Happy the Horse

Since the day our daughter could talk, she asked for a horse.  She is an animal lover. She used to say, “I am a REAL animal lover” when she was younger.  A lot of animals have been adopted into our tent over the years.  A hamster that liked to bite, a dog on Christmas morning, a chicken that was actually a rooster, a turtle rescued from a parking lot, a snail who had babies, another dog, rabbits that won a blue ribbon, another dog, huge stinky pigs, and a fish just so the child would sleep in her own room. But there has always been one animal that was missing from the collection, a horse.

The tent managers (aka parents) are just like all 40 year olds that end up owning a horse. We are wondering how we got to this point.  Of course, we told our daughter she could have a horse one day. It takes a super power to tell her beautiful blue eyes “no.”  But we always assumed “one day” would never show up.  Surely, she would out grow this horse fixation.  Surely, she would realize the amount of time (and money) that goes in to owning a horse. Surely we could delay this request until she is in her 40’s and has a place to board the horse. Surely, surely, surely!

As the horse requests started to come on more frequently after we moved to the country, we made a deal with our horse loving daughter.  “If” she was willing to help cover the costs for the horse expenses, “then” we would get her a horse.  Before we knew it, she was a Red Cross certified babysitter with business cards, a loyalty card (Every 7th babysitting job is free!) and adorable two-year-old clients.

Happy the horse (he actually came with that name) joined our family in January.  Every morning for a month, we have been at the barn at sunrise and sunset, feeding Happy.  Three times a week our daughter throws a saddle on Happy and they trot off together through the pastures.  They are a beautiful site together. And of course, we all love Happy because he makes us happier.

The 40 year olds in the house (who now own a horse) have learned a lot in this experience.

  • Children have dreams and we need to help them achieve their dreams.  The spirit of youth is contagious. We all need a little more fairy dust, horse riding and magic moments in our lives.
  • Animals teach us about life.  Animals are loyal, interesting and social.  Life with nature awakens all our senses.  The more we experience animals in this life, the more we appreciate creation.
  • Responsibility is good for children.  Where else will children learn to be responsible Christians? Our tents are full of opportunities to teach responsibility.  If we take these opportunities away, we are taking away tickets to success.
  • Honor your promises.  We made a deal.  Our horse lover kept her side of the bargain.  We had to keep ours.  We all learned a lesson in this deal.

We pray our tent is always a place filled with dreams and life lessons that teach life skills.  What dreams are alive in your tent?  How can you help make them come true for you and others?

For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago. Ephesians 2:10

From our Happy (the Horse) Tent to Yours,

Meredith Bell

Spread a Little Love

Love is in the air.  According to one company on the radio, the perfect way to show that you love the man in your life is to buy him some perfect underwear.  Good to know! Another radio ad suggested that this is the perfect time to buy the love of your life a star that will be named for them and recorded in the magic book.  (Honestly, I wish I would have thought of that one because you would never, ever have to worry about running out of inventory or restocking the galaxy.)  And another radio ad suggests to express love by investing in a new perfect, amazing, incredible mattress that will last for years to come.  (This is not a bad idea!) A third grade class that we are connected to through our tent is also experiencing love. The report is that it’s hard to know who to love these days. (Adorable!)

For Christians, love is always in the air, right?  Over in the New Testament of the Bible, the Apostle John (Zebedee’s son) captured a quote from Jesus that said, “A new commandment I give you: LOVE ONE ANOTHER. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”  Good to know!

As we move closer to the Hallmark Holiday of Love (aka Valentine’s Day), let’s add a little more love to the world around us.  By adding some love around us, maybe more people will experience the love of Christ that is experienced in the blessings of clothes (and underwear), seen in the stars, felt in the comforts of home (and soft mattresses) and celebrated in the hearts of third graders.

