Soul Keeping: Book Review

Some times the best way to reconnect with our spiritual selves is through a book.  Talented authors have a way of guiding us into a deeper understanding of experiences, words, God, ourselves and others.  We read a lot of books in our tent.  Some are required and some are just for enjoyment.

One book that has been with us for a while is Soul Keeping: Caring for the Most Important Part of You by John Ortberg. It is based on a mentoring relationship he shared with Dallas Willard.  His detailed writing about the soul and the deep conversations he enjoyed with Dallas Willard, shine a light on the heartbeat of our lives.  Our souls are our life.

When I read, I highlight the sentences that connect with my life.  Here are a few highlights:

“Hurry is the great enemy of spiritual life in our day.”

“What is running your life at any given moment is your soul.  Not external circumstances, not your thoughts, not your intentions, not even your feelings, but your soul.  The soul is that aspect of your whole being that correlates, integrates, and enlivens everything going on in the various dimensions of the self.”

“When you are connected with God and other people in life, you have a healthy soul.”

“You are an unceasing spiritual being with an eternal destiny in God’s great universe.”

“Being right is actually a very hard burden to be able to carry gracefully and humbly.  That’s why nobody likes to sit next to the kid in class who’s right all the time.  One of the hardest things in the world is to be right and not hurt other people with it.”

I wonder if you connect with any of these quotes? What does it feel like to think of your soul as your power house of life within you?

I wish we could visit more about it over coffee.  It is a conversation worth having.  If you have any good recommendations for spiritual books, I would love to hear about them too.

Bless the Lord, O my soul,
    and all that is within me,
    bless his holy name. Psalm 103

From our Happy Tent to Yours,

Meredith Bell

Sam and Change

I have had to facilitate a change in my life recently. I love the outdoors, and more specifically I greatly enjoy hunting waterfowl. I developed this hobby when I moved in 2015. I also love dogs, and during my first duck season I decided it was time for a new Labrador retriever. Before I knew it, I had adopted Sam (an eighteen-month old black lab) into my family. With a lot of work and training, we were hunting together by the end of that first season.

Towards the end of our second season together, it became clear that Sam was developing some bad habits in the duck blind. Specifically, he whined – a lot! Maybe he didn’t like the cold. Maybe he was still suffering from the way his previous owners had neglected him (although, an animal psychologist I am not). Maybe he was simply high strung. During the off season I read everything I could get my hands on about curbing a hunting dog’s tendencies to whine, I worked with him daily, I even had him fixed, but nothing helped.

Quickly in our third season together I noticed that a change needed to be made. Ducks would fly in on us, Sam would see them before I would, he would get monstrously (weighing in at 105 pounds) restless, the whining would begin, and then his whines would turn to howls. I love to duck hunt. Sam loves to retrieve. I don’t think he quite made the connection that if he howled at the ducks, then they would spook, fly away, which would prohibit me from taking them, which would prohibit him from retrieving them.

Long story short – Sam is no longer welcome in my duck blind. He is, however, still a vital part of the team. He helps me put out the decoys (he’s a very smart dog). We play a little bit in the dark, muddy water before sunrise. And then he goes back into his crate (which is in the bed of my truck), lays down on his warm, soft bed, and goes back to sleep (until it’s time to retrieve the ducks off the water, or find birds that have lost their way). That’s what I call win-win. Sam gets to retrieve, and I get ducks.

But this change was not an easy one to make. I had to recognize the problem, I had to take it seriously, and then I had to do something about it. I worked with Sam on this specific issue for over nine months. When those efforts were not fruitful, I moved on to Plan B, and it has worked marvelously. But I miss Sam in my duck blind, and his annoying, noisy, obnoxious, impish, pesky, wet, wonderful, best-dog-in-the-world self. That being said, we are a stronger waterfowl-harvesting team now than we have ever been.

So what about you? For the remainder of this article, I have recruited a top-notch team of professionals to help us transform into new people by changing the way we think (as Paul puts it in Romans 12:2). They each have a word of wisdom to share with us on this journey of change and growth.

