Shut My Mouth

“Today, I just shut my mouth…and it hurt,” she said from the back seat.  “I wanted to keep talking, but I just didn’t.  It was so hard.”  At school she engaged a person about an interpretation of the Bible that she fully disagreed with.  It is no secret that we enjoy a good theology discussion and/or debate in our tent. It’s just what we do.  Being the wise teenager in the family, she realized her view of the conversation and the other person’s view were so different, that it was necessary that she just shut her mouth.  And she did. But it wasn’t easy. Impressive.

After we listened to the whole story, she had our attention.  We responded with affirmations like, “Wow, we are proud of you,” and “How did it feel?”  Then we wondered about all the conversations we experienced that day.   Did we miss a few opportunities to shut our mouth? Probably. Then I remembered why I often don’t shut my mouth…anxiety.

Anxiety is a funny friend. It comes when I least expect it and takes up residence within the empty spaces of my mind.  Then, some way it drops into my mouth and comes out in strong words.  The lucky (unlucky) recipient of these words does not appreciate them.  But words from anxiety do not have a return policy. Once they leave the mouth, we own them.  Forever. A side effect of sharing our anxiety with others through words is that their anxiety increases as well.  A never-ending cycle.  Unless…I shut my mouth!

One way I gently manage my anxiety is to fill my mind with positive thoughts so there is no room for anxiety.  Here are a few mantras that often do the trick.  We chose one a day this week as we headed out the door into the big wonderful world.  See if you can use one.

  • Be a warrior, not a worrier.
  • Be still and know that I am God.
  • This is where I end and they begin.
  • I am loved. I am safe.
  • Wag more, bark less.
  • Don’t believe everything you think.
  • Always choose joy.
  • Let go of what you cannot control.

As we head into the holidays, we can purposely not invite anxiety to the party and fill our tents with positive mantras, sacred scripture and the Holy Spirit.  With all three of these friends at the table, we are sure to have a day full of thankfulness and love.

Kind words are like honey, sweet to the soul and healthy for the body. Proverbs 16:24

Dear God, help me to just shut my mouth…even if it hurts.

From our Happy tent to yours,

Meredith Bell

Precious Pumpkins

Stanton Studios is located in Central Texas…in the woods.  They are an art company that specialize in wood, glass and metal, including blown glass.  In the fall, they make blown glass pumpkins for visitors.  I made an appointment one day and our search for the precious pumpkins began.

Driving down a country road, we talked about…about nothing really.  “Minecraft passenger” was aggressively looking for Atlantis at the bottom of ocean world. “Book-reading passenger” was lost in another world.  As we drove deeper into the woods, the pilot and co-pilot were wondering if this pumpkin trip was still a good idea.

When we arrived, we were warmly greeted, carefully instructed and perfectly coached.  One at a time we watched our color choices melt into the hot, hot glass before it was transformed into a precious pumpkin.  The experience was fascinating and satisfying.  We created our own precious pumpkins with our own breath.  Magical.

But it really wasn’t magic that made our precious pumpkins. It was the artist.  The man in the warehouse that had worked long hours, many months, and years to master the art of blown glass.  He made the experience seem effortless, but we know it took a lot of effort on his side of the experience.

Our lives are like the precious pumpkins.  God is the artist. Some days life just seems magical.  We enjoy the people around us, the fall colors, hope, joy, and peace.  But it is not really magic that we are experiencing. A lot of effort created the opportunity for us to freely live everyday.  Because we are precious pumpkins to God,  Jesus made a way for us to experience “magical” days every day. These days may be available, but we often live with agendas in our tents that prevent us from the full experience of life.

If your happy tent is looking to experience a little more hope, joy, and peace, here are a few tips that helped us create our precious pumpkin adventure:

Availability: First, make yourself available for an experience…a precious life experience.  This may mean that you will miss a few gatherings, games or meetings.  It may even mean that you leave the dirty laundry in the hamper and the dishes in the sink a little longer (Don’t worry your friends will still love you and the work will be there when you get back). Simply making yourself available for something different causes you to hurry less and focus more on what is truly precious around you (Hint…it is not Minecraft, work, phones or books).

