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,
How many times a day do you shake a jar of pickles in your fridge. Around our house, it is a new activity. It began by receiving a jar of pickles from a friend who instructed us to shake the jar at least twice a day for a week to help season the pickles. (The jar contains a secret seasoning…or at least that is what he said.) We know how to follow directions so we have been shaking the pickles, daily.
No matter what is going on in our house, we shake the pickles. During homework, we shake the pickles. While cooking dinner, we shake the pickles. In the morning while drinking coffee, we shake the pickles. We have embraced the process and we are looking forward to eating the pickles at the end of the week.
God invites us to do a lot of things in life. We are called to hang out with God in prayer during the day. We are called to play God-spy by keeping our eyes open for God at work around us. We are called to “be” more and “do” less so that our religion makes more sense. But above all, we are encouraged to embrace the experiences around us. If we are too focused on the past, we miss it. If we are too worried about the future, we miss it. Only when we can embrace the moment (and shake the pickles) do we really catch a glimpse of what Jesus meant when he said, “I have come so that you may life to it’s fullest.”
Our pickles keep us present in the moment and they make us laugh. Every time someone opens the fridge door and shake the pickles, we all laugh. This silly exercise creates a moment where we forget our stress, phones, chores and challenges and we just shake the pickles. When they are placed back in the fridge and the door is closed, all our problems do not seem as challenging.
From our Happy Tent to Yours,
P.S. Delicious pickle recipe: Buy a large jar of sliced pickles (ours are Hamburger Dill Chips made with sea salt from HEB). Add one package of powder Ranch dip. Shake your pickles for a week. Store in the fridge.
P.S.S. The season of Lent begins next week. If you need a devotional guide, order your copy of Have Mercy on Me. All proceeds will be donated to Habitat for Humanity.
Don’t you love those moments when everything falls into place? Sometimes it’s when you are hosting a dinner party and new friendships form. Sometimes it’s when you finish the last chore in the yard and it just looks beautiful. Sometimes it is when someone simply says “thank you” after noticing your small act of kindness. There are those spiritual moments too when it feels like God is whispering “peace be still” right into your soul. They to take your breath away. Sometimes it is during a beautiful sunset after a long and stressful day. Sometimes it is when the person you love most holds you just right. Sometimes it is in the middle of worship when you feel as though God is speaking directly to you.
This Christmas, we are invited to join Mary and Joseph once again for their “manger moment.” Their moment when everything they had experienced for the past nine months falls into place. Their moment when their hearts are so filled with joy. Their moment when the angels are above them, the shepherds are running to them and the stars are surrounding them. And once again, they invite us to make their “manger moment” our moment, too.
This Christmas weekend, we hope that your days are filled with “manger moments” when everything just falls into place and God fills your heart. Enjoy the people you love. Enjoy unwrapping gifts and giving them. Enjoy delicious treats. Take notice of God’s presence. Take notice of the peace. Take notice of tiny glimpses into eternal life. Experience as many “manger moments” as you can for it is these moments that we come back to when the pressures of life push in on us.
They hurried to the village and found Mary and Joseph. And there was the baby, lying in the manger. Luke 2:16
Merry Christmas from the Bells,
Meredith and Steven
A few weeks ago, I was sitting in church with my daughters. One on each side. During the beginning of the service, I noticed a man sitting by himself on the other side of the church. It was Mr. Charlie. His precious wife had died a few months before in the spring. I whispered to my daughters that we were going to move during the first song and sit with Mr. Charlie. We have been sitting with him in church every Sunday since then. Each Sunday we sing songs together, pray together and hear God’s word as it is read over us. An “Amen” is shouted out now and then. We have a great time worshipping God together.
Today, before I left to have lunch with my daughters at school. I picked up the phone and called Mr. Charlie. I invited him to join us for lunch at school. Twenty minutes later we were having a good time driving to pick up lunch before we arrived at the school. The smile on my daughter’s faces when they saw Mr. Charlie was priceless. Hugs were exchanged and we had a great time right in the middle of the noisy and busy cafeteria.