  • I can’t change the direction of the wind, but I can adjust my sails to always reach my destination” (Jimmy Dean) – There are many circumstances that are beyond our control, but that doesn’t mean we give up or do nothing. We grit our teeth, roll up our sleeves, and get to work.
  • If there is no struggle, there is no progress” (Frederick Douglass) – Anything worth doing is going to entail challenges, difficulties, struggles, and conflict. We are not looking for ease, we are looking for growth.
  • Only I can change my life. No one can do it for me” (Carol Burnett) – Personal growth is just that… personal! We have to own our shortcomings, and be willing to invest in ourselves if we want to experience growth.
  • Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world” (Harriet Tubman) – There is more potential inside of you than you could ever imagine. I know this because God is the very one who has placed the potential there. I pray you live into your God-given potential!
  • If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude” (Maya Angelou) – Perhaps the greatest change we need to make is internal, our attitude and our thinking (since this is what drives our behavior).
  • Change your thoughts and you change the world” (Norman Vincent Peale) – When our thinking/attitudes change, our behaviors change, our hearts change, then the world changes for the better. The internal and personal growth we experience floods our networks and neighborhoods, revealing the truth that the fruit of our labors are not limited only to ourselves.
  • You must be the change you wish to see in the world” (Mahatma Gandhi) – We can no longer say, “Somebody do something about that.” You want to live in a better world? Then the question is, “What are you doing about it?”

One last thing before we get started. Personal change is quite impossible without external help. As a Christian and a pastor, I know that this sort of growth will not happen without the presence of God and the participation of others. But with God’s help, and the support of good people, all things are possible.

Grace and Peace,

Steven (and Sam)

Deeper Knowing

From the backseat, “Mom, have you ever seen a ghost? Because my friend has. But I haven’t.” I knew that Halloween must be around the corner since we are talking about ghosts. I answered, “Maybe.” “Either you have or you haven’t Mom. You can’t maybe see a ghost.”

Then I shared the story about when my grandmother died. She was the first person in my life that I deeply loved to die. I was by her bed in the hospital when she died. It was a deeply moving experience in many ways.

My grandmother was a cowgirl and a rancher. She always talked about the rain. Either the tanks were too dry or too full. Either the wheat was too wet or too dry. The letters she wrote to me in college (way before email was created) always contained a rain report. In the months leading up to her death, we didn’t have enough rain for the ranch. The moment she died, the rains began. We all knew that she must have told God to send rain to the ranch immediately.

The rain continued for days. It was a light drizzle most of the time. The night after she died I was unable to sleep. Instead, I decided to walk to my aunt’s house deep in the night in the drizzling rain. When I arrived at her home, I was not surprised to see her house lights glowing. She could not sleep either. Surprised to see me, she suggested that we walk to my grandmother’s house. Walking in the rain through our sleeping town calmed our souls.

When we arrived, my grandfather was sleeping. Quietly we settled into the familiar house and it was then that I finally fell asleep. It was also then when I saw my first ghost. I use the term “ghost” lightly. What I actually saw or deeply felt was my grandmother’s presence so strongly that I could actually see her as I drifted off to sleep. I experienced a deep knowing that she was no longer here but still with us.

From the backseat, “Mom, you saw a ghost!” This news has been shared with many people since this car conversation. I always want to explain the situation, but I usually never have time. But I have learned to embrace the moments of deeper knowing because in those moments we find peace and purpose.

For years I practiced journaling, Intensive Journaling to be specific. This style of journaling is an open door to journey deep within oneself to connect to the deeper knowing that is within each of us. This deeper knowing has many names such as “spirit,” “intuition,” “nudges,” and “hunches.” These days, I find myself living from that place of deep knowing. Beneath the busy calendar that I keep lately, there is a deeper knowing. A deeper knowing that lives below labels, updates, trends or agendas.

Share your story of deeper knowing with someone.  How does it speak to your life today?

The Lord came and stood there, calling as at the other times, “Samuel! Samuel!”

