The Bell Family

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


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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.

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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


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Carrie Q.

I love her.  A bunch.  To finish my short series on friendships, I want to honor one of the best I have.

I have known Carrie for almost four years now.  I was in community group with her during almost all of my CG adventures during Sojourn.  We have been in accountability together for a year and a half.  She has three girls, too, and her oldest, Noelle,  is the same age as my oldest, Liam.  Noelle has announced that if Liam buys her a butterfly ring, she will marry him (of course she said she would marry a different little boy we know if he bought her a diamond ring).  Carrie and I have also lived 1/2 mile from each other for 3 1/2 years now. 

I can laugh hard when I’m with her.  I mean really, really hard.  We can sing Amy Grant, Sandy Patty, and Backyardigan songs together.  We swap funny kid stories.  We love drama, not the real-life kind but the kind on a stage with spotlights.  The bigger the crowd, the more we can ham it up.  We are both lovers of choir and men who play guitar (O.K. each of us only loves one man who plays guitar, and it’s not the same man).

Those are bonuses of what I get by having Carrie in my life.  The real reason I love Carrie is she can sharpen me and point me to Christ better than almost anyone I know.  This woman is full of wisdom and grace.  She is sinful like everyone else but is quick to confess that sin and seek repentance.  She takes my legalistic tendancies and points me nowhere but the cross and the forgiveness I have already received, encouraging me to rest in His strength and wisdom, not my own.  I have called her to get her input on how to deal with touchy situations with others more than once because I know she is careful with her speech and her words are full of scripture.  This is the kind of friend every believer should pray for, and I am grateful to God for giving me so much goodness through Carrie.


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Unbelieving Friends

When Bill and I were at Sojourn, at one point we literally were setting aside 17 nights a month for ministry with other Sojourners.  This included coaching meetings, community group leader training, counseling other couples, our own community group, and accountability.  While most of those times were simply fulfilling the role our pastors had called us to as coaches, I was challenged one Sunday as one of our pastors said, “Most of your day should be spent with unbelievers.  Your time with believers should be the exception.”  One passage among many he pointed to was the passage stating we are to be “in the world but not of the world.”  So often believers misinterpret this to say we should have no part of the world, but that would be disregarding the first part of that verse–“in the world.”  Though yes, we are to live lives that reflect Christ and that stay away from sinful behavior by God’s grace, we are called to go and make disciples.

In Acts, though there were some situations of people coming to Christ after one “sermon” given by a man they had no relationship with, most of the time apostles would go and spend a year or more with people, really getting to know them and ministering to them in the gospel.  That is to say, though God can most definitely use things like tracts to bring someone to Himself, the pattern in Scripture seems to be one of truly forming friendships with those who don’t know Him, sacrificing our own preferences for the sake of the kingdom (we are to become all things for all people).  I was convicted by this to see how much of my drive to spend so much time with believers was because it was easy.  Almost always when I leave those meetings I feel built up, encouraged.  Sometimes when I leave times with unbelievers, I feel sad, unconfident, and often sinfully fear what they might think of me.

We have been extremely blessed to have many friendships with unbelievers–neighbors, co-workers, etc, and after that sermon we were convicted to shift our schedule so we could make room for more time with our unbelieving friends.  I want to clarify here that our reasons for drawing closer to these friends was not to manipulate them into feeling loved so they would believe in Jesus.  I think this is often the motive behind some of these friendships.  Instead, the motivation is simply to love them as they are and to be challenged ourselves by them.  Through this love, yes, we pray, sometimes while weeping and begging, that God saves them and that all of our actions and words glorify Him, but we love them because we have been loved, not to get them to do what we want.  That’s not true love, even if it is veiled with concern for their souls.

