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

Sam and Change

I have had to facilitate a change in my life recently. I love the outdoors, and more specifically I greatly enjoy hunting waterfowl. I developed this hobby when I moved in 2015. I also love dogs, and during my first duck season I decided it was time for a new Labrador retriever. Before I knew it, I had adopted Sam (an eighteen-month old black lab) into my family. With a lot of work and training, we were hunting together by the end of that first season.

Towards the end of our second season together, it became clear that Sam was developing some bad habits in the duck blind. Specifically, he whined – a lot! Maybe he didn’t like the cold. Maybe he was still suffering from the way his previous owners had neglected him (although, an animal psychologist I am not). Maybe he was simply high strung. During the off season I read everything I could get my hands on about curbing a hunting dog’s tendencies to whine, I worked with him daily, I even had him fixed, but nothing helped.

Quickly in our third season together I noticed that a change needed to be made. Ducks would fly in on us, Sam would see them before I would, he would get monstrously (weighing in at 105 pounds) restless, the whining would begin, and then his whines would turn to howls. I love to duck hunt. Sam loves to retrieve. I don’t think he quite made the connection that if he howled at the ducks, then they would spook, fly away, which would prohibit me from taking them, which would prohibit him from retrieving them.

Long story short – Sam is no longer welcome in my duck blind. He is, however, still a vital part of the team. He helps me put out the decoys (he’s a very smart dog). We play a little bit in the dark, muddy water before sunrise. And then he goes back into his crate (which is in the bed of my truck), lays down on his warm, soft bed, and goes back to sleep (until it’s time to retrieve the ducks off the water, or find birds that have lost their way). That’s what I call win-win. Sam gets to retrieve, and I get ducks.

But this change was not an easy one to make. I had to recognize the problem, I had to take it seriously, and then I had to do something about it. I worked with Sam on this specific issue for over nine months. When those efforts were not fruitful, I moved on to Plan B, and it has worked marvelously. But I miss Sam in my duck blind, and his annoying, noisy, obnoxious, impish, pesky, wet, wonderful, best-dog-in-the-world self. That being said, we are a stronger waterfowl-harvesting team now than we have ever been.

So what about you? For the remainder of this article, I have recruited a top-notch team of professionals to help us transform into new people by changing the way we think (as Paul puts it in Romans 12:2). They each have a word of wisdom to share with us on this journey of change and growth.

  • I can’t change the direction of the wind, but I can adjust my sails to always reach my destination” (Jimmy Dean) – There are many circumstances that are beyond our control, but that doesn’t mean we give up or do nothing. We grit our teeth, roll up our sleeves, and get to work.
  • If there is no struggle, there is no progress” (Frederick Douglass) – Anything worth doing is going to entail challenges, difficulties, struggles, and conflict. We are not looking for ease, we are looking for growth.
  • Only I can change my life. No one can do it for me” (Carol Burnett) – Personal growth is just that… personal! We have to own our shortcomings, and be willing to invest in ourselves if we want to experience growth.
  • Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world” (Harriet Tubman) – There is more potential inside of you than you could ever imagine. I know this because God is the very one who has placed the potential there. I pray you live into your God-given potential!
  • If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude” (Maya Angelou) – Perhaps the greatest change we need to make is internal, our attitude and our thinking (since this is what drives our behavior).
  • Change your thoughts and you change the world” (Norman Vincent Peale) – When our thinking/attitudes change, our behaviors change, our hearts change, then the world changes for the better. The internal and personal growth we experience floods our networks and neighborhoods, revealing the truth that the fruit of our labors are not limited only to ourselves.
  • You must be the change you wish to see in the world” (Mahatma Gandhi) – We can no longer say, “Somebody do something about that.” You want to live in a better world? Then the question is, “What are you doing about it?”

One last thing before we get started. Personal change is quite impossible without external help. As a Christian and a pastor, I know that this sort of growth will not happen without the presence of God and the participation of others. But with God’s help, and the support of good people, all things are possible.

