Stanton Studios is located in Central Texas…in the woods. They are an art company that specialize in wood, glass and metal, including blown glass. In the fall, they make blown glass pumpkins for visitors. I made an appointment one day and our search for the precious pumpkins began.
Driving down a country road, we talked about…about nothing really. “Minecraft passenger” was aggressively looking for Atlantis at the bottom of ocean world. “Book-reading passenger” was lost in another world. As we drove deeper into the woods, the pilot and co-pilot were wondering if this pumpkin trip was still a good idea.
When we arrived, we were warmly greeted, carefully instructed and perfectly coached. One at a time we watched our color choices melt into the hot, hot glass before it was transformed into a precious pumpkin. The experience was fascinating and satisfying. We created our own precious pumpkins with our own breath. Magical.
But it really wasn’t magic that made our precious pumpkins. It was the artist. The man in the warehouse that had worked long hours, many months, and years to master the art of blown glass. He made the experience seem effortless, but we know it took a lot of effort on his side of the experience.
Our lives are like the precious pumpkins. God is the artist. Some days life just seems magical. We enjoy the people around us, the fall colors, hope, joy, and peace. But it is not really magic that we are experiencing. A lot of effort created the opportunity for us to freely live everyday. Because we are precious pumpkins to God, Jesus made a way for us to experience “magical” days every day. These days may be available, but we often live with agendas in our tents that prevent us from the full experience of life.
If your happy tent is looking to experience a little more hope, joy, and peace, here are a few tips that helped us create our precious pumpkin adventure:
Availability: First, make yourself available for an experience…a precious life experience. This may mean that you will miss a few gatherings, games or meetings. It may even mean that you leave the dirty laundry in the hamper and the dishes in the sink a little longer (Don’t worry your friends will still love you and the work will be there when you get back). Simply making yourself available for something different causes you to hurry less and focus more on what is truly precious around you (Hint…it is not Minecraft, work, phones or books).
Show up:Talking about something is one experience. Doing something is another. We knew about these precious pumpkins for a while, but kept finding reasons to not go. What have you wanted to do for a while? Get on the road and do it…even if you have to travel through the woods to get there! Leaving our comfort zones and trying something new can be uncomfortable or even frightening. But for all that we lose, look how much we gain.
Experience it: Creative moments are full of potential. Creative moments help us experience the color and the depth that life offers. Creative moments make space for better conversations and insights. Everyone in your tent is a precious pumpkin. As long as we have breath, we have the opportunity to breathe life into the people around us that is full of creativity, hope, joy, and peace. Together, discover an experience that takes your breath away.
When our precious pumpkin patch was complete, we noticed the beauty in each pumpkin and the beauty in the pumpkins together. Each pumpkin is shaped differently and colored differently. On our dining table, they look good together. They are precious pumpkins in this precious life.
Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits in the place of honor at God’s right hand. Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth. 1 Colossians 3:1-2
From our Happy Tent to Yours,
P.S. Stanton Studios also makes Christmas ornaments if you are looking for a way to experience your own creative moment.
This week on the side of the freezer door I discovered an original piece of art work titled, “For Unto Us a Child is Born.” I discovered it late in the night while doing another load of laundry. Our washing machine decided this week was a good week to stop working. While it was on strike, mountains of laundry grew taller and taller every day. The only way to stop the annoying magic trick was to tackle the laundry during the late shift. With six minutes left on the washing cycle, my eyes drifted to the much over-looked piece of art work on the side of the freezer.
“For Unto Us a Child is Born” gave me pause. The artist focused on the star above the manger and the small stable. The manger glowed under the star. The city stayed a city. It probably did not even have time to notice what was happening just a few miles away. Everything was happening a few miles away.
Isaiah says, “For unto us a child is born and authority will be on his shoulders.” This child, Isaiah says, will help those in darkness see light, bring dawn to the dark night, increase joy, shatter burdens. This child will be wonderful, mighty, and eternal. I have to wonder, where is this child today in our lives?
