Connection Points: Little Effort with Big Rewards

My phone has only been running on half battery all week. I haven’t given it enough time to fully charge.  It doesn’t take very long in my day for the little green battery light to turn to red.

In our tent, we move in many different directions at the same time.  Maybe your tent is the same.  In our effort to help everyone in our tent (even the dog, Sam) be their best self, we quickly find ourselves coming and going at a pace that would impress Olympics track athletes.  I can’t say that we are very proud of this habit, but I imagine it is similar to most American families.  American families that are plugged in, committed, scheduled and striving to be the best they can in their own community.  There are as many external pressures as there are internal pressures that keep us living this way in our post-modern world.  All these pressures can easily turn our family battery from green to red.

The crazy reality about this pace is that we are rarely together, really together even though we live in the same house.  Together like when you sit and just talk about nothing.  Together so that you can actually hear each other’s hearts.  Both joys and struggles.  Together in a way that keeps us connected to each other in a world that is moving around us.  We can go on living like this or we can live differently.

Living differently would mean that we are intentional about connecting to each other.  Until we are intentional, we will just live within the ebb and flows of the world.  From experience, that routine only leads to frustration, arguments, loneliness and anxiety.  But living in intentional connection with the people we love leads to understanding, love, companionship and contentment.  Here are a few ideas to be intentional with connecting to those you love for this week…try to work FIVE connection points in this week and see how it goes! It will help you stay connected and available to what God wants you to experience.

CONNECTION POINT IDEAS

LUNCH DATES–Planned lunch dates really help pause the day and breath life into a relationship.  The menu doesn’t matter as much as the conversation.  It’s something you can count on each week to pull you back together in a way to gives you life.

HIDDEN NOTES and TEXT–These are just fun and they are a perfect way to encourage, love, recognize and support each other.  The notes are guaranteed to create smiles and memories.  It’s amazing how God even gets in on the fun by helping you say just the right thing at the right time.

COUCH TALK–Twenty minutes and a couch is all that it takes.  Media off (including phones) and eyes on each other.  It is the best way to connect and reconnect after a busy day or week.

ROSES AND THORNS–The best way to hear each other’s hearts is to talk about the roses and thorns of the day.  This can be done in the car, one the phone, at the table or anywhere.  It always reveals how everyone is doing and helps everyone connect.

PRAYER–Rad Joy is a great company that helps busy people give their burdens back to Christ.  The best way to connect with those we love is to ask them how you can pray for them and then do it.

MEALS–Jesus and his disciples broke bread together all through the New Testament.  Preparing a meal, enjoying a meal, talking and listening to each other,  and cleaning up after the meal can be holy time for families. Even playing dinner games is fun. Everyone can be a part of the experience.

Enjoy making connections with the people you love…it’s an eternal investment and well worth the effort!

Do not love this world nor the things it offers you, for when you love the world, you do not have the love of the Father in you. For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father, but are from this world.  And this world is fading away, along with everything that people crave. But anyone who does what pleases God will live forever. 1 John 2:15-17

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

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 Change In Perspective

This week, I was with a counselor friend and she shared a great tool to use when making decisions.  It went like this:

Try this process the next time you are making a big decision.  Close your eyes and imagine yourself in your favorite chair.  Take notice of all that is around you and the smells.  Now think of the decision you have to make.  It may feel big and heavy.  Next, imagine yourself sitting in the same chair with the same smells 20 years down the road.  What does the decision you have to make look like from that point?  Stretch out a few more years.  Try 40 years away, what does the decision look like from your older self in the same favorite chair? By simply changing your perspective, you can find peace in the decisions you make in your life.

Thinking about my older self reminded me of a poem that I heard while in college.  It is a great poem about perspective.  I hope it helps you and those around you to enjoy life even more.  The poem is called, “I Would Pick More Daisies.”

Shalom,

Meredith Bell

I Would Pick More Daisies

When asked “How would you have lived your life differently if you had a chance?” Nadine Stair, an 85-year-old woman, from Louisville, Kentucky, provided these poetic words as her response…

23497741820_98bdd4aa62If I had my life to live over again,
I’d dare to make more mistakes next time.
I’d relax.
I’d limber up.
I’d be sillier than I’ve been this trip.
I would take fewer things seriously.
I would take more chances,
I would eat more ice cream and less beans.

I would, perhaps, have more actual troubles but fewer imaginary ones.
you see, I’m one of those people who was sensible and sane,
hour after hour,
day after day.

Oh, I’ve had my moments.
If I had to do it over again,
I’d have more of them.
In fact, I’d try to have nothing else- just moments,
one after another, instead of living so many years ahead of each day.

I’ve been one of those persons who never goes anywhere without a thermometer, a hot-water bottle, a raincoat, and a parachute.
If I could do it again, I would travel lighter than I have.

