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

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

Pigs

The power of pigs.  Last week, I drove from my home straight to my first appointment each day.  This week, I had to leave early from my house so I would have time to stop by the barn, pull on my pig boots and feed the pigs, Pickle and Donut.  Last week, after a long day of working, my husband would come home and relax a little before working some more. This week, he comes home to pick up the pig owner and he takes her to the barn to feed the pigs, Pickle and Donut. These pigs have changed our lives.  Things are different around our tent.  My car already smells different.  Every conversation we seem to have includes information about the pigs, Pickle and Donut.

IMG_0232There is something else the pigs have done.  They have brought smiles to our faces.  The way my mother pulled them out of the delivery crate and put them in their new pen gave me a great big smile.  The 10-year-old pig owner has had a permeant smile on her face all week.  When one pig ate out of the 7-year-old assistant- pig-owner’s hand…there was a big smile looking up.  These pigs have delivered a lot of smiles this week to our family.

One year ago, if you would have asked me if we would be in the pig business, I would have quickly said, “When pigs fly…no way.”  One hour ago my family was feeding our new pigs.  My “no way”, in one year, has turn into an “OK.”  What does all of this mean??

There are pigs in everyone’s future!  There are so many big and small events in our lives that are just waiting to knock on our door and take up residence in our lives.  We just do not know what they are going to be until they arrive.  For us, it is two pigs, Pickle and Donut.  It may be a new job, another child, a fantastic trip, a new pet, a new friend or a new chance.  Or it may be a broken relationship, financial troubles, unexpected news, grief or poor health.  Some things in our future will bring us smiles and some things will bring us tears.

There is a lot that we do not know about our future.  There is one thing that we do know and it will carry us through all the “pigs” that life can bring us.  Jesus walks with us in our dark times as well as in our times of joy.  Because we know Christ, we will have the light of life.

Then Jesus again spoke to them, saying, “I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life.”  John 8:12

This week, make some time to have a date with Jesus.  Grow your relationship, smile and listen.  The same Jesus that you know today is the same Jesus you will need during the days to come.  Your relationship with Jesus is life giving.  Jesus will know exactly how to guide you when your “pigs” show up in your life.

This week, my prayer has been for Jesus to send me people who know more about pigs than the Bell clan.  My prayers are working.  All week, we have met new, wonderful people who have a lot of pig knowledge! I’m thankful!

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

You are Welcome

Strawberries in water.  A comfortable and warm bed to sleep in.  Soul conversations.  Laughter.  Open doors.  Delicious meals.  Simple hospitality. All of these experiences simply say, “You are welcome!”  It is a wonderful feeling to be welcomed into someone’s home and life.  It warms your heart and releases your anxiety.  It feels you with peace that can only come from God.

Some of my favorite memories of hospitality took place around someone’s table.  My conversations with my grandfather (and best friend) always took place at a table with a bowl of strawberries and sugar. 6115838231_f708cce3d0_b All teenage worries disappear with strawberries and sugar.  My grandmother’s table would often be decorated with a beautiful holiday arrangement and she would offer me a quick sandwich.  Challenges about the future seemed to feel smaller at her table.  Coffee, while sitting at my mother’s table looking at the hummingbirds, always tastes better and replenishes my soul.  The back porch of my in-laws home always makes me thankful to be a part of a loving and supportive family.  An afternoon cup of hot tea ,with a friend traveling the same parenting roads that I am on,  gives me time to pause and be thankful for the children God has placed into my care for a short time.  Strawberries and water with a nice lunch after a super stressful morning reminds me why friends are important.  And a key to the front door of a friends home makes me grateful for friendships that are deeper than I can even understand.  All of these moments simply say, “You are welcome.”

I imagine God’s eternal home is similar.  It is a place where all feel at home.  A place where stress falls away and laughter grows.  A place of community that replenishes our souls.  A place where pain does not exist. A place where love is deeper than we can even understand.  No matter if we sit at the kitchen table or on the back porch of God’s house, we know that we are welcome.

Until we personally experience God’s home, we each have the opportunity to open our homes and our hearts in a way that simply communicates, “You are welcome!” We each have an opportunity to provide a glimpse into eternal life through our hospitality to others.  Just like God is always ready and available to hear our thoughts and prayers, we too need to be available to have meaningful conversations with others and welcome them into our home and lives.  Your small, thoughtful acts of love and kindness will be remembered in the years to come.

You are always welcome in our home!

Don’t neglect to open up your homes to guests, because by doing this some have been hosts to angels without knowing it.  Hebrews 13:2

Meredith Bell

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