The Bell Family

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


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Aiden is 6!!!

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Aiden,

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

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Ariana is 11!!!!

(We’re obviously a little late getting this up since her birthday was last month!)

Dear Ariana,

You beautiful, beautiful girl. How happy I am to celebrate you today! I feel like I’ve watched you grow more in the past year than any other of your years, and not just in height. Though Holy Guacamole, you’ve certainly grown a ton in that area, too. I think you’re only two inches shorter than me now, and wearing the same size shoe. Sigh.

I’ve see three big changes in you since this time last year. First, your faith has grown by leaps and bounds. You’re developing more of an awareness of your own sin and are more willing to confess it, sometimes on your own without being prompted. You love to help others understand Jesus, and the times your eyes fill with tears and your voice catches because you’re in awe of Him or you’re moved by others’ love for him or you hurt for those who are weak are the times you’re the most gorgeous. True beauty, not the artificial kind we work so hard for on the outside.

You’ve grown in maturity. You could almost run my house at this point. Cooking, cleaning, laundry, and just a general understanding of how the house works day to day. You know how to care for others well and have gotten to practice with some babysitting jobs, and you do it with skill. You care for others in your friendships, too, more often than not putting yourself last so others can have the best.

The third is how much you’ve become my friend. I’ve always loved any time I get with you, but as you’re growing, so are your conversations and the depth of your heart, and I find myself simply enjoying our talks and thinking of you at times more as a sister than a daughter. There are still a few years left before that transition is complete, but the glimpses of our relationship when you are a grown woman fill my heart with gladness.

One of the most encouraging things for me as a mother is watching how much you strive to be like me. I love you for it. But don’t cheapen your goals. God has gifted me with much grace, but it’s so so pitiful in comparison to him. Look to him more than you look to me as your example. You’ll see some of him in me, but you’ll also see plenty that should be in me. Focus your eyes on eternity, remembering always who you are, and laugh with joy. I’ll be standing beside you cheering you on every step of the way.

If this is what I’ve seen in the past year, I can only look with excitement to what’s coming in the next year. Rejoice in the Lord my sweet girl who’s quickly, so quickly, becoming a woman. Keep chasing after Jesus. He’s ready to welcome you at the finish line.

With deep love,
Mom and Dad

 

 


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Josiah Is 5!!!!!

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Dear Josiah,

It cannot be possible that my BABY is school-aged now!!! Nooooo!!!!

You have been a special little man from day one. You were a boy after a four-girl fast in our home, the first brother for a very eager Liam, making his dreams come true. While I was pregnant with you, we decided you’d be the last little babe to be grown inside me, so I treasured every second and paid more attention to every movement, knowing I’d never get that experience again.

Then you decided to show up early. Though I know the way you come into the world doesn’t reflect your personality at all, it still makes me smile to think about how it fits you. You come when you want and do things as you see fit, not necessarily the way the world thinks you should. But not in a defiant, prideful way. In a non-assuming, comfortable way that brings joy to you and, as a result, to those around you.

You may just be the happiest child I’ve ever known. Not a huge laugher, but with a grin a mile wide that’s almost always on display. You don’t feel the need to impress others or beg for their attention, yet you know just when others need some empathy. It takes a lot to get you to sit still for a good long snuggle, but the other day I was carrying much weight on my shoulders. My struggle wasn’t obvious to others, but you came right up and cuddled into me for almost an hour without moving. Daddy told me you simply knew I needed you. A little boy who doesn’t always pay attention to what’s going on around him yet who is so incredibly in-tune with those around him.

You are the baby, and with that comes some of the typical baby qualities. You don’t try for things as hard as the others because you’ve grown accustomed to those older than you doing everything for you. But you’re also not entitled. It just usually doesn’t occur to you that you have more ability than you think. My prayer for you is to grow in independence this year (even though my heart wants you to always need me!), seeing more areas you can do something because Christ has given you strength. But I also want you to keep that humble heart that isn’t afraid to ask others for help. That gets harder as you get older, and it’s a beautiful person who understands they need others.

You have the potential to have a strong, “why not?” kind of faith because of it. I desire for you to direct that faith to Jesus Christ, keeping your thoughts on him, not on screen time or playing outside or treat. Those are fine things to enjoy, but Jesus is so much finer. I believe you’re going to be a strong man of God, displaying a joy that is unexplainable, a joy I think you probably already have because of Jesus, a true child-like faith.

Your joy draws others to you without you even knowing it. I pray it draws others to Jesus in years soon to come.

I love you much, my little guy,

Mommy and Daddy


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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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Ariana’s Ninth Birthday

For the past year, we’ve been writing letters to the kids in their birthdays. Here’s Ariana’s for her ninth birthday:

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To our sweet and lovely Ariana,

Today on your ninth birthday, we celebrate you as our firstborn daughter. We celebrate the sweetness that God has worked in your heart through his Spirit. And we rejoice in the loveliness that he’s given you. Not just in outward beauty—of which God has made you truly gorgeous. But also with inward beauty. You have a heart to serve others. You are full of joy and life. You see beauty all around you and embrace it.

You also have an eye to see beauty and recreate it in other forms. You have a God-given talent for art. You draw and paint and create beauty. You have an eye for colors and shapes and designs. You are an artist and you should be unafraid to chase after that. Creativity is a reflection of God’s own creative nature. By seeing and shaping and creating beauty, you are reflecting the image of our Creator God.

You are eager to love others and serve them by putting them first. You’re quick to give things up for the sake of others. You’re constantly making gifts for others. You learn the names of all your friends and always know about what they like and who their families are. You have a big heart that loves others well. There will be some along the way who will want to snuff that out of you. But you also believe in a King who has an unstoppable, never-giving-up love. And he’s put that same love in you, too.

But there are also warnings for you. Fear is chasing you, wanting to stop you from loving well, from obeying well, from living well. Fear is a temptation to stop trusting in our Good Father, who gives us every good thing. It’s this same fear that makes you shy and want to speak quietly when others can hear what you’re saying. You have every reason for confidence in who God has made you. Not confidence in yourself, but confidence in the Spirit that is so powerfully at work in you. If God is for you, who can be against you? Easy answer: no one.

You’re at the beginning of leaving girlhood behind and heading into womanhood. It’s not going to happen right away. And there’s still a long way to go. But you’re well on your way. Your mother is about to start taking you down that path—showing you what God has designed for you as a woman. Trust your mother. Listen to the words and the teachings she gives you.

More than that, be like your mom. She has been crafted by God’s Spirit into a godly woman. She’s wise and filled with the Spirit and lively. She can cook and write and decorate cakes and raise babies and organize a home and clean anything and counsel women and see things as they really are. Listen to her and learn from her. She is your best asset on your way to becoming your own woman.

Ariana, your name means holy. Remember that you are holy because of what Jesus has done for you. And your middle name means “God is my crown”—because as much as every girl wants to wear a tiara and be a princess, there’s no crown worth wearing but the crown of God himself. Crown yourself with him every moment and every day, for he is good and will always hold you.

Happy birthday, darling.

Love,
Dad and mom