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

Firsts and Lasts

Social media lately is flooded with firsts and lasts.  There are first communions, first dances, first cars, first steps, first solid foods.  There are last recitals, last awards ceremony, last graduations, last day of school, last day to pack school lunches (Can I get an Amen?).  It would be difficult not to notice all the smiling faces in the pictures or the energy in our communities.  There have even been some first birthdays as new babies bounce into the world and last hugs and kisses as love ones spend their last days on earth.

Joseph Campbell once wrote, “We must let go of the life we have planned, so as to accept the one that is waiting for us.”  Whether you are experiencing a first or a last this month, you are probably leaving one life and headed into a new one.  You are leaving one normal and creating a new one.  And if you are not experiencing this yourself, simply take a look to your left and your right, you will see someone who is.  As we change from one life into the next, here are some ways to help you transition, recenter, stop, or become more aware of God’s presence:

  • Sit in your God space and listen.  Remember that the creator of the universe (your creator) is available.  Any time.  Any place.  If you have a God space in your house or office…sit in it.  Focus on one thing that never changes…God’s love for you!
  • Make a lunch date with a friend.  Spiritual friends are the best!  They listen, understand, advise, support and follow up.  They often know what you need before you know what you need.  A lunch date will provide you with a pause between all the things you have to get done before you go to bed.  Everyone can use a pause now and then.
  • Plan a selfie day with just you and things you love.  Watch a movie at 10am with popcorn and a coke.  See two movies if you have time.  Pull out your music collection and jam to you favorites.  Take a nap in the middle of the day without you cell phone in the same room.  Read a book just because.  What brings your joy? Do it!
  • Name your emotion(s). Mad, sad, angry, fearful or tender.  All emotions fall under one of these top five. Once you know your emotion, you are more able to experience it and control it before it controls you. Pretending that you are not deeply experiencing one of these emotions is like pretending that nothing is changing.  Pretending is exhausting.
  • Plan a trip.  It always helps to experience a change of scenery whether it is a day trip or a vacation.  Just having one on the calendar is life giving!  Shop in a new store.  Visit museums in your community or close by. Reconnect with a family member or old friend and drive to their town to simply spend time together.  Exploring nature in small parks or big parks like the Grand Canyon can certainly be fun! And there is always camping!!
  • Take a deep breath.  Sometimes when I am with my mom and I take a deep breath, she says, “Is that your first breath of the day?”  Sometimes you just need to take a breath and a step, a breath and a step.  Find a pace that allows your soul to catch up with your body!
  • Hug your family. A one-minute hug always does the trick.  (Set a timer.) One-minute to connect.  One-minute to freeze time and capture the moment.  One-minute of peace in the midst of chaos.  Your family is experiencing many firsts and lasts together.  Hugs, notes, texts, and hand-holding are all encouraged in the middle of transitions.

While you (or someone you know) is experiencing firsts and lasts this month, remember one thing.  Jesus is the “author and finisher” of our faith (Hebrews 12:2).  “Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made” (John 1:3).  Jesus is the Alpha and Omega, the first and the last.  When we see all of life through Christ eyes, we see the whole picture.  There are many firsts and lasts that we experience, but in the middle we experience a full, abundant life.  That is why Jesus came to this earth and why we have faith in Christ.

Keep posting those precious pictures of your abundant life, the highs and the lows.  Each day and each experience serves as a reminder that we are all in this together within the loving arms of Jesus.  And Jesus is ready to give us more of an abundant life!

From our Happy Tent to Yours,

Meredith Bell

On the Inside

Almost nine years ago I became a mother again.  After rushing to the hospital, checking and settling in, I remember a text from my spiritual director.  She said, “Never again will you share the same heart beat or be completely spiritually connected with your daughter as you are now.” Time stopped when I read those words and all the activity in the hospital room stopped.  I turned my attention to what was happening on the inside instead of the activity on the outside.

A baby changes everything, right?  And everyone!  Our baby girl took center stage in our lives. Bottles, diapers, toys, little pink socks, more toys, car seats, dresses, strollers, and more toys all moved in with her. She still changes everything.  Except today life is filled with school, gymnastics, toys, friends, sleep-overs, piano recitals, dance recitals, more toys and theater.  (Over scheduled…I know!)

