Signing Off and Signing In

We have a magic power in life with a pen and paper (a tablet/stylus or computer/keyboard) when we practice signing in and signing out.  Signing in means that we are open, present, ready or prepared. Signing out says, “That’s all folks!” Drop the microphone and close the curtain because the work is done.

This week, I signed out a child from school and signed into a board meeting (x3!). I signed into my banking account and signed out of a doctor’s office. I signed up to provide refreshments and signed out of the library.  In and out, in and out, all week long.

One evening during the week I signed off my phone.  It was ringing, buzzing, and alerting me at such a rapid pace that it was practically creating an earthquake on the kitchen counter.  Someone forgot to tell the phone that the day was winding down instead of winding up.   Someone forgot to tell the phone that we were in the last act of the play that day and we needed to wrap things up.  Without thinking, I sent one more text informing the sender that I was signing off for the night.  It was an automatic response because my personal battery was on low and I needed to recharge before the next day. Enough work for one day.

Immediately, when I signed off for the day, I signed into being present with the people I love the most. I signed into awareness and curiosity. I relaxed and took a deep breath.  (Maybe the first one all day.) Dolly Parton once said, “Never get so busy making a living that you forget to make a life.”   Meredith Bell says,  “Never get so attached to a device that we forget to be present with those we love.”

My new spiritual practice is signing off.  Signing off to work at the end of the day even if there is more to do.  Signing off to busyness and hurry.  Signing off to exhaustion day after day.  I’m signing into recharging, resting and sabbath moments.  God is in those moments!

Is there a place in your life that needs a signing out spiritual practice?

Six days you shall gather it; but on the seventh day, which is a sabbath, there will be none. Exodus 16:26

From our Happy Tent to yours,

Meredith Bell

 

Easy Street

Welcome to the New Year! We started our New Year on Easy Street.  We took a road trip, rented some skis and bought lift tickets.  That is where we found Easy Street on a small mountain.  We went up and down snowy Easy Street over and over again.

There was one moment of pure insanity when we decided as a group that we were ready for something other than Easy Street.  We found another way up the mountain on another, longer ski lift, and arrived at the top.  Only one of us found the view exciting.  The others were terrified.  We started down. There were falls and tears.  There were feelings of fear and defeat.  After a while, pure exhaustion set in and prayers started going up, up, up.

Hours later, in the lodge we debriefed.  While sipping on four (well earned) hot chocolates, we concluded that we were heading back to Easy Street.  Back to safety, fun and relaxation.  We confessed our sin of arrogance.  We thought we knew all we needed to know to ski down the mountain. But we were still lacking many skills.  We needed more practice and more lessons.

So often in life we believe we know everything and we humbly discover we really don’t.  When we tell a friend we understand what they are going through and they politely tell us that we can’t truly understand.  Or when we challenge someone by interrupting or arguing with them just so we can feel that we are right and not wrong.  Or when we judge people from different backgrounds based on how they are portrayed in the news instead of how we have experienced them personally.

On Easy Street, we learned about turns, stops and skills.  We discovered that our bodies know what to do naturally, if we just pay attention.  We met others who were learning and we then learned from their experiences.  They motivated us to keep going.  We also learned that if we jump off Easy Street too soon, life gets dangerous, scary and stressful.

As we journey through a new year together, let’s take it easy.  Let’s be open to learning new skills and being teachable.  Let us allow our humble attitudes lead us and leave our arrogance behind.  Let us learn to relax in the rhythm of life that gives us joy in learning, faith in others and a shared sense of purpose as we all make life more easy for everyone.

How can your tent model for others what it looks like to live life on Easy Street in the arms of Christ?

Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. Matthew 11: 28-30

From our Happy Tent to Yours,

Meredith Bell

Running Wide Open

I remember the day I learned about the term “running wide open.”  I was in the passenger seat of my new sports car.  My dad bought the car for me. (I am still not sure why that was a good idea, but I am still thankful it was my car.)  He told me not to go too fast until he could ride along with me.  It was a silver Pontiac Firebird.  The time came for him to ride along with me, but he said he would drive it just to test it out on the road.  Before I knew it, we were running wide open.  He was smiling, hugging the curves and complimenting the car like it was a person.  I had never gone so fast in a car in my whole life and I never have since.  I guess it is true that within every grown man there is a young boy!

This week in a text a friend said he was “running wide open.”  Mr. Bell and I have laughed (the other option is to cry) about that text all week!  It is the best description for our lives.  Like our friend, our life is running in our final gear and we are traveling at top speed.  Monday through Monday…top speed. With the wind blowing in our hair (or at least my hair…he’s bald) as we run from meeting to meeting, morning to morning, fire to fire, we feel like we are running wide open.

Running wide open can be a fun experience.  It creates adrenaline, excitement, busyness and purpose.  Things happen.  Decisions get made.  It is easy when you are brand new, right off the car lot kind of person.  But we are not new cars anymore.  We have some miles on us.  If you are like us, you are running wide open more days than you would like. It may be time to pull over and actively rest.

