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!
This time of year I do not have enough time to get everything done. It happens every year. Not enough time to cook, shop, do laundry, call friends back, sleep, finish projects, start projects or anything else the holidays demand of me. There is a bit of true chaos swirling around me lately. Instead of visions of sugar plums dancing in my mind as I sleep, I have visions of mistakes and forgotten tasks. Exhausting!! And then yesterday, I experienced a moment of total disbelief. I wish I could tell you that I could not believe something someone else did. But I can’t because, I did it.
Yesterday, while driving home after a wonderful lunch with friends and family, my car was making a funny sound. I listened to the sound all the way home. (Most people would have pulled over to find the source of the sound, but not me…not enough time.) The look on my sweet husband’s face when he pulled up beside me at home was impressive. His eyes were huge and his mouth was open. I hesitated before I rolled down the passenger window. When I did, he simply said, “What are you doing?” I was not sure how to answer because I thought I was simply getting out of my car. Then he said, “You are practically driving on your rim. You have a very flat tire.” To my surprise, I did have a flat. The source of the noise. My tire is completely flat.
At this point I wish I could tell you that I was truly surprised, but honestly I wasn’t. You see, seeing my flat tire made sense. Four whole days before this moment (96 hours exactly), my “low tire pressure indicator light” came on while I was driving down a highway. (Cars are so smart.) Every time I turned on my car, I had to turn off the warning telling me a tire was low. Did I check my tires? No. Instead I remembered a time before when the indicator light came on and it was a false alarm. Coming up with that thought took less time than walking around my car to check my tires.
After I saw the tire, I simply carried my 40-pound purse into the house. I put down my life-in-a-bag and sat down. I was shocked. I was amazed. I was impressed. I had ignored the warning lights, continued on with my ridiculous schedule and almost ruined a tire rim all in a matter of four days. Why? Because I was pretending that I did not have enough time.
Today, that flat tire continues to speak to me. I reminds me stop. Slow down. Breathe. Take care of the important things. Because if I keep pretending I do not have enough time, I will probably do more damage than I intended to do. This is true for relationships, jobs, friendships, children, self-care and of course tires. And if I keep pretending that time is the problem, I will always keep moving too fast. Time is not the problem, I am. Somethings need to be taken off my daily list and somethings need to be put back on that have fallen off lately.
I remember today that God made us human beings instead of human doings.
We are busy in our tent preparing for Christmas. I am sure you are as well. Just this week my daughters rehearsed It’s a Wonderful Life for 3 nights and preformed in it as Carolers for 2 nights. Elf on the shelf has been playing with laundry. Actually, we have an Elf on the shelf family. Elfie, Elfina, little Tom and an Elf reindeer (Don’t ask!). As a team they can get into a lot of misfit in my house. They all played in the laundry one day, which meant I had a day off. They also kicked off our Advent tree. We read a scripture each morning and clip on a new ornament. Plus, this week the Tooth Fairy visited our home twice!! It has been a busy week in our home. And I forgot to mention that our two show pigs came down with pneumonia (who knew this could happen??). They are on the mend now after shots and meeting an angel who gave them the shots. (Even I know when to acknowledge my limits…giving pigs shots is not one of my talents.)
In all of the chaos that this week brought (or season brings), it makes me more determined than ever to not give in to it. I don’t want to give into consumerism, over-booked calendar (this is where I need to work the most), or Christmas expectations and unnecessary traditions. When I shop, I want it to be fun. When I attend a party, I don’t want to worry about what I am missing. When I pull out the Christmas decorations, I only want to decorate with those things that need to be in our home this year. I am not going for perfect. Just enough.
Here is the way I made it through this past week still intact and with Christmas spirit.
Engage Scripture–I found a this cute daily reading on Facebook this week and it has been a perfect reminder of the power baby Jesus brought with him when he was born and placed in the manger. Read scripture every day this next week with expectant eyes. What gift will God give you through your reading?
Listen for God’s Voice–The scripture you read will move in and out of your thoughts all day long. The voice of God will be close beside them. We have been collecting money in a jar all year to give to someone this Christmas. Just this week I found out who that person is through an email. We heard God’s voice and we are so excited to give our gift. What is God saying to you this week? Listen.
