Precious Pumpkins

Stanton Studios is located in Central Texas…in the woods.  They are an art company that specialize in wood, glass and metal, including blown glass.  In the fall, they make blown glass pumpkins for visitors.  I made an appointment one day and our search for the precious pumpkins began.

Driving down a country road, we talked about…about nothing really.  “Minecraft passenger” was aggressively looking for Atlantis at the bottom of ocean world. “Book-reading passenger” was lost in another world.  As we drove deeper into the woods, the pilot and co-pilot were wondering if this pumpkin trip was still a good idea.

When we arrived, we were warmly greeted, carefully instructed and perfectly coached.  One at a time we watched our color choices melt into the hot, hot glass before it was transformed into a precious pumpkin.  The experience was fascinating and satisfying.  We created our own precious pumpkins with our own breath.  Magical.

But it really wasn’t magic that made our precious pumpkins. It was the artist.  The man in the warehouse that had worked long hours, many months, and years to master the art of blown glass.  He made the experience seem effortless, but we know it took a lot of effort on his side of the experience.

Our lives are like the precious pumpkins.  God is the artist. Some days life just seems magical.  We enjoy the people around us, the fall colors, hope, joy, and peace.  But it is not really magic that we are experiencing. A lot of effort created the opportunity for us to freely live everyday.  Because we are precious pumpkins to God,  Jesus made a way for us to experience “magical” days every day. These days may be available, but we often live with agendas in our tents that prevent us from the full experience of life.

If your happy tent is looking to experience a little more hope, joy, and peace, here are a few tips that helped us create our precious pumpkin adventure:

Availability: First, make yourself available for an experience…a precious life experience.  This may mean that you will miss a few gatherings, games or meetings.  It may even mean that you leave the dirty laundry in the hamper and the dishes in the sink a little longer (Don’t worry your friends will still love you and the work will be there when you get back). Simply making yourself available for something different causes you to hurry less and focus more on what is truly precious around you (Hint…it is not Minecraft, work, phones or books).

Show up:Talking about something is one experience.  Doing something is another. We knew about these precious pumpkins for a while, but kept finding reasons to not go. What have you wanted to do for a while?  Get on the road and do it…even if you have to travel through the woods to get there!   Leaving our comfort zones and trying something new can be uncomfortable or even frightening.  But for all that we lose, look how much we gain.

Experience it:  Creative moments are full of potential.  Creative moments help us experience the color and the depth that life offers.   Creative moments make space for better conversations and insights. Everyone in your tent is a precious pumpkin.  As long as we have breath, we have the opportunity to breathe life into  the people around us that is full of creativity, hope, joy, and peace.  Together, discover an experience that takes your breath away.

When our precious pumpkin patch was complete, we noticed the beauty in each pumpkin and the beauty in the pumpkins together.  Each pumpkin is shaped differently and colored differently.  On our dining table, they look good together.  They are precious pumpkins in this precious life.

Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits in the place of honor at God’s right hand. Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth. 1 Colossians 3:1-2

From our Happy Tent to Yours,

Meredith Bell

P.S. Stanton Studios also makes Christmas ornaments if you are looking for a way to experience your own creative moment.

 

Pep Rally Week

Back in the day, my favorite week in school was pep rally week.  Pep rally week was a signal to me that the work was done and the celebration began.  Before pep rally week, my friends and I worked all summer.

We gathered over the summer at various houses and painted vertical pep rally signs, on hot driveways. Some signs were made to hang from the gym ceiling and HUGE run-through signs were made to hold while the football team enter the football field on Friday nights.  We spent one week during the summer learning new chants and cheers to teach our hometown.  We practiced building human pyramids on our shoulders in the city pool during the afternoons.  We fell in the water again and again.

When the summer came to a close and school began, it was time for the first pep rally.  At the pep rally, we gave it our best.  We yelled.  We jumped.  We nailed our human pyramid.  We smiled.  The spirit of the school and the town grew week after week.  The football players felt like heroes and we were all ready for the competition.