In the midst of all this (especially in the ridiculously-overly-busy month of May), I can’t help but remember that text.  It still helps me to turn my attention to what is happening on the inside, instead of the activity on the outside.  I may no longer share a heartbeat with my baby, but I know her heart well.  We are like old friends that have moved away from each other.  When we meet again, we simply pick up where we left off.  Because I know her well, it is my job to be in-tune with what is happening on the inside in the midst of the activity on the outside.  It is my job to make room for life giving moments, both personally and spiritually.

I know this, because this is how I experience God.  In my life that is often ridiculously-overly-busy, I depend on God to show me what is going on inside, instead of the activity outside both in myself and others.  I depend on God to give me peace in chaos, hope in darkness and love.  Because God shares a heart with me (and you), God shows up and gives me spiritual moments like a beautiful moon, the perfect verse from the Bible for the day, and of course encouraging words from my own mom.

Remember the story in Mark 10, when people were bringing children to Jesus so that he would bless them?The disciples scolded the children and Jesus scolded the disciples.  He even grew angry and said, “Allow the children to come to me. Don’t forbid them, because God’s kingdom belongs to people like these children.  I assure you that whoever doesn’t welcome God’s kingdom like a child will never enter it.” Then he hugged the children and blessed them.

We are called to do the same.  We are called to create ways for children (of all ages) to have access to Jesus on the inside in the midst of the activity on the outside.  Once a connection is made with Jesus, never again will we want to stand in its way.

From our Happy Tents to yours,

Meredith Bell

Follow Your Energy

You never know when you will hear something that makes your heart smile.  I was sitting in an emergency room with a college student and visiting with the doctor.  The three of us were enjoying a conversation and then the doctor smiled and said, “Follow your energy…right?” My heart skipped a beat and I know it would have registered on an EKG machine if I was the patient.  My heart simply smiled…following your energy just makes sense.

Think about children for a minute, they simply follow their energy.  I clearly remember one Easter season when my toddler demanded that I buy some Easter candy as we were checking out of the store.  She won.  I lost.  As I was unpacking the groceries at home, she strolled into the kitchen with her Halloween basket full of Easter candy. (She still makes my heart smile.)  Before I knew it, we were going door to door and giving our neighbors chocolate Easter bunnies and saying happy Easter.  They were as surprised as I was when they opened their front doors.  She followed her energy.  All our hearts smiled.

Think about young adults (and I guess all adults for that matter) for a minute.  They seem to have more questions than answers about what major to declare, what job to pursue, who to date or what choice to make.  I clearly remember surprising my friend (who became my husband) with a cup of coffee at work one night when we were in college.  Our conversation began with a recap of our day and we shared the highlights with each other.  By the time our rather short visit ended, we had decided to get married!  Our hearts smiled!  Follow your energy!

Think about Jesus for a minute.  Remember the story of the brave woman who simply reached out and touched Jesus’ robe as he passed by and she was healed? She followed her energy and it led her to Jesus. At that very moment, Jesus recognized that power had gone out from him.  Their energy collided and a miracle happened.  Follow your energy…a miracle might be waiting!

When we are honest with ourselves, we can identify that “thing” that gives us energy in life.  That project.  That person.  That dream.  That idea.  That place.  Maybe it is time to simply follow your energy to where it leads you.  It may not make perfect sense right now, but you know you are on the right path when your heart smiles.

Now we see a reflection in a mirror; then we will see face-to-face. Now I know partially, but then I will know completely in the same way that I have been completely known.  1 Corinthians 13:12

From our Happy Tent to yours,

Meredith Bell

 

Legends

Difficult times create great legends.  People that push through. People that overcome.  People that do the impossible.  We all know of big legends like Abraham Lincoln, Harriet Tubman and Martin Luther King.  There are big legends in the faith story like Moses, Ruth and Paul the Apostle.  There are also big legends in our families.  One of our legends is Ben Andrews (my grandfather).

Ben was born in Archer City, Texas in 1900.  His legend moment came during the Great Depression.  The Depression changed his family and in 1924 he decided the look for work in California.  As children, we were always told about his journey to California from Texas.  He made the trip in a Model T Ford.  While driving over the desert sand, he drove over railroad cross-ties.  Bump. Bump. Bump.  At the end of the day, he would simply make camp beside his car and sleep in the open.  He successfully made it to Los Angeles, California, found a job, met Will Rogers and later returned to Texas.  Ben lived to be 101.  He was a legend in many ways.

