The Bell Family

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


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Vi-Vi is 6!!!

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.

Love,

Dad and Mom

 


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Liam is 12!!!

Our oldest is another year older. I don’t like it. I like it. All the feels.

Here’s the letter I wrote him this year. Along with his super handsome picture.

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Dear Liam,

I joke all the time about how you aren’t allowed to grow up, threatening to kick you out of the family (or just kick you as Victoria said) when you turned 10 because you were being so disobedient. But truly, there’s a part of me that wants time to slow down. Twelve, only six more years of youth left, meaning about the same amount of time for you to live in my home. And my future planning heart is already breaking thinking about it. Good grief, you’re now half-way done with school! How did this happen?!

But it also makes my heart glad. Change is part of this world, sometimes big change and sometimes small. And you becoming a man will be a beautiful and needed change for this world.

You and I get each other in a special way. Though you and Dad are much alike in your strong leadership abilities, you and I are alike in our self-evaluation, in our rule-following and therefore striving to earn grace, and in our ability to connect with others. As a result, we tend to measure our worth according to the world and have a difficult time seeing that God has given us any giftings at all, believing the lie that we’re never going to conquer the sin we so hate in ourselves.

I always must tread lightly when offering you correction, knowing how similar to me you are and how you tend to fall into despair when it happens. So, my son who is quickly transforming into a man (sniff), allow me, as you did for me in a recent letter, to offer you some truth about who you are and what this way way way way way way way wiser person sees in you. 😉

You are more gifted in encouragement than almost anyone I know. You joke much but then are heavily burdened if you find out your joking hurt. The Spirit in you drives you to crave building others up. You know what it feels like to be torn down, and you can’t stand the thought of anyone else feeling that way. So you love. Mr. Mark is an encourager, clearly filled with the Spirit in his humility to never puff himself up but to take advantage of every opportunity to point out the good God is working. It feels like a rare gift in men, and you will glorify Jesus maybe more with this one than any others, because it’s odd and people will notice and be drawn to it.

You are bent toward truth and righteousness. This can obviously come out in wicked pride and stubbornness (you’ve never heard THAT before), but it also comes out in a boy wise beyond his years, who is more and more frequently spurring even his mother to truth that I have a difficult time seeing through my sinful heart. You don’t just take people’s word for it, but you consider and weigh to see if it’s within the right rules or just. You have the gift of truth and knowledge. Use it well, my boy. Dig in deep to the word. Don’t let video games or playing with friends or getting stuck in your head substitute for truth. Find it in your Daddy’s words he’s given you. His word is truth. It’s time for you to take this practice of immersing yourself in scripture seriously, past what we “require” of you. You will be swayed. Don’t let your pride fool you into thinking you won’t be. The world sounds good and wise, sometimes too good to be true, because it’s just a lie trying on truth’s clothing. You are beyond blessed to have two of the biggest truth-seekers I’ve ever known in your daddy and Mr. Dan. Watch them and learn from them. They are a gift to you.

You are a leader and a teacher. People will tell you this is because you’re the firstborn, but I’d argue that God set you aside as the firstborn to prepare you to be a leader. Your name means strong protector. As much as we must sometimes correct you for taking the role when it’s not your job, you care deeply for those weaker than you, and would give your life without blinking an eye to save another. You’re brave and courageous, and I look up to you.  But it’s more than a concern for physical safety. You pastor the hearts of your little brothers and sisters, gently correcting them when they get theology wrong or are doing something you know isn’t good for them (this one amazes me because you somehow manage to almost always do this without self-righteousness!). This is so true of you that if Mom or Dad aren’t around, you have become the next trusted source. Your siblings will come seeking you for answers because they see and trust your wisdom, and they know you’ll answer them patiently and full of love.

You’re frequently concerned you’ll not grow into a man after God’s own heart. Oh, kid, live for today. Do not worry about tomorrow. Because today I see a twelve-year-old boy who already has a heart for Jesus and others. Why would God not continue to be faithful to you when you’re technically a man. You are already more noble and honorable than many men I know, maybe most men. I want to see you ask him more, have a bigger faith, remember my story with the lightning. The same is true for you. You are his son, a prince of his kingdom, and he’s promised he’ll give you what you ask in his name. He gave Solomon wisdom when he asked for it because it was a right request. You desire to have a heart like his, there’s no more righteous desire, so ask him. And don’t look at tomorrow and judge whether he’s answered. Trust him today. Then in 10 years, look back and see how he’s transformed you. You don’t remember the last 10 years of your life, but we do, and it’s built our faith that God does in fact answer our prayer and doesn’t let your foot slip. You’ll see it more clearly in the next ten.