Holy Week is like a pep rally week for Christians.  For the past forty days, we have prepared.  We looked for signs of selfishness, sin, and doubt.  We discovered our deep need for forgiveness and grace.  We unplugged, fasted, prayed, discerned and listened.  We remembered the final act of death on a cross so that we can find hope in our darkness.  We patiently waited.

When the sun comes up on Sunday, let us cheer.  Hallelujah!  Let us lift up the Spirit.  Our helper.  Our advocate.  Let us paint signs all around us for others to see. Signs of love, hope and peace.  Let us see Jesus in unexpected places.  Testimony. Sunrise. Stillness.  When the sun comes up on Sunday (and every day), Jesus is our hero and we are ready for the competition.

Go Jesus!

Now when the centurion and those with him, who were keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were terrified and said, “Truly this man was God’s Son!”  Matthew 27:54

From our Happy Easter Tent to Yours,

Meredith Bell

Do You Know Where My White Alligator Is?

In the early, early morning hours at the beginning of a road trip, I was asked this question, “Do you know where my white alligator is?” It would make sense if the question came from one of our younger members in the family. But this question came from my life partner and could only be answered after a period of silence. “Are you kidding me?” (I am sure he felt my hidden love in that response somewhere.)

For the past 24 hours, we have been preparing for another family road trip across part of our country. We sent numerous texts to each other about when we will leave, whose car we are taking, and what route we wanted to take. We actively  took care of the to-do list. Snacks. Check. Luggage. Check. Movies. Check. Cash. Check. Children. Check. Teamwork. Check.

If the first question of the day was about the location of the allergy medicine, I knew the answer. If it was about leaving the garage door opener for the house sitter, I knew the answer. If it was about paying a bill, I knew the answer. If he needed to know the social security number of anyone in the car, I knew the answer! BUT the question he asked is one that I could not answer. I honestly do not know where his white alligator is located at the moment. Sigh.

Jesus is an expert in asking questions. The New Testament is full of Jesus questions. Why are you so afraid? Why do you doubt? What is it you want? Do you love me? His questions went beyond the obvious and invited his followers into a deeper understanding.

One of His best questions is “Who do you say I am?” He asked this question while with his Disciples. Peter courageously answered, “You are the Messiah.”

In life, we may know all the answers about our home, family, and career. We may even know a lot about faith. We probably know the location of the extra car keys or if we are out of butter in the fridge. We often pride ourselves in knowing how to answer a question when asked by others. But sometimes we are asked a question that we do not know how to answer. (Especially if it is about a stuffed white alligator!)

No matter how much we know, it is always a good idea to know the answer to this question. In the midst of all that you know, do you also know about the abundant, grace filled life that only Jesus can give us if we truly know who he is today and every day? If so, live it.

If not, Jesus is a good person to get to know for his was present when the white alligator was created, after all.

I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me. John 10:14

From our Happy Tent to Yours,

Meredith Bell

 

Soul Keeping: Book Review

Some times the best way to reconnect with our spiritual selves is through a book.  Talented authors have a way of guiding us into a deeper understanding of experiences, words, God, ourselves and others.  We read a lot of books in our tent.  Some are required and some are just for enjoyment.

One book that has been with us for a while is Soul Keeping: Caring for the Most Important Part of You by John Ortberg. It is based on a mentoring relationship he shared with Dallas Willard.  His detailed writing about the soul and the deep conversations he enjoyed with Dallas Willard, shine a light on the heartbeat of our lives.  Our souls are our life.

When I read, I highlight the sentences that connect with my life.  Here are a few highlights:

“Hurry is the great enemy of spiritual life in our day.”

“What is running your life at any given moment is your soul.  Not external circumstances, not your thoughts, not your intentions, not even your feelings, but your soul.  The soul is that aspect of your whole being that correlates, integrates, and enlivens everything going on in the various dimensions of the self.”

“When you are connected with God and other people in life, you have a healthy soul.”

“You are an unceasing spiritual being with an eternal destiny in God’s great universe.”

“Being right is actually a very hard burden to be able to carry gracefully and humbly.  That’s why nobody likes to sit next to the kid in class who’s right all the time.  One of the hardest things in the world is to be right and not hurt other people with it.”

