Free To Be Me

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

Summer: A Time with Nature

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!

Meredith Bell

A Wedding Gift

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!


Meredith Bell

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

It’s Fine!

We have two elementary school children who live in our tent.  If you were a fly on our wall in the mornings between 6:30am to 7:40am, Monday through Friday, you would be entertained. It is chaotic.  We are looking for shoes, finishing homework, finding clothes, brushing hair (lots of hair), eating the most important meal of the day, emptying lunch boxes, filling lunch boxes, taking allergy medicine, still looking for shoes and more while the two adults in the house are just trying to drink a cup of coffee.  Doing all of this one handed is enough entertainment for anyone.

The other morning when we finally made it to the car and one of our children spilled water on her skirt.  A scream came from the backseat.  Another loud noise came from the front seat in response because the precious coffee was almost spilled.  “What is wrong?” said the driver.  “I spilled water all over my skirt,” said the back seat. “Don’t worry, you are fine,” said the driver.  “I AM NOT FINE! I AM NOT FINE AT ALL,” said the back seat.  Then the tears erupted from her tiny tear ducts and rolled down her tiny, cute cheeks.  But the car drove on.

Lent is a great time to stop ignoring all those things that are “not fine” in our lives.  We like to pretend that things are fine as we try to hide the elephant (problem) in our lives by simply throwing an area rug over it.  Or we tell ourselves that things are fine, but if anyone else looked at the same problem they would say we are anything but fine.  We probably passed fine a long time ago and drove on.

Reality is a balance between all that is good and all that is bad.  If we focus on one or the other too much, we are not living in reality.  We need to have a balance between the two.  If we pretend all is good in our lives, we are not living in reality.  If we pretend all is bad in our lives, we are not living in reality either.

It is time to take ownership of what is “not fine” in our lives and let Jesus into our brokenness.  If we are always pretending everything is fine, we have no need for Jesus.  When we let Jesus in, we see that we may need to change, need help, or need time to sort out our lives.  When you take off on this kind of journey, you know you are on the right path because you feel relieved that you don’t have to pretend anymore.

What is “not fine” in your life right now?  What is your backseat telling you that you ignore and drive on down the road hoping it will go away?  Tell a friend or someone you can trust.  Jesus will be there too.

My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style.         Maya Angelou


Meredith Bell


Simple Math

We are working on basic math in our Tent.  With one of us in first grade, we all get to practice simple math facts.  1+1=2  2+2=4  3+3=6  We are all reminded that you have to start simple and learn the basics. Simple math facts are just as important as advanced math.

I heard a quote this week by Kevin Leman.  Leman said, “No one person is more important than the family.”  If I understand Leman, he is saying that every person in the family is important to the family.  AND there is not one person that is more important than the others.  Leman’s simple math looks like this…1+1=1  2+2=1  3+3=1

So often, we forget this simple truth about family math.  So often, we focus on one person’s needs in the family and pour all of our energy into that person.  When we spend all of our energy on one person, there is not much energy left for the rest of the family.  The whole family loses.

There is a great, humbling reminder of this in the Bible.  Remember when Jesus said, “So those who are last will be first.  And those who are first will be last”?  Jesus was speaking through a parable about a landowner who paid his workers.  No matter what time the workers began working, at the end of the day they received the same amount of pay…one denarion.  Jesus’ math is simple too.  All people are equal and precious in the eyes of Christ.  1+1=1  2+2=1  3+3=1  No matter when we accept God’s grace and begin our Christian life, we receive the same result…eternal life.  Everyone is going to the same eternal life, together.

Take some time this weekend take a tent survey to check your family’s simple math.  Is everyone important?  Does everyone feel special and a part of the family?  Is one person using up too much of the family energy supply?  Pray about what to do about the survey results.  Remember…Jesus is a part of your family too!  Working on the basic areas of family life help prepare us for the more advanced dynamics of family life.

From our Tent to yours…happy weekend!

Meredith Bell

It Takes A Village

This past spring I visited a church in Mississippi.  In the service, God wanted me to hear one thing…it takes a village.  This simple message came from the youth pastor.  He gave the announcement about the youth’s trip to the bowling alley that afternoon.  But instead of simply reminding the youth, he was actually challenging the congregation…the village.  He was challenging them to become a friend to the young people in the church.  The church goal was to partner five adults with each young person in their church.  He reminded the village of the goal and encouraged them to get started (or keep going) by going bowling that afternoon.  Sounds fun!3940801067_f5bd04e54b_b

This made me start thinking about my youthful years.  Did I have five people outside my family who I would call a friend?  Did I have five people who mentored me and believed in me?  Did you?

