My littlest girl got a little less little today. Here’s the letter I wrote for her birthday:
My Little Vi-Vi,
There’s something unique about you in this family, something that makes you different from all your brothers and sisters. I’m not sure you even know about this, though to be fair, it didn’t really occur to me until I sat down to write this letter. Do you want to know what it is? My hands were the first hands that ever held you. Yep, I was the first person who ever got to touch your skin and see your little funky naked butt and make connection with you outside Mommy’s belly. You see, most of the time it’s the doctor who “catches” the baby when they’re born. But with you, I asked if I could instead and our doctor-friend agreed. Not only that, but doctors wear these special gloves in the hospital, so even the doctors aren’t the first skin you touch—almost always, the mama is the one who gets the first skin contact. With you, it was different. I was the first human touch, the first human skin-to-skin contact you had: you’re the only Bell kid I held first.
So maybe that’s why I’m soft on you. Maybe it’s the curly blond hair or the big blue eyes. Maybe it’s just because there is actually some soft part of me under this gruff, authoritarian exterior. I truly think God gave you to me in particular to remind me that I can be compassionate and gentle, because I’m so frequently hard and rough-edged. I’m grateful to God that you’re tenderhearted, because it reminds me of your momma and how tender I (usually) am with her.
Of course, it also means I have allowed you to think you don’t have to obey to the same level as your siblings. You argue more easily, you delay more frequently, you make excuses more commonly. I think you know this is true—so I don’t think I’m telling you anything new! But I want to draw attention to it, because part of you living under King Jesus is obeying Mommy and Daddy. Even though you’ve just turned six, you have a six-year-old’s worth of responsibility to bear. Things like obeying the first time, working hard, saying “okay, Daddy” right away—these are the ways you present your body to God as a living sacrifice. And we discipline you to help shape your heart in the direction of obedience.
I really want more for you than just obedience, though. I want to see your heart continually shaped and molded by the Spirt of Jesus. Just like you have a six-year-old’s responsibility, you also display a six-year-old’s faith. I don’t take that for granted. Already, in the way that only children can, you believe that King Jesus is big and strong and perfect and real—and you love him! I want to fan the flames of love and belief that God has already granted you. Keep chasing after Jesus. Keep serving him. Keep confessing your sin and finding forgiveness from God the Father through Jesus. Keep living with that bold, fearless faith that asks for anything and everything because you know you have a good, good Father.
As you keep growing, it’s my prayer that you’ll see the greatness and the glory and the power and the love and the mercy and the grace and the hope that come through King Jesus. As you get bigger, I want you to find God bigger. As you grow in wisdom, I want you to know even more of the wisdom of God. As you sin and forgive and are forgiven, I hope you see and feel and know how deep the wells of God’s mercy are. You are so full of wonder and laughter and joy—that’s grace from God. Keep laughing and rejoicing and playing and singing and dancing. In those things, you know God’s pleasures in ways I think I’ve forgotten. May you never ever forget.
Happy birthday, little girl.
Dad and Mom
Our little life-lover is eight today! This little girl is fun and exciting and scatterbrained and big-hearted and a joy to have as a daughter. She is full of the Spirit of Jesus, overflowing with love for King Jesus and for everyone else in the world. This girl’s heart is so big, she picked food (they get to pick all the meals on their birthday) that weren’t her favorite because she knew that some of her siblings didn’t like what she wanted most! The love of the King dwells deep in her heart and we had a blast celebrating her today. Here’s the birthday letter I wrote for her:
(By the way, Liam saw Miriam in this outfit and described her as “peasant girl cowboy”–how perfect!)
Little Miriam Elise,
Where do I start with you, girlie? Like every other human in the history of ever, you are a singular creation of God the Father, bearing his image in your very soul. So in that way, you are no different than everyone else who has ever lived. But our Father also finds joy in endless creativity, making each of us unique and special. And so he crafted you, fearfully and wonderfully making you into our Miriam. And you are truly unique—I’m thinking that has something to do with the fact that the first thing you ever saw was the water of a toilet bowl. That probably explains a lot, actually…
We have called you our little life-lover and it’s so true. There’s a vibrancy you contain that is contagious and beautiful and lovely. It reminds me very much of your mother. I don’t say that as something that makes you better than your brothers and sisters. We each were created by God and given our own loads to bear, with their own responsibilities. I don’t think any of us would argue that you’re the most organized and task-driven person in the family—but that’s okay! God has gifted you with joy through his Spirit and a heart of empathy and encouragement. I look forward to seeing how God will grow fruit in you, flourishing in an abundance of love for others.
