The Label that Reveals

His drawing of a strawberry was lopsided, the printing was primitive, but the proud smile on my little guy’s face was as genuine as the ring of strawberry jam that circled his mouth.  He had made the jam and then had labored over the personalized labels that made each jar an announcement of his creative mastery of the jam-making process.

His jam.

His labels.

I still have one of them in his baby book to preserve the memory of making jam with him (and his three brothers that followed), because from the mashing of the berries to the last swipe of the red marker, I was helping my boys to build a shield of protection over their tender hearts with three strong words:

“I CAN DO”

Confidence based on competence is rugged and resilient, but, the truth is that the dents in that shield come early (and often) as we accept from the important people in our lives statements which do not line up with the true words that God says over us.

Slapping on a label may save me some time when I’m searching for jam in my pantry, but a label on a person means I never bother to see what’s inside. I fail to ponder the life ingredients, the unique qualities that have come together to create this particular soul—which sets me to wondering: What hasty words have I affixed to the real live people who populate my days?

“The lazy kid.”

“The over-reactor.”

“Fluffy-and-not-very-bright.”

“The friend who let me down.”

In a small town, it can be a challenge to live down a label, and I had accumulated quite a few by the time I graduated from high school and bought a one-way ticket to the other side of the country.

I wasn’t interested in hanging around to see if I could change peoples’ minds. Of course, at 17, I didn’t realize that the mind most in need of changing was my own, and failing that, new address labels seemed to be an easy substitute.

How much weight does one need to lose to stop being “The fat girl?”

How many sober life choices must one make to cancel out “Daughter of the town drunk?”

Landing in LAX was like landing on the moon, because Northern Maine was no preparation for Southern California. And who knew that the air breathes thicker in the Deep South or that lightning storms in the Mid-West are a 360 degree light show? After a series of zip codes and a litany of new labels, the light finally dawned: the labels I had fled were tattooed on my brain–but only because I had said yes to them.  

Evelyn Underhill offers her explanation: “We are beset by nature, but we are cherished by grace.”

Family members with poor coping skills, an unfortunate and uncooperative metabolism, cars that break down, and cells that turn on us and suddenly the diagnosis is bleak and frightening: we are beset by nature. And yet the grace of God thrums away like a secret melody.

All the time I was running away from labels (and collecting more in the process, sticky things that they are) I was being cherished by the God Who makes plans and then carries them out in grace. This God Who places individuals in families and chooses eye colors and body shapes according to His sovereign wisdom.

To all my whys and wonderings, His gentle answer has always been: “I AM. Know Me better. Become fluent in the language of My labeling.”

And sure enough, where I had read “inconvenient,” God revealed this label: Chosen.

Where I had slashed the words “drunk and wasted,” God revealed a broken man who was self-medicating—and always falling short. Then He probed still deeper, and we wondered together, “Is it possible that the ‘fat girl’ was also self-medicating in her own way?”

Here’s a label that doesn’t obscure, but instead reveals the beauty of all that lies within: CHERISHED.

Seen and known, we bear the label that shields the heart—the label that reveals the heart of God.

 

 

This post appeared first at SheLoves Magazine.

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34 thoughts on “The Label that Reveals”

  1. I could see your little guy, with jam all over his boyish grin. Love this simple yet profound challenge, Michelle. Labels are a dangerous tool, and must be used with great caution. The consequences of mislabeling someone can be far reaching. Thank you for the reminder today.

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  2. ‘we are treated as unknown, and yet well known…’2Cor6:9 ‘Oh Lord you have searched me and known me.’ Ps139:1. Such comfort! God sees and knows us through and through and still has chosen us to be His special possession.’ But the Lord’s portion is His people’ Deut32:9 What a wonder.

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  3. So much truth to this! We live in a world that is all about the labels and it’s easy to get wrapped up in that sometimes. To not adhere (haha get it?! LOL!) to labels is being a total rebel in the best of ways.

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  4. This was beautiful, Michele. Labels can be a scary thing to deal with, especially those we’ve been given. Thankful for the label CHOSEN, it is one of me I want seen first. Thank you for sharing with Thankful Thursdays.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Now I’m planning on making jam with the twins when they get big enough – two might be a little early, LOL. As a Mimi, I get that it is all about teaching them they can do things. Sadly, as a Mom, I was all about perfection ….

    Good point about the labels – they’re great for jars, but for humans, we need to look further than the label. (Or better yet, not even see the label.)

    I better go see what else you’ve written about this subject!

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  6. What a special thing to make jam with each of your boys. I bet they have great memories. Inspires me to make the time to spend with mine individually as well. Your #inspirememonday neighbor

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  7. This is such beautiful truth here: Cherished and Chosen. I love this too: ” the labels I had fled were tattooed on my brain–but only because I had said yes to them. ” Isn’t that the truth?

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  8. The words hear are so much a mother of sons vocabulary – “Confidence based on competence is rugged and resilient”! Mothers of sons only know how to value those words and traits well. I wanted to comment on that before I headed over – because it strays from your point. That just caught at my heart!

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  9. Michele, I just read the whole piece over at SheLoves and was so touched by your honest reflections and additional glimpses into your story. I love how, in the process of peeling the ugly labels off your own brain, you’ve learned to peel them off of others too. That paragraph about self-medicating just about stopped me in my tracks. Beautiful, my friend!

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    1. Thank you, Lois, for not only reading, but also for telling me your impressions. This piece cuts a little closer to the bone than I typically go with my writing, and it is helpful to me to know that it resonated for you.

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  10. Michele, What wonderful reminders from you today. First, through the sharing of your jam making memories, the beautiful reminder of the importance of being fully present and engaged with the precious souls God has placed in our lives. Secondly, the powerful reminder that labels are not for placing upon God’s image bearers. May the only “labels” we place on others or wear ourselves be those that affirm our identity in Christ. Thank you, my friend.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, Deborah, may it be so. And I love your words about being fully present with our children. This seemed much easier when they were smaller and enjoyed making jam with me. Now, I’m finding that I do a lot of listening to hunting stories and a lot of looking at and admiring of welding projects that I just barely understand. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  11. It’s taken me years to get rid of the labels I put on myself (or that others put on me) as a youngster. And I’m sure that I’ve done the same with others. I am so thankful that I am a Daughter of the King of Kings, and walk with such labels as “Chosen”, “Beloved”, “Beautiful”. Thank you for sharing!

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  12. I always hated it when my mom would label me in some way, so I really resonate with your words here. Thanks for being one who challenges us to look past the “labels” we might want to put on others to their hearts.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Hi, I really appreciate your support. I love this reminder of why my words are really important in what they can convey. I prefer conveying blessings. Thanks for linking up with Literacy Musing Mondays.

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  14. My boys just learned how to make jam this spring and it was wonderful! I also believe that you are so right; labeling people is not always a good idea… it prevents us from seeing ALL of their qualities.

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    1. Ha! So you know the fun of finding sticky jam on a cupboard door two weeks later! I loved the sense of accomplishment my boys felt when they finally mastered the process and could make jam without my help.

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