The artist of “For Unto Us a Child is Born” gives us an idea of where to find this child. We can find the child who holds light in a simple place like a manger (or the laundry room). We can find the child who increases joy in a place that gives us pause so our souls can catch up. We can find the child who removes burdens under a starry night.
This original piece of art work reminds me that the Christ child is, always, and forever will be in a place we least expect, at a time we didn’t plan for and always give us a glimpse into an eternal moment that we pray will last forever.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this. Isaiah 9:7
From our Happy Christmas Tent to Yours,
Happy Easter Eve! A day filled with mystery in the tomb and excitement in our hearts. We know something is coming and we are anxious to roll back that huge stone. There is a lot of energy in our home this weekend and some extra time to be home. We are simply waiting for Easter morning.
But how do we wait? By doing some good!
In our tent, we have been exploring ways to do some good. Here is our list. We hope it inspires you to do some good. We thought of ways we might make Jesus smile.
Families Doing Some Good List
- Make This Weekend About Family
We had to work at it, but we stepped out of all our extracurricular activities this weekend. Does it make us less committed or passionate about our activities…NO. It simply says, “During this Christian Super Bowl weekend…the game above all games, the win over all wins…we are going to celebrate God’s team, together! We will catch back up with the other teams and groups after the RESURRECTION!”
- Kick Off 52 Weeks of Neighboring
We just signed up for this cool idea. Check it out! SoCe Life is a non-profit organization that researches, practices and teaches about good neighboring. They have so many great ideas about neighboring. We are excited to get started.
- Make Something Sweet
We are soooo excited to end our Lenten fast from SUGAR. And so we are diving into sweetness this weekend. One of our favorite sweets to make on Easter Eve is Easter Story Cookies. Ingredients are simple. Spiritual lesson is powerful. The cookies on Easter morning are magical.
- Spread Some Joy
We got dirty today planting flowers in little clay pots. It was a lot of fun. Then we took these little pots around town and delivered them to un-expecting friends and neighbors. We spread some joy and we experienced some joy. While you are waiting around on Easter Eve…think of ways you can spread joy.
- Get Outside, Together
Bikes, scooters, roller blades, tennis rackets, fishing poles, Kubb (our all time favorite family game), camping gear and so much more live in our garage. We walk past it most days…but why not get outside this weekend together and make some memories. Be spontaneous and adventurous.
At the center of the Christian life stands Jesus. Jesus who teaches, guides, strengthens and inspires us to be who God created us to be as individuals and as families. During this Easter weekend, let’s love on each other and others a little extra by doing some good. It will make this weekend a little sweeter and happier.
For you have been called to live in freedom, my brothers and sisters. But don’t use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature. Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love. Galatians 5:13
Happy Easter from our Happy Tent to yours,
Don’t you love those moments when everything falls into place? Sometimes it’s when you are hosting a dinner party and new friendships form. Sometimes it’s when you finish the last chore in the yard and it just looks beautiful. Sometimes it is when someone simply says “thank you” after noticing your small act of kindness. There are those spiritual moments too when it feels like God is whispering “peace be still” right into your soul. They to take your breath away. Sometimes it is during a beautiful sunset after a long and stressful day. Sometimes it is when the person you love most holds you just right. Sometimes it is in the middle of worship when you feel as though God is speaking directly to you.
This Christmas, we are invited to join Mary and Joseph once again for their “manger moment.” Their moment when everything they had experienced for the past nine months falls into place. Their moment when their hearts are so filled with joy. Their moment when the angels are above them, the shepherds are running to them and the stars are surrounding them. And once again, they invite us to make their “manger moment” our moment, too.
This Christmas weekend, we hope that your days are filled with “manger moments” when everything just falls into place and God fills your heart. Enjoy the people you love. Enjoy unwrapping gifts and giving them. Enjoy delicious treats. Take notice of God’s presence. Take notice of the peace. Take notice of tiny glimpses into eternal life. Experience as many “manger moments” as you can for it is these moments that we come back to when the pressures of life push in on us.
