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

A Wife

A few years ago, my husband wrote a book about blessing his wife.  I am still amazed that he would write such a book to bless me and other marriages.  Ever since then, I have been considering doing the same.  Getting started has been the trouble.

The role of a wife is a big role.  Society makes this role challenging by portraying wives through shows like “The Real House Wives” or defining a wife as a ball-and-chain.  One archaic definition of a wife goes so far as to say “a woman, especially an old or uneducated one”…really?  Our culture encourages us to fill our days with efforts that produce a perfect meal, body, children and attitude so that we can fulfill the role of a wife the right way.  (Sigh)

Luckily, our faith has another definition.  My favorite is the way women are defined through the Bible as ezers.  Carolyn Curtis James writes about the Hebrew translation of helper in a number of her books.  She defines women as ezers who are more than helpers for men, they are image bearers of God in the world around them.  This is a definition that I can wrap my mind around.  Our Bible is full of truth that guides us in relationships.  Hebrews 10:24-25 says, “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”

The role of a wife in this world is more than grocery lists, laundry, carpool, errands and overbooked schedules.  The role of a wife is to reflect God’s image in our marriage, families and our communities.  We are called to love, nurture, comfort, create, share, inspire, guide and share grace.  We start with our partner by building a life together.  Through the relationship, families and futures are built.  Our task is to keep faith alive in our hearts and in our homes so that it will be passed on to the next group of amazing wives who come behind us in the next generation.  When this is our true purpose, the to-do lists seem less important don’t they?

This week, let’s take a closer look at our calendars.  Is there enough room in our days to spend time with our spouse just to remind him that he is loved and cherished?  Is there enough room in our days to recharge our spiritual lives?  Is there enough time spent seeking God’s guidance?  With God’s grace…we can learn the ways of Christ.

From our tent to yours,

Meredith Bell

Family Project #674: Bunnies

Whether it is the best way to parent or not, in our tent we practice “all-in” parenting.  Because of this we often find ourselves in the middle of family projects where we have NO previous experience.  Recently we started “Family Project #674: Bunnies.”  This project began just before Memorial Day.  We were given five New Zealand rabbits, pens, poop trays and a wonderful consultant (a sophomore at Texas A&M University…whoop!).  The rabbits lived on the back porch for two weeks.  And then I had a “hissy-fit”.  The rabbits could no longer stay on the back porch.  The solution…move them to the yard, cap the sprinkler heads in one section, and build a pole-barn.  We spent Memorial Day weekend building the barn.  (Our motto…family projects bring you closer!! Smile! Ugh).  The rabbits moved in and I reclaimed the back porch.

Our next step was an exciting event which we called “The Breeding Party.”  At 11 o’clock one night, I found myself sitting in chairs around the pen with a 19 year-old young man and three girls ages 11, 9, and 7.  We were watching the rabbits breed.  (Mr. Bell has already retired for the evening.)  Once the event took place, “The Breeding Party” was over and everyone went to bed.  We talked about the event for weeks.  And then we waited thirty long days before…BUNNIES!!

6644179217_da7b5cb72f_b

These new little bunnies have filled our home with love and joy all week during a week that we needed love and joy.  These new bunnies have been moving around in their sweet little bed that their “all-in” mother made for them during a week when comfort from nurturing mothers and friends is just what we needed.  These little bunnies have shown us new life in the midst of death during a week when we have seen the fragility of life next to the promise of eternal life.

I hope and pray that you too have experienced moments of love, joy, comfort and new life in your tent this week.  Remember…God is always around even during difficult weeks.

Be still and know that I am God! I am exalted among the nations, I am exalted in the earth. Psalm 46:10

Meredith Bell

P.S.  Bunnies for sale!!!

 

Look Up

A few years ago at a colleague’s funeral, I heard a sermon that I still remember.  The pastor said when we cannot make sense of what is going on around us, one thing we can do is look up.  Look up to God.  Her words still speak truth today.  In the midst of uncertainty, fear, shock and confusion, one place we can look to for comfort is up.  When we look up, we are reminded that God is among us.

God is among us and God is at work even during our dark days.  Families have lost important members this week across our country.  Family members that have lived in their “tent”, laughed at their jokes, sat at their table and shared countless memories with over the years.  Now they are gone and their lives are in front of all of us.

As people in God’s family, we are invited to shine the light of Christ into the darkness.  We are invited to look up to God in prayer and seek direction. God uses families every day to comfort, help and love others.  Families have a front row seat in the world.   We see first hand the people who suffer, hurt, experience loneliness and more.  We live next door to strangers that become friends.  We use our phones to stay in touch with people who we know.  The family is an outpost for God in the world. And today families have the opportunity to up lift each other and to up lift their community and its needs.