Then Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”  1 Samuel 3:10

From our Happy Tent to yours,

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

Three Pieces A Day Rule

We have one happy, happy camper in our tent this week. The candy rule is gone and the “candy queen” is so happy. There is candy all over our house. Some of it is in the obvious places and some of it is tucked away in little corners, under blankets, and in drawers. It is everywhere and our happy camper has taken inventory and knows the location of every piece. Candy is available 24/7 in our home and life is good for a little girl.

Because we are kind, loving parents, we let the “candy queen” enjoy a few days of bliss. She even enjoyed some for breakfast a few mornings along with her protein plate. But then the time came to reintroduce the rules. “Okay, now that you have enjoyed lots of candy, we are going to go back to three pieces a day.” We expected shock, surprise or rebellion. Instead we simply got an “Okay.” Well that was easy!

There is a gift hidden in rules. They make us feel safe, secure, cared for and balanced. When we have rules that guide our choices and lives, we are able to relax within their boundaries. The big decisions have already be taken care of so we can just enjoy life within the boundaries.

There once was a psychological study of children playing on a playground by a school that I learned about recently. One group of children were encouraged to go and play on a playground without a fence. Instead of playing and exploring, this group chose to just play by the entrance into school.  They didn’t feel safe enough to play on the playground. Another group of children were given the same instructions and same choice. The difference was that a fence had been installed around the play equipment. The second group played on the monkey bars and slid down the slide. The take away was that the children felt more safe with the fence and were able to relax and play together.

Our creator gives us fences (or rules) to live within simply because we are loved.  They are not intended to restrict us, punish us or frustrate us.  They are intended to remind us that we are safe, secure, and loved.  Rules for life help us draw closer to God by making space in our lives for God.  They offer us balance in the pressures of life and light in darkness.  We may go through times in life where we are like the “candy queen”…we have more than we could ever need and life feels blissful.  But then, we may feel that we have lost direction or purpose in life.  We know then that it is time to go back to “three-pieces-a-day”.  And when God calls us back to our center, we experience God’s grace. Another day and another chance to live life through God’s eyes instead of our own.

Explore your rules this week or create some.  What is your rule of life?  Share them with someone close to you.  You might find that you will enjoy God’s playground even more with a fence around it.

For the Lord is the Spirit, and wherever the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.

                                                                                                  2 Corinthians 3:17

From our Happy Tent to yours,

Meredith Bell

P.S. If you want to explore a rule of life more, check out Crafting a Rule of Life.

A Legacy

Last Saturday, I attended the service of a dear friend and mentor.  Some people called him a mystic among us.  Today, I hope you inspired by his words…his legacy.

My Legacy

The Sunday School teacher asked, “What legacy do you leave your family? Sons? their wives, and your great-grandchildren?” Here are some of my thoughts on the matter.

With respect to BEING:

  • An example of a man of transparent integrity: true blue; real. What you see is what you get. The opposite of phony. I see this as God’s design for humanity.
  • An example of a man of love: love of kin, love of “The Great Mystery” of life, and love for all humans I encounter. This is love as unbending commitment to the well-being of every one; while holding all in warm regard; a love not necessarily connected with liking people. I see this as Jesus’ understanding of love.
  • An example of one who looks steadily in the eyes of all I meet, communicating openness and acceptance. I understand this to be “The Way” of Jesus and his followers, and may be labeled “utmost hospitality.”
  • An example of a man who lives the call to silence: at moments each day to cease the rush, to turn off the mental chatter, to learn to “hear” the “voice” of “The Mystery” that speaks in our thoughts; and to hear so clearly, so discernibly, that the “Great Yes” of faith wells up within: “Yes” to “The Mystery”, “Yes” to grace, and “Yes” to fulfillment and an abundant life. I believe this will not happen in the noise and speed of modern life unless we attend the silences and heed the messages of the “Still Small Voice.” So my legacy is: if we do observe the silences, religion will again make sense, and “The Other” will communicate with us in ways that produce love, compassion, justice, kindness and hospitality. This I see as “spiritual” life.
  • An example of a man who follows 1-4 above so diligently and consistently that a new care for the earth, its people, and its resources is established and maintained; soon; since our window of survival seems to me to be steadily closing. This is the life of a caretaker of God’s creation.