They hurried to the village and found Mary and Joseph. And there was the baby, lying in the manger. Luke 2:16
Merry Christmas from the Bells,
Meredith and Steven
No matter how much you prepare or plan, the Christmas season always brings its own surprises. Jesus’ mother Mary certainly was surprise as was her friend Elizabeth on that first Christmas. The surprises make memories (and in Mary’s case transformed the world!).
How you handle surprises is what is important. We had an unexpected guest in our tent recently. I decided to handle it with humor. Below is an amateur poem about the visit. Enjoy!
THE CHRISTMAS BAT
‘Twas the FIRST OF DECEMBER and all through the house not a creature was stirring…except for something that looked like a mouse.
Stockings (still needed to be) hung by the chimney with care because St. Nicolas would soon be there.
The children were nestled and all snug in their beds as the agenda of the day began dancing in Mamma’s head. When the alarm clock made such a clatter, I sprang from my bed and discovered the CHRISTMAS BAT (on the kitchen floor) and could not be madder.
Away from the kitchen I flew like a flash, torn open the doors and with a broom prepared to smash.
The light in the room illuminated the object below and it was indeed a little black CHRISTMAS BAT just saying HELLO!
When what to my wondering eyes should appear but small little feet, two wings and pointy ears. More rapid than eagles I shouted out names “Oh Jesus! Dear God! Oh, where is STEVEN! Go Sam (the dog) fetch the bat (duck)…why are you acting so tame?” To the top of the ceiling to the top of the shelves, the bat dashed away, dashed away, dashed away and…disappeared just like Santa’s elves.
FOUR NIGHTS LATER as I was turning around, that little CHRISTMAS BAT came back to town. He was still dressed all in fur from his head to his foot and he made five laps around the living room as I sat by the chimney soot.
He was loudly ECHOLOCATING trying to find a way out and all I could do was yell, “Steven! Get the Bat!” with a shout!
With a wink of his eye and a twist of his head, Steven soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread. He spoke not a word but went straight to his work, grabbed lots of blankets and turned with a jerk, and put on gloves, a hat and long sleeve clothes, and giving a nod, out the door that CHRISTMAS BAT goes.
He slammed the door shut and gave the dog, Sam, a little whistle and they talked about how that CHRISTMAS BAT flew like a missile. But I heard him exclaim, ere he walked out of sight.
Merry Christmas, CHRISTMAS BAT, and to all…good night!
From our Tent to Yours,
After church one Sunday a few years ago, my husband asked our five-year-old daughter what she learned in Sunday school. She said that she learned about Jesus and the cheetahs. The theologian in him was immediately curious because he was not familiar with that story in the Bible. He asked for more information and she told him the whole story. Then he listened closely to her lesson.
Jesus and the Cheetahs
Once upon a time, Jesus was walking down the road. There were ten cheetahs that came to him. They were sick. (In Sunday school we put dots all over our clothes with cotton balls and baby powder. We looked like cheetahs. It was fun.) Jesus made the cheetahs better, but only one cheetah said “Thank you.”
Eventually my husband got it…she was talking about Jesus and the Lepers not CHEETAHS! We always get a good belly laugh from her version of the story especially since I was her Sunday school teacher that day!!
There is also a lot to truth to her story. There are a lot of cheaters in this story. Nine to be exact. In Luke, we learn that Jesus encountered ten lepers on his way to Jerusalem who begged him for mercy and healing. He did exactly what they asked. They were healed and they had their lives back. They could return to society, their families, and their careers. He had given them all that they could dream of having and more. Out of the ten healed lepers, only one returned to thank him. Only one.
This Thanksgiving we have the opportunity to be the one that returned to give thanks. Think about all the people in your life that have made your life better this year. Be the one to thank them. People like your doctor who helped you stay healthy, your friend that remembered your birthday, your co-worker who helped you meet your deadline, or your neighbor who pulls your trash bins back to your fence after they are empty. Be the one to thank them. Think about the people you see each week at the grocery store, school, bank, gas station or in your neighborhood. Be the one to thank them. Recall how they helped you have a better day or a better life. Be the one to thank them.