If I had to live my life over,
I would start barefoot earlier in the spring
and stay that way later in the fall.
I would go to more dances,
I would ride more merry-go-rounds,
I would pick more daisies.

– Nadine Stair

Ladybug Day

We went for a walk today, down a sidewalk right after lunch.  The temperature was perfect and the sky was blue like Caribbean water.  It was a day that feels like God is showing off.  The plan was to walk a little bit before we headed back to the car to go home.  And then one daughter stepped off the sidewalk and shared that she was just going to walk in the grass…off the path and into open space.  I kept walking until daughter number two said, “Let’s go with her.”  Before I knew it, we were sitting in the middle of the grass in the park.

That in itself would have been fun enough, but our day turned into an adventure when we started to notice all the creepy crawly things around us in the grass.  It was as if we had just sat down in the middle of a city of bugs all very busy with their tasks for the day. The spiders scurried, the black things climbed over and under blades of grass, the ants quickly moved about and the ladybugs found their way into our hands with grace.

We were having a LADYBUG MOMENT.  A moment in our day when we just stop doing what we planned to do and take notice of what is going on around us.  It was a moment we would have missed if we would have stayed on the path trying to get more steps on our fitbit.  It was a moment where we sat together and just enjoyed each others company and the company of the creepy crawly things.

Over lunch we enjoyed a LADYBUG CONVERSATION.  A conversation that invited all of us to think more deeply and share.  We asked questions that mattered.  We asked things like, “If you were in my shoes, how would you handle the situation.” “Where do you see God in this?”  “What would you like for dessert?”

And how did we do all of this in the middle of the week?  Well….we had a LADYBUG DAY!  We played hookie from all those things that we were suppose to be doing and we did something else.  Something life giving! We took all the should of’s and could of’s in our day and just put them away so their friend guilt would go away too.  Gardeners and farmers love the ladybug because it helps control pests.  It controlled the pests in our life today very well.

As the sun sets on this day, I know it will be a day that I will remember.  God was all around us this day because we took time to notice.  When was your last LADYBUG MOMENT, CONVERSATION or DAY?  It’s time to step off the path and experience an adventure.  Your backyard is a great place to start!

Instead, desire first and foremost God’s kingdom and God’s righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore, stop worrying about tomorrow, because tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.  Matthew 6:33-34

Shalom,

Meredith Bell

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

Shalom,

Meredith Bell

 

Shalom

My word of the week is shalom. It is a wonderful Hebrew word and is defined as both a state (the absence of war) and a process of living in wholesome relationship with others. It has also been called the “ultimate purpose” of the first five books of the Bible. You probably also know it as peace.

This week as I have been driving more than usual, shalom has been floating through my mind as I listened to the news and global stories on NPR. I listened to a talk by Lynne Hybels about peacemaking and she shared her work in making peace.  When I was frustrated with my husband (it happens), I wondered when our shalom slipped away and how we can bring it back. When my daughter learned a new word on the playground this week, I wonder if the young student that shared it with her knew about the word shalom. And at night, when the house was quiet with everyone tucked in bed, shalom became a feeling instead of just a word. At the end of the week, I could not believe my eyes when I saw a parked car with the word, “SHALOM” across the back window! Like I said, it has been my word of the week.

I have more exploring to do with this word. It feels like I have been given a new gift, but it didn’t come with instructions. I can see it and say it. I can feel it when I touch it. I can tell that it has a lot to teach me and I am curious to know more. A new relationship has started.

My conversations with God this week have been about shalom as well. I have wondered why it is missing in so many parts of the world and why it is easy to see in others. I have wondered about my role of bringing shalom into my home and relationships. And mostly, I wonder how I can design my life and decisions to experience more shalom and less stress.

What about you? How well do you know shalom? When was the last time you experienced it?

 “Seek peace and pursue it!” Psalm 34:14

Shalom,

Meredith Bell

Not Enough Time

This time of year I do not have enough time to get everything done.  It happens every year.  Not enough time to cook, shop, do laundry, call friends back, sleep, finish projects, start projects or anything else the holidays demand of me.  There is a bit of true chaos swirling around me lately.  Instead of visions of sugar plums dancing in my mind as I sleep, I have visions of mistakes and forgotten tasks.  Exhausting!!  And then yesterday, I experienced a moment of total disbelief.  I wish I could tell you that I could not believe something someone else did.  But I can’t because, I did it.

