. Books we read. Conversations. All of this news gives our lives meaning and purpose.
Then there is the news that Jesus Christ brings to our lives…spiritual news. Here are a few headlines:
Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me.
And know that I am with you always; yes, to the end of time.
So I say to you, Ask and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you.
We need all kinds of news in our lives since we live as the light of Christ in the world around us. But I wonder if we get too much about events we cannot see for ourselves and not enough kitchen table news or spiritual news. Which type of news is life giving and which type is life draining?
For our tent, we find joy around the kitchen table when we share our headlines and we feel peace in our souls when we remember the spiritual power of the Good News. The other news has a place, but it is not the focus.
What about your tent? How do you deal with news?
The angel said, “Don’t be afraid! Look! I bring good news to you—wonderful, joyous news for all people. Your savior is born today in David’s city. He is Christ the Lord. Luke 2:10-11
From our Happy Tent to yours,
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,
“Has anyone seen my glasses?” This is a question that I remember hearing as a child over and over again. It seems like my mother would ask this question just as we were trying to get to school on time. We knew we weren’t going anywhere until they were found. We also knew we had to help her because she could not see well enough without them to find her own glasses.
Guess what? I am now asking the same question, “Has anyone seen my glasses?” I am simply amazed at how dependent I have become on my glasses to see. When did that happen?
Glasses and assumptions go together. When we cannot see things clearly we make assumptions. While doing homework with my daughter recently, she held up a picture she had drawn and asked me if I liked it. I was a few feet away cooking dinner. I said I did like it. She asked me what it was about. (I wasn’t going to fool her…she knows me too well.) I had to confess that I didn’t know simply because I could not see it. I made the humble walk over to the table and asked to see the picture again. I was then able to give her an honest answer and apologize. Then I asked her, “Have you seen my glasses?”
We make assumptions all the time. We assume that our spouse can read our mind and know what we need. We assume that the man that lives down the street by himself has friends. We assume that other people think the way we do and see the world like we do. We assume our ideas are correct. But how often do we question our assumptions? How often do we invite God to help us see things around us more clearly?
My glasses help me to see details clearly. Details are necessary to get the whole picture. Without my glasses I am in trouble. Without questioning my assumptions I am also in trouble. Assumptions without clarity simply mean trouble.
In your tent, office, church and relationships, try putting on some “God-glasses.” Pray that your “God-glasses” help you to see what God wants you to see. Look for details and truth to help you overcome assuming that you know what you don’t know. When we are working for God, we need the truth to do our job well. Making assumptions of God and for God will only make us look foolish.
If you have lost your “God-glasses,” you know what to do. “God, have you seen my glasses? I need to find them again.”
Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.
1 Corinthians 13:12
My phone has only been running on half battery all week. I haven’t given it enough time to fully charge. It doesn’t take very long in my day for the little green battery light to turn to red.
In our tent, we move in many different directions at the same time. Maybe your tent is the same. In our effort to help everyone in our tent (even the dog, Sam) be their best self, we quickly find ourselves coming and going at a pace that would impress Olympics track athletes. I can’t say that we are very proud of this habit, but I imagine it is similar to most American families. American families that are plugged in, committed, scheduled and striving to be the best they can in their own community. There are as many external pressures as there are internal pressures that keep us living this way in our post-modern world. All these pressures can easily turn our family battery from green to red.
The crazy reality about this pace is that we are rarely together, really together even though we live in the same house. Together like when you sit and just talk about nothing. Together so that you can actually hear each other’s hearts. Both joys and struggles. Together in a way that keeps us connected to each other in a world that is moving around us. We can go on living like this or we can live differently.
Living differently would mean that we are intentional about connecting to each other. Until we are intentional, we will just live within the ebb and flows of the world. From experience, that routine only leads to frustration, arguments, loneliness and anxiety. But living in intentional connection with the people we love leads to understanding, love, companionship and contentment. Here are a few ideas to be intentional with connecting to those you love for this week…try to work FIVE connection points in this week and see how it goes! It will help you stay connected and available to what God wants you to experience.