Through these relationships, we have developed an extremely deep love for our friends who don’t share our love for Jesus.  Yes, it’s harder to find common ground sometimes since we don’t have Christ as our bond, but we seriously love our time with them, and in case you’re wondering, yes, they know we love Jesus.  Almost every conversation goes there at some point, but it’s not forced.  By God’s grace those doors are naturally opened.  One time it was through a TV program one friend watched and wanted to discuss, one time it was a friend who asked Bill if he believed in demons, one time it was through a phrase I used that my friend asked me about.  God wants us to talk about Him, and He will provide ways for us to do that if we are prayerfully looking for them.

One note about the pastor’s quote I mentioned earlier.  Spending more time with non-believers than believers is not a scriptural mandate, and we don’t have to literally keep a log of how many hours we spend with believers vs. non-believers.  God has given everyone roles and giftings.  For example, the average full-time staff pastor will have a difficult time doing this.  His job calls him to be with believers almost exclusively (often 60-80 hours/week), and most of the rest of his time is spent filling his role as husband and father.  Many times (like in my situation) stay at home moms automatically spend most of their days with unbelievers because their children don’t yet profess Christ.  All that is to say this isn’t going to look the same for everyone.


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How to “Drop” Friendships

I want to begin by reminding anyone who’s reading that all tips I give are just that–tips.  The way we do things are right for our family but not necessarily for everyone or even anyone else.  There is freedom in the gospel, and we don’t (or more accurately try not to) judge others who do things differently. 🙂

In the last post, I talked about some ways to decide who your closest friends should be according to the season God has placed you.  Once we have made these decisions, we begin to pull out those friendships that we feel should no longer have as high of a priority.  Obviously we are in the midst of a big transition–joining with a new church which comes with new roles.  We have never had as close of friendships as we had at Sojourn, so the changes we have had to make have been the most difficult so far, but we also understand that in order to make room for new friendships those changes are necessary.  We have dropped out of our Sojourn community group in order to join a small group through Oak Park, we handed over our Sojourn coaching responsibilities to someone else so we can embrace our new roles of pastor and pastor’s wife, and we are most likely going to transition into Oak Park accountability groups.

The next part I’ll talk about is a little trickier.  “What about those friends whom I’ve known forever but who don’t fit in those roles?”  I will say this first.  The more people who have high priority in your lives, the less room you have for new people whom God desires to place there, both unbelievers and believers.  It also gets easier and easier to make things like family or your walk with God a lower priority.  We live on this earth not for our own pleasure (though by God’s grace he certainly give us plenty of it!), but to further the kingdom.  If you feel like you absolutely can’t give up any friendships, I would encourage you to ask yourself, “What is more important to me, keeping things comfortable or glorifying God?” and “Do I fear man or God more?”

In the last post I addressed that there will be a few people who don’t easily fit in your lives but who should still have a high priority.  To decide who those friends are, you need to evaluate your season of life.  For instance, my season is a wife and mom over several small children whom I homeschool–thus, I don’t have much free time for lots and lots of friends.  You should also evaluate the kind of conversations that take place each time you’re with those friends.  We Bells love to laugh, and we laugh a lot, but when my friendships are based on what a good time I had, my priorities are turned upside-down.  If you meet with someone and consistently have conversations where Jesus’s name is never brought up, that probably is not a super edifying friendship.  We can often discover what we worship together based on what we talk about the most.  If Christ is our connection, then speech about Him and how we relate to Him should pretty much dominate our speech with one another.

If we discover we have friendships that need to take a back seat, first remember that this doesn’t mean you are no longer friends with them.  It just means you can’t give them as much attention as you once did.  In this situation, I would encourage you to sit down with that friend and discuss what’s going on.  Pray with them, thank them for the role they have played in your life, and encourage them in Christ.  If you are letting this friendship go because of unedifying talk or other sin, you would love your friend most by bringing that to their attention, asking forgiveness if need be and sharpening them in the word (The kisses of an enemy may be profuse, but faithful are the wounds of a friend–Prov. 27:6).  I have had to do this a couple of times, and each time by God’s grace my friendship with that person becomes sweeter, even if I rarely see or talk to them anymore.