Yesterday, while driving home after a wonderful lunch with friends and family, my car was making a funny sound.  I listened to the sound all the way home.  (Most people would have pulled over to find the source of the sound, but not me…not enough time.)  The look on my sweet husband’s face when he pulled up beside me at home was impressive.  His eyes were huge and his mouth was open.  I hesitated before I rolled down the passenger window.  When I did, he simply said, “What are you doing?”  I was not sure how to answer because I thought I was simply getting out of my car.  Then he said, “You are practically driving on your rim.  You have a very flat tire.”  To my surprise, I did have a flat.  The source of the noise.  My tire is completely flat.
At this point I wish I could tell you that I was truly surprised, but honestly I wasn’t.  You see, seeing my flat tire made sense.  Four whole days before this moment (96 hours exactly), my “low tire pressure indicator light” came on while I was driving down a highway.  (Cars are so smart.)  Every time I turned on my car, I had to turn off the warning telling me a tire was low.  Did I check my tires? No.  Instead I remembered a time before when the indicator light came on and it was a false alarm.  Coming up with that thought took less time than walking around my car to check my tires.3572240_43d098440c

After I saw the tire, I simply carried my 40-pound purse into the house.  I put down my life-in-a-bag and sat down.  I was shocked.  I was amazed.  I was impressed.  I had ignored the warning lights, continued on with my ridiculous schedule and almost ruined a tire rim all in a matter of four days.  Why?  Because I was pretending that I did not have enough time.

Today, that flat tire continues to speak to me.  I reminds me stop.  Slow down.  Breathe.  Take care of the important things.  Because if I keep pretending I do not have enough time, I will probably do more damage than I intended to do.  This is true for relationships, jobs, friendships, children, self-care and of course tires.  And if I keep pretending that time is the problem, I will always keep moving too fast. Time is not the problem, I am.  Somethings need to be taken off my daily list and somethings need to be put back on that have fallen off lately.

I remember today that God made us human beings instead of human doings. 

Merry Christmas!

Meredith Bell

Make a Trade

We are busy in our tent preparing for Christmas. I am sure you are as well. Just this week my daughters rehearsed It’s a Wonderful Life for 3 nights and preformed in it as Carolers for 2 nights. Elf on the shelf has been playing with laundry. Actually, we have an Elf on the shelf family. Elfie, Elfina, little Tom and an Elf reindeer (Don’t ask!). As a team they can get into a lot of misfit in my house. They all played in the laundry one day, which meant I had a day off. They also kicked off our Advent tree. We read a scripture each morning and clip on a new ornament. Plus, this week the Tooth Fairy visited our home twice!! It has been a busy week in our home. And I forgot to mention that our two show pigs came down with pneumonia (who knew this could happen??). They are on the mend now after shots and meeting an angel who gave them the shots. (Even I know when to acknowledge my limits…giving pigs shots is not one of my talents.)

In all of the chaos that this week brought (or season brings), it makes me more determined than ever to not give in to it.  I don’t want to give into consumerism, over-booked calendar (this is where I need to work the most), or Christmas expectations and unnecessary traditions.  When I shop, I want it to be fun.  When I attend a party, I don’t want to worry about what I am missing.  When I pull out the Christmas decorations, I only want to decorate with those things that need to be in our home this year.  I am not going for perfect.  Just enough.

Here is the way I made it through this past week still intact and with Christmas spirit.

Engage Scripture–I found a this cute daily reading on Facebook this week and it has been a perfect reminder of the power baby Jesus brought with him when he was born and placed in the manger.  Read scripture every day this next week with expectant eyes.  What gift will God give you through your reading?

Listen for God’s Voice–The scripture you read will move in and out of your thoughts all day long. The voice of God will be close beside them.  We have been collecting money in a jar all year to give to someone this Christmas.  Just this week I found out who that person is through an email.  We heard God’s voice and we are so excited to give our gift.  What is God saying to you this week?  Listen.

3115751108_77b9dbd66f_bExpect Miracles–Jesus’ birth was a miracle.  John the Baptist birth was a miracle.  Zechariah (John’s father) received his voice back just in time to name John the Baptist.  That was a miracle.  There were so MANY miracles popping up around the birth of Jesus.  Guess what?  They still happen today.  I heard a young adult speak today about his recovery from being hit by a car at the age of 13.  He was asked by the audience, “What are you so proud of in your recovery?”  He quickly answered, “That I am alive!”  A miracle!

We Prepare the Way–Our task this Christmas…share the story.  Share the joy, hope and peace of the season.  Our job is to bake cookies so we can have a moment to share our faith story with the person we give the cookies to enjoy.  Our job is to serve a delicious meal so we can invited the Holy Spirit to be present at our table and breath life into our families.  Our job is to give more so that others will have the opportunity to move from poverty into stability.  Our job is to prepare the way for Christ to work in the lives of the people we meet this Christmas.

Let’s trade the crazy and the chaos of the season in for the calm presence of Christ that lives with us every minute of every day!

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

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