Grace and Peace,

Steven (and Sam)

Deeper Knowing

From the backseat, “Mom, have you ever seen a ghost? Because my friend has. But I haven’t.” I knew that Halloween must be around the corner since we are talking about ghosts. I answered, “Maybe.” “Either you have or you haven’t Mom. You can’t maybe see a ghost.”

Then I shared the story about when my grandmother died. She was the first person in my life that I deeply loved to die. I was by her bed in the hospital when she died. It was a deeply moving experience in many ways.

My grandmother was a cowgirl and a rancher. She always talked about the rain. Either the tanks were too dry or too full. Either the wheat was too wet or too dry. The letters she wrote to me in college (way before email was created) always contained a rain report. In the months leading up to her death, we didn’t have enough rain for the ranch. The moment she died, the rains began. We all knew that she must have told God to send rain to the ranch immediately.

The rain continued for days. It was a light drizzle most of the time. The night after she died I was unable to sleep. Instead, I decided to walk to my aunt’s house deep in the night in the drizzling rain. When I arrived at her home, I was not surprised to see her house lights glowing. She could not sleep either. Surprised to see me, she suggested that we walk to my grandmother’s house. Walking in the rain through our sleeping town calmed our souls.

When we arrived, my grandfather was sleeping. Quietly we settled into the familiar house and it was then that I finally fell asleep. It was also then when I saw my first ghost. I use the term “ghost” lightly. What I actually saw or deeply felt was my grandmother’s presence so strongly that I could actually see her as I drifted off to sleep. I experienced a deep knowing that she was no longer here but still with us.

From the backseat, “Mom, you saw a ghost!” This news has been shared with many people since this car conversation. I always want to explain the situation, but I usually never have time. But I have learned to embrace the moments of deeper knowing because in those moments we find peace and purpose.

For years I practiced journaling, Intensive Journaling to be specific. This style of journaling is an open door to journey deep within oneself to connect to the deeper knowing that is within each of us. This deeper knowing has many names such as “spirit,” “intuition,” “nudges,” and “hunches.” These days, I find myself living from that place of deep knowing. Beneath the busy calendar that I keep lately, there is a deeper knowing. A deeper knowing that lives below labels, updates, trends or agendas.

Share your story of deeper knowing with someone.  How does it speak to your life today?

The Lord came and stood there, calling as at the other times, “Samuel! Samuel!”

Then Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”  1 Samuel 3:10

From our Happy Tent to yours,

Meredith Bell

I’m Listening

I was checking out at the grocery store one night this week.  It was my sixth or seventh trip to a grocery store for the week.  This time I was there to buy ingredients for a dish for Mexican Independence Day for the seventh grade class.  I quickly collected the ingredients and checked out.

There was no one in the check out line and for some reason that small moment made me smile.  The two young men checking me out politely said hello.  Then one said, “How are you?”  Those were three brave words that he uttered.  So I decided to take him up on his offer and I answered his question.  “If you really want to know, I am exhausted. I have had a busy week and I am just tired.”  He looked at me with surprised eyes in response to my honest answer and then he said two magic words.  “I’m listening.”

Don’t worry, I did not burden him with any details.  I still had self control.  I could tell that someone in his life taught him to say those words.  Someone in church.  Someone at home.  Someone who loves him said, “I’m listening” to him before in a way that they meant it.  He actually meant it as well.

When he said, “I’m listening.”  I heard the voice of God.  I found comfort and peace in those words.  I relaxed at the sound of those words.  I even smiled when I heard those words because they resonated with my soul. God is always listening.

How has the week been for your family or your life? If you were to fill a grocery bag with all of your frustrations, joys, prayers, hopes, successes, barriers or challenges, what would you see in that bag from the week? As you think about it, add two words to the end of the experiences.

You:  “I made a good grade on my test.”  God:  “I’m listening.”

You:  “I don’t know how I’m going to get through this day.”  God:  “I’m listening.”

You:  “I can’t be perfect anymore.”  God:  “I’m listening.”

You:  “I don’t understand.”  God: “I’m listening.”