Show up:Talking about something is one experience.  Doing something is another. We knew about these precious pumpkins for a while, but kept finding reasons to not go. What have you wanted to do for a while?  Get on the road and do it…even if you have to travel through the woods to get there!   Leaving our comfort zones and trying something new can be uncomfortable or even frightening.  But for all that we lose, look how much we gain.

Experience it:  Creative moments are full of potential.  Creative moments help us experience the color and the depth that life offers.   Creative moments make space for better conversations and insights. Everyone in your tent is a precious pumpkin.  As long as we have breath, we have the opportunity to breathe life into  the people around us that is full of creativity, hope, joy, and peace.  Together, discover an experience that takes your breath away.

When our precious pumpkin patch was complete, we noticed the beauty in each pumpkin and the beauty in the pumpkins together.  Each pumpkin is shaped differently and colored differently.  On our dining table, they look good together.  They are precious pumpkins in this precious life.

Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits in the place of honor at God’s right hand. Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth. 1 Colossians 3:1-2

From our Happy Tent to Yours,

Meredith Bell

P.S. Stanton Studios also makes Christmas ornaments if you are looking for a way to experience your own creative moment.

 

Grateful for the Manna

Grateful.  This word is constantly growing in our hearts and in our tent.  Over the summer, I found a hat with the word “Grateful” written across the front.  In seconds, I grabbed the hat, paid for it and left the store.  Grateful…exactly! I knew it was the right word to describe the feeling in my soul.  Unconsciously I had been on a search to discover the feeling reverberating within me. It was a deep, overwhelming feeling. For a while it didn’t have a name.

Even happy tents have bad days, weeks or months. Ours is no different.  One day in May, just before preparing dinner, our plans suddenly changed.  Before we could process what was happening, we were in an emergency room, an ambulance, another emergency room, a cat-scan, an ICU room, a surgery waiting room and then another one and then another one.  Our precious daughter was in the biggest fight for her life in her thirteen years and we were there as parents.  Scared, confused, loving parents.

The hours turned into days, the days turned into weeks and the weeks even turned into months.  Months of symptoms, medications, appointments, healing, recovery and processing.  Months.

In the midst of our happy tent nightmare, the things that we needed the most constantly appeared. The right doctor, the right nurse, the right test, the right card, the right meal, the right friend, the right text, the right diagnosis, the right family member, the right prayer, the right hospital, the right time, the right result, the right treatment, and the right place continuously began to appear.  Almost like it was falling out of the sky right into our laps.  One morning in the ICU room, I found myself eating a cookie for breakfast.  I texted a friend telling her that I was having cookies for breakfast and I didn’t even know where they came from.  She quickly responded, “Manna.”  Manna from heaven.

I will rain down bread from heaven for you. The people are to go out each day and gather enough for that day. Exodus 16: 4

A grateful heart sees beyond the immediate moment into all of the moments before this one.  A grateful heart swells with emotion where words disappear.  A grateful heart pours out its tears of deep joy that flow back into the well of gratitude that runs within all of us.  A grateful heart takes note of the smallest details in life.

As the fall leaves begin to fall and the season changes, we are grateful.  Grateful for community, prayers, friends, family, snuggles, hot chocolate, warm blankets and more days together in our tent. And for the buckets and buckets of manna!

From our Happy and Grateful Tent to Yours,

Meredith Bell

I Don’t Like Eggs

We routinely hear the declarative statement, “I don’t like eggs,” in our tent every morning.  This has been happening for a number of years.  (Maybe even for 13 years if we are honest.)

