The Bell Family

Random ponderings on God, life, and the humor all around us


Ariana is 10!!!

Our oldest girlie left the single digits this month. This tween, with her servant heart and beautiful smile, brings me so much joy. Below is the annual letter Bill wrote to her.


Our dear, loving Ariana,

I like birthdays, because they remind us in this big family to slow down a bit and focus on thanking God for one particular person. Today’s your day, Ariana Katriel. And it’s such a joy to slow down and take a look at the many ways we’ve seen the Father’s goodness in giving us you.

I know you’ve heard the story so many times, but your grand entry into the world was scary. Something was wrong. You and Mom were both hurting, the pain and brokenness threatening both of your lives. I didn’t really get it at the time, but it was a reminder that life is fragile. It was also a reminder that in a world plagued with sin, beautiful events like childbirths are now cursed and ugly and sometimes fatal. Yours could have gone that way. If you’d been born a hundred years ago, both of you would be in paradise already with Jesus and the rest of your brothers and sisters never would’ve become part of this family.

Why do I bring up such a horrible thing on a day of celebration? Because it didn’t go that way! Ten years ago today, we saw the grace of God the Father—the God who saves—when he reached down into our history and yanked you away from the grip of death. Honey, God saved you on the day of your first breath—pulling you out of the darkness and bringing you into the light. And I still rejoice, over and over and over, because you’re sitting here. And Mom’s sitting here. And this whole family is here because of the grace and mercy and kindness of our God, who gives us more than we could ever ask or imagine.

I also tell you this because I want you to have a bigger picture of God. You’re leaving childhood behind. I know you haven’t read all of the Narnia books yet, but one of the things Aslan tells Lucy is that it isn’t he himself who is bigger, just that “every year you grow, you will find me bigger”. I want that to be true for you, because the infinite creator of the universe can’t get any bigger, yet your understanding and awe of him can.

Darling, you have been given a sweet heart that is full of compassion and loves to jump up to serve. This is a gift from God, one that is being pruned by the Spirit and watered by the Word. I want to see more and more of his grace shining through you, as you fight to serve without praise, to love without recognition, to help without looking for attention. God has started that work in you and he will definitely bring it to completion.

And as you slowly race out of childhood into womanhood, you’re going to see the world differently. You’re going to know new hurts and experience new joys. You’ll find that some ways you’ve thought about life will have to be tossed out to make way for the new adventures you’ll find. Mom and I are thrilled to watch you do it. Neither be afraid of it nor try to make it happen too fast. Just as God is in control of shaping how tall you are and how much you grow each year, he’s king over this inside growth, too.

Personally, one of my favorite things about you is how much you want to be like your mom. Of course, I think she’s the most incredible woman ever, so it doesn’t surprise me that you want to be just like her. But I don’t just want you to be the cook and the adventurer and the knitter and the momma she is. I want you to also see the light of King Jesus shining through her as Momma reflects the glory of Jesus. I want that same glory to shine in you. That’ll come as you embrace growing up, taking responsibility, doing good when no one can see it, and finding joy in service without accolade. These are my prayers for you.

So, my dear, happy birthday. May you see the goodness of our God in new ways with a new year before you.

Love, Dad & Mom



Brenda Madison

Fifty-eight years ago today, a baby girl, Brenda, was brought into this world under no unusual circumstances.  She would have a quiet childhood, living in the same home with one slightly older brother and parents who were very guarded with their hearts though loving in their own way.  She would be terrified to talk to just about anybody, so she remain mostly silent, always aware of her shortcomings.  Around her 12th year, by God’s grace, she would have her eyes opened to her sinfulness and the forgiveness available to her through the cross, and she would embrace it wholeheartedly with amazement.  As a teen she would work at a movie theatre where she would meet a teenage boy, Frank, who would boldly ask her out on a date.  Five days later he would ask her to marry him, and she would say yes.  Their wedding would be postponed, though, when her Air Force fiance would be in a bus accident that would break his back and leave him disabled, rarely able to be the financial provider for his home.  Despite all this, Brenda would still marry Frank and give birth to a son exactly nine months after the wedding.  