Take a pit stop and let your crew (Jesus, God and the Holy Spirit) work on your car a while.  Inspect the engine (your body) to make sure it is still working well.  Sometimes we ignore obvious signs that something is not right.  Check your oil every 50 hours of work and see what the level is as you head into the next week.  If you are low, do some things to fill it up like spending time with your family, friends or even time alone.  Take a look at the tires to make sure you are balanced between work and play.  Look for holes that are slowing you down.  Clean out the interior of your life and get rid of all the trash that builds up inside.  All the worries, fears, and anxieties will be better off in the garbage can.

While you are at the pit stop, if you can’t see to find anything wrong but you still aren’t running well, reach out to a mechanic (doctor, counselor, or spiritual friend) and let them help you run a diagnostic test.  Don’t keep running wide open until you burn up the engine or the wheels fall off.  It is easier to fix a car than it is to rebuild it.  We only get one car (life) so we need to learn to take care of the one we have soon.

There is only one reason in life that we need to be running wide open and that is in our spiritual lives. So often, we ignore the one part of life that gives us the most energy. Jesus ran wide open for God AND Jesus got away to pray.  Jesus models pit stops for life. He prayed on a hills, between meetings, in homes and gardens.  He encourages us to be still so that we know God.  He sent us a Helper when he left this earth.  He created “spiritual pit stops” if you really think about it. Jesus told us to go and run wide open to make disciples for Jesus Christ.  He didn’t tell us to go and wear your self out in my name!

While you are in your tent this weekend, take a moment and ask your some question.  Are you running wide open? How much longer can you do it?  Who are you doing it for? Is there anything you need to change in your life?  We are asking ourselves the same questions often!

When he arrived and saw this evidence of God’s blessing, he was filled with joy, and he encouraged the believers to stay true to the Lord. Acts 11:23

From our reflective and Happy Tent to yours,

Meredith Bell

 

Life-Giving News

Whew! The news is full of information, images and feelings these days.  Some is helpful and useful.  It’s good to learn about the penumbral eclipse (it sounds exciting for sure) or see a glimpse of the latest fashions. Some is not helpful.  In fact, it may simply be harmful.  It increases our experience of stress, anxiety and depression.  And it is everywhere because media is everywhere.  Our phones, pads, computers, cars and t.v.’s all send the news our way, wherever we may be, at any given moment. All of this news is about what is happening in the world that we cannot see for ourselves.

Then there is the news that we can see for ourselves…kitchen table news.  Our personal news.  Events in our day.  People we talked to and shared life with over lunch.  Experiences we had in a day.  New friends we met.  Funny things we heard.  Meals we cooked.  Mistakes we made.  Gifts we bought.  Plans we made.  Thoughts that challenged us.  Lessons we learned.  Books we read.  Conversations.  All of this news gives our lives meaning and purpose.

Then there is the news that Jesus Christ brings to our lives…spiritual news.   Here are a few headlines:

Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me.

And know that I am with you always; yes, to the end of time.

So I say to you, Ask and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you.

We need all kinds of news in our lives since we live as the light of Christ in the world around us.  But I wonder if we get too much about events we cannot see for ourselves and not enough kitchen table news or spiritual news.  Which type of news is life giving and which type is life draining?

For our tent, we find joy around the kitchen table when we share our headlines and we feel peace in our souls when we remember the spiritual power of the Good News. The other news has a place, but it is not the focus.

What about your tent?  How do you deal with news?

The angel said, “Don’t be afraid! Look! I bring good news to you—wonderful, joyous news for all people. Your savior is born today in David’s city. He is Christ the Lord. Luke 2:10-11

From our Happy Tent to yours,

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

Remove the Tire

While in heavy traffic this week, I saw something remarkable.  I was driving behind a truck near a car wreck.  As an eye witness (I was right behind he truck), I watched as the driver of the truck stepped and pulled on a work glove.  He then stepped into the next lane, bent down and picked up a tire sitting all alone in the middle of the lane.  He threw the tire onto the side of the road, got back into his truck and drove away.

The remarkable part of this eye witness report is that the lane, where the tire had been, quickly transformed from a crawl back to normal.  Then my lane did the same thing as the driver of the truck drove away, we all followed him.  Everything was back to normal!  In one simple act and one simple moment, frustration turned to peace. What was stopped, started again.  It just took one person to step out, take care of business and then keep going.

We remove “tires” all the time in this world.  Hearts are restored with stints, toilets are fixed with plungers, and lent is removed from dryers every day.  So why do we let some things stop us from moving forward or slow us down to a crawl?  Why do we let harmful relationships keep us from moving forward?  Why do we let stressful jobs prevent us from living healthy?  Why do we let people define us instead of God?  Why do we live in chaos when we can live in peace?

One reason is because we have been moving around in the chaos caused by the “wreck” so long that we forgot what it feels like to drive the speed limit.  It’s time to remove the “tire” in your life.  That thing that is keeping you from having a full life in Christ (John 10:10).  You can decide if you are going to remove the tire from your lane or if you need help from a fellow driver (call your bravest friend and borrow their courage and faith).  Either way, it’s time to move forward.