Legends inspire us by their stories, perseverance, messages and examples.  Their words cut through the noise of life and connect with something deep within each of us.  As their story is told from person to person and generation to generation, they become bigger and better.

Within each of our families there are people who are legends.  We hear their stories when we are in diapers and all the years following.  We find ourselves telling others about our family legends at dinner parties or over lunch.  Their stories are a part of our story because we stand on their shoulders and continue into the future.

This weekend one of our daughters will be making a rite of passage.  She will be publicly choosing to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ and make His story a part of her story.  Even though she has been told about Ben Andrews (and other family legends) since she was in diapers, she has also been told about Jesus Christ. The name above all names.

As time passes and generations come and go, the one legend that we cannot fail to pass on to our families is Jesus Christ. We know that sometimes life gives us our own “Great Depression” event.  In those seasons, we need our faith in Jesus Christ to help us travel from home, across the desert and to new opportunities.  Our faith in Jesus Christ empowers and equips us with all that we need to survive the unexpected events in life. And when we are camping outside under the stars on our journey, we can also appreciate how we are loved by the Creator of the universe.

This weekend,  share some of your family legend stories with your family and friends.  And share your family’s faith story…it will only grow stronger.

I will give you as many descendants as the stars in the sky, and I will give your descendants all of these lands. All of the nations of the earth will be blessed because of your descendants.  Genesis 26:4

From our Happy Tent to yours,

Meredith Bell

Doing Some Good

Happy Easter Eve! A day filled with mystery in the tomb and excitement in our hearts.  We know something is coming and we are anxious to roll back that huge stone.  There is a lot of energy in our home this weekend and some extra time to be home.  We are simply waiting for Easter morning.

But how do we wait? By doing some good!

In our tent, we have been exploring ways to do some good.  Here is our list.  We hope it inspires you to do some good.  We thought of ways we might make Jesus smile.

Families Doing Some Good List

  • Make This Weekend About Family

We had to work at it, but we stepped out of all our extracurricular activities this weekend.  Does it make us less committed or passionate about our activities…NO. It simply says, “During this Christian Super Bowl weekend…the game above all games, the win over all wins…we are going to celebrate God’s team, together!  We will catch back up with the other teams and groups after the RESURRECTION!”

We just signed up for this cool idea.  Check it out!  SoCe Life is a non-profit organization that researches, practices and teaches about good neighboring.  They have so many great ideas about neighboring.  We are excited to get started.

  • Make Something Sweet

We are soooo excited to end our Lenten fast from SUGAR. And so we are diving into sweetness this weekend.  One of our favorite sweets to make on Easter Eve is Easter Story Cookies.  Ingredients are simple. Spiritual lesson is powerful.  The cookies on Easter morning are magical.

  • Spread Some Joy

We got dirty today planting flowers in little clay pots.  It was a lot of fun.  Then we took these little pots around town and delivered them to un-expecting friends and neighbors.  We spread some joy and we experienced some joy.  While you are waiting around on Easter Eve…think of ways you can spread joy.

  • Get Outside, Together

Bikes, scooters, roller blades, tennis rackets, fishing poles, Kubb (our all time favorite family game), camping gear and so much more live in our garage.  We walk past it most days…but why not get outside this weekend together and make some memories.  Be spontaneous and adventurous.

At the center of the Christian life stands Jesus.  Jesus who teaches, guides, strengthens and inspires us to be who God created us to be as individuals and as families.  During this Easter weekend, let’s love on each other and others a little extra by doing some good.  It will make this weekend a little sweeter and happier.

For you have been called to live in freedom, my brothers and sisters. But don’t use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature. Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love. Galatians 5:13

Happy Easter from our Happy Tent to yours,

Meredith Bell

Pockets of Peace

Do you ever notice how God shows up in the grocery store?  It happens to me often.  On the days when I only have a ten-minute-window to buy a grocery cart full of food, I meet someone (God) in the grocery store. These encounters always catch me off guard.   Usually I have my head down and my hair pulled back with an intentional look on my face that says…”Get out of my way…I’m on on an impossible mission once again.”  I must have this look down because most people stay clear.