Mr. Bell is the breakfast chef in our tent.  He rises early every morning and stumbles to the coffee pot in the kitchen.  Next he surveys the breakfast supplies to decide the morning menu.  Then he begins to crack eggs, fry bacon, make muffins, slice apples or a number of other natural exercises that produce a well balanced breakfast.  Every breakfast plate is served with his signature…a smiley face. He makes every breakfast into a smiley face.  Every plate. Every morning.

Most of his well balanced breakfast plates include eggs.  Fried eggs.  Scrambled eggs.  Poached eggs.  Boiled eggs.  With every egg comes a quiet statement from a member of our tent.  “I don’t like eggs.”  Quiche, breakfast tacos, and cheese omelets all get the same response.  “I don’t like eggs.”  Even eggs in a smiley face receive a response that says, “I don’t like eggs.”

Something happened the other morning that shocked our tent.  We responded to the statement.  Every other morning we just ignored it.  But on this morning, we responded with, “You really don’t like eggs?”  Then she said, “I tell you this every morning,” and bites into her bagel.  Then the two leaders of our tent looked at each other with big eyes and said, “She really doesn’t like eggs!”  The next morning, eggs were not a part of her smiley face.  (She still had a smiley face on her plate and one appeared on her face.) We had finally heard her. (Way to go parents!)

As much as we would like the people in our tents to be just like us, they are not.  Family members surprisingly like different things.  They like different food, different music, different books, different movies and more different things.  And yet, we pretend that everyone in the tent likes the same things. (We even get frustrated when this happens.)

When we listen to what is being said and pay attention to what is being said, we discover good useful information about someone we love.  We are invited into their world when they reveal a difference and that is when the relationship grows deeper.

Jesus paid attention to words people said and their actions.  He found good useful information about the people He loved.  The people He loved were changed by the relationship and still are today.

I wonder what differences live in your tent? What can you learn from each other this week?

All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. 2 Timothy 3:16

From our Happy Tent to Yours,

Meredith Bell

God’s Favorite Word…And

A little over a year ago, I heard a sermon by Dr. Bill Bryan called “God’s Favorite Word.”  Bill claimed that God’s favorite word is “AND.”  This week, Bill passed away from pancreatic cancer.  But like any good preacher, Bill’s words will live on through the many sermons he preached over his lifetime and the many young clergy he mentored.  Bill lost his battle with cancer AND he now lives in God’s eternity.

Our endings are God’s beginnings.  If Bill is right and God’s favorite word is AND, then we experience life in a new way.  We are often quick to end God’s story in our lives because we feel that it has come to a conclusion. We settle for our experiences in jobs, family, finances, or marriage.  We begin to believe that a good enough life is the life God wants to give us.  But Jesus came to give us an abundant life, not just a good life.   God is quick to erase our punctuation and throw an “AND” on the end of our story.  A story that God is always creating.

I had another friend, Rev. Wally Chappell, who mentored me in my life.  When I met Wally he was already in his eighties.  Wally lived a life with a lot of ANDs.  He graduated from Rice with an engineering degree AND married the love of his life AND became a pastor AND he had four sons (he called them 1, 2,3,4) AND at the age of 70 rode his bike from Texas to Colorado AND published a book AND married his college sweetheart at the age of ninety-four. Wally never seemed to stop adding ANDs to his life and it is safe to say he lived an abundant life.

This week, our tent (like yours) has been watching Hurricane Harvey destroy home after home, tent after tent and life after life.  The destruction is overwhelming.  But I know that God is busy erasing all the punctuations marks at the end of all the news reports.  God is erasing the periods and adding a lot of ANDs.

People are suffering in terrible ways AND people are helping.  The rivers continue to rise AND volunteers are setting up shelters for their neighbors.  Families are trapped in their homes AND strangers are rescuing them in their personal boats.  Cities are experiencing chaos AND finding hope by helping one another.  Homes are destroyed AND homes will be rebuilt.  We always wonder where God is at work in the midst of destruction and darkness.  This week, I know God was busy adding a lot of ANDs to Hurricane Harvey.  Hurricane Harvey destroyed AND God will guide all of us to ways to help our neighbors.