Be still before the Lord
    and wait patiently for him;
do not fret when people succeed in their ways,
    when they carry out their wicked schemes. Psalm 37:7

From our Happy (It’s the Weekend) Tent to yours,

Meredith Bell

Divine Appointments

Look back over your calendar this past week. How many “divine appointments” did you have? Divine appointments are spontaneous encounters with another person who connects with you soul to soul. They happen in the middle of a conversation when suddenly something awakens deep inside you and you spiritually pause to listen more deeply. They happen when you are praying for God to give you confirmation during a time of discernment and you encounter words from another person that are an answer to your prayers. A divine appointment feels like an encounters that is arranged so perfectly that only the Divine could orchestrate the moment.

There are a few on our calendar from this past week. Traveling mindlessly through the week, we would not have noticed them. Traveling through the week believing that the spirit of God moves among us, we encountered a few. Divine appointments interrupt agendas.

  • On a college campus this week, I encountered a new student. While visiting, it became clear that she is in the midst of “meaning-making.” She is trying to make sense of her life as it is now. The divine appointment happened when another college student overheard the conversation and spoke God’s truth into the student’s situation. Two souls connected and two lives were impacted. I became the excited and amazed observer during the encounter.
  • On a sidewalk, friends walked by that our family has not seen in a while. It was time for dinner. A spontaneous dinner plan was made and we found ourselves sitting around a table and breaking bread together. The divine appointment came when a missional project they are working on connected to a missional project we are working on. Suddenly the reason we encountered them on the sidewalk just made sense. We needed to hear about their project.
  • In a school hallway, a teacher shared that she is interested in starting a support group. After sharing the details about her plan and goals, it was easy to see our encounter as a divine appointment. All I had to say was, “I can make this happen. Let me get back in touch with you later.” Her relief and her smile were priceless. God smiled too.

The work of God is all around us through divine appointments. Each day we have an agenda and God has an agenda too.

It is the same with my word.
    I send it out, and it always produces fruit.
It will accomplish all I want it to,
    and it will prosper everywhere I send it. Isaiah 55:11

How many divine appointments did you have this past week?  Next week, I hope you have even more.

From our Happy Tent to yours,

Meredith Bell

Fishing In Deep Water

Around nine o’clock we drove to the pier, the one that the locals go to for night fishing. Men, women and children were busy fishing. Seeing that the pier was full, we parked the truck a little further down the seawall and unpacked our gear.   It was dark and the stars were out. With flashlights in hand, we cast the crab nets over the wall and into the black water below. Immediately we spooked a sea snake and saw it slither away in the light beam from our flashlight.

As our “Master Angler” prepared our hooks with perfect bait, we shined our lights into the water to see what other sea creatures we could discover. Sea turtles were swimming near the edge of our light beams. Too much light seemed to scare them, we learned. Just a little light was an invitation to come to the surface. A dolphin playfully swam to the seawall and back out to sea. We checked the crab nets and caught a stone crab with an egg sack attached. We quickly and carefully put the new mother back into the water. The activity in the sea created excitement and anticipation in our little family. What would we see next?

It was time to cast our fishing lines deep into the water. The “Master Angler” handed over the rod and reels. We cast our hooks beyond the seawall and into the deep dark water. Then we waited. And waited. And waited.

Casting our hooks deep into the ocean is how we often live life. So many of us are willing to gather at the pier or along the sea wall. We seek to connect with the mystery that lives below the surface of life. The activity and the life is a part of the mystery that we know exists beneath the noise and routine of our daily lives. We know we cannot possibly see all that God wants to show us and so we go, in the cover of darkness, to cast our nets into the deep waters in hopes that God will drop something into our nets. Maybe even a personal gift. These moments inspire us to keep going. Keep living. Keep exploring.

An angler by the name of Fennel Hudson said, “There are a million-and-one ways to enjoy a day’s angling. Catching fish is but one of them.”  On that summer night, we learned the truth of this statement. Instead of fish, we caught something else. Insight into life.