The center of activity in most homes is the kitchen.  Maybe this week, we can use our kitchen time as our sacred time.  During our sacred time, we can work together to process the current events, God’s work around us and our own spiritual work.  All we need to do this is some good food, a little extra time together, scriptures that speak to us and hands to hold in prayer.  God can use families today to shine light in a dark world.  I wonder how God plans to use your family?

Together we pray for our communities, our country and our world as we look up to God together.

Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.

Galatians 6:2

Meredith Bell

An Oreo For Breakfast

On Wednesday evening, we received a special invitation to a birthday party.  The hostess for the party gave out handwritten invitations to each member of our family.  The honored guest was her special doll, Sarah.  Sarah was turning three the next day and the party was planned for 8 o’clock in the morning.  Throughout the evening, there was a lot of activity going on in the hostess’ bedroom.  Candles, Oreos, forks, balloons, streamers, and napkins all floated across the house from various rooms to the bedroom.  The computer paper vanished from the printer and was transformed into party hats.  No one was allowed in the bedroom for a preview.  We had to wait until 8 o’clock in the morning.  Not a second before. Finally we all fell asleep while visions of the party danced in our heads.

As 8 o’clock rolled around, we all began our short journey to the party location with coffee in hand.  (One person was almost late because they tried to play possum!)  The room was decorated with streamers and balloons.  At each place setting there was one Oreo with a fork and a glass of water.  We sang Happy Birthday to Sarah as she was presented an Oreo-tower with candles on top!  The rest of the party included a balloon toss, scavenger hunt and finally a dance party.  Three generations were dancing around the bedroom celebrating the day.  Smiles were everywhere.  Especially on the hostess.

Our little hostess threw a great party and she learned how to do it from our parties.  She had paid attention to details even when we didn’t know she was watching.  It reminded us that ALL the details that make up our busy days are seen by little eyes and ears.  The way we talk to others and the way we talk to each other is recorded in young minds.  The way we help strangers and the way we take care (or don’t take care) of ourselves is seen with fresh eyes.  The way we connect with God and share our story with others is witnessed by searching souls.  It is worth our time to think about the messages we send through our daily details.  How do we model a spiritual life?  How do we show appreciation for God’s gifts?  What does love, grace and forgiveness look like in our lives?

If you have a hard time remembering what it was like to be a child, I recommend eating an Oreo for breakfast.  It’s a good way to step out of your busy, stressed, gluten-free adult world and step into a world full of possibilities.  All of our adult agendas for the day were put on hold for a brief moment this week.  We ushered in the new day in a beautiful way.  The party became our devotional.  We spent time together and time with God because we know God was a guest too.  We could feel the joy and the love through God’s presence.

As we left the party we were given a party favor.  A hug.

Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Colossians 3:12

From our Happy Tent to yours,

Meredith Bell

It’s Fine!

We have two elementary school children who live in our tent.  If you were a fly on our wall in the mornings between 6:30am to 7:40am, Monday through Friday, you would be entertained. It is chaotic.  We are looking for shoes, finishing homework, finding clothes, brushing hair (lots of hair), eating the most important meal of the day, emptying lunch boxes, filling lunch boxes, taking allergy medicine, still looking for shoes and more while the two adults in the house are just trying to drink a cup of coffee.  Doing all of this one handed is enough entertainment for anyone.

The other morning when we finally made it to the car and one of our children spilled water on her skirt.  A scream came from the backseat.  Another loud noise came from the front seat in response because the precious coffee was almost spilled.  “What is wrong?” said the driver.  “I spilled water all over my skirt,” said the back seat. “Don’t worry, you are fine,” said the driver.  “I AM NOT FINE! I AM NOT FINE AT ALL,” said the back seat.  Then the tears erupted from her tiny tear ducts and rolled down her tiny, cute cheeks.  But the car drove on.

Lent is a great time to stop ignoring all those things that are “not fine” in our lives.  We like to pretend that things are fine as we try to hide the elephant (problem) in our lives by simply throwing an area rug over it.  Or we tell ourselves that things are fine, but if anyone else looked at the same problem they would say we are anything but fine.  We probably passed fine a long time ago and drove on.

Reality is a balance between all that is good and all that is bad.  If we focus on one or the other too much, we are not living in reality.  We need to have a balance between the two.  If we pretend all is good in our lives, we are not living in reality.  If we pretend all is bad in our lives, we are not living in reality either.

It is time to take ownership of what is “not fine” in our lives and let Jesus into our brokenness.  If we are always pretending everything is fine, we have no need for Jesus.  When we let Jesus in, we see that we may need to change, need help, or need time to sort out our lives.  When you take off on this kind of journey, you know you are on the right path because you feel relieved that you don’t have to pretend anymore.

What is “not fine” in your life right now?  What is your backseat telling you that you ignore and drive on down the road hoping it will go away?  Tell a friend or someone you can trust.  Jesus will be there too.

My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style.         Maya Angelou

Shalom,

Meredith Bell

 

Make a Trade

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.

3115751108_77b9dbd66f_bExpect 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!

Meredith Bell

Halloween Worms

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.  284902228_adb44d6bf7_bThat 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!

Meredith Bell

Simple Math

We are working on basic math in our Tent.  With one of us in first grade, we all get to practice simple math facts.  1+1=2  2+2=4  3+3=6  We are all reminded that you have to start simple and learn the basics. Simple math facts are just as important as advanced math.

I heard a quote this week by Kevin Leman.  Leman said, “No one person is more important than the family.”  If I understand Leman, he is saying that every person in the family is important to the family.  AND there is not one person that is more important than the others.  Leman’s simple math looks like this…1+1=1  2+2=1  3+3=1

So often, we forget this simple truth about family math.  So often, we focus on one person’s needs in the family and pour all of our energy into that person.  When we spend all of our energy on one person, there is not much energy left for the rest of the family.  The whole family loses.

There is a great, humbling reminder of this in the Bible.  Remember when Jesus said, “So those who are last will be first.  And those who are first will be last”?  Jesus was speaking through a parable about a landowner who paid his workers.  No matter what time the workers began working, at the end of the day they received the same amount of pay…one denarion.  Jesus’ math is simple too.  All people are equal and precious in the eyes of Christ.  1+1=1  2+2=1  3+3=1  No matter when we accept God’s grace and begin our Christian life, we receive the same result…eternal life.  Everyone is going to the same eternal life, together.

Take some time this weekend take a tent survey to check your family’s simple math.  Is everyone important?  Does everyone feel special and a part of the family?  Is one person using up too much of the family energy supply?  Pray about what to do about the survey results.  Remember…Jesus is a part of your family too!  Working on the basic areas of family life help prepare us for the more advanced dynamics of family life.

From our Tent to yours…happy weekend!

Meredith Bell

You are Welcome

Strawberries in water.  A comfortable and warm bed to sleep in.  Soul conversations.  Laughter.  Open doors.  Delicious meals.  Simple hospitality. All of these experiences simply say, “You are welcome!”  It is a wonderful feeling to be welcomed into someone’s home and life.  It warms your heart and releases your anxiety.  It feels you with peace that can only come from God.

Some of my favorite memories of hospitality took place around someone’s table.  My conversations with my grandfather (and best friend) always took place at a table with a bowl of strawberries and sugar. 6115838231_f708cce3d0_b All teenage worries disappear with strawberries and sugar.  My grandmother’s table would often be decorated with a beautiful holiday arrangement and she would offer me a quick sandwich.  Challenges about the future seemed to feel smaller at her table.  Coffee, while sitting at my mother’s table looking at the hummingbirds, always tastes better and replenishes my soul.  The back porch of my in-laws home always makes me thankful to be a part of a loving and supportive family.  An afternoon cup of hot tea ,with a friend traveling the same parenting roads that I am on,  gives me time to pause and be thankful for the children God has placed into my care for a short time.  Strawberries and water with a nice lunch after a super stressful morning reminds me why friends are important.  And a key to the front door of a friends home makes me grateful for friendships that are deeper than I can even understand.  All of these moments simply say, “You are welcome.”

I imagine God’s eternal home is similar.  It is a place where all feel at home.  A place where stress falls away and laughter grows.  A place of community that replenishes our souls.  A place where pain does not exist. A place where love is deeper than we can even understand.  No matter if we sit at the kitchen table or on the back porch of God’s house, we know that we are welcome.

Until we personally experience God’s home, we each have the opportunity to open our homes and our hearts in a way that simply communicates, “You are welcome!” We each have an opportunity to provide a glimpse into eternal life through our hospitality to others.  Just like God is always ready and available to hear our thoughts and prayers, we too need to be available to have meaningful conversations with others and welcome them into our home and lives.  Your small, thoughtful acts of love and kindness will be remembered in the years to come.

You are always welcome in our home!

Don’t neglect to open up your homes to guests, because by doing this some have been hosts to angels without knowing it.  Hebrews 13:2

Meredith Bell

Pages: 1 2 3