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

 

The Christmas Bat

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,

Meredith Bell

Jesus and the Cheetahs

Be the One

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!

Meredith Bell

Three Pieces A Day Rule

We have one happy, happy camper in our tent this week. The candy rule is gone and the “candy queen” is so happy. There is candy all over our house. Some of it is in the obvious places and some of it is tucked away in little corners, under blankets, and in drawers. It is everywhere and our happy camper has taken inventory and knows the location of every piece. Candy is available 24/7 in our home and life is good for a little girl.

Because we are kind, loving parents, we let the “candy queen” enjoy a few days of bliss. She even enjoyed some for breakfast a few mornings along with her protein plate. But then the time came to reintroduce the rules. “Okay, now that you have enjoyed lots of candy, we are going to go back to three pieces a day.” We expected shock, surprise or rebellion. Instead we simply got an “Okay.” Well that was easy!

There is a gift hidden in rules. They make us feel safe, secure, cared for and balanced. When we have rules that guide our choices and lives, we are able to relax within their boundaries. The big decisions have already be taken care of so we can just enjoy life within the boundaries.

There once was a psychological study of children playing on a playground by a school that I learned about recently. One group of children were encouraged to go and play on a playground without a fence. Instead of playing and exploring, this group chose to just play by the entrance into school.  They didn’t feel safe enough to play on the playground. Another group of children were given the same instructions and same choice. The difference was that a fence had been installed around the play equipment. The second group played on the monkey bars and slid down the slide. The take away was that the children felt more safe with the fence and were able to relax and play together.

Our creator gives us fences (or rules) to live within simply because we are loved.  They are not intended to restrict us, punish us or frustrate us.  They are intended to remind us that we are safe, secure, and loved.  Rules for life help us draw closer to God by making space in our lives for God.  They offer us balance in the pressures of life and light in darkness.  We may go through times in life where we are like the “candy queen”…we have more than we could ever need and life feels blissful.  But then, we may feel that we have lost direction or purpose in life.  We know then that it is time to go back to “three-pieces-a-day”.  And when God calls us back to our center, we experience God’s grace. Another day and another chance to live life through God’s eyes instead of our own.

Explore your rules this week or create some.  What is your rule of life?  Share them with someone close to you.  You might find that you will enjoy God’s playground even more with a fence around it.

For the Lord is the Spirit, and wherever the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.

                                                                                                  2 Corinthians 3:17

From our Happy Tent to yours,

Meredith Bell

P.S. If you want to explore a rule of life more, check out Crafting a Rule of Life.

Connection Points: Little Effort with Big Rewards

My phone has only been running on half battery all week. I haven’t given it enough time to fully charge.  It doesn’t take very long in my day for the little green battery light to turn to red.

In our tent, we move in many different directions at the same time.  Maybe your tent is the same.  In our effort to help everyone in our tent (even the dog, Sam) be their best self, we quickly find ourselves coming and going at a pace that would impress Olympics track athletes.  I can’t say that we are very proud of this habit, but I imagine it is similar to most American families.  American families that are plugged in, committed, scheduled and striving to be the best they can in their own community.  There are as many external pressures as there are internal pressures that keep us living this way in our post-modern world.  All these pressures can easily turn our family battery from green to red.

The crazy reality about this pace is that we are rarely together, really together even though we live in the same house.  Together like when you sit and just talk about nothing.  Together so that you can actually hear each other’s hearts.  Both joys and struggles.  Together in a way that keeps us connected to each other in a world that is moving around us.  We can go on living like this or we can live differently.

Living differently would mean that we are intentional about connecting to each other.  Until we are intentional, we will just live within the ebb and flows of the world.  From experience, that routine only leads to frustration, arguments, loneliness and anxiety.  But living in intentional connection with the people we love leads to understanding, love, companionship and contentment.  Here are a few ideas to be intentional with connecting to those you love for this week…try to work FIVE connection points in this week and see how it goes! It will help you stay connected and available to what God wants you to experience.

CONNECTION POINT IDEAS

LUNCH DATES–Planned lunch dates really help pause the day and breath life into a relationship.  The menu doesn’t matter as much as the conversation.  It’s something you can count on each week to pull you back together in a way to gives you life.

HIDDEN NOTES and TEXT–These are just fun and they are a perfect way to encourage, love, recognize and support each other.  The notes are guaranteed to create smiles and memories.  It’s amazing how God even gets in on the fun by helping you say just the right thing at the right time.

COUCH TALK–Twenty minutes and a couch is all that it takes.  Media off (including phones) and eyes on each other.  It is the best way to connect and reconnect after a busy day or week.

ROSES AND THORNS–The best way to hear each other’s hearts is to talk about the roses and thorns of the day.  This can be done in the car, one the phone, at the table or anywhere.  It always reveals how everyone is doing and helps everyone connect.

PRAYER–Rad Joy is a great company that helps busy people give their burdens back to Christ.  The best way to connect with those we love is to ask them how you can pray for them and then do it.

MEALS–Jesus and his disciples broke bread together all through the New Testament.  Preparing a meal, enjoying a meal, talking and listening to each other,  and cleaning up after the meal can be holy time for families. Even playing dinner games is fun. Everyone can be a part of the experience.

Enjoy making connections with the people you love…it’s an eternal investment and well worth the effort!

Do not love this world nor the things it offers you, for when you love the world, you do not have the love of the Father in you. For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father, but are from this world.  And this world is fading away, along with everything that people crave. But anyone who does what pleases God will live forever. 1 John 2:15-17

Meredith Bell

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