We Need A Master Angler

Each of us needs someone in our life who knows how to fish for deep spiritual meaning. Someone who knows how to prepare for the experience and teaches us how to fish. There is a lot of prep work that goes into fishing. Before you can cast your rod and reel into the ocean, you have to prepare. Bait, hooks, fishing line, poles, pliers, ice, chairs and snacks all need to be bought and packed in the truck. There is a lot of prep work that goes into our spiritual lives so that we are ready when we catch something on the end of our hook.

Get Some Help When You Are Stuck

We kept our “Master Angler” busy all night. Our hooks kept getting caught on some sea rocks. Each time the line got stuck, the “Master Angler” took over and got the hook unstuck. Often the line would break. As amateur anglers, we learned when we need help, asked for it. In life, when we are stuck it is because we are working like everything depends on us and nothing depends on God. Maybe we need to ask for help from God more and often.

Enough for One Day

As the night went on, the giggles got louder. And louder. Exhaustion was setting into our adventure. Even though the stars were beautiful and we were having fun together, we knew that we had experienced enough for one day. Rest is an important part of life. There is only so much that we can do in one day. We need time away to refresh our bodies and souls. So many people comment these days that they are working too much. And they probably are. Finding a balance between rest and work is life giving. Sometimes we have had enough adventure for one day.

We caught some more memories and insights to take back to our tent that night. We didn’t catch a fish, but that’s why it is called fishing and not catching, right?

 “Cast the net on the right side of the boat,” He told them, “and you’ll find some.”So they did,and they were unable to haul it in because of the large number of fish. John 21:6

From Our Happy Tent to Yours,

Meredith Bell

Sneak Away

Sometimes you just need to sneak away from the people in your tent.  This is necessary when you need a little space…a little time apart.  To really get away, you need to apply all of the skills you learned as a teenager about sneaking out of the house.  Walk quietly. Carry your shoes in your hands.  Hold your breath. Only do what is necessary.  Avoid the squeaky stair.  “Borrow” the car keys.  Close the door quietly behind you.  And once you are out of the house and back out of the driveway, you can finally breathe.

After many hours in the car together recently, it was necessary to sneak away from the people I love one morning.  My need for a good cup of coffee guided me to a local coffee shop.  Over a beautiful cafe latte, I found my spiritual center again.  My portable quiet time tools had traveled with me.  With each sip of my coffee and each word of my quiet time tools (a.k.a. Bible and devotional), I felt me shoulders relax and my spirit wake up.  All that sneaking around was worth every minute.  I had been born anew for another day.  I felt like Nicodemus, a Jewish leader.

Nicodemus was a sneaky guy too.  His shoulders were tense from all his Sanhedrin work.  His spirit probably felt unsettled as he went about his work knowing that Jesus was near by, within his reach.  He knew Jesus was from God because there was no other explanation for the miracles he had heard about.  He certainly needed some time way from the people around him and the only way to get it was to sneak away, under the cover of darkness.  So he did.  The conversation that followed was mind boggling for Nicodemus. Jesus made perfect sense even though his words made no sense at all.

My conversation with Jesus at the coffee shop was mind boggling too.  It always is.  Usually Jesus’ words make perfect sense even though they don’t make any sense at all from my view.  They are words that stir my soul, stretch my faith and satisfy my spirit.  They empower me to experience another day and experience the moments I may have missed otherwise.  That is why I am like Nicodemus…I must be born anew day after day.

As the week went on, my tent people began following me to the sacred coffee shop.  One at a time, they heard about the experience and the place, so they came too.  At times there were two of us and other times there were five.  The other faces at the shop became familiar.  Strangers became friends.  A whole community of people were also sneaking away from their tents temporarily to find something their soul needed…community, coffee and Jesus.

Are you in need of some time away? Find a way and make it happen.  It is well worth all your efforts. Nicodemus and me will cheer you on!

From our Happy Tent to Yours,

Meredith Bell

On the Inside

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,

Meredith Bell

Life-Giving News

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,

Meredith Bell

 

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

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