Of course, your greatest gift also becomes the greatest place of attack from the Enemy. Maybe that feels like the opposite: wouldn’t Satan attack us at our weakest places? Well, he certainly does that, too. But he also enjoys scheming to twist the good that God is doing and turn it for evil. Maybe he will tempt you to feel pride in your joy, which would taint your pure love for others. Maybe he will tempt you to see the evils of men’s hearts, tempting you toward despair and hopelessness. Maybe he’ll try to hurt you like Job with illnesses and tragedy so that your love for life is put to the test. I don’t know what it will be, but I know it will come. Our battle isn’t against flesh and blood, but against the powers of this present dark world we live in.
I don’t want this to discourage you—though I’m not really sure I could. But I also know that as we grow and develop, the temptations we face grow and develop, too. As an eight-year-old, you start to shed your littleness. You won’t use a booster seat anymore. Pretty soon you’ll be tall enough to reach the ceramic dishes. Next year you’ll start the upper grammar stage in school, which is harder and requires more of you. I want you to enter these new times with eyes wide open. I want you to be wise to what’s going on inside you and around you. I don’t want you to fall into Satan’s traps, my love!
But I’m also just darn excited. Because as hard as it is for us to see our little ones become un-little, we love to see y’all grow into men and women. There’s a deep-seated joy that comes to us as parents to see you flourish and mature. Because while the opportunities for temptation and sin will increase, so will the opportunities for love and worship and service and generosity. I marvel at the thought of seeing your generosity get bigger and bigger! And it will! How do I know? Because the One who started a good work in you will most certainly complete it. And you’ve got the Spirit as a deposit and seal guaranteeing that completion. That’s better than the best promise I could ever give you.
So let me finish with this: keep seeing and savoring Jesus. Search the words of God in the Bible. Ask God for anything and everything. Be brave in the name of Jesus. Keep leaping without looking, because our Daddy will always sustain you. And keep finding your food in the risen King, Jesus. He will NEVER let you down.
Dad and Mom
I have to say that March 2017 feels like a blur. It might have something to do with the fact of the girls having their dance recital and a VERY full calendar. Regardless, it was still a fun month with lots of joy and laughter. Here are some highlights!
I just think she’s the cutest!
I mean, just look at her!
One of the fun and unique things we got to do this month was attend the NFL Combine Experience here in Indy. It was free and a ton of fun for the kiddos.
Sprints (squad 1)
Sprints (squad 2)–check out that burst of speed from the dude on the left. 😉
They were so sweet when the little ones gave it a shot.
An obstacle course
She’s a blur of speed and agility
That’s a Heisman-worthy pose right there!
This was a really cool remote-controlled tackling dummy. The guy operating it kept messing with the kids and scooting it away right as they’d approach. It was awesome.
They had this field laid out to the side. When the tackling dummy operator saw, ya know, our incredibly large number of kids, he took the dummy over there and did us the great favor of wearing our kids out chasing the dummy around the field.
Long jump–they have some, um, interesting form!
The fam posing around our favorite team logo!
So, Court always says I’m never in the pictures. Which is true. But here’s my “Before” picture of my current weight loss regimen. I include it because it’s practically the only picture of me this month!
I can’t remember what they were watching, but clearly they were in suspense!
Courtney has started learning some nail art techniques. She glammed Vi-Vi up with some Hello Kitty.
Esther designed her two-dancer artwork
Because our dance instructor was about to have her baby, our girls’ dance recital was earlier than usual. We were in a new but very small venue. Here are some photos of the little lovelies.
The boys, while waiting for the recital to start, engaged in this epic staring contest. Their game faces are really something…
One of our goals in 2017 is to walk the entire Monon Trail (not all in the same day). We picked a particularly cold Saturday to get started. We got about two miles before we ditched back to the house (the smiles in the picture are deceptively happy compared to the frigid weather!). But more to come!
On the first day of Spring, we had our annual Spring Celebration. Since we’ve decided not to mix our Jesus holidays with the other fun activities of the season, we do baskets and bunnies and eggs on the first day of Spring instead of Easter.
Bunnies for breakfast
Following the Bell tradition, the kids had to hunt in the house to find their individual baskets
It was very cold and wet, so we also had the egg hunt indoors
I thought this was a totally great snapshot of our homeschooling day. You can see three of the kids working at the table while Courtney answers a question for Ariana. Also, as usual, we probably don’t know where the other four kids are (just kidding… kind of…)
Josiah took the magnetic letters and numbers to make this number line. He was quite pleased (look at that cute smile!)