CONNECTION POINT IDEAS
LUNCH DATES–Planned lunch dates really help pause the day and breath life into a relationship. The menu doesn’t matter as much as the conversation. It’s something you can count on each week to pull you back together in a way to gives you life.
HIDDEN NOTES and TEXT–These are just fun and they are a perfect way to encourage, love, recognize and support each other. The notes are guaranteed to create smiles and memories. It’s amazing how God even gets in on the fun by helping you say just the right thing at the right time.
COUCH TALK–Twenty minutes and a couch is all that it takes. Media off (including phones) and eyes on each other. It is the best way to connect and reconnect after a busy day or week.
ROSES AND THORNS–The best way to hear each other’s hearts is to talk about the roses and thorns of the day. This can be done in the car, one the phone, at the table or anywhere. It always reveals how everyone is doing and helps everyone connect.
PRAYER–Rad Joy is a great company that helps busy people give their burdens back to Christ. The best way to connect with those we love is to ask them how you can pray for them and then do it.
MEALS–Jesus and his disciples broke bread together all through the New Testament. Preparing a meal, enjoying a meal, talking and listening to each other, and cleaning up after the meal can be holy time for families. Even playing dinner games is fun. Everyone can be a part of the experience.
Enjoy making connections with the people you love…it’s an eternal investment and well worth the effort!
Do not love this world nor the things it offers you, for when you love the world, you do not have the love of the Father in you. For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father, but are from this world. And this world is fading away, along with everything that people crave. But anyone who does what pleases God will live forever. 1 John 2:15-17
I started fishing in the early 1980’s around the age of three or four. My first memory of fishing is riding with my father in a fishing trawler. (It is just an inner tube with a fancy cover and a small motor.) With me on his lap, we would slowly cruise around and try to catch fish in the lake. I am not a big fan of fishing. It is a little bit boring to me (it was then and it is now). But I love the image of fishing. Solitude, simplicity and peaceful fishing.
This week, I was blessed to read Psalm 37:5. It says, “Commit everything you do to the Lord, TRUST him, and he will help you.” All week long the word TRUST has been my focus word. I had to TRUST God that a project would be completed on time. I had to TRUST that my idea for others was the right decision. I had to TRUST that my children would be cared for in their new school. TRUST has always been a challenge for me. I think this is because I usually don’t TRUST like I fish.
When I fish, I have one pole, one hook and one worm. I drop the hook under the surface of the water and wait. I may or may not catch a fish. I may or may not catch the fish that I was trying to catch. But whatever happens, all I can do is show up prepared, bait my hook and TRUST that the fish will eat the hook. TRUSTing also means I will be at peace with the results because I am giving up control. When I try to be in control instead of TRUSTing, it is as if I am fishing with a net instead of a hook. With a net, I can throw it out wide knowing that I will catch at least one fish and probably a whole lot more than I even tried to catch. But then I have to deal with everything else I catch including somethings that I didn’t want.
Our God is a one hook, one fish kind of God. God desires us to TRUST God and God will help us. (Who does’t need a little help?) It’s simple (and yet we make it sooooo complicated). One minute at a time. One hour at a time. One day at a time. One week at a time. God wants us to TRUST God. We are called to focus on one hook and one fish at a time instead getting caught up in murky water full of the mistakes of our past or our unknown futures.
As children are going back to school and teachers are heading back into the classrooms. As college students are packing their cars to start a new semester. As projects are approaching their deadlines. As bills are due. As marriages are trying to grow deeper. As life changes…let’s ask God to help us and TRUST in each moment that God will. We serve a God who gives us just enough manna for one day. We serve a God who is the bread of life and satisfies us each day. If we deeply believe in our God as our provider, then our lives and actions need to reflect the TRUST that we say we have in our God.
Waiting for Me to work, with your eyes on Me, is evidence that you really do trust Me. Sarah Young, Jesus Calling
I hope you catch some God-filled moments this week!