Expect Miracles–Jesus’ birth was a miracle. John the Baptist birth was a miracle. Zechariah (John’s father) received his voice back just in time to name John the Baptist. That was a miracle. There were so MANY miracles popping up around the birth of Jesus. Guess what? They still happen today. I heard a young adult speak today about his recovery from being hit by a car at the age of 13. He was asked by the audience, “What are you so proud of in your recovery?” He quickly answered, “That I am alive!” A miracle!
We Prepare the Way–Our task this Christmas…share the story. Share the joy, hope and peace of the season. Our job is to bake cookies so we can have a moment to share our faith story with the person we give the cookies to enjoy. Our job is to serve a delicious meal so we can invited the Holy Spirit to be present at our table and breath life into our families. Our job is to give more so that others will have the opportunity to move from poverty into stability. Our job is to prepare the way for Christ to work in the lives of the people we meet this Christmas.
Let’s trade the crazy and the chaos of the season in for the calm presence of Christ that lives with us every minute of every day!
While in heavy traffic this week, I saw something remarkable. I was driving behind a truck near a car wreck. As an eye witness (I was right behind he truck), I watched as the driver of the truck stepped and pulled on a work glove. He then stepped into the next lane, bent down and picked up a tire sitting all alone in the middle of the lane. He threw the tire onto the side of the road, got back into his truck and drove away.
The remarkable part of this eye witness report is that the lane, where the tire had been, quickly transformed from a crawl back to normal. Then my lane did the same thing as the driver of the truck drove away, we all followed him. Everything was back to normal! In one simple act and one simple moment, frustration turned to peace. What was stopped, started again. It just took one person to step out, take care of business and then keep going.
We remove “tires” all the time in this world. Hearts are restored with stints, toilets are fixed with plungers, and lent is removed from dryers every day. So why do we let some things stop us from moving forward or slow us down to a crawl? Why do we let harmful relationships keep us from moving forward? Why do we let stressful jobs prevent us from living healthy? Why do we let people define us instead of God? Why do we live in chaos when we can live in peace?
One reason is because we have been moving around in the chaos caused by the “wreck” so long that we forgot what it feels like to drive the speed limit. It’s time to remove the “tire” in your life. That thing that is keeping you from having a full life in Christ (John 10:10). You can decide if you are going to remove the tire from your lane or if you need help from a fellow driver (call your bravest friend and borrow their courage and faith). Either way, it’s time to move forward.
Happy Tents is dedicated to helping people imagine more. Can you imagine what life would be like without that “tire” in your way stopping you from being the person you were created to be? God can. I’m not suggesting the removal of a “tire” is simple and easy. My eye witness report comes from Central Expressway in Dallas, Texas! But if you slow down, turn on your hazards, and put on the right gloves (or the Armor of God), you will experience a successful removal.
And the gift is that life will not only feel normal again…it will feel better than normal. That is just how God works.
I don’t know what it is about those cute little orange pumpkins, but they get me every year. There is no other vegetable (are pumpkins considered a veggie or are they in their own category…pumpkin?) that I would pay $10…$15…or $20 to take home with me. Especially when I did not plan to eat it. But those little pumpkins, on a nice cool fall morning, all smile back to me and say, “We are worth every penny!”. Then they load up into the back of my car, buckle in and together we take off to spread fall cheer.
Pumpkins in any other season are just ordinary. But in the fall they become extraordinary. Amazing. Exciting. Fun. We turn them into decorations, lattes, pies, cookies, breads and more thanks to Pinterest! In our tent, they represent tradition, change, holidays, and family time. Some of the ones that live in our home catch a glimpse of the Christmas tree on their way out the door. They stick around for a while. Especially the ones that make it into the Barbie house or the ones that become a “baby” after a face is added to it. Ahhh…pumpkins.
When you catch a glimpse of a pumpkins this fall, take a moment and let that cute little round ball encourage you to find a way to use your ordinary life to do something extraordinary for God. How can you hop on board with God and spread some cheer, hope, fun to those you know and those you have yet to meet? There are a lot of pumpkins around us this fall. There are also a lot of people like you and me. If we all signed up to do one extraordinary pumpkin mission, we could spread a lot of God’s love around.
I always assume that God’s Spirit is alive and well in your life. Tap into that Spirit and together put together a plan that may seem ordinary to you but with God will be extraordinary for someone else.
Also…add a few pumpkins to your tent this week. They are worth every penny!
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.
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.