But the other day, I had a God encounter.  I met another mom on a mission.  She has five children.  I have two.  Both our husbands are pastors.  She was on her mission with her own grocery cart and it felt as though our carts simply collided.  Then we looked up.  We saw each other.  Before we even spoke, we were communicating.  Compassion.  Encouragement.  Love.  Understanding.  These feeling were all floating between us. We saw our tired selves in each other.  We saw our determination in each other.  We saw God in each other. When we finally found our words we skipped pleasantries.  We spoke directly into our worlds as working women, moms, and wives.  “How did we over-schedule our family again?”  “How are we going to get everything done for today and tomorrow?”  “Where is the balance that keeps alluding us?” “Does balance even exist?” With a smile of encouragement and tired eyes, we went our separate ways.

This encounter challenged me greatly regarding balance.  It seems like we desire balance in our lives.  We talk about it and read about it.  In my mind a balanced day is a cup-of-coffee, devotional-reading, lunches-packed, hugs-and-kisses, laundry-done, dinner-on-the-table, and bedtime-story kind of day.  But most of the time we experience a where-are-my-shoes, hurry-to-school, grocery-sprint, cereal-for-dinner, study-spelling-words-in-the-bathtub, fall-into-bed kind of day.

God taught me something about balance in the grocery store.  In order to find peace in the midst of our schedule storms we first need to be honest.  Peace will not just happen and our schedules are not going to get much better.  We are hard working Americans after all!  BUT we need to be intentional about creating pockets of peace and balance within our days.  Little pockets of peace that give us space to catch our breath and connect with God.  Little pockets of peace that empower us to keep going.  In my life, they look like a phone call to my mom, a back porch conversation at the end of the day, a little love note tucked in a lunch box, fifteen minutes in my prayer closet, a quick devotional read from a book in my purse, a cup of hot tea, a quick run, a one-minute-hug, reading two chapters in a book, a thirty minute nap before pick-up, or a phone call to a friend.  I don’t do all of them every day, but they are all in my “I need some peace emergency kit!” All of these little pockets of peace add up at the end of the day and they breathe new life back into my self-imposed-high-expectation-chaotic-schedule.

Even Jesus stepped away to speak to his Father.  Scripture tells us that Jesus would remove himself from the crowds for a little while even though they would follow him and come looking for him.  He, of all people, had an over-packed schedule during his ministry, but he knew he could serve best by staying connected to the Creator.

As we head into the end of spring and into the summer, let’s be intentional about carving out pockets of peace in our days for ourselves and our families.  They will fill us, calm us and empower us to keep going as people who love God and love others.

Be still, and know that I am God! Psalm 46:10

From our Happy Tent to yours,

Meredith Bell

Act Of Obedience

I know I am in trouble when I hear God speaking about obedience. God’s knows that I can be a stubborn person. When it comes to ignoring God, you can find my name next to Biblical professionals like Jonah who ran the other way and Moses who quickly asked if Aaron could be the hero instead of Moses. Like the professionals, I tend to believe that my plans are better than God’s plans. Or my calendar reflects that I am too busy for God.

This week, God’s message has been about obedience. The word just keeps popping up. I am reading The Circle Maker by Mark Batterson and chapter seven talks about obedience. A close friend recently told me to embrace a situation…obedience. We received our tax documents from the CPA today…we will obediently (and painfully) pay our taxes another year. But the clearest message came from Rabbi Marty.

Rabbi Marty is a Messianic Jew. I gave him a call recently to invite him to host a Passover Seder meal for a college ministry. Near the beginning of the conversation he said, “Tell me the perfect day and the perfect time that you want this meal to happen?” When I told him, he quickly responded by saying, “I’ll be there.” No questions, no negotiations. Just a solid yes. When I thanked him for driving an hour to be with us and he said, “No need to thank me. I serve God, I do not serve you.” This statement was factual, clear and confident.

Rabbi Marty is an example of how obedience leads to confidence. Sometimes God asks us to do something we just don’t want to do. But when we go, out of obedience, we have confidence that God goes with us. Jonah walked into Nineveh with confidence. Moses walked up to Pharaoh with confidence. Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane met the soldiers with confidence. They all knew that they served God and they were obedient to God’s call on their lives.

During this season of personal reflection, is God asking you to be obedient? Are you embracing the opportunity or resisting it? Why?

 Christ humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death,
 even death on a cross.  Philippians 2:8

From our happy obedient tent to yours,

Meredith Bell

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