Happy Tent Ideas for Loving Others

  • Love your Neighbor–This week, choose one neighbor to check on and see how they are doing.  If you are really feeling adventurous, choose a neighbor you do not know well (even if you have lived by them for 15 years!).  Be traditional and deliver a box of chocolates, a batch of cookies or a loaf of bread.  If you need some ideas, check out SoCe Life and the Neighboring Movement.
  • Love your Spouse–Take time to discover your spouses Love Language.  It will save you lots of time and energy.  Surprise your spouse by doing the dishes, thanking them of their work, holding hands for no reason, writing a love note, or preparing their favorite meal (like the duck Mr. Bell keeps bringing home!).  Small acts of love go a long way in a happy tent!
  • Love your Children–In the coming and going of family life, sometimes the small connections get left out.  If you children are still living at home, Crafty Texas Girls gives lots of idea on how to celebrate love together.  I especially love the “love notes” in the shape of hearts.  I have been taping them to bedroom doors this week.  14 notes and 14 days until Valentine’s Day! If your children have left the nest, find a way to connect with a phone call, a visit or a lunch date.  All children (young and old) need to feel loved. They need to be reminded that they are a God’s beautiful creation.
  • Love your Friends–Can you imagine a life without friends?  Can you imagine a friend who does not love a box of chocolate, a surprise coffee date, a card in their mailbox or a phone call from you? Choose 14 friends and love them to pieces this month!
  • Love your Self–Have you experienced a stress free day lately?  Have you personally experienced God lately?  Loving yourself means many things. One important aspect of self love is to make space in your life to breath deeply from the grace of God that reminds us that we are enough.  We do enough, have enough and are loved enough by God’s standards. Take a nap, exercise, read a book, dream, relax and remember that God is big enough to handle everything else.
  • Love a Stranger–While waiting at the doctor’s office, I found myself loving a complete stranger who was obviously anxious about their doctor’s visit.  By joking that I would take their place and offer my arm for the blood sample, the stranger began to laugh and relax.  Start a conversation with a stranger, you may be exactly what they needed at that moment of their life.

From our Happy and Loving Tent to Yours,

Meredith Bell


Signing Off and Signing In

We have a magic power in life with a pen and paper (a tablet/stylus or computer/keyboard) when we practice signing in and signing out.  Signing in means that we are open, present, ready or prepared. Signing out says, “That’s all folks!” Drop the microphone and close the curtain because the work is done.

This week, I signed out a child from school and signed into a board meeting (x3!). I signed into my banking account and signed out of a doctor’s office. I signed up to provide refreshments and signed out of the library.  In and out, in and out, all week long.

One evening during the week I signed off my phone.  It was ringing, buzzing, and alerting me at such a rapid pace that it was practically creating an earthquake on the kitchen counter.  Someone forgot to tell the phone that the day was winding down instead of winding up.   Someone forgot to tell the phone that we were in the last act of the play that day and we needed to wrap things up.  Without thinking, I sent one more text informing the sender that I was signing off for the night.  It was an automatic response because my personal battery was on low and I needed to recharge before the next day. Enough work for one day.

Immediately, when I signed off for the day, I signed into being present with the people I love the most. I signed into awareness and curiosity. I relaxed and took a deep breath.  (Maybe the first one all day.) Dolly Parton once said, “Never get so busy making a living that you forget to make a life.”   Meredith Bell says,  “Never get so attached to a device that we forget to be present with those we love.”

My new spiritual practice is signing off.  Signing off to work at the end of the day even if there is more to do.  Signing off to busyness and hurry.  Signing off to exhaustion day after day.  I’m signing into recharging, resting and sabbath moments.  God is in those moments!

Is there a place in your life that needs a signing out spiritual practice?

Six days you shall gather it; but on the seventh day, which is a sabbath, there will be none. Exodus 16:26

From our Happy Tent to yours,

Meredith Bell


I Don’t Like Eggs

We routinely hear the declarative statement, “I don’t like eggs,” in our tent every morning.  This has been happening for a number of years.  (Maybe even for 13 years if we are honest.)

Mr. Bell is the breakfast chef in our tent.  He rises early every morning and stumbles to the coffee pot in the kitchen.  Next he surveys the breakfast supplies to decide the morning menu.  Then he begins to crack eggs, fry bacon, make muffins, slice apples or a number of other natural exercises that produce a well balanced breakfast.  Every breakfast plate is served with his signature…a smiley face. He makes every breakfast into a smiley face.  Every plate. Every morning.