Brenda would go to school to become an RN and would be an amazing one at that.  She would be dedicated to her job and patients, but dedicated more to her family.  She would work crazy long hours, most holidays and weekends, and then would come home to do housework and care for her little boy.  Though exceptionally wise with her finances, she and Frank would be constantly struggling for money, and there would be times she would be hungry to make sure her little one had plenty to eat.  Though desiring three children, she would have her tubes tied because she wouldn’t think they could afford any more.

Five years later, when Frank had just finished another back surgery, she would be surprised to find out she was again pregnant even though that shouldn’t have been possible.  Though scared, she would be overjoyed understanding that this was God’s work.  A few months later she would give birth again, this time to a baby girl, having her children eight years apart.  Her heart would always be to stay home with her children, but she would understand, though sometimes difficult, that this desire was not God’s plan for her life.  Though she wouldn’t be with her children as much as she wanted, her children would always be sure of her love for them.

Each morning, Brenda would wake up early and immediately open her Bible to study and pray.  Though it may have seemed like not much was going on to the outsider during these times, Brenda would be in the middle of spiritual warfare, praying diligently for her husband, her children, and every need she would ever see around her.  Through her faith in the Lord, He would be gracious and faithful to answer her prayers.  Frank, her son, and her daughter all would come to know and love Jesus by God’s grace through her teaching, example, and constant prayers.  A spiritual legacy would begin.

58 years later, Brenda would still be constantly praying, constantly humble, and constantly diving into God’s word.  She would now be praying not only for her husband and children, but also for her son-in-law and daughter-in-law, her 5 grandchildren, and the grandchild growing in her daughter’s womb.  She would be only 2 months away from the 40th anniversary of her marriage to Frank, continuing to grow in her love for him each day.  Four hours away the day before Thanksgiving, her daughter would be weeping tears of thankfulness for this mother who loved her so deeply by praying for this girl who was so often rebellious and unappreciative.  This daughter would now be very aware of the fact that her salvation was a gift not only to her but also to the faithful mother who had asked God for it.  This daughter became a daughter of God because her mother was already a daughter of God who loved Him with all her heart.

Today, November 24th, I want to celebrate my mother, Brenda Madison.  She is my greatest mentor and one of my dearest friends.    I have never met a woman so in love with Jesus, and apart from our Lord Jesus, I have no other individual to be more thankful for in this season than the woman who cared about my soul more than anything else in this world.  I am so, so thankful God put me in her arms and that I had the crazy joy of getting to laugh, cry, and simply enjoy life with this woman growing up.  I love her deeply.  Happy birthday, my beautiful mother!

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A Quick Note

In yesterday’s post, I mentioned a few of Bill’s duties that I help him achieve through Christ.  I wanted to quickly mention something I have been asked about (and wondered myself).  Notice that I talked about how I work to fulfill Bill’s biblical goals.  What if my husband’s goals are to come home, kick back in his recliner, pop open a beer, and watch sports all day while I serve him like crazy?  That probably would not be a biblical goal for your husband to do regularly (though I would argue that there is a biblical place for intentional rest, and if that is how your husband rests he probably is not sinning); however, and I tread here lightly, you should still focus on serving him in this behavior.  First, you are called to be his helpmate, and if this is how he wants you to help him, then choose obedience to God.  God will be pleased.   Second, focusing on your husband’s failures only opens the door for you to stop focusing on your own failures and to grow in self-righteousness (1 John 1:8-9).  1 Peter 3:1-2 says,

In the same way, you wives, be submissive to your own husbands so that even if any of them are disobedient to the word, they may be won without a word by the behavior of their wives, as they observe your chaste and respectful behavior.

Your command is to submit to your husband, so even if he is not following God’s word perfectly (and no one does–Romans 3:23), God will use your behavior toward your husband to sanctify him.