He divided the sea and let them pass through it,
    and made the waters stand like a heap.
In the daytime he led them with a cloud,
    and all night long with a fiery light.
He split rocks open in the wilderness,
    and gave them drink abundantly as from the deep.
He made streams come out of the rock,
    and caused waters to flow down like rivers.  Psalm 78:13-16

From our praying AND helping tent to yours,

Meredith Bell

 

 

A Time to Unlearn

The great writer of Ecclesiastes wrote, “There is a season for everything, a time for every matter under the sun.” We have declared this summer to be a time to UNLEARN. (No need to panic teachers, we promise not to unlearn all the great skills you taught over the year.)

We had an honest conversation in our tent at the end of the week. Six days after school and activities ended, we decided we were bored! All the girls in our tent agreed.   Only one of us was brave enough to say it out loud. (It is hard to admit how you feel when it is not what you expected.) We expected to be joyful and feel free to live our lives without a schedule, but instead we were bored, frustrated and confused.

The youngest one said she was just ready to go back to school. She said, “One week is enough of a break!” The older one said, “I have no cause!” After I stopped laughing. I reminded them that we had a LONG summer ahead of us. Then there was a period of silence.

Maybe our first week of summer is telling us something important…it’s time to UNLEARN some things. First one is to UNLEARN that we need to be entertained to feel satisfied!  Then we can move on and UNLEARN what is means to be productive, rested, and stress free.

Ellen G. White wrote, “We have many lessons to learn, and many, many to unlearn. God and heaven alone are infallible. Those who think that they will never have to give up a cherished view…will be disappointed.”

There are many experiences that we learn from in our lives. Most of them offer good lessons. Many we learned to survive a season of life. But some of them teach us skills or attitudes that we may need to UNLEARN. Feeling bored, frustrated or confused may be just what we need to recognize a time to UNLEARN something we thought we already knew. First we need to admit how we feel and then we will be open to learning a new way, idea or process.  It may take a little creativity and humility.

What do you possibly need to UNLEARN this summer?

From our Happy Tent to Yours,

Meredith Bell

Summer Reading: You Are Special

In Max Lucado’s book, You are Special, he reminds us how God sees each of us.  God sees us as special. The world doesn’t. This is something we can UNLEARN over the summer as well. Happy reading!

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

Look Up

A few years ago at a colleague’s funeral, I heard a sermon that I still remember.  The pastor said when we cannot make sense of what is going on around us, one thing we can do is look up.  Look up to God.  Her words still speak truth today.  In the midst of uncertainty, fear, shock and confusion, one place we can look to for comfort is up.  When we look up, we are reminded that God is among us.

God is among us and God is at work even during our dark days.  Families have lost important members this week across our country.  Family members that have lived in their “tent”, laughed at their jokes, sat at their table and shared countless memories with over the years.  Now they are gone and their lives are in front of all of us.

As people in God’s family, we are invited to shine the light of Christ into the darkness.  We are invited to look up to God in prayer and seek direction. God uses families every day to comfort, help and love others.  Families have a front row seat in the world.   We see first hand the people who suffer, hurt, experience loneliness and more.  We live next door to strangers that become friends.  We use our phones to stay in touch with people who we know.  The family is an outpost for God in the world. And today families have the opportunity to up lift each other and to up lift their community and its needs.

The center of activity in most homes is the kitchen.  Maybe this week, we can use our kitchen time as our sacred time.  During our sacred time, we can work together to process the current events, God’s work around us and our own spiritual work.  All we need to do this is some good food, a little extra time together, scriptures that speak to us and hands to hold in prayer.  God can use families today to shine light in a dark world.  I wonder how God plans to use your family?

Together we pray for our communities, our country and our world as we look up to God together.

Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.

Galatians 6:2

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

 

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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