Right in the middle of our noisy, busy lives there are people and moments that God blesses. There are people that God needs us to bless. There are moments that God does not want us to miss. When we experience God’s people and God’s moments, life makes sense. The Kingdom of God is easy to see all around us.
Mr. Charlie talks and talks about how we are a blessing to him and how we are an answer to his prayers. My response is often that it is easy to be an answer to someone’s prayer when you love them. But what he doesn’t know is that he is a blessing to us as well. An answer to our prayers.
For 90 years, Mr. Charlie has lived on this earth as a faithful follower of Christ. He has served his country, enjoyed marriage, raised children, made friends, invested in his community, lived in different towns, completed a successful career and more. Mr. Charlie is an answer to our prayers. He is full of wisdom. His faith is alive and easy to see. He laughs easily. He is just the kind of friend we need in our busy and noisy lives. He reminds us that life is good and God is great.
In your busy and noisy lives today, I hope God’s sends you someone to share this life with where you are an answer to their prayers and they are an answer to your prayers. Keep your eyes open, they are all around. If you already have that someone, give them a call and take them to lunch. Food tastes better when a friend and God are at the table.
A body is made up of many parts, and each of them has its own use. That’s how it is with us. There are many of us, but we each are part of the body of Christ, as well as part of one another. Romans 12:4-5
From our Happy 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!!!
“For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1).
Dr. Paula Bloom has written, “How much time have you spent wondering, or even worrying, what others think of you? What else could you be doing with that mental energy and space? Focusing on your work. Playing with your kids. Cleaning up the spare bedroom. Writing that book you’ve been talking about for years?” I think her questions are brilliant, and definitely something we need to seriously consider (not only for ourselves, but also for our children). Because the truth is, we spend an incredible amount of time and energy worrying about the opinions that others have of us.
President Abraham Lincoln once stated, “America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.” Not only is this true of our nation, but also of our own lives as individuals. I remember a time in my ministry when I was so concerned about the kind of pastor I thought other people expected me to be. I had to dress a certain way. I had to wear my hair a certain way (these days it would be nice to have a little hair!). I had to say and do the things a good pastor was supposed to say and do. This mindset towards my life and calling became quite debilitating and truly made me numb. To be honest, it made me bitter and caused me to hate my vocation. Pastoring had become a job, and it was no job I wanted. The truth of the matter, however, was that no one else imposed these unrealistic expectations upon me – I did it to myself! Thank goodness I was able to move from that dark place into the light, and have since become the kind of pastor that only Steven Bell can be. What freedom! What joy! Pastoring is no longer a job for me, but something I wake up each morning excited and privileged to do. But how many of us try to fit into a mold that isn’t suited for us as moms, dads, daughters, sons, wives, husbands, friends, neighbors, workers, church-goers, etc.? I greatly appreciate the words Fracesca Battistelli includes in her song, “Free to Be Me”:
‘Cause I got a couple dents in my Fender
Got a couple rips in my jeans
Try to fit the pieces together
But perfection is my enemy
And on my own, I’m so clumsy
But on Your shoulders I can see
I’m free to be me
We all have a few dents in our fenders and some rips in our jeans, but we are all also unique. Although we must live responsibly, it behooves each of us to be true to our gifts, our callings, our talents, our personalities, and ourselves. We’re all different, and we need each other. That being the case, here are a few thoughts on how to stop worrying so much about what other people think of us:
- Picture a life without this burden. I think you’ll quickly see that it is a life of freedom.
- Believe that people are basically good.
- Believe also that, regardless of what you do or who you are, people will do/think whatever they want to do/think.
- Your imagination is too precious to waste, so stop creating imagined scenarios in your mind.
- Come to the understanding that you will never be able to please everyone. Dr. Seuss commented, “Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.”
- Focus on “what is” rather than “what might be.”
- Keep first things first.
- Surround yourself with loving people (not just people who will agree with you, but those who will love you whether they agree or disagree with you).
- Be you. There is only one of you in the entire world!
- Record your accomplishments.
- Establish boundaries, and just say “No.”
- Get grounded (hit the pause button if you need to and clear your mind).
- Never forget how valuable you are.