I love you deeply. You’re the one who’s grown us the most as parents, mainly because you are the guinea pig, the one we make the most mistakes with and sin against the most. We’re always having to figure things out with you because you’re the first. And you’re always full of grace to these bumbling people who have the privilege to call you “son,” encouraging us and teaching us along the way. I get to see God’s grace in giving us this cool kid despite our rebellion and failures. We see the gospel in you, and our faith is built. May yours be built alongside ours.

Loving you in awe of God’s goodness,

Mom and Dad


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Miriam is Eight!!!

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!)

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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.

Love,
Dad and Mom


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Esther is Nine!!!

Our beautiful Essie turns nine today! She is my clone in looks and much more. This girl is always challenging me to really know my stuff, and she’s an open book if just asked. She loves Jesus something fierce, and her heart is always on him, whether she’s writing a song about him, having deep discussions about him, or drawing beautiful pictures to portray different aspects of his love. Below is the letter I wrote her for her birthday:

My dear Essie,

I’ll never forget your birth. It was the first time I had a baby without taking medicine to dull the excruciating pain. I remember thinking about the Fall and my own sin during the process. To help with the pain, I thought about how much I deserved far more pain than this, that it would never get much worse for me because I was saved by grace. There’s no death for me. It was truly a Spirit-filled moment, and it gave me relief and even joy. I’ve not been able to sustain that hope during a birth since, instead being too consumed with the pain.

Looking back, I see how appropriate those thoughts were for your birth especially. It foreshadowed the way your mind works almost to a tee. You are my deep-thinking girlie, always pondering life and Jesus and how you fit into the whole thing. You’re never one to simply take someone’s word for it. You must really know for yourself, and you’re always on a quest to have the answers. Each time I get one-on-one time with you, I’m amazed how widely you open the door to your heart, letting me see in and allowing me to listen in awe at the maturity that comes out.

I also see the pain in you far more clearly than I’d like. You fear much because your mind is extremely aware of everything around you. The good. And the bad. We tell you there’s nothing to fear, but you know that’s not true. You’ve thought about the Fall to a point most adults never do, and you see the ramifications of it all. You know Satan is at work, and you worry about how he’ll next attack. Seeing or hearing about hard and disturbing things never leaves you.

You also struggle to find your place in this world. Your thoughts make you crave friendship that is beyond your years, and it’s hard to find people who understand. Even though you have four of the best friends ever in your sisters, you’re a middle child, always unsure if you’re a big kid or a little one. Sometimes I’m sure it feels as though you’re simply invisible.

But, my darling, we see you. We see the pain, we see the fear, we see the worry. But so much better than that, Jesus sees you. He is a friend closer than a brother (and you have amazing earthly brothers, so wow!!), and he understands your thoughts. His Spirit is the one who put them there. He designed you to ponder him, to wrestle with him much like Jacob did, and he will bless you fully in the end.

But, if the Lord wills, there’s still much to go before the final blessing comes. And until that day, he wants those thoughts to always be turned to his goodness, his strength, his provision, his power. You recently shared with us that you’re scared you won’t ever become the girl we make you out to be. Oh, my sweet girl, you already are her. You are a beloved daughter of the King. Beautiful and perfect in every way. That is your identity! You don’t have to live up to her because you are her. Just like Mr. Dan talking about Rapunzel—the fact that she was trapped in a tower didn’t change her identity as a princess. She just didn’t believe it was true. But the day she did realize it? Joy!!

You are good because Jesus made you good by taking your sin. You are stronger than you think because Christ is strong for you in your weakness. Your Daddy is creator of the Universe, and if he cares for the ravens, he’s going to care for you, knowing every one of your beautiful hairs. And yes, Satan has been given some powers on earth, but only under God’s authority and only for a short time. Satan has been crushed by your family, not the ones who gave you the name Bell, but by your big brother Jesus. And there is literally nothing to fear with Satan for those of us in Jesus. Our lame enemy is simply throwing a toddler temper tantrum because he’s been defeated.

The moments you relax and simply laugh sincerely are some of my favorite times. They’re the times you’re forgetting to fear and you’re confident in who you are, not trying to be someone you aren’t. That’s what we crave for you this next year. We want you to laugh easily because you know how powerful and good your Daddy is, and we want that knowledge to strip all the fear away. We want you to be comfortable being Esther, because that’s who God created you to be. And if that’s who he designed you to be, any human who thinks you should be something else can honestly just shove it. Their opinion is truly pointless and goes against God, and we’re all hopeless wanderers trying to figure out where we fit.

