The Mantle

Past the kitchen and unmade beds, I discovered (felt) the meaning of the mantle.  It seems that more life lessons happen for me when the dishes are in the sink and the laundry needs to be folded. Ordinary moments.  Because my responsibilities for the day were more than I wanted to handle, I retreated to my prayer closet. I didn’t have much to say.  I just wanted to sit for a moment.

Then I saw a picture of an old friend.  It was taped to a wall in my quiet place.  My old friend, long ago, passed a mantle on to me.  In his kitchen (with dishes in the sink), he reminded me of all the times we had shared together in life.  All the good conversations we enjoyed about God, faith, mystery and journaling.  Then he said, “It’s time for you to take the mantle. I’m too old and too tired.” With a smile and tears rolling down my face, I agreed to receive his gift and commission.

The mantle is a symbolic term for passing on leadership from one person to another.  Elisha and Elijah (the great prophets of the Old Testament) set the bar for the mantle.

Elisha picked up the mantle of Elijah that had fallen from him, and went back and stood on the bank of the Jordan. He took the mantle of Elijah that had fallen from him, and struck the water, saying, “Where is the Lord, the God of Elijah?” When he had struck the water, the water was parted to the one side and to the other, and Elisha went over. Kings 2:13-14

I believe that we may be wearing more than one mantle at a time.  There are many callings on our lives. Friend, sister, father, teacher, brother, mother, child, mentor, employee, employer, Christian, leader, advocate.  I have come to understand there are different phases of the mantle that are always active.

Training Up 

Everyday training takes place.  It may feel like carpool, dinner, homework and chaos, but it is really a training ground for the next mantle team.  We train up children and teach them about the spiritual life.  We teach about Elisha and Elijah and all the other Holy stories.  We guide, correct and encourage.  We love constantly.  We pray, pray, pray that all these moments will grow into another beautiful light for Christ in this world.

Living It

The weight of it can truly be felt.  The constant call to lead, produce, solve and understand. It calls for creativity and availability.  We cast visions.  We build teams.  We faithfully live out our daily lives in a way that shows respect for the mantle we carry and an understanding that we carry it for a small fragment of time.  We pray, pray, pray that our fragment honors and pleases God.

Passing it On

With eyes that see beyond the present moment, we look for who is next.  Through a relationship, we prepare the next one.  With our words, we share our story.  Our successes and mistakes.  We bless the them.  And we send them out into the world as they cross from one side to the next.  We pray, pray, pray for wisdom and joy for the new one(s).

This mantle business is guided and sustained by the Holy Spirit.  I wonder where you are in this Holy business? Where can you encourage those in other stages?

 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper,[a] to be with you forever. John 15:16

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

 

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

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

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

 

Shake Your Pickles

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,

Meredith Bell

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.

Observation Deck

A few years ago, we celebrated a family birthday in the “Big Ball” in Dallas (also known as Reunion Tower by people over 15-years-old). The night was memorable. What I remember the most was my mother’s experience on the observation deck. From that place in the tower, you can see the site where John F. Kennedy was assassinated. She stood there for a long time just looking at the street and the site where he was shot on her birthday so many years before. She was able to see the whole picture; where it happened, the shape and height of the buildings and the road that the driver took to Parkland Hospital. Just observing the site with her own eyes allowed her to see the whole experience differently.

Recently I have been on my own observation deck. I decided to take a step back from my life, work, my chores and myself to just observe all of it. My step back is more abstract than literal. I am still living in the busyness of life, but I am seeing it differently. I have noticed the simplicity that exists around me that I often miss. I actually saw the people in my life that make life easier for me such as the grocery workers, my child’s teacher and friends. The sunsets and sunrises that come every day are breathtaking. I discovered a sacred time at the end of the day as my older daughter finishes her homework before bed. While she works, we just visit about the events of our day. I have been reminded of the power of positivity. Positive words can change or redirect any conversation into something meaningful and life giving. I have become more relaxed about watching the clock and more open to unexpected meetings with friends. My observation deck has simply shown me things that I needed to see.

I believe that we have a gift of making life more complicated than God ever intended life to be lived. So much of our stress comes from ourselves. We are often unable to say “no” to things we do not need to do and “yes” to things God is calling us to do. The result is too much time spent on too many things. Life becomes shallow instead of deep and meaningful.

I invite you to walk out onto your own observation deck this week. Spend some time to simply observe life around you. What do you see? What do you say? What is going on in your family?  What is God doing around you? This little practice is sure to reveal something new.

Open my eyes to see wonderful things in your Word. Psalm 119:18

Meredith Bell

Use It or Loose It

About five months ago I started running again. I didn’t think much about it. I just put on my tennis shoes one morning and ran for a while. It felt right. Since I was about to go over-the-hill in age, my body simply decided to USE IT OR LOOSE IT.

An article in the New York Post from 2014 showed the results of a study about gift cards. Since 2008 there is over 44 billion dollars left on unused gift cards. I am sure it is even higher now, three years later. That is a lot of USE IT OR LOOSE IT money hiding in our junk drawers, wallets and cars.

Living a life of faith may also be a USE IT OR LOOSE IT process. (Can we loose faith?…that would be a good conversation to have with someone this weekend.) When we engage ourselves in spiritual practices we engage our faith. It grows. It feels right. It awakens us to something more. We discover that we are living in the flow of the Holy Spirit. When we miss opportunities to experience our faith, it may feel dormant and the result is restlessness in our souls.

So here are some USE IT practices that help us in our tent and lives…maybe they will help you too. And we would love to hear what is working for you.

  • Turn Up The Music: It is easier to wake up in the morning when some good music is inviting you to open your eyes and see the beauty of a new day.  Inspiring music in the car between appointments can also give you a spiritual break.
  • Engage Your Brain: Read something that teaches you something new about God, faith, salvation, Christ, healthy habits, church or scripture. Sit in on a theology lecture. Visit with your pastor about the sermon during the week. Ask your friends what they are reading.  Check out Perkins School of Laity Week
  • Get Outside: 80 degrees in January sounds crazy, unless it is the perfect temperature for swinging in your favorite swing or taking a walk. Go enjoy some vitamin D!
  • Discover Spiritual Practices: There are so many spiritual practices to explore. God is easy to be with through practices. Discover them and use them as a family and individually.  Here is my favorite book for spiritual disciplines.

There is a lot of wisdom in USE IT OR LOOSE IT thinking. When we apply it to our faith lives, we may discover some important parts of our faith have been hiding deep in our lives (like our junk drawers). It’s a good weekend to connect to your spiritual self…that part of you is life giving!

I pray that Christ will live in your hearts by faith and that your life will be strong in love and be built on love.  Ephesians 3:17

From our Happy Tent to Yours,

Meredith Bell

Mr. Charlie

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,

Meredith Bell

Family Project #674: Bunnies

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!!

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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

Meredith Bell

P.S.  Bunnies for sale!!!

 

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