These people in my life are called the unsung heroes of my life.  Their names are not on any diploma, they will probably not be listed in my obituary and they probably don’t even know the impact they made on my life…but they were my heroes in many ways.  They had a conversation with me that changed my life.  They saw something in me that I did not see and  nourished it until I did see it.  They were patient.  They would answer my phone call anytime during the day or night.  I was always welcome in the homes.  Some of them were teachers, coaches, friends, fellow church members, and pastors.  They were my village.  They were my unsung heroes.


This too made me start thinking and open my eyes.  (This is probably why God wanted me to hear one thing that day.)  Who needs me?…it’s time to go bowling.  Who needs you?  There are so many people around us young and old that need a village to love them and encourage them.  And it may just be time for you and me to take them bowling (or to something else that sounds fun like eating ice cream).

Paula Gooder wrote a book called Everyday God: The Spirit of the Ordinary.  I keep my copy on my back porch to read in the morning.  It is warped from being wet and yellowed from being scorched by the sun, but it still shares treasures with me each morning.  The other day I read these words:

Part of the point of God’s calling to each one of us is that we are called to be God’s unsung heroes and we will know we are succeeding, not when people begin to notice us but when they begin to notice God.

I would love to chat more, but I think I need to write some thank you notes and find some more people to add to my village…especially if bowling and ice cream are involved!

Meredith Bell


Delightful Days

A few years ago while I was a chaplain in a hospital, one of our instructors asked a group of us, “What makes a good day?” Because we worked in a hospital day after day and saw things we wish we could forget, we quickly escaped in our minds. Someone said, “A day on the beach.” Another one said, “A long hike in Colorado.” The one next to me said, “Time with my wife and kids.” I remember saying something like, “A airplane ticket to any destination.” We had a lot of fun with our answers. Basically it was anywhere but where we were.

That is what our instructor hoped we would say. He hoped we would define a good day with dreams, because then he gave us a follow up question, “Why does a good day have to be an extraordinary day…what about ordinary days? Aren’t they good too.” Of course he was right. Because isn’t it the ordinary days that we miss the most when we look back on our lives? Or if we are in the midst of grief…we miss the normal days. The days where we have a cup of coffee together with someone we love at the kitchen table.  The days when we laugh because of something one of our children says from the back seat. The days when we read a good book or cook a simple dinner for our family to enjoy. Ordinary days. They are good days too…maybe even the best days.

There is something that happens in life. It is subtle and silent. Through all the information we receive on a daily basis, there is a subtle message that says we have less than what we deserve. Our lives are not exciting enough.  Our car, washing machine, grill (I have heard that the Green Egg grill is pretty cool), are out of date and we need a new one. Message after message, we start to believe these subtle messages. They become a part of our daily chatter. And before we know it, ordinary days loose their shine.

169898633_551c123e2eIn my life, my delightful days begin with a to-do-list. I keep a running list in my kitchen and attend to it before I go to bed. That way I know what I need to do and I do not have to worry about it all night. Then in the morning, I make a cup of coffee and read a chapter or two of a book that enlightens me or gives me something to think about concerning my faith. I write my prayers down in a prayer journal. It is a gift to read back over prayers that have been answered. I choose to have a good attitude for the day. And then I work for God. I listen to the nudges God sends me to call a friend, write a note or serve someone. I work on our non-profit because that is my current mission.

And in all of this, my day turns out to be delightful simply because my day is less about me and more about God. I encourage you to find your rhythm. Find your recipe for a delightful day. Claim your place in God’s plan for this world and make things happen. If you are willing, God will use you.

You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.  Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.  Matthew 5:14-16

Meredith Bell

Grace…It’s What We Need

I saw it again the other day…a couple arguing.  They were not exchanging grace.  I could tell from across the room that they were not talking about when they fell in love or how much they appreciate each other.  They were not planning their next date night or holding hands.   They were looking deeply into each others eyes, but I believe their pupils were restricted instead of relaxed. Smoke was shooting out of their ears and veins were sticking out on their necks.  They looked like cartoon characters!!  Maybe it was the arms waving or the tension they created…but they were arguing for sure.

It made me sad.  I wanted to reach out to them, help them, or pray with them. But it was none of my business.  (If you even see me arguing with the love of my life…feel free to break in with a prayer!!)
And then the coin flipped.  It is much easier to help others and think about them than to experience the need for help yourself. My experience happened during a family Uno game.  Uno.  That’s it.  Then I spoke and he spoke and I spoke and he spoke. Then the conversation quickly turned into an argument…with the children present and holding their Uno cards.  We were not exchanging grace.

