As I sit here pondering what to write for your birthday letter, I can’t help but smile because you’re such a funny mixture of fun and play and silliness and growth and comfort and development and mischievousness and hard-headedness (on both our parts!) and impatience (also on both our parts!) and just plain ol’ turd nuggetness. You are our fiery Aiden, intense in your excitement and joy, but also in your rebellion. The fact is, you’re super cute and a big hot mess and incredibly difficult—which is another way of saying you’re just like your dad. (Especially the super cute part.)
I realize as I write this that you’ve been with our family longer than you’ve lived anywhere else. The family and home God prepared you for in eternity past is getting more deeply rooted with time and tears and temerity. Praise be to the God and Father of Our Lord Jesus for that! But as I get excited about that fact, it’s tempered and turned by the remembrance of those two and half years where you weren’t in our family. What’s both good and sad is that I frequently forget the crap you’ve gone through to get here. It’s good because I don’t want you to be defined by your past. We serve and are loved by the God who resurrects the dead and rewrites tragedies into comedies. But I’m also sad, because as a dad, I forget that your story has been particularly twisted by sin.
Of course, you don’t remember any of this anymore. And I thank God for that! But the reality is that our pasts shape us and set the courses for our futures, even where we redirect those courses. And it breaks my heart to remember that you still struggle to trust and be at ease, to be the you God has created you to be without trying to become some false version that pleases but never penetrates. And this is the six-year-old version of you. I think this is a battle that you’ll still be fighting at sixteen and probably twenty-six, and maybe even sixty-six.
And as I write this letter, I know that six-year-old you probably just wonders when I’m finally going to stop talking so we can eat cake. Which is cool. Cake tastes better than this letter would. But I also write this knowing that one day you’ll be able to read these birthday letters when you’re older, with more understanding and story beneath it. So, with that in mind, I say this to you both as a six-year-old and whatever age you are when you read this again:
You are my son. God brought you to your Mom and me because in his grace this was the family he wanted for you. From your infancy, you have known hurt and anger and violence in a way that I never have. Sin and Satan and the forces at work in this present darkness tried their damnedest to throw you into the pit so they could sell you into a slavery of despair and emptiness. But the Light of the World, the one with a birthday celebration six days from your own, took all that despair and emptiness and slavery upon himself to set you free. He took the curse you’d been given and traded it to you with his blood-bought blessing. His blinding Light washes out the darkness of your past to give you a new life, a new home, a new family, and a new identity.
My plea with you, as always, is to live in that newness. It is all yours. And nothing can take that away from you. No amount of hard-headed, turd-nugget behavior will ever stop you from being my son. And if that’s true of me, even though I’m evil, how much more true is that of your true Daddy who will never abandon you or abuse you or crush you or leave you or forsake you. Through Jesus, you can and do and will have a security deeper and fuller than any you could ever know or imagine. You are going to struggle so hard to believe that deep down in your bones. My prayer for you is that you’ll eat the flesh and drink the blood of the Savior, and find it satisfies you more than cake or candy or crumbs.
Happy birthday, kiddo,
Dad and Mom
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