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A church for the relig-ish.

Looking back today at some early writings and stories, this was from 2011.


I’m 40 something, and have been going to my church on and off for about 20 years.  It wasn’t something that my parents did, but something that I discovered on my own and kind of grew into.  I’d invite friends along, or even girlfriends when I thought it might be going somewhere.  It’s been a while, and now I have a family and feel it’s important to share the idea that we have a connection to something greater than ourselves.

It wasn’t easy at first.  When I brought the idea up to my kids, they kind of groaned and listed a myriad of questions and reasons already anticipating how dreadful, tiring, boring, challenging….  My wife rolled her eyes but knew it was for the best.  We all needed to reconnect in some way, but she still looked forward to sleeping in, lingering at the breakfast table after hot breakfasts, and…

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A Reflection; Owning the Day

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A beautiful morning is all that I can see. It cannot tell me what the day will bring, and I ask it not to make such promise. The birds are singing beautiful songs, and although their words could be filled with sorrow, I still hum along. For all that I see, hear, or feel today, I am choosing how it belongs to me.

~Danielle Bell

I worry, I want, I will. A story by Danielle Bell

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I worry, I want, I will.

A new story by Danielle Bell.

Hi, I’m William Sebastian Pendleton-Wells.

I WORRY that my name is too long. 

I really WANT a shorter name. 

I WILL call myself Bob.


I’m in fourth grade and love my school.  My favorite subject is Science, but I do best in Art.  I’d like to be good at everything but I have so much trouble with math.

I WORRY that my math grade is low.

I WANT to be better.

I WILL work harder and raise my hand more often instead of drawing pictures when my teacher is showing us how to do math.


I live with my younger brother Cornelius, baby sister Matilda, Mom and Dad, and Nana Wells, I like to call her Nana Wishy cause she spins her dreams into big long stories.

I WORRY lately that Nana Wishy isn’t well enough to keep telling me her stories.

I WANT her know how much she inspires me and want to share my dreams with her too.

I WILL share with her some stories of my own.


My big, big brother is off far- far away in a place called Afghanistan.

I WORRY that he’s missing us.  He hasn’t even met his baby sister yet.

I WANT him to know we are thinking about him and that we miss him too.

I WILL write him a letter, and tell him all about  the funny things that Matilda is doing, and tell him that Cornelius and I can play catch together now without having to chase the ball every time we throw it, and how Mom and Dad still kiss each other in the kitchen.   I will even draw him a picture of our family so he can see how much taller I am now. 


My mom works real hard at being a mom.  She also works real hard answering phones and helping people do their jobs better.   Yesterday my mom came home with a really small bag of groceries for our whole family.  She said that times are tight and my favorite double chunk chocolate cookies aren’t going to be on the shopping list for a while.  She told me that she can get a whole bag of apples for less than that little package of cookies. 

I WORRY that our shopping list is getting shorter and what else we will have to do without.

I WANT to be able to help my mom by being more understanding. 

I WILL learn to really appreciate apples more.


Today my dad let me know that I had to walk home from school because he had to work over-time to earn some extra money to pay the bills.

I WORRY that I won’t get to see my dad as much if he works too much. 

I WANT to be able to still spend time with him. 

I WILL make sure all of my chores are done before he gets home and instead of playing video games, I’ll go talk and play with my dad.


My baby sister has been crying a lot.  My mom says she might need special medicine to help her be more comfortable.  My mom says it’s going to be expensive going to the Dr. because we don’t have insurance for things like this.

I WORRY about getting sick. 

I WANT to make sure I don’t. 

I WILL wash my hands and try to get a good night’s sleep so I can stay healthy.


I love to draw, and especially like my Art teacher Mr. Fine.  He lets me stay after and finish my pictures because I like to add lots of extra details.  He says that I have a talent and I am good enough to be accepted into the advanced Art Camp this summer. 

I WORRY about the cost, and that my parents won’t be able to afford for me to go.

I WANT them to know how important this it to me, and want to be able to earn my own money to pay for it myself.

I WILL ask my parents to let me do extra chores around the house, and ask if I can knock on our neighbors doors to see if there is any work I can do like rake leaves, walk dogs, pick-up trash, and even wash their cars to earn my way.


There are a lot of things I worry about, and there are just as many things that I want. 