“For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1).
Dr. Paula Bloom has written, “How much time have you spent wondering, or even worrying, what others think of you? What else could you be doing with that mental energy and space? Focusing on your work. Playing with your kids. Cleaning up the spare bedroom. Writing that book you’ve been talking about for years?” I think her questions are brilliant, and definitely something we need to seriously consider (not only for ourselves, but also for our children). Because the truth is, we spend an incredible amount of time and energy worrying about the opinions that others have of us.
President Abraham Lincoln once stated, “America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.” Not only is this true of our nation, but also of our own lives as individuals. I remember a time in my ministry when I was so concerned about the kind of pastor I thought other people expected me to be. I had to dress a certain way. I had to wear my hair a certain way (these days it would be nice to have a little hair!). I had to say and do the things a good pastor was supposed to say and do. This mindset towards my life and calling became quite debilitating and truly made me numb. To be honest, it made me bitter and caused me to hate my vocation. Pastoring had become a job, and it was no job I wanted. The truth of the matter, however, was that no one else imposed these unrealistic expectations upon me – I did it to myself! Thank goodness I was able to move from that dark place into the light, and have since become the kind of pastor that only Steven Bell can be. What freedom! What joy! Pastoring is no longer a job for me, but something I wake up each morning excited and privileged to do. But how many of us try to fit into a mold that isn’t suited for us as moms, dads, daughters, sons, wives, husbands, friends, neighbors, workers, church-goers, etc.? I greatly appreciate the words Fracesca Battistelli includes in her song, “Free to Be Me”:
‘Cause I got a couple dents in my Fender
Got a couple rips in my jeans
Try to fit the pieces together
But perfection is my enemy
And on my own, I’m so clumsy
But on Your shoulders I can see
I’m free to be me
We all have a few dents in our fenders and some rips in our jeans, but we are all also unique. Although we must live responsibly, it behooves each of us to be true to our gifts, our callings, our talents, our personalities, and ourselves. We’re all different, and we need each other. That being the case, here are a few thoughts on how to stop worrying so much about what other people think of us:
- Picture a life without this burden. I think you’ll quickly see that it is a life of freedom.
- Believe that people are basically good.
- Believe also that, regardless of what you do or who you are, people will do/think whatever they want to do/think.
- Your imagination is too precious to waste, so stop creating imagined scenarios in your mind.
- Come to the understanding that you will never be able to please everyone. Dr. Seuss commented, “Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.”
- Focus on “what is” rather than “what might be.”
- Keep first things first.
- Surround yourself with loving people (not just people who will agree with you, but those who will love you whether they agree or disagree with you).
- Be you. There is only one of you in the entire world!
- Record your accomplishments.
- Establish boundaries, and just say “No.”
- Get grounded (hit the pause button if you need to and clear your mind).
- Never forget how valuable you are.
Perhaps you’ve heard the story of the colorless tiger. Once upon a time, there was a colorless tiger – he was completely black and white. His lack of color made him so famous that the world’s greatest painters came to the zoo to try and paint some color on him. But their paint would never stay on the colorless tiger. Then along came a quite eccentric painter. He was an odd fellow who traveled about, happily painting with his brush. To be more accurate – he moved his brush as though he was painting, but he never had any paint on his brush. He didn’t have a canvas or paper either – he simply painted the air! So everyone thought it was quite funny when the eccentric painter said that he would be the one to paint the colorless tiger. When entering the colorless tiger’s cage, the eccentric painter began whispering in the animal’s ear, and moving his dry brush up and down the colorless tiger’s fur. Quite shockingly, and to everyone’s surprise, the colorless tiger’s coat was not colorless anymore – every spot the eccentric painter touched with his dry paint brush became vivid with color. The (seemingly not-so-eccentric anymore) painter continued whispering to the tiger, and painting, until the animal had become a magnificently colorful tiger. Immediately, people began asking the painter about his secret painting technique. He shared with them that his brush could only be used for painting real life, and to do that he needed no paint. And while he painted the tiger, he kept whispering this phrase in the tiger’s ear: “In a few days you will be free again – just wait!” Seeing how sad the tiger had been in his captivity, and how joyful the tiger now seemed at the prospect of freedom, the zoo keepers transported him to the jungle and set him free, where he would never again lose his color. This is a picture of what true freedom does to us. It gives us back our color.