Courtney teaching one of her students. Look at that dropped jaw! And that lovely face!
I took my annual personal retreat this past weekend. I spent quite a bit of time hiking around Turkey Run State Park. I had several times of complete solitude and silence–it was very refreshing. Here are some scenic photos I took. I’m not in any of them. Because I don’t selfie. Because, well, then I’d be in a picture…
While I was on my retreat, Courtney and the kids had a blast of a time. The last night, they all camped out together in the same room.
Good grief, she’s a hottie!!!!
Go Team Bell!!!!
Our second daughter, Heaven, had her ninth birthday a couple of weeks ago. Below is the letter I wrote both to remember the graces of God’s kindness in knitting our family together and to point her to King Jesus.
Today is your ninth birthday—nine years of drawing breath, nine years of ups and downs, nine years of mercies upon mercies from God the Father. Every birthday is a chance to look back, to remember and reflect on the stories God is weaving together in the lives of the Bell family. And writing your letter always brings with it a reminder of your past, of the upside-downness of this world and the many effects sin has had on you in particular. All our stories are filled with sin and its effects, always trying to taint our stories and bring us to ruin. It’s what the Enemy wants, and has been ever since the garden. So much of the sin we deal with is our own sin. We rebel against a good Father and his rule, and we’re left with the consequences of those actions. Sin destroys and it always leaves a mess behind. But all stories also have chapters and chapters detailing how the sins of others hurt us or shape us. People don’t get to choose if they’re born in war-torn countries or if they get mistreated by others. Our sin doesn’t just impact ourselves, but others as well. And so while we’re having to struggle with our own sinful tendencies, we’re also dishing out our sins on others while they too lop their sins over on us. It’s ugly and it’s messy.
I say all of this as a reminder that your story has had twists and turns that are frankly uncommon. The effects of others’ sins have been particularly pungent for you. It’s not fair. And it’s not good. We’ve never tried to deny your past. You’re now a Bell because of the sins of others around you.
But—you see—there’s the rub. There’s the twist ending, the last-minute save by the hero. And I don’t mean Mom and Dad are the heroes here. I mean Jesus, the one who secures futures and takes away the sins of the world. He’s the King of taking the bad and making it good. He’s the master of taking the ugly and making it beautiful. He’s the Perfector of the imperfect and the Fixer of the broken. So, while it was the sin of those around you that brought about ruin, it was this same Jesus who secured a new family for you—this one.
We’ve told you time and time again: God always planned for you to be a Bell. And he always planned for you to have the story you have. That doesn’t make him a bad God, because bad things happened to you. He planned from before he first said “Let there be light” to chart this story for you. He planned a future and a family and a hope for you. He wanted you to get here, to go through what you’ve gone through, because it’s the way he wants you to see grace and redemption and forgiveness and hope.
So, I simultaneously hate your past and rejoice in it, because it was both terrible and it brought you to us. Despite all the struggles we have had (and still have), you are our daughter. Heaven Leandra Bell: that’s you. We want good for you, even if it pales in comparison to the good God the Father wants for you.
So, today, my daughter, if you hear his voice, don’t harden your heart. While the effects of the sins against you might haunt you and chase you, you can’t undo them. But in your heart even now, sin is still crouching at the door, desiring to rule you. This is your sin, not someone else’s. The sin of wanting to be queen of everyone around you. The sin of wanting to be a pretty, pretty princess so that everyone will adore you. The sin of still wanting to push boundaries, because obeying feels like losing. The sin of wanting less for yourself than the Savior wants for you.
The Creator of the universe brought you to this family because he wants you to know his son, the good King Jesus. He wants you to reign with him as a queen. He can make you more beautiful than any princess in history. He can take you to the edges of creation and show you the glory of the universe. He wants good for you.
But that good comes from believing that these things are true. And from believing that you can have these things. And believing that they come through Jesus, who is master of you now and forever. Believe, my daughter. Another year gone and another approaching. Find in Jesus your all in all. And watch that sin be crucified, killed, trampled, mutilated, and dead. You have a new name. We want you also to have a new heart.
Dad and Mom
Telling me about how one of the kids needed some correction while she was driving in the van: “You know how I do it. I tell them I’m gonna talk to them later, and then I just go ahead and say it anyway.”