My dad tells me not to worry so much about things that are out of my control; like earthquakes, the weather, and the way my hair sticks up on my head.   

The only thing he tells me to worry about is when my mother calls me by my full given name, “that’s a whole other kind of worry.”


But my mom tells me that there are worries in life, and that it’s all part of growing up. 

She tells me she likes that quality in me.  She says “if we aren’t worried then we aren’t paying attention.” 

She also tells me that she is proud of me that I am willing to do something about it.


Nana Wishy says, “we all have concerns and cares that sometimes cause us to be scared or angry.”

She says “you can worry yourself to the grave,” and the thought scares me.  But I know what she means.  She is trying to tell me that we can have worries and wants, but the will to do something about it is what makes us feel alive. 


I look forward to growing older and being as wise as Nana Wishy.

I WORRY though, what’s the world gonna be like when I’m that old?

I WANT to know what more I can do to live in a peaceful world.

Hmmmm. I WILL have to think about this one for a while.

Dani Bell, March 10, 2012


Treasure Hunting at Camp de Benneville Pines

I had a newsletter article to write when I got home from camp.  The title, and only that sat on my desktop for two days.  I wanted to tell my congregation about camp, and how it changes me, and how it not only is an important part of professional development, it has increasingly become a personal necessity for me.  Captured below is just a small part of camp, and a very small part of the many supportive, shining, extremely capable, creative beings that made it all possible.  As I continue processing, I’ll create an entire overview, but for now, my deadline was Tuesday, and I just hit the sent button  What an opportunity.  I love my work.

Treasure Hunting at Camp de Benneville Pines

I just unpacked the last of the dampened, pine scented clothes and sent them to the washer.  I’ve rolled up the sleeping bags, retired the puffy coats to the back of the closet, and knocked the last bits of trail dirt off of the snow boots.  My heart is full, my spirit enriched, but my mind still hasn’t entirely come down from the mountain.  I am developing those snapshots in my mind and processing them one by one not wanting to miss a thing.

I’ve served at Camp de Benneville’s Winter Elementary Family Camp for three years now.  I’ve enjoyed the benefits of being able to share the experience with my own family as they have been able to join me and participate in various ways.  Each year, additional responsibilities, greater familiarity, and the broadening of connections and friendships within our larger Unitarian Universalist community grow in abundance and we are all the richer for it.

This year I served as a first time Dean and was charged with creating the camp theme, one that could be woven into our programs and culture.  I was moved with the idea of Treasure Hunting, as I believe that there is treasure inside all of us; great gifts, unique talents, and even undiscovered riches that at any time have the ability to be revealed.

I had the privilege to work alongside and be supported by a valued staff of volunteers from various district congregations that carried great treasures of their own in experience, knowledge, enthusiasm, and understanding.  I had hoped that together we would be able to provide our camp community with the opportunity to find what they value most, in themselves and in those around them. Whether it was their love of the outdoors, their desire to be creative, finding joy in making friends and creating special bonds, I looked forward to us celebrating all that we could bring and revealing the invaluable worth that a Unitarian Universalist community carries for each and every one of us.   We had just three days to explore what we hold deep in our hearts and make some discoveries of our own.  The treasure of challenge.

I had asked Martin Suman, one of our YRUU here at UUCLV, and longtime camper, to serve on staff as a Cabin Counselor to help manage a cabin of 15 elementary aged boys.  Martin also contributed to the “discovery and adventure” qualities of camp life by being involved in the Theatre Game/Improv Workshop, leading a 2 hour Hiking Workshop to Jenks Lake, and sharing emcee duties for the Talent Show.  Bijou, my Jr. High daughter, also was able to help serve camp as a Staff Assistant and helped look after the Staff kids, ran information & materials between the cabins and lodge, and was the keeper of the coveted Sharpie Box (a must have at camp).  Another great asset to camp was having UUCLV member Robert Bell serve on staff managing the most “extreme high maintenance” workshop of them all….the Sled Run.  Even though there was only about 4-8 inches of snow, it wasn’t going to keep eager campers, young and old school, from giving it an enthusiastic go.  On our final day we had to close the run down due to unmanageable Sled Run conditions and a couple aggressive Tree Hugging incidents, but still were able to save the day with a Snow Walk to the creek, which through a number of Camper Evaluations it was revealed to be one of the highlighted experiences for many.  The treasure of flexibility…ah yes…priceless.  Everyone did an amazing job and our congregation should be proud of its UUCLV camp presence and contribution this weekend.