Rosa Parks, also known as “the mother of the freedom movement,” resisted bus segregation. She made a decisive choice to be proud of who God created her to be. She later stated, “I would like to be remembered as a person who wanted to be free… so other people would be also free.” So this July, after we’ve popped all our firecrackers, after we’ve eaten enough hotdogs to make Oscar Mayer consider retirement, and after we’ve swam so much our fingers look old and wrinkly; might we be grateful. As a person, I am grateful for men and women like Rosa Parks – people who remind me to be me. As an American, I am grateful for our men and women in uniform who serve at home and abroad for the sake of freedom (those living, and those who paid the ultimate sacrifice for our liberties). Might we be mindful of Ronald Reagan’s words, “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same.” As a Christian and a pastor, I am grateful for the sacrifice Jesus made on the cross, and how he reminds us, “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36). The question has been asked, “How come there’re no Knock Knock jokes about America?” The answer is, “Because freedom rings.” I hope your life rings with freedom – not only during the month of July, but that each and every day of your life will be an Independence Day.
Dr. Steven Bell
There are some great things that come out of the backseat of my car. If you were to just glance inside my car you would think that nothing good is back there. But in the middle of the flip-flops, crumbs, old lunch boxes, dance shoes, books and trash, there are treasures. Real treasures. This week, while driving down the road, our 7-year-old (resident theologian) in the backseat of the car asked a question. (When I no longer have little people adding to the mess in my backseat, I will have to borrow some. Their presence is worth the mess.)
Resident Theologian: “Mom, did you know that the Holy Spirit has two expressions?”
Driver: “What did you say?”
Resident Theologian: “The Holy Spirit has TWO EXPRESSIONS!”
Driver: “Oh, Oh, what are they?”
Resident Theologian: “A dove because the Holy Spirit is gentle and fire because the Holy spirit is powerful. Isn’t that cool?”
Driver: “That is cool. How were the monkey bars today?”
Throughout the rest of my week, I reflected on this conversation. I remembered how the Holy Spirit is gentle. It reminds me of God’s presence through a revelation when reading a book or when the right song plays in the morning. The Holy Spirit is like a dove in the way it flies by to remind me of a person I need to call and then it flies away. And when it moves through a worship service at an unexpected moment, it feels like the comfort of a mother or grandmother. It knows exactly what you need when you need it. Yes, the Holy Spirit is gentle.
I also noticed the Holy Spirit that pushed me to make a change for one of my children. For months I could feel the Holy Spirit burning inside of me telling me to make the change. Three weeks ago, I finally carried through with it. Ever since, peace has surrounded the situation. Sometimes God tells us through the Holy Spirit exactly what needs to be done. The more we ignore it the stronger it seems to get. If you are facing a situation that you have been praying about, I imagine the Holy Spirit is telling you what steps to take.
This week, from our tent to yours, we think it is worth the time to think about the Holy Spirit. We talk about it as our Guide in our tent. Every journey needs a Guide. A person that knows what is up ahead on the trail and walks along beside us so that we can experience the journey ourselves. The Guide helps make our daily lives personal and meaningful. Sometimes the Guide may be powerful to help us make a change or keep us safe. Sometimes the Guide will be like a friend sitting around a campfire at the end of a good day. We hope you can feel the presence of the Guide in your tent and your life. If it is time to make a change, make it. If it is time to take a nap, take it. Your Guide knows what you need and it is best not to ignore it. Peace is waiting for you.
But when the Father sends the Advocate as my representative—that is, the Holy Spirit—he will teach you everything and will remind you of everything I have told you. John 14:26
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.
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!