28955012_94b21d053c_bHappy Tents is dedicated to helping people imagine more.  Can you imagine what life would be like without that “tire” in your way stopping you from being the person you were created to be? God can.  I’m not suggesting the removal of a “tire” is simple and easy.  My eye witness report comes from Central Expressway in Dallas, Texas!  But if you slow down, turn on your hazards, and put on the right gloves (or the Armor of God), you will experience a successful removal.

And the gift is that life will not only feel normal again…it will feel better than normal.  That is just how God works.

Meredith Bell

 

Speechless

There are so many words in the world and yet in some moments there do not seem to be enough.  Speechless.  It’s those moments when you see something with your own two eyes and you do not believe what your brain is telling you.  Of course, our mouths want to say something to help bring reason back into the situation, but there are no magical words to undo what has been done.

Except one.  Jesus.

When we cross paths with a speechless event, saying the name Jesus gives you a starting point.  A word to stand on.  A word to utter.  A word to say.  Each time it is said, it is like dropping a little bit of belief into your disbelief.

In our family (in our tent) we experienced a speechless event today.  Speechless.  I could feel myself melting into the earth as I tired to make sense of what my own two eyes were telling me.  I could see my daughters, my husband and our event unfolding before me.  And I knew I needed help.  I didn’t know what kind of help at the time, but I knew someone who did.

I ran down the sidewalk…in flip-flops!  I ran like American Pharaoh when he was winning the triple crown last month!!  I knocked on her door and then I pounded on her door.  I really needed her to be there.  And when she came to the door I said that I needed HELP!  Without hesitation, she took my hands and walked with me back to my home.  All the way she said one word.  One word that began to drop a little bit of belief into my disbelief.

Jesus.  Jesus.  Jesus.  It felt like with each step, she said His name.  Jesus.

I very much wish I could tell you that after we said His name we experienced a miracle.  But we didn’t.  Our event was still very much present with us.  It wasn’t going away.  We were going to walk through the next hours, days and weeks together and our hearts were hurting.  But we didn’t feel alone anymore.  Beyond our limited view, I knew there were loving, heavenly arms around us.

And I was thankful…thankful for friends, Sunday school lessons, sermons, Bible studies, spiritual conversations, mission trips, books, VBSs, songs, and Bible verses that thought my family and me about the power of the name Jesus.  Because in that moment and event, we needed it all.  Each little drop of belief to help our disbelief.

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I know that there are hospitals full of very sick people you love.  Checking accounts that seem to never cover the bills.  Children who have pushed you too far.  Parents who have disappointed you.  Jobs that demand all of you…all the time.  Marriages that have lost their vision.  Tragedies that make you want to hide and give up hope.  And more events that cause you to question what your own two eyes are telling you.

I invite you to try my neighbors recipe the next time you come across this kind of event…just say Jesus.  Out loud.  To yourself.  Write it down.  Jesus.  You will not feel alone.  You may or may not experience a miracle.

Jesus.  It is a name you can count on when you are speechless.

Behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.  Matthew 28:20

Meredith Bell

When You Can’t Fix It

Finding peace when life feels too busy.

In my laundry room I have a cute knick-knak that is a reminder to me.  It says, “When life feels like a roller coaster, throw your hands up and enjoy the ride!”  It is a good reminder for me because my natural reaction to difficult news or a difficult day is to fix it so we can move one.  My natural response to stress is to cover it up, put a bandaid on it…keeping moving.   I am not sure where I learned this response or if I was born with it, but it is my gut reaction to stress, difficult news, suffering, etc.

What I have learned in my faith journey is that I am really not in control.  Period.  I am not important enough or powerful enough to or smart enough to “fix” things.  The fact that I believed for a long time that I could “fix” life is a little narcissistic.  (Confession #10,784)  More than a character flaw, it was exhausting!  Very exhausting!  Through faith I have learned that the first step I need to take is to let all of the pieces of the puzzle fall to the floor.  Just let them fall.  Just doing that one thing allows more space for breathing.  Just breath.  When I get to this point, I am able to pick up the pieces that truly matter and let the others ones stay on the floor…maybe forever.

This week I found that I could not stop the feeling of urgency all around me.  I get tired of going to multiple stores for multiple reasons.  The back of my car was full of different bags that needed to go to different places.  My solution…a pound cake.  I felt the need to throw some flour in a mixer with eggs and tons of sugar and butter.  It felt good to turn on the mixer and make some noise.  Some different noise.  I didn’t share the bowl or the spoon with my daughters.  I licked it by myself.  It was good.  The cake tasted delicious when we sat around our table at 7pm to enjoy a warm slice.  A slice of peace.

I may not be able to stop the pace of life around me…but I can stop and make a pound cake.  I did.  It was good.  Just like life is good when I accept there are some things I can’t fix!  Today I am reminded that Jesus is my savior because He saves me from a life of control…daily.

Now…pre-heat your oven to 325 degrees and find your mixer!  Create some yummy peace.  The shopping list can wait.

Don’t be afraid, for I am with you.
    Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you.
    I will hold you up with my victorious right hand. (Isaiah 41:10)

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