1 Corinthians 13:4-7 is a familiar verse often read at weddings. Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude.  It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoings, but rejoices with the truth.  Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

If grace is what we receive from Christ, then we are equipped to give grace to others…especially those we love.  Yet so often, we expect grace from Christ, but are reluctant to give it to others.  In writing it seems simple.  In real life it is more difficult.  But I guess dying on the cross is more difficult in real life too!

After things calmed down (I actually ended up winning the Uno game…but it wasn’t as much fun to win that moment.), I remembered 1 Corinthians.  I remembered what it feels like to give and receive grace. I remembered that I am the only person that can change my behavior.  So I read scripture with fresh eyes…

Meredith is patient and kind; she does not envy or boast; She is not arrogant or rude; Meredith does not insist on her own way; she is not irritable or resentful….

I missed the mark today, but thankfully tomorrow is a new day and my heart has been renewed through scripture.  Awww…life!
Meredith Bell

Milk Chocolate Sea Salt Caramels

That’s right…Milk Chocolate Sea Salt Caramels.  My husband brought them home last night.  We were celebrating because good things have been happening in our life lately.  But today was a different day.  My assessment…too many good things today.  So many in fact that the first time I relaxed as at 9:13pm!  Since my feet hit the floor this morning I have been running here and there running everywhere.  Everywhere.  Lunch at school.  Dog to the groomer.  Grocery store.  Church for Bible study.  Daisy troop.  Willy Wonka Rehearsal.

This day could have easily been stressful and miserable for many reasons.  One moment, when I was just on the edge of loosing control of my attitude (which means the rest of the day would be derailed and follow me down the impatient, anxious and frustrated path), I stopped.  I decided an apology was necessary.  It was well received.  Then I focused on being in the moment.  Just being with my children and friends.

The reward for submitting to the day was spending time with a friend with horses and goats. Instead of7318388652_6273e9eb4f hurrying on to the next appointment, I stopped the car.  We hopped a fence and enjoyed being with beautiful horses on a beautiful day.  We opened another fence and enjoyed 15 playful goats.  We relaxed and our day turned better.

Some days when there are too many good things happening because we are pouring ourselves into people we love the most, there are big reasons to celebrate.  (Even if our first moment to relax at the end of the day is after 9pm, there is still reason to celebrate.)  Not that we need an excuse to enjoy a chocolate treat on any day…but on days like this it tastes even sweeter.

Tomorrow I will try to live more balanced and I can celebrate that too with more chocolate!

The Day the Hermit Crab Died

All life matters

I don’t know the day the hermit crab, Crabby Cakes, actually died.  He (or she) has lived in our home for two and a half years.  Before that Crabby Cakes lived four years with Mrs. Barbara, the science teacher at our daughter’s pre-school.  When Crabby Cakes came to live with us I thought four years is a long time to live in captivity…surely this arrangement will only last a little while longer.  How long can a hermit crab really live???  It lasted much longer than I expected.  And over that time, I have to say, that little guy (or girl) grew on me and in its own way made a happy difference in our home.

But sometime over the past week of crazy in our home and schedule, Crabby Cakes moved from this life into the next.  Sometime in the middle of homework, dinner, gymnastics, work, church, trips to and from school, Crabby Cakes stopped moving.  It could possibly have happened while we were out on Wednesday to celebrate the arrival of Christmas with an-over-the-top Christmas Festival and up-close-and-personal firework display. Crabby Cakes might have fallen asleep then.  Or it could have been one of my sleepless nights this week…maybe that is why I couldn’t sleep.  Or maybe it was while I was sitting in Bible study and a prayer that I had been praying for over a year began to be answered with each passing minute.  When did it happen…no idea!

Today, in his (her) little way, Crabby Cakes sent a message to me…stop for a minute.  Check on my friend, Critter.  (Time for pastoral care…crab style.)  Remember that God is both small and big.  God is present in the small, baby steps that we take towards a dream or vision and God is present on the big flashy firework days.  When we remember this, we know that each moment of our lives is created and desires to be experienced fully.  We also know that each little part of our life matters.

At the funeral for Crabby Cakes, I stood before the toilet (because we know from Nemo that all drains lead to the ocean) and said a quick thanks and farewell.  Thankful for the tinniest part of my life sending a big message…all life matters.  Itsn’t that the message of the cross too?

And God said, “Let the water teem with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the sky.” (Genesis 1:20)

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