Edit: As it turns out, my favorite bloggers and I have a similar series going at the same time.  That’s what I get for not looking around first to make sure I wasn’t being redundant.  Check out their blog, too, as the Spirit has gifted them with far more wisdom than I.  The series begins here, but they are still posting.


With What Am I Helping?

As with all things, we must know the why before we begin the what, so I am going to do my best to explain the why of my homekeeping before I get into some practical tips.  According to Genesis, I was created to be Bill’s helpmate.  That means all I do in managing my home brings the most glory to God if it fits into the plan of helping Bill, but with what am I helping him?  Well, some things Bill is called to are his own spiritual well being, the spiritual well being of me and the kids, serving others (both believers and unbelievers), and some things around the house that require muscle (of which I have little).  My purpose for managing our home must help serve him so he can be freed up to glorify God through his duties.

What I do must not necessarily be according to other Christians’ standards but according to God’s word and my husband’s needs.  For instance, I had a friend who told me she felt like a failure because she wasn’t making lunch for her husband every morning.  Upon prodding her a bit, I discovered her husband didn’t even want her to make his lunch.  He didn’t feel it helped him with any of his duties, and he enjoyed his lunch more when he made it himself. 🙂  At one season of our lives, Bill wasn’t getting much time in the word.  Mornings seemed like the best time for him, so I began preparing his lunch in the mornings to free up some time for him to pray and study scripture.  Being a helpmate to our husbands looked different for my friend and me.  Because there is no biblical command to prepare your husband’s lunch, she did not need to do this task, but it was a great service to Bill and our whole family.

This is what some of that looks like for our family.   Some things Bill feels like are important for our family on a daily basis is that he gets to spend time in the word and in prayer (he gets most of this during his long bus rides and walks in the morning and afternoon), that he is the main theology teacher in our home, that he spends individual time with each child, that we spend some time together as a family, that he gets sufficient time connecting with me, that we get sufficient time for sleep so he can be rested enough to serve us, and that he gets work done that I can’t do.  Approximately, we take one hour for dinner, training, and talking as a family, 30 minutes of individual time with each child, 15 minutes for family worship, one hour at least of uninterrupted talking time with me, and some time for us to do something fun together like play outside, play a game, read, or whatever.  He also almost always has some kind of job to do around the house.  For example, last night our closet shelves randomly fell, so Bill spent an hour reinstalling.  🙂

With all those duties (and that’s just the bare minimum) and considering he only has about 5 hours from the time he gets home to the time he goes to bed, how could I expect Bill so split homekeeping chores with me when he gets home?  No one (including me) would be served in that instance.  Bill would miss out on some quality time with at least some of us, and all of our spiritual growth would be stunted.  Also, if we lived in a house of chaos and disorder, it would be difficult to have places to romp together or to find things quickly in the limited time he has.  With how easy it is for our family to pass sickness around to each other, cleanliness also becomes an important factor.  Therefore, I strive to keep a clean and ordered home (just ignore the plethora of toys on the floor during the day), and I strive to do it all on my own before he gets home.  Granted this does not usually work out perfectly, especially in our season of having 100lbs of little ones running around, but this is my goal, and I do it joyfully (sometimes) for God’s glory.


Who Do I Look Hot For?

All you grammar people please show me grace in my title…  😉

So, each time some new aspect of submission really clicks, I find so much joy in Christ for how He displays Himself to me through my marriage.  The latest is changing for who I’m trying to look good.  It should stand to reason that the person I most want to impress is my husband, right?  But I have been realizing that I rarely prioritize that way.  My priorities go something like this:  1. how good I think I look and 2. how good others think I look.  Ways this comes out is that I will get a hairstyle I think is attractive, buy clothes I think are attractive, try to have a body image that fits society’s standards, etc.  Though I always think Bill will like what he sees (which he does, BTW), doing things in that order isn’t taking him into account.