I asked Court jokingly, “Which kid is your favorite?” After a thoughtful pause, she replied, “It’s hard to choose between the two.”
Lower than what, exactly?
After reading a reference in her school notes, Courtney asked me, “And why are we called the lower 48 states? I know my geography is terrible, but isn’t Hawaii close to the bottom”
I’m not sure going all-organic is the answer
Giving a theological treatise on the effects of sin in our bodies: “All disease is stupid. It all comes back to a piece of fruit.”
Smile, because it confuses people…
In reference to the fact that Ariana and I are perpetual smilers: “You’re both like the Joker.”
Don’t we all?
After telling the kids about my days loading packages for UPS and the frequent drug dog visits, Courtney pipes in: “I want a drug dog.”
Channeling her inner Yogi Berra
In response to a minor scrape: “A little pain never hurt anyone.”
A gentle word of correction
When one of our girls was acting cranky: “Your panties are in a wad and I’m not gonna reach in there to pull them out for you.”
At family camp, Victoria was doing something incredibly stupid at the playground that was most likely going to get her hurt: “You can have fun without being a moron.”
Well, here we are, a year later from our last update and incidentally just at the year mark since the adoption of Heaven and Aiden was decreed. In many ways, the last year has been unremarkable in that there haven’t been any drastic changes. That alone is remarkable for us!
Currently we’re in summer break from school. The five oldest kids are in the middle of a four-week day camp at the Children’s Museum. Courtney is using the time with just the three little ones to get some special time with them as well as prepare for the next school year. At work, I’ve recently been promoted as a team lead, still doing similar work but with increased responsibilities. I’m pretty excited about it.
Also, Courtney recently got to attend the Gospel Coalition Women’s Conference, which was in Indy this year. Not only was the conference a blessing, but she got to go with her mom and two of the ladies in our church, as well as connect with some old friends.
Below I’m going to give some brief updates about each of the kids. I’ve included a picture of each, taken last year by our dear friend Lawana of Unforgettable Photography. They’re beautiful and we didn’t want to pass up sharing them with you, our friends and family.
Liam is 11 and about to start sixth grade. He’s figuring out humor and sarcasm/irony, which is super fun. Though he’s still part kid and part growing up, which is really weird to watch. He actually just took a Safe Sitter class, so he’s taking his first steps toward being able to watch his younger siblings–though we’re not quite ready for that yet!
Ariana is 9 and almost as tall as Liam. She’s still the mother hen and super sweet, always wanting to learn more and help out with stuff around the house. As she’s growing and changing, we’re seeing an increasing desire to connect with Courtney and learn to do the harder, more complicated tasks she does. For instance, this year she wants to learn cake making and decorating.
Heaven is 8 and still integrating into the family. We still have many times of hardness and withdrawal but there are more and more times in between where things feel pretty normal. She’s still trying to figure out how to just be authentic, where she can really rest and be who God made her to be. Change may be slow, but we’re seeing it.
Esther is also 8 and our most recent believer. She probably suffers the most from the middle child syndrome, not really knowing where she fits or what her strengths are. But since believing, we’ve seen the Spirit working in her heart to bring about kindness and love for others that’s far beyond anything we’d seen before.
Miriam is 7 and our perpetual life lover. She’s unusual in our family in that she’s so unpretentious and unconcerned about anything other than soaking in God’s world and loving others. She’s got a big heart and big smile. Recently, we were creek stomping and Miriam got pulled into the current. Two ladies nearby saw her plight and jumped in to rescue her. Miriam told us later that when she got pulled along, she prayed that God would save her and knew he would.
Victoria is 5 and still a bit of a stinker. She’s got those golden curls and puts them to use with her sparkly blue eyes far more frequently than any child should’ve learned how to. She’s recently started to get her own daily chores to help out with (till now she’s been part of the “littles” and not the “bigs”).
Aiden is 4 and, as our friends say, a Bell through and through. He certainly still has his moments of disobedience and the such, but they’re mainly because he’s four, not because he has different biological parents. He’s certainly our risk taker, the one willing to make big leaps and try crazy things. He’s got a big grin and is finally learning to relax into his place in the family. He still struggles a lot with language development, so we have a long way to go there.
Josiah just turned 4 and is definitely the baby of the family. He’s pretty used to everybody else doing everything for him and tossing in his little charm-grin to see what he can get his momma to give him. He’s also full of life and hardly ever sad about much of anything.
And a little outtake for your viewing pleasure: