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