None of this is to be done lightly.  Do everything in prayer and according to the Word and your conscience.  God’s plans for you are for wholeness and not for evil, so if He calls you to “drop” a friendship, trust Him that He is helping you make room for others who will grow you in Him in new ways.


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Close Friendships

When Bill and I retreat, one of the things we almost always look at is our friendships, evaluating who we need to keep close, who we need to spend less time with, & who we need to make a higher priority.  This is especially important since our seasons of life are frequently changing.  We can’t possibly remain close to every single person we have ever loved.  There are many ways you can evaluate friendships.  I’m going to share how we go about this process in two posts–deciding who gets top priority and deciding where change needs to take place.  This post only refers to believers, BTW.  I’ll get to our unbelieving friends in a later post. 

We begin by evaluating our personal walk with God, our family, & our church.  We then move on to friends since our friendships come after these things & since evaluating those things helps us understand more clearly how much time we have & the responsibilities God has called us to.  Afterward we make a list of all the people we can think of who are currently in our lives & evaluate each one. 

We begin with the roles God has called us to through our church.  Bill is a pastor of worship, so his current top priorities are the other pastors at Oak Park, musicians, and interns.  Since we are just now settling in with this church & see my primary ministry to the church as ministering to my husband, I am currently focusing on spouses of some of those men and female musicians.  Their phone calls and emails will be answered first and their meetings will be scheduled first.  Bill and I also make it a priority to pray for them together.

Next, we look for those friends who are most important in sharpening us.  “Perfume & incense bring joy to the heart, and the pleasantness of one’s friend springs from his earnest counsel.” (Prov. 27:9)  For us, this means our accountability groups and small group (we’re still settling into this at Oak Park) take a front seat.  This is where we share our hearts, receive encouragement or rebuke, and return the favor all for the sake of godliness.

After that we look to see if there are other responsibilities or giftings God has given us.  For example, Paul in a sense teaches Timothy that everyone is called to be mentored & to be a mentor.  So Bill & I are giving priority to finding new mentors and giving priority to a man and young woman we both mentor separately.  Again, a post on mentoring is in the future. 

Though I am going to address in the next post the danger of keeping too many friends who don’t fit well in your current season of life, there is something to keeping a few close friends for the long haul.  These are the people who are particularly gifted at sharpening you, the ones who energize you for the Lord each time you are in their presence.  They know you almost as well as your family does, and you feel as connected to them as Jonathan and David did to each other.  One of those friends for me is Carrie (post about her later).  Granted I’m cheating a bit since I’ve been in community with Carrie in some form for almost four years, but even if that role disappeared, I would imagine she would still get top priority in my life.  Two other friends who fit that role are Lindsey and Kacie.  Though I can’t give as much attention to either of these friends as I could in a different season of life, these friends are particularly special to me.  Lindsey and I still get together sporadically in less busy seasons, and our family visits Kacie’s family each year.  I leave these times of fellowship feeling like I got a glimpse of Christ.

Once we have decided who God has given us to be a high priority, we move on to see with whom we need to make changes.  That post is next.


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Monastery Retreat

Last fall, Bill sent me away for a whole week to the Abbey of Gethsemani, a monastery in Bardstown.  It was by far the longest period of silence I have ever had, and it was wonderful to spend that much time praying, reading, and listening to sermons and music (O.K. so I guess I didn’t have total silence).  Here are some things I did:

  • Went through the retreat chapter in “Shopping for Time.”  I have gone through this evaluation each retreat I’ve taken, looking at my personal godliness, family, church, friendships with both believers & non-believers, attending to my work, and my health.
  • Read several articles by Mark Driscoll, Carolyn Mahaney, and Tim Keller
  • Read all or parts of “Love That Lasts,” “Simple Hospitality,” “Grace-Based Parenting,” Start Here” (I’m going through this with the young woman I’m mentoring), & “A Praying Life
  • Memorized lots of scripture
  • Journaled
  • Listened to sermons by Matt Chandler and C.J. Mahaney

I don’t know if all monasteries are the same, but this one is completely free (donations gladly accepted) & you can either stay Monday-Friday or Friday-Monday.  You can schedule up to four months in advance and pretty much have to schedule that early to get a reservation.  All food is provided.  It’s a great option for some time away.