Let me give a couple of examples of how this has been looking for me over the past few months.  One, I never get a haircut without first looking through magazines or the Internet and asking him for his opinion.  He loves me trying new things, but through this I have realized Bill prefers me with shortish hair.  I never really knew that because I just decide what I want and then ask him what he thinks after the deed is done.  Because Courtney is Bill’s standard of beauty, he always likes what he sees, but I am now understanding that I have been asking him to change his standard of beauty.  As one pastor has said, “A man may be initially attracted to his future wife when she has long hair.  Then two weeks after the wedding she cuts her hair off.  Why would she do that if her husband liked her hair long?  Who is she really trying to impress?”

I used to love surprising Bill with new outfits I would wear for a date or some other event.  Though there is absolutely nothing wrong with that, I will almost always model it for him first to get his opinion before I remove the tags especially if I’m trying a new style.  I just got a new shirt from someone recently.  I wore it one evening around the house and told Bill I planned to wear it on our date.  When date day came, Bill got in our closet and pulled out a different top.  Thinking he had simply forgotten about the new one, I reminded him of my plans and asked what he would rather me wear.  He lovingly confessed that the other shirt was fine but that he really preferred the one he chose because it brought out my eyes.  This thrilled me because I knew he would be pleased with how I looked but was difficult at the same time as I didn’t want to wear something “old.”  Seriously, this was a difficult point of submission for me–ridiculous.  I took the shirt he had chosen, put it on, and was convicted that it was more important in my heart  for me to wear the new shirt for me than for him.  Why?  Because of my sinful selfishness and desire to have authority over him.  The pastor I mentioned above was once telling his congregation that his wife picks all his clothes for him.  He said, “You may be thinking that I don’t look that good to you, but who cares what you think!  My wife likes it, and that’s the only person I want to look good for.”  I asked for forgiveness for caring more about myself than Bill and joyfully wore the shirt he preferred (good thing, too.  The other one really doesn’t go with my hair color now that I think about it).  🙂

Bill has begun making similar changes, and we are having a blast with it.  One of our dates a few weeks ago was simply walking around the mall and picking clothing in which we thought our spouse would look good.  Even though we didn’t buy anything, it was so beneficial to get to see what each others’ tastes were and to get ideas for the next time we go shopping.  It’s also fun to get “the look” almost every day from my man because he knows I’m centering my appearances on his desires and no one else’s (you married ladies know the look I’m talking about–if you non-married ones know it, get out of the relationship now!).  🙂  How similar this is to our relationship in Christ.  Though we are always beautiful to Him no matter what, thanks to His sacrifice on the cross, we should strive to put His standards of beauty above anyone else’s, including our own.


Shout Out for Elder’s Wives

I have been studying Acts for the past couple of months now, so the Holy Spirit and His work in us has been on my mind a lot.  This morning I was reading Acts 20 when Paul is talking to the elders at the church of Ephesus.  In verse 28, he says,

Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.

The part that hit me hardest this morning was the reminder that the Holy Spirit, not man, made these men overseers of their flock.  The same is true today.  We should have confidence knowing our elders are in that position because the Holy Spirit put them there. 

Then I began thinking about their wives.  They also were given to these men through the Holy Spirit, and though often forgotten, they have a tough job.  The elders’ wives at Sojourn are continually giving of themselves, serving their husbands sacrificially every day so our elders can be freed up to serve their flock as faithfully as possible.  These women do most of their work in the background but work harder than most in the church.  I was reflecting on each of the six women who fulfill this role at Sojourn and was filled with joy as I could see how God has used them in my life alone, knowing how vital they are to the spiritual health of our church.  My dear friend Karen (who coincidentally is one of our elders’ wives) has shared with me more than once the importance of encouraging others to their faces, and though this isn’t technically face to face, I want to publically praise our Savior for the work He is doing in each of their lives.  Some I know better than others, but all have been part of my spiritual growth.

Karen Cheong–I could write a book here.  This beautiful woman is the one every woman wants to be her mentor.  She is the epitome of biblical womanhood.  I have often prayed God would teach me to love my husband, children, and others in the way Karen loves.  She is possibly one of the busiest women alive, but when I have called on her, she has often dropped everything to meet my need.  This woman knows how to encourage!  She has taught me more in the brief moments I have had with her than I could ever learn from a book.