Since Thanksgiving is on our minds, our family took a moment after dinner this week to make a list of all the people we want to thank. We signed a cards and wrote a notes together. We had fun talking about why we wanted to thank someone. What is a creative way your family can give thanks?
When we bow our heads and give thanks to God with our family on Thursday, we will also be giving thanks for all the people God sent us this year to make our lives better. If we don’t take time to pause and give thanks, aren’t we really only cheating ourselves?
One of them, when he saw that he was healed, came back to Jesus, shouting, “Praise God!” He fell to the ground at Jesus’ feet, thanking him for what he had done. This man was a Samaritan. Jesus asked, “Didn’t I heal ten men? Where are the other nine? Has no one returned to give glory to God except this foreigner?” And Jesus said to the man, “Stand up and go. Your faith has healed you.” Luke 17:15-19
Happy Thanksgiving from our tent to yours!
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!
Last Halloween, I had the most fun! Night crawlers (fishing worms) had been living in our refrigerator for a while. There was not a fishing trip planned for the near future. When my husband and friends headed out the door to begin the trick-or-treat ritual, he yelled over his shoulder, “Why don’t you give away the worms!” Then he laughed and walked out.
I was very tired of looking at the worms every morning to get the milk, every time I needed to make a sandwich and every evening when it was time to start dinner. (I wondered if anyone else had worms in their fridge. Probably not.) Once he left the house, I thought, “Maybe I should give them away…why not?”
That is when the fun began. When children came to our door, my friend and me would ask them if they wanted a TRICK-or-treat. Most of them said a treat, but there were a few curious ones that said a trick. That is when I handed them a worm with a piece of candy. A real wiggly worm. Screams were heard. Laughter was everywhere. Some worms were dropped. Some became new pets. Some moms came back very upset and gave the worms back. That made ME laugh. Up and down the sidewalk, the news spread about the worms. We became famous. The best quote was from a 6-year-old boy. He said, “I heard you are giv’in away worms…there is something WRONG with this house!” He will probably be a preacher some day.
I have no idea who started the tradition of trick-or-treating on Halloween night. But it is a great idea. With all the stuff we have in our homes (that we look at every day) there is probably some stuff we could give away. Once it is out of the house, we don’t have to worry about it any more. On Halloween night, as you enjoy giving candy away, think about other things you could give away after Halloween.
Simplicity is a spiritual discipline. The more stuff we have the less we feel we need God. Possessions, over-loaded schedules, un-reachable expectations and clutter all serve as barriers to the relationship God wants us to have with God and others. What can you give away this week? What possession or ideas are you holding on to that need to go out the door. Take a leap of faith and experience something new…freedom from your burdens.
Jesus stopped and said, “Call him forward.” They called the blind man, “Be encouraged! Get up! He’s calling you.” Throwing his coat to the side, he jumped up and came to Jesus. Jesus asked him, “What do you want me to do for you? The blind man said, “Teacher, I want to see.” Jesus said, “Go, your faith has healed you.” At once he was able to see, and he began to follow Jesus on the way. Mark 10:49-52
And if you want to have some real fun this Halloween, add some worms to you candy give-away. It will be your best Halloween ever!
Some of you have already decorated for Christmas. I know because you have told me. Some of you are dreading pulling out the boxes to decorate. I know because that is me. All of us approach this season differently and anyway we do it it really does work. We celebrate the birth of Jesus, we make memories, we enjoy way too much good food. This is a great time of the year for many reasons.
As we begin the holidays, I want to suggest some great books that have helped me to approach the spiritual side of holidays as well as the festive side. So often, the work of the holidays falls on our shoulders. It is a blessing that we have families that depend on us. In my experience, it doesn’t take much for me to go from fun and festive to tired and frustrated. I have found that if I focus on the spiritual side of the holidays, my family usually falls in right behind me. We lead and they follow. It is another blessing of being a wife and/or mother.
Here are some book suggestions that I would suggest you pick up and read in the next few weeks…before everything else begins. Don’t over do it. Just one will do for this year and you can read the other one next year. I hope they will bless you.
Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel. (Isaiah 7:14)