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Thankful Even for a Miscarriage

Note:  I wrote this post before we found out we were expecting the little one now growing inside me.  I am now 18 weeks along, and this baby is still healthy and thriving.  The post following is referring to the child we lost last summer:

When God in His perfect plan chose not to let us meet one of our babies on this earth, I expected the grief.  What I didn’t expect was for that to turn into such a sweet season.  I have gotten to experience the joy through trials spoken of in James.  I pray this is not misunderstood, but I find myself thankful for this miscarriage.

Please don’t get me wrong.  I have definitely grieved and am still grieving from time to time.  In the short amount of time between the positive pregnancy test and the miscarriage, I had already day-dreamed about this child.  Would it be another girl or would the trend be broken?  Will he/she ever get tired of the comments about being one of (at least) five kids, or will he respond with grace?  Will she be playful like me or more of a deep thinker like the two guys in my life?  Will he continue the pattern of looking like his siblings, or will he throw a complete curve ball and have bright orange or black hair?  Will she love Jesus?  We had even already talked about what his name would be.

I have a precious friend who, several years ago, went through a super difficult trial.  She lost her sweet little baby boy when he was only 7 weeks old.  On one of my posts she made this comment: “Much of our grief over losing a child has to do with grieving what we no longer have and will not have. It has more to do with grieving the future than it does grieving the past.”  This has been true for me.  I am sad that I won’t get to find out answers to my questions or hold this teeny one.

Though there is grief over experiences I’ll never have, there is not despair.  There is joy.  God works all things together for good for those who love Him.  Many times we don’t get to see on this earth what the good was that was worked for His will, but God in His beautiful mercy has already revealed some of it to Bill and me in this event.  We have experienced at least two big things that have already increased my faith.

One, we have had rich conversations with our children that wouldn’t have happened if not for this experience.  One of our children in particular, Liam, went through a difficult grieving period.  In conversations, we got to answer his difficult question of how a good God can take this baby.  We got to explain how this was not a “bad choice” (Liam’s words) but sweet mercy.  This baby will never experience pain, sadness, suffering, anger, but will instead only know God always.  When I asked if that was a mean God who did that, I had the joy of watching understanding come over Liam’s face that God is GOOD.  When he began weeping and said, “I just wanted to meet the baby.  Will I ever meet him?”  I got to share once again that if he follows Jesus, believing that He died and was raised for his sins, that yes, he would meet the baby, and even better, would see God face to face.  God ordained those conversations, and I am certain part of the reason for the miscarriage was to open those doors of communication and reveal a bit more of Himself to Liam.

Two, we have a deeper understanding of how big God is and how He truly is in control.  Almost every miscarriage happens because things don’t come together like they were supposed to.  The truth is, it doesn’t make any sense that things ever come together perfectly.  Do you have any idea how many things have to work “just right” to have a term pregnancy!?  It’s basically impossible for it to ever happen, yet I have delivered four beautiful babies.  Most of my friends who have tried to have children have been successful at least once.  How?  God is in control of our bodies and the bodies of the babies in us.  The decision to bring a child into this world is not our decision but His, and He is the only one powerful enough to make it happen.  Shortly after we met with Heather the day the miscarriage was confirmed, Bill looked at our four children and said, “I am more thankful for you now than I have ever been.”  God has been amazingly good to us, and I have grown in understanding how quickly I take fertility (and God) for granted.  I have a refreshing peace in this reminder that God is sovereign and once again look forward with anticipation to see God continue to reveal Himself to us.