As I continue processing this experience, there were many highlights for me from creating a Camper Covenant, bonding with Staff, all the way through to the final moments of the Closing Circle.  We had a pictorial treasure hunt in the lodge to serve as downtime after the wild snow play, we had meaningful worship & song, we had a duct tape craft workshop & fashion show, treasure box decorating, “world’s greatest paper airplane” making tutorial, continual strumming on instruments throughout, game night, fun Talent Show, and an abundance of laughter, silliness, adventure, and discovery.  The treasure of variety.

Throughout the weekend, I was immersed in Dean duties from scheduling, staffing workshops, making quick decisions, learning as I go, and not letting the snow jackets & gloves piled in front of the hearth catch fire (they only smoked a little).  I was casted in and out of camp existence as I corresponded between different sets of responsibilities, people, and expectancies.  Whether it was the role, or the newness to the role, it was a challenge for me to get a fuller sense of the overall vibe within the camp “continuum.”  I felt things were going well, I was hopeful, but not entirely affirmed and it wasn’t until the Closing Circle final moments did I fully understand what it had ultimately developed into.

At the end of camp, after everyone is packed and the trails and cabins are cleaned, we meet for our final Closing Circle.  It seemed to take a while to get everyone together, but eventually we were all present in a large circle that the lodge walls could barely contain.  We began with taking in the opening words, singing This Little Light of Mine, presenting Camper Awards and gifting Janet with the Treasured Thoughts Box that contained 82 individual camper reflections about camp, myself receiving a beautiful hand-made pottery from Tera Little on behalf of PSWD Camp, and then it happened….a moment that will forever connect me to Camp de Benneville Pines.  As it was important for me to wrap up and touch upon our theme and truly get a grasp of the atmosphere that was created, I had that wonder in me.  “Was there going to be any glimpse of discovery in their camp weekend that might have happened?”  I had come into the circle and had asked the campers both youth and adults to “Come into the circle with me if you found treasure in the joy of snow play.”  Many came forward, smiled at one another and returned to the larger circle.  I then again asked “If you discovered something new about yourself, come into the circle,” and the outside circle became the inside circle with campers taking turns sharing that they learned they like the thrill of going fast on the sled run, and that they like camp, and nature, and also that they are okay with being here on their own.  I asked everyone to return to the large circle for my final question.  “Come into the circle if you found the treasure of friendship,” and swiftly the circle collapsed and became a tight center.  As I looked around, huddled in the midst of puffy coats, I asked everyone to say the names aloud of the friends that they made.  And as the names were released, they floated in the air, and then bounced between the walls, and the room began to fill with buzzing, laughter, name between name, voices swelled, hugs, arms around my waist, saying more names, looking into each other, glances above knit hats greeted with smiles, and tears.  Treasure.  I’m pretty sure we found it.

The goal for PSWD camps is to make it an enjoyable time for everyone and continue to foster independence and nurture lifelong UU campers, which can truly start at any age or stage.   I wanted to share my personal camp story with you but I know that the extraordinary sensing that occurs at camp cannot be captured in words.  To be immersed in nature is exquisite, but to be immersed in nature with fellow UU’s is transformative and an experience that I hope you can all try to dedicate yourselves to having at some time.

Camp de Benneville Pines,

Camp Covenant

 Camp Covenant

Storybird. Finding new ways to share a message and get inspired.

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My daughter’s librarian is the resourceful one.  She introduced her students to this wonderful story publishing site called,  I’ve been intrigued with it for two reasons.  My nine year old would rather write stories on Storybird, than play video games on X-Box, and I tend to lean towards the creative side of things when it comes to work.  So, I’ve been thinking about finding ways to help people express their thoughts and ideas.  In just a moment or two, after getting signed up with a free teacher account, this is what I was able to do.  Now, can you imagine challenging your congregation to share their story?  Can you imagine what we could learn from our youth and young adults through stories, sharing their personal ones, as well as the fun and fantasy that they are hopeful for and dream about?  I can see this as a way for people to share their vision.  Especially the ones that do not care to read aloud, or speak in front of a group, but would be willing to express themselves in a way that would be safe and fun. Bird Watcher by DLFD on Storybird

Ugh. Journal Writing. Can’t we just tweet?