I wonder if you connect with any of these quotes? What does it feel like to think of your soul as your power house of life within you?

I wish we could visit more about it over coffee.  It is a conversation worth having.  If you have any good recommendations for spiritual books, I would love to hear about them too.

Bless the Lord, O my soul,
    and all that is within me,
    bless his holy name. Psalm 103

From our Happy Tent to Yours,

Meredith Bell

For Unto Us a Child is Born

This week on the side of the freezer door I discovered an original piece of art work titled, “For Unto Us a Child is Born.” I discovered it late in the night while doing another load of laundry.  Our washing machine decided this week was a good week to stop working. While it was on strike, mountains of laundry grew taller and taller every day.  The only way to stop the annoying magic trick was to tackle the laundry during the late shift.  With six minutes left on the washing cycle, my eyes drifted to the much over-looked piece of art work on the side of the freezer.  

“For Unto Us a Child is Born” gave me pause.  The artist focused on the star above the manger and the small stable.  The manger glowed under the star.  The city stayed a city.  It probably did not even have time to notice what was happening just a few miles away.  Everything was happening a few miles away.

Isaiah says, “For unto us a child is born and authority will be on his shoulders.” This child, Isaiah says, will help those in darkness see light, bring dawn to the dark night, increase joy, shatter burdens.  This child will be wonderful, mighty, and eternal.  I have to wonder, where is this child today in our lives?

The artist of “For Unto Us a Child is Born” gives us an idea of where to find this child.  We can find the child who holds light in a simple place like a manger (or the laundry room).  We can find the child who increases joy in a place that gives us pause so our souls can catch up.  We can find the child who removes burdens under a starry night.

This original piece of art work reminds me that the Christ child is, always, and forever will be in a place we least expect, at a time we didn’t plan for and always give us a glimpse into an eternal moment that we pray will last forever.

The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this. Isaiah 9:7

From our Happy Christmas Tent to Yours,

Meredith Bell

 

I Don’t Like Eggs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From our Happy Tent to Yours,

Meredith Bell

Running Wide Open

I remember the day I learned about the term “running wide open.”  I was in the passenger seat of my new sports car.  My dad bought the car for me. (I am still not sure why that was a good idea, but I am still thankful it was my car.)  He told me not to go too fast until he could ride along with me.  It was a silver Pontiac Firebird.  The time came for him to ride along with me, but he said he would drive it just to test it out on the road.  Before I knew it, we were running wide open.  He was smiling, hugging the curves and complimenting the car like it was a person.  I had never gone so fast in a car in my whole life and I never have since.  I guess it is true that within every grown man there is a young boy!

This week in a text a friend said he was “running wide open.”  Mr. Bell and I have laughed (the other option is to cry) about that text all week!  It is the best description for our lives.  Like our friend, our life is running in our final gear and we are traveling at top speed.  Monday through Monday…top speed. With the wind blowing in our hair (or at least my hair…he’s bald) as we run from meeting to meeting, morning to morning, fire to fire, we feel like we are running wide open.

Running wide open can be a fun experience.  It creates adrenaline, excitement, busyness and purpose.  Things happen.  Decisions get made.  It is easy when you are brand new, right off the car lot kind of person.  But we are not new cars anymore.  We have some miles on us.  If you are like us, you are running wide open more days than you would like. It may be time to pull over and actively rest.

Take a pit stop and let your crew (Jesus, God and the Holy Spirit) work on your car a while.  Inspect the engine (your body) to make sure it is still working well.  Sometimes we ignore obvious signs that something is not right.  Check your oil every 50 hours of work and see what the level is as you head into the next week.  If you are low, do some things to fill it up like spending time with your family, friends or even time alone.  Take a look at the tires to make sure you are balanced between work and play.  Look for holes that are slowing you down.  Clean out the interior of your life and get rid of all the trash that builds up inside.  All the worries, fears, and anxieties will be better off in the garbage can.

