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

Pumpkins

I don’t know what it is about those cute little orange pumpkins, but they get me every year.  There is no other vegetable (are pumpkins considered a veggie or are they in their own category…pumpkin?) that I would pay $10…$15…or $20 to take home with me.  Especially when I did not plan to eat it.  But those little pumpkins, on a nice cool fall morning, all smile back to me and say, “We are worth every penny!”.  Then they load up into the back of my car, buckle in and together we take off to spread fall cheer.

Pumpkins in any other season are just ordinary.  But in the fall they become extraordinary.  Amazing.  Exciting. Fun.  We turn them into decorations, lattes, pies, cookies, breads and more thanks to Pinterest!  In our tent, they represent tradition, change, holidays, and family time.  Some of the ones that live in our home catch a glimpse of the Christmas tree on their way out the door.  They stick around for a while.  Especially the ones that make it into the Barbie house or the ones that become a “baby” after a face is added to it.  Ahhh…pumpkins.

 485 Pound Pumpkin Ashville, NC

485 Pound Pumpkin
Ashville, NC

When you catch a glimpse of a pumpkins this fall, take a moment and let that cute little round ball encourage you to find a way to use your ordinary life to do something extraordinary for God.  How can you hop on board with God and spread some cheer, hope, fun to those you know and those you have yet to meet?  There are a lot of pumpkins around us this fall.  There are also a lot of people like you and me.  If we all signed up to do one extraordinary pumpkin mission, we could spread a lot of God’s love around.

I always assume that God’s Spirit is alive and well in your life.  Tap into that Spirit and together put together a plan that may seem ordinary to you but with God will be extraordinary for someone else.

Also…add a few pumpkins to your tent this week.  They are worth every penny!

Happy Fall!

Meredith Bell

 

Have Courage and Be Kind

We took a break from life this week and jumped on the couch to watch Cinderella. At first, we were only going to watch the movie until bedtime, but then I was enjoying it so much there was no way I was going to turn it off.   I knew I made the right decision when I was covered in blankets and snuggles.  Bedtime is overrated… some nights.  Throughout the movie Cinderella’s mantra is “Have Courage and Be Kind.”  In one scene, the Step-Mother hosts a party in the house with card games, alcohol and loud guests.  One comment from our audience was, “She was not creating a safe and peaceful home.  She brought all those broken people into their home and all that stuff.”  How insightful!
7421665746_178988e5b9_bIn each of our homes live quiet and strong doors.  You may have two or ten doors that keep things out of your home like cold winds and things that go bump in the night.  Doors can also keep good things inside like the smell of comfort food and cool air-conditioning on a hot, hot Texas summer day.

At Happy Tents, we work toward helping families imagine more.  Today, I invite you to imagine more ways your home can become a safe place where love grows and peace rules.  I also invite you to make a mental list of things that you need to leave on the outside of the door.  Here are some ways I thought of and I would love to hear about your ideas as well.

  • A Safe Haven–Each day we all take an adventure out into the world in school, work, restaurants, traffic, etc.  At some point in the day we feel like we are probably getting life drained from us.  Our homes need to be a safe haven from stress, bullying and noise.  Harville Hendrix says,  “We can either be anxious or connected.”  If we are anxious, we will be unable to connect to each other at home.
  • Peace Please–In our tent, when we exit the car and enter our home a pile forms by the door…backpacks, shoes, purses, more backpacks, and toys. Our homes need to be ready to absorb all that we bring home.  Systems help.  Baskets help.  Organization helps.  If the house is in complete chaos the whole family will feel the absence of peace.  Make a plan and make it happen.  If you have children, they can help too with age appropriate chores.
  • All the Good Stuff–I can still remember my childhood home and how good smells drifted up the stairs to my room right before dinner or how nice it was to come home to clean smells (My mom has since confessed that she would often take a rag with lysol on it and just wipe down the walls near the door just for the smell! Wise woman!).  It’s wise to use our doors to keep all the good stuff in like Christian music, positive words (everyone has a special place in the family), nice candles, warm hugs (try one-minute hugs…they feel great!), fresh flowers and surprise notes.
  • Welcome Joy–Joy is not the absence of sadness, it is the presence of the Holy Spirit within you.  When you feel joy and you see joy, welcome it.  Laugh.  Smile.  Celebrate.  Breathe.  Life is good and joy reminds us of how good it is.  Don’t miss it because of unnecessary rules, schedules or negativity.  It’s too precious.