Perhaps you’ve heard the story of the colorless tiger. Once upon a time, there was a colorless tiger – he was completely black and white. His lack of color made him so famous that the world’s greatest painters came to the zoo to try and paint some color on him. But their paint would never stay on the colorless tiger. Then along came a quite eccentric painter. He was an odd fellow who traveled about, happily painting with his brush. To be more accurate – he moved his brush as though he was painting, but he never had any paint on his brush. He didn’t have a canvas or paper either – he simply painted the air! So everyone thought it was quite funny when the eccentric painter said that he would be the one to paint the colorless tiger. When entering the colorless tiger’s cage, the eccentric painter began whispering in the animal’s ear, and moving his dry brush up and down the colorless tiger’s fur. Quite shockingly, and to everyone’s surprise, the colorless tiger’s coat was not colorless anymore – every spot the eccentric painter touched with his dry paint brush became vivid with color. The (seemingly not-so-eccentric anymore) painter continued whispering to the tiger, and painting, until the animal had become a magnificently colorful tiger. Immediately, people began asking the painter about his secret painting technique. He shared with them that his brush could only be used for painting real life, and to do that he needed no paint. And while he painted the tiger, he kept whispering this phrase in the tiger’s ear: “In a few days you will be free again – just wait!” Seeing how sad the tiger had been in his captivity, and how joyful the tiger now seemed at the prospect of freedom, the zoo keepers transported him to the jungle and set him free, where he would never again lose his color. This is a picture of what true freedom does to us. It gives us back our color.
Rosa Parks, also known as “the mother of the freedom movement,” resisted bus segregation. She made a decisive choice to be proud of who God created her to be. She later stated, “I would like to be remembered as a person who wanted to be free… so other people would be also free.” So this July, after we’ve popped all our firecrackers, after we’ve eaten enough hotdogs to make Oscar Mayer consider retirement, and after we’ve swam so much our fingers look old and wrinkly; might we be grateful. As a person, I am grateful for men and women like Rosa Parks – people who remind me to be me. As an American, I am grateful for our men and women in uniform who serve at home and abroad for the sake of freedom (those living, and those who paid the ultimate sacrifice for our liberties). Might we be mindful of Ronald Reagan’s words, “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same.” As a Christian and a pastor, I am grateful for the sacrifice Jesus made on the cross, and how he reminds us, “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36). The question has been asked, “How come there’re no Knock Knock jokes about America?” The answer is, “Because freedom rings.” I hope your life rings with freedom – not only during the month of July, but that each and every day of your life will be an Independence Day.
Dr. Steven Bell
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 are on our way to celebrate a wedding in Louisiana. Before we left the house, we ordered the wedding gift online. I sat down to order it. There were so many choices. I needed a second opinion, so I invited Dr. Bell to join me. He didn’t know either.
What do you get a new married couple for a gift to celebrate their new marriage? Do you give them the fancy trashcan they registered for in hopes that all the hurtful words they throw at each other after a long week just fall into the trashcan? Do you give them a knife set in hopes that they will help each other slice out unhelpful habits? Or do you give them new towels so that they can feel warm and loved in their new marriage. What about a new set of pots and pans so they can create memories together around their kitchen table? Or do you buy them a Keurig so they can make a fast cup of coffee and run out the door? Or do you buy a traditional coffee maker just in case they have time to sit down together before their day starts. Maybe you buy them a Bundt pan to remind them that even the bumpy times can be sweet?
What we really want to give them is our blessing and support for their new life together. We want them to know that this new journey is more about letting go than getting more. It’s about grace. It’s about seeing love in the simple things like holding hands, doing laundry and tucking children in bed. It’s about staying connected through the years. What we really want to tell them is that marriage is an amazing journey together. We are here if they need us.
We settled on buying them a hand mixer and a note from Dr. Bell that said, “Congratulations! We hope you like your mixer and make lots of cakes. My favorite cake is a yellow cake with chocolate icing. Meredith’s is a white cake with white icing.” How poetic! (He said his friend will think it’s funny!)
What new household gift do you need in your home this week to help your “tent” relationships? I think we may get a blender soon, just to mix things up a bit!
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. Now faith, hope, and love remain—these three things—and the greatest of these is love. I Corinthians 13: 12-13
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. That 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!
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