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What do you do when you have so many thoughts in your head and you know that Twitter and Facebook are clearly not the appropriate audience?  You take a piece of paper and your favorite writing utensil and jot em’ down.  But wait…that sounds a lot like…no…don’t say it…..JOURNAL WRITING.

We all remember our beloved diaries, the ones that we couldn’t wait to vent to because so many things had gone unsaid during the day that they just had to be told.  We felt so much better after making our declarations, and sometimes we even saw things a bit more clearly than we wanted to.  We told it the truth.  When there was no one there, our buttoned up confidants were there to absorb our inky thoughts and keep them tightly lipped between the pages.

Nowadays, our thoughts are out there for all to see.  It seems that nothing is sacred and that if it isn’t worth posting, it isn’t worth a whisper.

We text, tap, touch our thoughts away and then wait for a reaction to whether or not it is worthy of a response.

So this brings me to the current history of the diary.  The day of the diary has turned into blogging with the hope that someone will validate our thoughts by simply clicking a button to follow your posts.  We put so much pressure on ourselves, carefully crafting our words, wearing out our backspace, spell checking, and worrying about someone commenting on our comma misuse.  Geesh.  It gets overwhelming, and honestly can take the joy out of honest self-expression.

I don’t claim to be a writer, but I do claim to be a keeper of thoughts.  Just like a song that I’m writing, it doesn’t exist until its sung.  The melody may change, the lyrics may shift, but it has to start somewhere.  If I  waited to write the song down until it was completely written in my head, it would just plain drive me nuts.  So, it gets jotted down in a journal.  And then, it might get rewritten again…looking different.  No one to comment, no one to “like” it, no one but me and my thoughts and an opportunity for them to evolve, or dissolve without incident.

This is how I personally define Journal Writing.  I was a diary keeper.  I was a list keeper.  I still have a paper calendar that I carry around with me.  And yes.  I use post-it notes to remind no one but myself.

Are my methods becoming obsolete?  Why do I find blogging, facebooking, and tweeting a chore and overwhelming burden but I can still sit and put a pencil to my journal with sheer joy and determination.

Because it is for me.  Only me.  Something that I can do for myself without spell check’s squiggly red line telling me my words are flawed.

I’ve been thinking about this quite a bit in anticipation of an upcoming workshop at UUCLV called Journal Writing as a Spiritual Practice.  I’ll be facilitating and bring my excited Journal Writing energy to a group of journal writers both steadfast and reluctant.  I’m curious to hear their views of how they perceive Journal Writing and how we can bridge burden to bountiful.

A journal entry doesn’t have to be a burden, nor a chore.  It can be a single word, or summed up into a sentence.  I have simply started a page with the word “UGH!” and walked away.  There, I said it.  I meant it.  And when I went back to expand on my “UGH!”, it had passed.  I sat there trying to convince myself that the “UGH!” still existed but I truly believed that by quickly getting it out on the page, gave my frustration a time-out and allowed it to cool down.  Now I am not saying it is always that magical, but I am saying that if there isn’t a place to put those thoughts, they will sit with you and give you a hard time to move ahead.

Journals can be the keeper of so many things that it can be like a dear friend.  The kind of friendship that whether you visit it frequently or are miles apart, you can pick-up right where you left off.  The conversation is just as you left it, and there you are there sharing the experiences in between your last visit.

Now for the Relig-ish, the term “spiritual practice” can be a difficult hurdle.  It could indicate a discipline that some may not be willing to explore, but if we look at it as a “commitment to self”, then it could become much clearer to why it is so important.  Whether it is used to vent, become self-aware, assess, or utilized to help one become more accountable, then it truly can be nourishing for the soul, and the spirit.  It can help us see things in still-life instead of swinging around in our monkey mind.  It can allow us to start fresh, it can allow us to forgive, it can give us strength, and possibly a way to help us communicate more clearly with others.

I look forward to learning more about myself through this workshop, as well as learning about other’s process and how they choose to approach journal writing as a spiritual….or faithful practice.

Danielle Bell, Jan 01, 2012