While you are at the pit stop, if you can’t see to find anything wrong but you still aren’t running well, reach out to a mechanic (doctor, counselor, or spiritual friend) and let them help you run a diagnostic test.  Don’t keep running wide open until you burn up the engine or the wheels fall off.  It is easier to fix a car than it is to rebuild it.  We only get one car (life) so we need to learn to take care of the one we have soon.

There is only one reason in life that we need to be running wide open and that is in our spiritual lives. So often, we ignore the one part of life that gives us the most energy. Jesus ran wide open for God AND Jesus got away to pray.  Jesus models pit stops for life. He prayed on a hills, between meetings, in homes and gardens.  He encourages us to be still so that we know God.  He sent us a Helper when he left this earth.  He created “spiritual pit stops” if you really think about it. Jesus told us to go and run wide open to make disciples for Jesus Christ.  He didn’t tell us to go and wear your self out in my name!

While you are in your tent this weekend, take a moment and ask your some question.  Are you running wide open? How much longer can you do it?  Who are you doing it for? Is there anything you need to change in your life?  We are asking ourselves the same questions often!

When he arrived and saw this evidence of God’s blessing, he was filled with joy, and he encouraged the believers to stay true to the Lord. Acts 11:23

From our reflective and Happy Tent to yours,

Meredith Bell

 

God’s Favorite Word…And

A little over a year ago, I heard a sermon by Dr. Bill Bryan called “God’s Favorite Word.”  Bill claimed that God’s favorite word is “AND.”  This week, Bill passed away from pancreatic cancer.  But like any good preacher, Bill’s words will live on through the many sermons he preached over his lifetime and the many young clergy he mentored.  Bill lost his battle with cancer AND he now lives in God’s eternity.

Our endings are God’s beginnings.  If Bill is right and God’s favorite word is AND, then we experience life in a new way.  We are often quick to end God’s story in our lives because we feel that it has come to a conclusion. We settle for our experiences in jobs, family, finances, or marriage.  We begin to believe that a good enough life is the life God wants to give us.  But Jesus came to give us an abundant life, not just a good life.   God is quick to erase our punctuation and throw an “AND” on the end of our story.  A story that God is always creating.

I had another friend, Rev. Wally Chappell, who mentored me in my life.  When I met Wally he was already in his eighties.  Wally lived a life with a lot of ANDs.  He graduated from Rice with an engineering degree AND married the love of his life AND became a pastor AND he had four sons (he called them 1, 2,3,4) AND at the age of 70 rode his bike from Texas to Colorado AND published a book AND married his college sweetheart at the age of ninety-four. Wally never seemed to stop adding ANDs to his life and it is safe to say he lived an abundant life.

This week, our tent (like yours) has been watching Hurricane Harvey destroy home after home, tent after tent and life after life.  The destruction is overwhelming.  But I know that God is busy erasing all the punctuations marks at the end of all the news reports.  God is erasing the periods and adding a lot of ANDs.

People are suffering in terrible ways AND people are helping.  The rivers continue to rise AND volunteers are setting up shelters for their neighbors.  Families are trapped in their homes AND strangers are rescuing them in their personal boats.  Cities are experiencing chaos AND finding hope by helping one another.  Homes are destroyed AND homes will be rebuilt.  We always wonder where God is at work in the midst of destruction and darkness.  This week, I know God was busy adding a lot of ANDs to Hurricane Harvey.  Hurricane Harvey destroyed AND God will guide all of us to ways to help our neighbors.

He divided the sea and let them pass through it,
    and made the waters stand like a heap.
In the daytime he led them with a cloud,
    and all night long with a fiery light.
He split rocks open in the wilderness,
    and gave them drink abundantly as from the deep.
He made streams come out of the rock,
    and caused waters to flow down like rivers.  Psalm 78:13-16

From our praying AND helping tent to yours,

Meredith Bell

 

 

Sneak Away

Sometimes you just need to sneak away from the people in your tent.  This is necessary when you need a little space…a little time apart.  To really get away, you need to apply all of the skills you learned as a teenager about sneaking out of the house.  Walk quietly. Carry your shoes in your hands.  Hold your breath. Only do what is necessary.  Avoid the squeaky stair.  “Borrow” the car keys.  Close the door quietly behind you.  And once you are out of the house and back out of the driveway, you can finally breathe.