Have courage and be kind…I think I will adopt this mantra for the next few days and see how my small efforts can make a big difference.

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Meredith Bell

Sunflowers and Joy

Driving down a road recently, our car passed fields and fields of sunflowers.  They were in full bloom and all of their little yellow faces seemed to be smiling back at us.  We smiled at them.  In their own little way, they lifted our spirits and gave us something to think about the rest of the day.  They created JOY.  It made me think about all of those little moments in our day that offer us JOY.  A phone call from a friend, a funny text, ice cream, unexpected flowers, a laugh, a good book, a nice meal, a hug…these are moments of JOY on my list.

My daughter’s favorite book before bed is Tickle Monster.  It is about a monster that comes from planet tickle and tickles her from head to toe.  She loves the book.  It is not the best book (in my rational, boring, mom opinion) before bed because it does not really settle her down.  Maybe it is the monster gloves we wear or the way the tickle monster grabs her boney little knees.  She wiggles.  She screams.  She laughs until she cannot breathe.  She is filled with JOY!  Just JOY.  No wonder she chooses the book night after night.  I imagine that she probably sleeps best after having a day with JOY.

Leon Bloy said, “JOY is the most infallible sign of the presence of God.”  I am sure God loves to see us full of JOY in the same way I love to see my daughter laughing so hard that she needs a break from tickles.  JOY lifts us out of the seriousness of life and into the presence of God.  JOY reminds us to celebrate life.  JOY puts us on the path to hope, peace and love.

One of my college friends lost her mother to cancer this past year.  I spent time at her home in college.  She was a gentle and loving woman.  When I heard how she was walking through her fight with cancer, I was not surprised…she was Pimpin JOY.  You can read about her JOY journey. She chose JOY over everything else.  Since her death, her family has done the same.  And I know they have experienced the presence of God all along the way.

As our country celebrates today, I encourage you to experience JOY.  Make your own list of JOY moments that work for you. Share JOY with those you meet this week.  And if you really want to dive into a day of JOY, there is always Tickle Monster at the end of the day!

Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth;
    break forth into joyous song and sing praises! Psalm 98:4

Happy 4th!

Meredith Bell

Grace…It’s What We Need

I saw it again the other day…a couple arguing.  They were not exchanging grace.  I could tell from across the room that they were not talking about when they fell in love or how much they appreciate each other.  They were not planning their next date night or holding hands.   They were looking deeply into each others eyes, but I believe their pupils were restricted instead of relaxed. Smoke was shooting out of their ears and veins were sticking out on their necks.  They looked like cartoon characters!!  Maybe it was the arms waving or the tension they created…but they were arguing for sure.

It made me sad.  I wanted to reach out to them, help them, or pray with them. But it was none of my business.  (If you even see me arguing with the love of my life…feel free to break in with a prayer!!)
And then the coin flipped.  It is much easier to help others and think about them than to experience the need for help yourself. My experience happened during a family Uno game.  Uno.  That’s it.  Then I spoke and he spoke and I spoke and he spoke. Then the conversation quickly turned into an argument…with the children present and holding their Uno cards.  We were not exchanging grace.

1 Corinthians 13:4-7 is a familiar verse often read at weddings. Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude.  It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoings, but rejoices with the truth.  Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

If grace is what we receive from Christ, then we are equipped to give grace to others…especially those we love.  Yet so often, we expect grace from Christ, but are reluctant to give it to others.  In writing it seems simple.  In real life it is more difficult.  But I guess dying on the cross is more difficult in real life too!