Most of his well balanced breakfast plates include eggs.  Fried eggs.  Scrambled eggs.  Poached eggs.  Boiled eggs.  With every egg comes a quiet statement from a member of our tent.  “I don’t like eggs.”  Quiche, breakfast tacos, and cheese omelets all get the same response.  “I don’t like eggs.”  Even eggs in a smiley face receive a response that says, “I don’t like eggs.”

Something happened the other morning that shocked our tent.  We responded to the statement.  Every other morning we just ignored it.  But on this morning, we responded with, “You really don’t like eggs?”  Then she said, “I tell you this every morning,” and bites into her bagel.  Then the two leaders of our tent looked at each other with big eyes and said, “She really doesn’t like eggs!”  The next morning, eggs were not a part of her smiley face.  (She still had a smiley face on her plate and one appeared on her face.) We had finally heard her. (Way to go parents!)

As much as we would like the people in our tents to be just like us, they are not.  Family members surprisingly like different things.  They like different food, different music, different books, different movies and more different things.  And yet, we pretend that everyone in the tent likes the same things. (We even get frustrated when this happens.)

When we listen to what is being said and pay attention to what is being said, we discover good useful information about someone we love.  We are invited into their world when they reveal a difference and that is when the relationship grows deeper.

Jesus paid attention to words people said and their actions.  He found good useful information about the people He loved.  The people He loved were changed by the relationship and still are today.

I wonder what differences live in your tent? What can you learn from each other this week?

All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. 2 Timothy 3:16

From our Happy Tent to Yours,

Meredith Bell

Dating Again

You know how you walk past people on the street and refuse to make eye contact. Or when you ride in an elevator with someone without speaking? Or when you have a relationship with someone and communicate only through texts? That has been our marriage lately. Ugh!

The other morning over coffee we just looked at each other. We didn’t have much to talk about. There are many reasons that brought us to this point; work, phones, children, projects, emails, stress, meetings, and commitments. (Maybe we are the only ones.) But really, all of those are just excuses. Excuses that tend to drain our energies for anything else. Our marriage is being robbed of so many great moments because of busyness. We are not interested in a good marriage; we want to experience a great marriage.

Tucked into the Old Testament is the Song of Songs. It is filled with glimpses into a passionate relationship with love, earthy fragrances, images and desire. The poetry may have been used as a wedding ceremony where the woman and man exchange praises for their beauty and admiration of each other. This book reflects a great marriage and one that heightens the spirituality of marriage.

Over that cup of coffee, we decided to start dating each other again. Basic dating. Door-bell ringing, make-up on, clean truck, fresh flowers, reservations kind of dating. (Dating is a strange concept when you have been married for almost 17 years.) For now, we are taking a marriage break and we are going to start dating each other again. We already have a list of ideas to get us started!

Happy Tents is about supporting families today. Families are the best place to experience grace and ask for forgiveness. We are able to do that because of the grace we receive through Christ. When we give and receive grace in a relationship, we are loving each other enough to begin again and try a different way forward. That is what makes us happy! We are committed to this marriage relationship and thankful God is wrapped up in it with us.

How about your marriage? Is it time to start dating again?

Oh, your loving is sweeter than wine! Your fragrance is sweet; your very name is perfume. Take me along with you; let’s run! Song of Songs 1:2-4

From our Happy Tent to yours,

Meredith Bell

A Time to Unlearn

The great writer of Ecclesiastes wrote, “There is a season for everything, a time for every matter under the sun.” We have declared this summer to be a time to UNLEARN. (No need to panic teachers, we promise not to unlearn all the great skills you taught over the year.)

We had an honest conversation in our tent at the end of the week. Six days after school and activities ended, we decided we were bored! All the girls in our tent agreed.   Only one of us was brave enough to say it out loud. (It is hard to admit how you feel when it is not what you expected.) We expected to be joyful and feel free to live our lives without a schedule, but instead we were bored, frustrated and confused.

The youngest one said she was just ready to go back to school. She said, “One week is enough of a break!” The older one said, “I have no cause!” After I stopped laughing. I reminded them that we had a LONG summer ahead of us. Then there was a period of silence.