After many hours in the car together recently, it was necessary to sneak away from the people I love one morning.  My need for a good cup of coffee guided me to a local coffee shop.  Over a beautiful cafe latte, I found my spiritual center again.  My portable quiet time tools had traveled with me.  With each sip of my coffee and each word of my quiet time tools (a.k.a. Bible and devotional), I felt me shoulders relax and my spirit wake up.  All that sneaking around was worth every minute.  I had been born anew for another day.  I felt like Nicodemus, a Jewish leader.

Nicodemus was a sneaky guy too.  His shoulders were tense from all his Sanhedrin work.  His spirit probably felt unsettled as he went about his work knowing that Jesus was near by, within his reach.  He knew Jesus was from God because there was no other explanation for the miracles he had heard about.  He certainly needed some time way from the people around him and the only way to get it was to sneak away, under the cover of darkness.  So he did.  The conversation that followed was mind boggling for Nicodemus. Jesus made perfect sense even though his words made no sense at all.

My conversation with Jesus at the coffee shop was mind boggling too.  It always is.  Usually Jesus’ words make perfect sense even though they don’t make any sense at all from my view.  They are words that stir my soul, stretch my faith and satisfy my spirit.  They empower me to experience another day and experience the moments I may have missed otherwise.  That is why I am like Nicodemus…I must be born anew day after day.

As the week went on, my tent people began following me to the sacred coffee shop.  One at a time, they heard about the experience and the place, so they came too.  At times there were two of us and other times there were five.  The other faces at the shop became familiar.  Strangers became friends.  A whole community of people were also sneaking away from their tents temporarily to find something their soul needed…community, coffee and Jesus.

Are you in need of some time away? Find a way and make it happen.  It is well worth all your efforts. Nicodemus and me will cheer you on!

From our Happy Tent to Yours,

Meredith Bell

Fairy Ring

Our tent recently learned about fairy rings. Natural fairy rings are rings of mushrooms that grow in a complete circle. The magical way they appear in a yard or in the woods gives these rings a mystical presence. They are known to be the place where pixie’s dance and they have been the focus of many folklore stories and songs.

I am not sure how we missed these magical rings during all the years’ fairies left gifts on our back porch night after night for one young person in our tent. Our fairies were magical too. Before bed, we would leave a small token (a piece of candy, a button, a note) and in the morning we would discover that the fairy left a flower, a rock or a perfect leaf covered in fairy dust! Magical! Now that we heard about the fairy rings…we are on a quest.

Creating an unexpected circle is also a fascinating part of the fairy rings. Every time they grow, they are in a perfect circle. The way they collectively find food beneath the ground makes them strong and difficult to remove. They make a statement and an impact where they live.

I wonder how long you have lived in your tent? We have been in ours for two years. During these two years, we have actively found ways to connect with neighbors, give back to our community, serve in the church (obviously… two pastors live in our tent!), impact a school, and donate to organizations. These are all of the visible ways we live where we have been planted.

The fairy rings make me wonder about the invisible ways we live where we are planted. The invisible ways are the things we do that no one else sees but God. In conversations, over a cup of coffee, or while we are at the grocery store, we make an impact in the lives of others.

Jesus is our model for serving others. He went from place to place, conversation to conversation and tent to tent actively transforming lives. We know about the visible ways he did this. But I wonder how many other ways he engaged people that we do not know about. How many other ways did he heal, love and save that may not recorded in our Bibles?

When we are available, connected to God and listening to the Holy Spirit as a family and individually, opportunities pop up all around us to love and serve others. We may even form circles in our communities where we do this work. And who knows, our circles may look magical to others while they make an impact where we live for Christ.

Whoever serves me must follow me. Wherever I am, there my servant will also be. My Father will honor whoever serves me. John 12:26

From our Happy Tent to Yours,

Meredith Bell

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