After things calmed down (I actually ended up winning the Uno game…but it wasn’t as much fun to win that moment.), I remembered 1 Corinthians.  I remembered what it feels like to give and receive grace. I remembered that I am the only person that can change my behavior.  So I read scripture with fresh eyes…

Meredith is patient and kind; she does not envy or boast; She is not arrogant or rude; Meredith does not insist on her own way; she is not irritable or resentful….

I missed the mark today, but thankfully tomorrow is a new day and my heart has been renewed through scripture.  Awww…life!
Meredith Bell

The Day the Hermit Crab Died

All life matters

I don’t know the day the hermit crab, Crabby Cakes, actually died.  He (or she) has lived in our home for two and a half years.  Before that Crabby Cakes lived four years with Mrs. Barbara, the science teacher at our daughter’s pre-school.  When Crabby Cakes came to live with us I thought four years is a long time to live in captivity…surely this arrangement will only last a little while longer.  How long can a hermit crab really live???  It lasted much longer than I expected.  And over that time, I have to say, that little guy (or girl) grew on me and in its own way made a happy difference in our home.

But sometime over the past week of crazy in our home and schedule, Crabby Cakes moved from this life into the next.  Sometime in the middle of homework, dinner, gymnastics, work, church, trips to and from school, Crabby Cakes stopped moving.  It could possibly have happened while we were out on Wednesday to celebrate the arrival of Christmas with an-over-the-top Christmas Festival and up-close-and-personal firework display. Crabby Cakes might have fallen asleep then.  Or it could have been one of my sleepless nights this week…maybe that is why I couldn’t sleep.  Or maybe it was while I was sitting in Bible study and a prayer that I had been praying for over a year began to be answered with each passing minute.  When did it happen…no idea!

Today, in his (her) little way, Crabby Cakes sent a message to me…stop for a minute.  Check on my friend, Critter.  (Time for pastoral care…crab style.)  Remember that God is both small and big.  God is present in the small, baby steps that we take towards a dream or vision and God is present on the big flashy firework days.  When we remember this, we know that each moment of our lives is created and desires to be experienced fully.  We also know that each little part of our life matters.

At the funeral for Crabby Cakes, I stood before the toilet (because we know from Nemo that all drains lead to the ocean) and said a quick thanks and farewell.  Thankful for the tinniest part of my life sending a big message…all life matters.  Itsn’t that the message of the cross too?

And God said, “Let the water teem with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the sky.” (Genesis 1:20)

Dinner Survival

Savoring time together

Whew…after we finished dinner the other night I was even more worn out that I was before we began.  I LOVE the idea of sitting around the table at night together to enjoy one slow meal.  Our only slow meal of the day.  We get a chance to talk about our roses and thorns (our highs and lows) of the day.  It gives me a great insight into the lives of my children that I don’t get to see.  This ideal meal (conversation, good food, laughter) is at least what I expect.

What really happens is this…pleaseeee eat your green bean.  When asked how many at the beginning of the meal I decide on number 5.  Eat 5 green beans.  By the end of the meal I am begging…just eat one…just one.  Just eat one green bean for my sake.  Only because I know the pediatrician will ask me that one question at your annual visit.  “Does she eat a balanced meal?” I always say yes…but it is a stretch.

And then both my children began using my own lines on me…”I love you to much to argue”….then they would laugh…

I once heard Kevin Leman  encourage parents to talk with their children at the dinner table the same way they would talk with diner guests.  For instance, I would not demand that my dinner guests eat their green beans before they left the table.  So why do I talk with my children that way????

Thankfully I will be invited back to our dinner table tonight.  Maybe I just need to focus on my own green beans and not worry about controlling everyone else’s. I’m learning that a Happy Tent usually includes a happy mom…not one who brings stress and control to the table.  There is enough of that in this world.

I pray my table will reflect more love, acceptance and peace.I want to enjoy these years because I know in a few short years, some of my dinner guests will not be at my table on a regular basis.

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