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,
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,
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.
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
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,
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
When I was growing up, Memorial Day weekend began our annual pilgrimage to the Lake House. My mother would pick us up on Friday (the last day of school) with the car packed to the brim. We would drive to the grocery store and buy more than enough food for our family of six. (“Lake food” was real junk food…Little Debbies, fruit roll-ups, moon-pies and more). For twenty minutes, we traveled from our town to the Lake House. That drive felt like a cleansing. For the next 3 months, we were free. Free from school, free from schedules, free from problems and responsibilities. The recitals were over. The last spelling test was history. Life was good. My wardrobe at the lake included swimsuits and a lifejacket. I remember even sleeping in my swimsuit on some nights.
More than anything, those months and years spent on the lake taught me that I am a part of nature. I am part of something bigger than myself. I spent many more hours outside than inside. Watching rain come over the lake let me know it was a good time to take a nap. Stepping on a sticker taught me to walk more carefully. Watching waves crash against my favorite rocks showed me that somethings in life never stop. They were there before I was born and they will be there afterwards. Watching the stars twinkle outside my bedroom from my bunk bed gave me deep peace. I was connected to the world around me.
So many of our problems these days come from the idea that we are not connected to anyone or anything. We feel autonomous. Even more, we feel that the purpose of the world is to serve us. This is a slippery slope to travel. Before too long our consumerism creates more waste than our Earth can handle. Our schedules are unachievable and cause more stress in ourselves and our families. Our relationship with our spiritual lives is strained simply because it is difficult to hear God speak when our life is so busy and loud. Maybe it is time to remember who we are in relationship to nature. Nature has the ability to teach us just how connected we are to creation. In fact, each one of us is a little creation made to care for the Earth around us.
Memorial Day weekend is a great time to remember. We remember those who gave their lives for us so that we may live out our days in freedom. We remember how precious life is. We remember that we are a part of something bigger than ourselves. It is also a great time to stop all the hustle and bustle of our lives and decide how we want to spend our summer days. Do we want them filled with memories or schedules? Do we plan to stay in the house or get outside? Are there people we want to connect with because we have time to do it?
Imagine packing up your car for your summer pilgrimage (“Lake food” included!!). Who’s going with you and where are you going? What needs to be on your itinerary so that you have time with nature and with God? How can you make this summer less about you and more about nature? Let’s pack up the car, the backpacks, the water bottles and get outdoors. Even a walk around your neighborhood is a big step in the right direction. And if you need a little reminder about how connected we are to God’s creation and nature, take a look at this talk by Louie Giglio. It’s amazing!
There is one God, the Father,
by whom all things were created,
and for whom we live.
And there is one Lord, Jesus Christ,
through whom all things were created,
and through whom we live. 1 Corinthians 8:6
Happy Memorial Day!