Your namesake, Queen Esther, was also scared. She hid her identity as a Jew. But the moment of victory came when she performed the bravest act of her life, sealing the deal when she revealed who she really was. It was then that her enemy was defeated.

Continue the deep thoughts, because oh how lovely they are. But think and drink deeply on God for your strength. He’s worth the hard thoughts and the joy.

We love you, Bug,

Mom and Dad


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Heaven is 9!!!

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.

Heaven Leandra,

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.

Love,

Dad and Mom


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Bell Family Update–December 2016

We love December. Our neighborhood is quiet from the cold, extra-curricular activities take a break, and we just get more time to hole up as a family. This has been a sweet month for all of that.

Always a family favorite–wrestling Daddy. It’s getting harder and harder for him to overtake them these days. 20161128_211800468_iosAnd while he still can…20161128_211915747_ios

The choir I sing in gave our premier performance. I love these people.20161203_011303205_ios

The girls were again in the Nutcracker. We are so blessed to dance with this studio!20161208_230743873_ios20161208_232822331_ios20161208_234054723_ios

Our first snowman! 😉 20161209_182501621_ios

A glimpse into our lives in a few years. The girls taking off their makeup after the recital. Oh, boy.20161210_010007752_ios

Games!20161210_192004000_ios

And a better snowman. This was the perfect snow for it!20161213_202135579_ios

Twinsies20161218_155149815_ios

Ariana baked cupcakes for Aiden’s birthday all by herself!20161219_190702337_ios

We all had an amazing and hard-working week with Nana!!! She came in to help me give my home a clean-sweep/re-org for the end of the year. This woman is better at this stuff than anyone I know, and she never stopped, even with a sore knee. This is an end-of-the-week movie time, complete with Nana snuggles. I was relieved Aiden wore his helmet, too, in case something came flying out of the TV screen.20161219_230521230_ios

Grocery shopping date with Daddy20161223_153416208_ios

Coloring time. Bill gifted me with a FabFitFun subscription box! The girls loved helping me decorate it. Aka, I did nothing. 🙂 20161224_152627026_ios

Family reading time20161224_161946228_ios

The traditional search for baby Jesus to put in the manger on Christmas morning20161225_120720548_iosAnd the finder of said baby20161225_121026379_ios

Ah yeah, buddie, dig in to that stocking candy.20161225_123155651_ios

Sugar cookie time!20161225_211732127_ios

Legos for days20161226_210418209_ios

And a cute little birthday boy!!!20161228_145553130_ios


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Aiden is 5!!!

This little cutie had his fifth birthday last week! What a blessing to get to celebrate this cool kid. Below is the letter I wrote to him this year.

Dear Aiden,

It’s been a fun year watching you grow, maybe not a ton in height, but so much in personality and development. It’s unbelievable to me that you became our son when you were only two, and now it’s your fifth birthday. Where did the time go?! Have you really been mine that long???

This past year, we got to watch you go from saying three-word phrases that none of us could understand to speaking in full paragraphs and working intentionally to get those consonants working. You know almost all your letter sounds, can count to 10, know your colors and shapes, and can identify pretty much every object around you, all things that we weren’t sure were ever going to happen this time last year.

But like almost everything in your life, you do things at your own pace in your own way, and you’re always full of surprises. Sometimes that comes through in your sneakiness, how you look for opportunities to dishonor us and do exactly what you know you aren’t supposed to. And sometimes that comes through in the way you can almost do the splits, in your compassion and care for others, especially those younger than you, in your devotion to your siblings, in your sense of adventure, in the way you make those around you feel loved and like they have more worth than they think, in your sweet snuggles. And it’s beautiful.

Our prayer is that the beauty of Christ permeates your very soul, that your strong will becomes leadership instead of rebellion, willing to give up your own desires for the sake of the gospel. That your sneaky actions are broken down because you see that it’s your weaknesses that reveal God’s strength, that you willingly confess your sins because you have nothing to hide knowing that Christ’s blood has already covered it. That your bravery to do hard things transfers into a boldness to do good even when no one sees you because you love God above your own fleshly desires.

That is a beauty that surpasses the cutest smile and the most sparkly eyes. It’s beauty above charming those around you. Because it’s a beauty you can’t produce on your own. It can only come from being covered by the most beautiful man to ever walk the earth, a man who is also fully God, a man who always gave himself up, humbling himself even to the point of death, taking the wrath you deserve so you can be his brother and gain the inheritance of God himself. An adoption so much greater than the one you’ve experienced in our family. The beauty of the Savior.

We love you, little guy,

Mom and Dad