With respect to DOING:

That I leave as a pastor, churchman, servant, preacher, husband, daddy, grandfather, engineer, kinsman, educator, citizen and friend.

With respect to GROWING:

That I hope to leave as one who is going on toward a perfection that will never be completed in this life, a perfection measured by “Holy Mystery” alone, which will continue to re-visit me, and nudge me on, as long as sentience and faith remain.

This is my legacy, as of 7-10-13; for today…

The final chapter of

Summa Junior—Stated Briefly by

Rev. Wallace Chappell

1920-2016

A Wife

A few years ago, my husband wrote a book about blessing his wife.  I am still amazed that he would write such a book to bless me and other marriages.  Ever since then, I have been considering doing the same.  Getting started has been the trouble.

The role of a wife is a big role.  Society makes this role challenging by portraying wives through shows like “The Real House Wives” or defining a wife as a ball-and-chain.  One archaic definition of a wife goes so far as to say “a woman, especially an old or uneducated one”…really?  Our culture encourages us to fill our days with efforts that produce a perfect meal, body, children and attitude so that we can fulfill the role of a wife the right way.  (Sigh)

Luckily, our faith has another definition.  My favorite is the way women are defined through the Bible as ezers.  Carolyn Curtis James writes about the Hebrew translation of helper in a number of her books.  She defines women as ezers who are more than helpers for men, they are image bearers of God in the world around them.  This is a definition that I can wrap my mind around.  Our Bible is full of truth that guides us in relationships.  Hebrews 10:24-25 says, “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”

The role of a wife in this world is more than grocery lists, laundry, carpool, errands and overbooked schedules.  The role of a wife is to reflect God’s image in our marriage, families and our communities.  We are called to love, nurture, comfort, create, share, inspire, guide and share grace.  We start with our partner by building a life together.  Through the relationship, families and futures are built.  Our task is to keep faith alive in our hearts and in our homes so that it will be passed on to the next group of amazing wives who come behind us in the next generation.  When this is our true purpose, the to-do lists seem less important don’t they?

This week, let’s take a closer look at our calendars.  Is there enough room in our days to spend time with our spouse just to remind him that he is loved and cherished?  Is there enough room in our days to recharge our spiritual lives?  Is there enough time spent seeking God’s guidance?  With God’s grace…we can learn the ways of Christ.

From our tent to yours,

Meredith Bell

Secret Space

I heard a prayer this week from a friend.  He prayed that God would meet us in that secret space within us.  That space where there are only two invitations available.  One to God and one to you.  He went on to say that we needed God to meet us there because there are some things we need to talk with God about and we also needed to be reminded of how much we are loved, accepted and complete in God.  Wow!  Isn’t that a cool space?

It made me think of the best vacation I ever went on in college.  My last Spring Break of college, I flew to Ireland and toured the country for a week.  A friend of mine was in a work-abroad program in Dublin, Ireland.  I knew that if I could get to Ireland, I would have a place to stay in Dublin.  Before I left, I talked two brothers into joining me on this trip.  I invited them by saying, “Hey…for Spring Break, I think we should fly to Ireland, stay in hostels, drink beer and kiss the Blarney Stone.  Do you have a better plan than that?”  Of course they didn’t!  So they were in on the trip!

We flew to Ireland on a Sunday.  It was their first trip out of the country and our general excitement was high.  The trip exceeded our expectations.  It was the week of St. Patrick’s Day.  It was like the whole country was celebrating that we were on Spring Break too!  Nuns were dressed in green habits, the whole city was decorated in green and orange, people were celebrating and it felt like we had discovered the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.  Then we rented a car!  That was the best decision. (Whoever rented the car to us must have been a bit crazy…giving four American college students a car in a foreign country is a bit risky!)  We drove all over the southern part of Ireland touring the Waterford factory, kissing stones, visiting pubs, touring castles, listening to U2 and sleeping in hostels. When we flew home on Saturday, smiles were plastered on our faces.  It was amazing!

