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.
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 sons 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 friend who let me down.”
Living Down a Label
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 an alcoholic?”
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.
Cherished By Grace
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.
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This post appeared first at SheLoves Magazine.