Maybe our first week of summer is telling us something important…it’s time to UNLEARN some things. First one is to UNLEARN that we need to be entertained to feel satisfied!  Then we can move on and UNLEARN what is means to be productive, rested, and stress free.

Ellen G. White wrote, “We have many lessons to learn, and many, many to unlearn. God and heaven alone are infallible. Those who think that they will never have to give up a cherished view…will be disappointed.”

There are many experiences that we learn from in our lives. Most of them offer good lessons. Many we learned to survive a season of life. But some of them teach us skills or attitudes that we may need to UNLEARN. Feeling bored, frustrated or confused may be just what we need to recognize a time to UNLEARN something we thought we already knew. First we need to admit how we feel and then we will be open to learning a new way, idea or process.  It may take a little creativity and humility.

What do you possibly need to UNLEARN this summer?

From our Happy Tent to Yours,

Meredith Bell

Summer Reading: You Are Special

In Max Lucado’s book, You are Special, he reminds us how God sees each of us.  God sees us as special. The world doesn’t. This is something we can UNLEARN over the summer as well. Happy reading!

Firsts and Lasts

Social media lately is flooded with firsts and lasts.  There are first communions, first dances, first cars, first steps, first solid foods.  There are last recitals, last awards ceremony, last graduations, last day of school, last day to pack school lunches (Can I get an Amen?).  It would be difficult not to notice all the smiling faces in the pictures or the energy in our communities.  There have even been some first birthdays as new babies bounce into the world and last hugs and kisses as love ones spend their last days on earth.

Joseph Campbell once wrote, “We must let go of the life we have planned, so as to accept the one that is waiting for us.”  Whether you are experiencing a first or a last this month, you are probably leaving one life and headed into a new one.  You are leaving one normal and creating a new one.  And if you are not experiencing this yourself, simply take a look to your left and your right, you will see someone who is.  As we change from one life into the next, here are some ways to help you transition, recenter, stop, or become more aware of God’s presence:

  • Sit in your God space and listen.  Remember that the creator of the universe (your creator) is available.  Any time.  Any place.  If you have a God space in your house or office…sit in it.  Focus on one thing that never changes…God’s love for you!
  • Make a lunch date with a friend.  Spiritual friends are the best!  They listen, understand, advise, support and follow up.  They often know what you need before you know what you need.  A lunch date will provide you with a pause between all the things you have to get done before you go to bed.  Everyone can use a pause now and then.
  • Plan a selfie day with just you and things you love.  Watch a movie at 10am with popcorn and a coke.  See two movies if you have time.  Pull out your music collection and jam to you favorites.  Take a nap in the middle of the day without you cell phone in the same room.  Read a book just because.  What brings your joy? Do it!
  • Name your emotion(s). Mad, sad, angry, fearful or tender.  All emotions fall under one of these top five. Once you know your emotion, you are more able to experience it and control it before it controls you. Pretending that you are not deeply experiencing one of these emotions is like pretending that nothing is changing.  Pretending is exhausting.
  • Plan a trip.  It always helps to experience a change of scenery whether it is a day trip or a vacation.  Just having one on the calendar is life giving!  Shop in a new store.  Visit museums in your community or close by. Reconnect with a family member or old friend and drive to their town to simply spend time together.  Exploring nature in small parks or big parks like the Grand Canyon can certainly be fun! And there is always camping!!
  • Take a deep breath.  Sometimes when I am with my mom and I take a deep breath, she says, “Is that your first breath of the day?”  Sometimes you just need to take a breath and a step, a breath and a step.  Find a pace that allows your soul to catch up with your body!
  • Hug your family. A one-minute hug always does the trick.  (Set a timer.) One-minute to connect.  One-minute to freeze time and capture the moment.  One-minute of peace in the midst of chaos.  Your family is experiencing many firsts and lasts together.  Hugs, notes, texts, and hand-holding are all encouraged in the middle of transitions.