Sarah Cosper–Is there anyone who has a sweeter spirit?  This lady loves every person she meets unconditionally, and she always has a kind word to say.  She is an amazing example of humility.  She dearly loves her husband and daughter and is regularly public about her affection for them.  No corrupting talk comes from her mouth, but only talk that is good for building others up.   

Amy Ems–Pure wit.  She can help you see the funny side of most things in life.  I have shed many tears of laughter while listening to Amy talk about, well, basically anything.  How we need people that have the gift of bringing joy to those around them!  Another side of Amy, though, is her willingness to be vulnerable.  She is not too proud to admit she is a sinner and has encouraged me through her example to practice humility by “laying it all out there.” 

Ginger Lewis–I have never seen Ginger without a gorgeous, joy-filled smile on her face.  There have been times I have felt down or discouraged until I was warmed by her welcome.  She treats no one like they are a stranger but like they are the one person she was hoping to see that day.  I have to admit that I love watching her when Chad preaches.  Her face shows so much adoration for him.  I pray God continues to challenge me to respect my husband as Ginger openly respects and loves hers.

Mandy Montgomery–Superwoman!  This mother of three small children seems like she can do it all.  She has many talents, but she constantly puts herself aside to fulfill her first role as helpmate to her husband.  She is selfless and a hard, hard worker, working with joy for the Lord.  She is filled with wisdom and grace.  Mandy is also extremely gifted in hospitality (her husband publicly praises her for it), and she has taught me much about what true hospitality is.  I have grown largely in this area over the past several months, mainly due to a conversation I had with Mandy a while back.

Chandi Plummer–Wisdom.  She is the kind of woman you just want to be around.  For one, she’s just fun!  She has a very optimistic personality and is always reminding me of the power I have in Christ to do all things.  Talk about gospel-centered!  Though Chandi is not my “official” mentor, I don’t think I’ve ever talked to her, even for short periods of time, without growing spiritually.  She is always ready with a word of wisdom or encouragement.  She is also an amazing example of how to be a God-fearing mother, pointing her daughters to the good news day in and day out.

I praise God for each of these women!  How richly He has blessed me and our church through His work in them.


My Joys of Motherhood

Obviously, we are not posting much these days.  Maybe that will change again at some point, but blogging just doesn’t fit into our priorities right now.  We do, after all, have three children under the age of three.  Many people have asked what it’s like to have three children so close in age.  My answer is usually, “Humbling.”  As we’ve mentioned before, Bill and I pray for humility more than almost anything else, and God is still faithful to answer our prayers, but it is rarely in the way we want.  This has been yet another area He has been working, showing me I can’t do it on my own.  As an example, just before Esther was a month old, I got my cleaning supplies out for the first time since her birth.  That was as far as I got.  The rest of the day, I got to look at them longingly as they sat on the kitchen table.  For those of you who don’t know me, I love to clean, so it has been a blessing that God is slowly taking away yet another of my idols.

Besides being humbled through my children, though, the truth is I am more joyful than I have ever been.  Here are some things God has given me that I didn’t have before:

  • 3 x’s the hugs and kisses
  • 3 x’s the laughter and smiles
  • 3 x’s the reminders of God’s patience with me
  • 3 x’s the toys that make me smile as I watch my children discover (and 3 x’s the toys I get to play with)
  • 3 x’s the individual talk of God in our household
  • 3 x’s the stories I get to read
  • 3 x’s the music and dancing
  • 3 x’s the games we play
  • 3 x’s the booboo’s I get to kiss
  • 3 x’s the crying that will go away all too quickly as they grow too fast for my liking
  • 3 x’s the birthday parties 
  • 3 x’s the affection I get to see them display to each other
  • 3 x’s the amount I get to watch Bill play with them (I think he’s so hot in those times)
  • 3 x’s the amount I realize how gracious God is by giving me these little blessings I never deserved