The secret space is like the best vacation you have ever been on.  (Or maybe it is even better than that!)  We can go to that space anytime and anywhere.  It is free.  It is filled with joy, comfort, encouragement, support, answers, fresh perspective, forgiveness, grace, love, peace, hope, direction, and so much more.  When you leave your time with God in that secret space, a smile will be on your face.

More than a smile, you will see your life through a different lens.  God’s lens.  You will remember what God has called you to do.  Our visits to our secret, sacred space with God keep us going along this journey of life.

Then Solomon, and the whole assembly with him, went to the high place that was at Gibeon; for God’s tent of meeting, which Moses the servant of the Lord had made in the wilderness, was there. 2 Chronicles 1:3

Enjoy your vacation to your secret space with God!  Send me a postcard!

Meredith Bell

Compassion

This week my heart broke when I heard someone say that they do not have anything to look forward to when they wake up in the morning.  It broke again when I visited with someone looking for a job and they just aren’t having any luck.  And then again when I heard about a struggling friendship that has been hijacked by jealously and competition.  These moments were personally difficult for me because I knew that my words would not “fix” the suffering.  Since I could not “fix” things, I stayed frustrated.  Then I went downhill from there…my frustration led to impatience to irritation to defeat.  It wasn’t a very nice day.

Jesus said, “I have compassion for these people.” (Matthew 15:32) Compassion. That is another way to look at life’s struggles.  Compassion is something that we can offer in the midst of difficult times to others.  Compassion is full of mercy, understanding, presence and comfort.  It is easy to communicate compassion through texts, calls, lunch dates, surprise visits, cards, and hugs.  Compassion is how God draws people closer to him through us.

It is clear to me that Jesus did not come and live among us to train us to “fix” things.  There are just some things that cannot be fixed.  Maybe he knew that.  Instead he came to show us how to live with compassion (among other things).  He knew that there are days when circumstances cannot be “fixed”.  On those days, he taught us to look beyond the surface and discover how to comfort the true pain a person feels.  When we connect with another person on a deeper level (a spiritual level), we can unwrap the gift of compassion.

As you travel through your week, explore compassion in your life.  When have you received the gift of compassion and who needs to receive the gift of compassion from you?  Invite everyone in your tent to join you on this path.  You will be blessed and be a blessing to others.

“They may forget what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel.”  Carl W. Buechner

Shalom,

Meredith Bell

Lent: Pride

Welcome to Lent!  (That phrase would be a cute door mat this time of year wouldn’t it??)  On Tuesday, I hope you let the good times roll and enjoyed some King Cake.  On Wednesday, I hope you closed your eyes as your pastor or priest imposed a cross made from ashes on your forehead.  A beautiful symbol of the darkness of our sin made into a cross that represents hope.  This Lent, let’s explore some silent habits that we may want to sweep out of our tents before Easter arrives.

Pride. It is a character trait that is either good or bad. It is good in the sense of taking care of your home or how you wear your clothes. It is bad when it leads to arrogance or the feeling of superiority. It is good if it leads you to successful achievements and bad if it leads you to achievements that control your treatment of others.

In 1 Chronicles 21:1-17, King David let his pride turn from good to bad. He stepped away from God, just to experience what it might feel like to be God. His request to know the strength of his kingdom could have been innocent if it wasn’t covered with his pride. He wanted to know simply because he wanted to feel the power he possessed. This request led him back to God who showed his power and mercy.

Carl Jung says, “Through pride we are ever deceiving ourselves. But deep down below the surface of the average conscience a still, small voice says to us, something is out of tune.” Lent is a season for us to find that something (or somethings) that are out of tune. It is a season where we feel God’s judgment and God’s mercy. It is a season that leads us to the cross to remind us of the power of repentance and forgiveness.

How has your pride led you away from God recently? How is pride effecting your relationships with those you love the most (those in your tent)?  As you turn back to God, what changes do you feel need to be made?

Shalom,

Meredith

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