While you (or someone you know) is experiencing firsts and lasts this month, remember one thing.  Jesus is the “author and finisher” of our faith (Hebrews 12:2).  “Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made” (John 1:3).  Jesus is the Alpha and Omega, the first and the last.  When we see all of life through Christ eyes, we see the whole picture.  There are many firsts and lasts that we experience, but in the middle we experience a full, abundant life.  That is why Jesus came to this earth and why we have faith in Christ.

Keep posting those precious pictures of your abundant life, the highs and the lows.  Each day and each experience serves as a reminder that we are all in this together within the loving arms of Jesus.  And Jesus is ready to give us more of an abundant life!

From our Happy Tent to Yours,

Meredith Bell

Shake Your Pickles

How many times a day do you shake a jar of pickles in your fridge. Around our house, it is a new activity. It began by receiving a jar of pickles from a friend who instructed us to shake the jar at least twice a day for a week to help season the pickles. (The jar contains a secret seasoning…or at least that is what he said.) We know how to follow directions so we have been shaking the pickles, daily.

No matter what is going on in our house, we shake the pickles. During homework, we shake the pickles. While cooking dinner, we shake the pickles. In the morning while drinking coffee, we shake the pickles. We have embraced the process and we are looking forward to eating the pickles at the end of the week.

God invites us to do a lot of things in life. We are called to hang out with God in prayer during the day. We are called to play God-spy by keeping our eyes open for God at work around us. We are called to “be” more and “do” less so that our religion makes more sense. But above all, we are encouraged to embrace the experiences around us. If we are too focused on the past, we miss it. If we are too worried about the future, we miss it. Only when we can embrace the moment (and shake the pickles) do we really catch a glimpse of what Jesus meant when he said, “I have come so that you may life to it’s fullest.”

Our pickles keep us present in the moment and they make us laugh. Every time someone opens the fridge door and shake the pickles, we all laugh. This silly exercise creates a moment where we forget our stress, phones, chores and challenges and we just shake the pickles. When they are placed back in the fridge and the door is closed, all our problems do not seem as challenging.

From our Happy Tent to Yours,

Meredith Bell

P.S. Delicious pickle recipe: Buy a large jar of sliced pickles (ours are Hamburger Dill Chips made with sea salt from HEB). Add one package of powder Ranch dip. Shake your pickles for a week. Store in the fridge.

P.S.S. The season of Lent begins next week. If you need a devotional guide, order your copy of Have Mercy on Me. All proceeds will be donated to Habitat for Humanity.

Observation Deck

A few years ago, we celebrated a family birthday in the “Big Ball” in Dallas (also known as Reunion Tower by people over 15-years-old). The night was memorable. What I remember the most was my mother’s experience on the observation deck. From that place in the tower, you can see the site where John F. Kennedy was assassinated. She stood there for a long time just looking at the street and the site where he was shot on her birthday so many years before. She was able to see the whole picture; where it happened, the shape and height of the buildings and the road that the driver took to Parkland Hospital. Just observing the site with her own eyes allowed her to see the whole experience differently.

Recently I have been on my own observation deck. I decided to take a step back from my life, work, my chores and myself to just observe all of it. My step back is more abstract than literal. I am still living in the busyness of life, but I am seeing it differently. I have noticed the simplicity that exists around me that I often miss. I actually saw the people in my life that make life easier for me such as the grocery workers, my child’s teacher and friends. The sunsets and sunrises that come every day are breathtaking. I discovered a sacred time at the end of the day as my older daughter finishes her homework before bed. While she works, we just visit about the events of our day. I have been reminded of the power of positivity. Positive words can change or redirect any conversation into something meaningful and life giving. I have become more relaxed about watching the clock and more open to unexpected meetings with friends. My observation deck has simply shown me things that I needed to see.

I believe that we have a gift of making life more complicated than God ever intended life to be lived. So much of our stress comes from ourselves. We are often unable to say “no” to things we do not need to do and “yes” to things God is calling us to do. The result is too much time spent on too many things. Life becomes shallow instead of deep and meaningful.

I invite you to walk out onto your own observation deck this week. Spend some time to simply observe life around you. What do you see? What do you say? What is going on in your family?  What is God doing around you? This little practice is sure to reveal something new.

Open my eyes to see wonderful things in your Word. Psalm 119:18

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


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