Who are you?

Last week I talked about my son’s friend, a young man with difficult labels. He’s someone who’d been convicted of serious crimes, someone who’d served time in a federal prison, someone who’d needed 8 years under lock and key to atone for some major mistakes.

Someone with the label “felon.” When I finished filming, I immediately had a moment.

Should I have said he was an ex-felon? Once a felon always a felon? I wondered.

Not sure of the answer, I did what many of us do these days when we have a question, I googled it.

“Felon or ex-felon?” According to the strictest definition of the word, a felon is someone convicted of a felony, whether still in prison or not.

Going to some discussion boards, it appears a person can be a former criminal, an ex-con, but always a felon.

Wow, I thought.

Someone can serve their time, make restitution, change the course of their life, but society will always consider them a felon.

It made me wonder about how we think about ourselves and those around us, the labels we give ourselves and others.

Labels can be helpful or not.

We all use labels. We use labels to describe ourselves.

  • I’m an investment advisor who manages a financial planning practice. We give ourselves names.
  • I’m a wife, mother, and grandmother.

When we introduce ourselves, we tell those we’re with who we are, what we do, where we live. We tell about our families.

Not said, but deeply felt, might be other labels:

  • ex-wife, ex-girlfriend,
  • the kid who was always messing up,
  • the teenager who didn’t fit in,
  • the young adult who lost her way,
  • the former this, the ex-that.

Just as our introductions can describe us in beautiful ways, the unspoken can describe us in ways that are not, in ways that are not helpful at all, locking us to our past, chaining us to our missteps, leaving us convicted by unfulfilled expectations. And we can sink under the weight of it all:

Once a sinner, always a sinner!

The world uses labels, too.

The world sorts us, categorizes us, distinguishes us from others. The world wants answers, “Who are you?” The world wants to know where we fit.

And if we’re not careful, labels can elevate us in unrealistic ways or devalue us in unhealthy ways.

Fearing those labels, wanting to avoid unwelcome labels, I’ve caught myself going to great lengths to create a profile that looks like I’ve got it all together. My Instagram account looks delightful, because missing are the uncropped photos. Here on FB I even trim my Friday filmings, lest you see me spend an extra 10 seconds trying to find the “End video” button.

Silly examples, but a template I’ve used for larger issues.

Two weeks ago we celebrated an Easter miracle, when Jesus, God’s own Son, died and rose again. In his letter to the Ephesians, the apostle Paul reminds us that God loved us so much that he chose us to become His children. He adopted us as sons and daughters through Jesus Christ.

This is what God has always wanted to do and it gave Him great pleasure. Let me add that Paul also told the Romans that God did this while we were still sinners, while some of us were still trying to crop the photos.

God took away the labels we might use,

God took away the labels the world insists upon, and named us His children. Our past experiences might describe a time and place for us, but they no longer have to define us, because God’s love defines us and gives us our identity in Him as His own dear children.

On the cross, God’s own Son served our time, made restitution for our wrongs, changed the course of our life, and gave us a new identity as children of God.

We may have screwed up in our past, but we are not screwups. We may have made mistakes, but we are not a mistake. Society might consider Kyle’s friend a felon, but God sees a son, a young man with a wonderful new life of possibilities.

I still have days that go horribly, but God sees a daughter saved by His grace with wonderful new possibilities always ahead of her.

You, too. You, too, are His child and in you, He also sees wonderful possibilities. Every single day.

God’s love is big.

God’s love is really beyond comprehension. Trying to understand our place in His family can challenge us.

I often think about two four-year-olds in my life.  Enzo and Austin are absolutely delightful. As you would imagine, they have days that go oh-so-very well and others that don’t. Both boys are transitioning out of afternoon naps. Remember how well that went at times?

Whether they’re on top of the world or on top of a meltdown, I adore Enzo and Austin. My heart bursts with love for them. God’s, too.

God’s heart also bursts with love for you.

This winter I finished a bible study by Priscilla Shirer called Discerning the Voice of God.

God would want us to discern our identity in Him, knowing His heart bursts with love for us.

Now I’m working on a bible study by Stephan and Alex Kendrick called Defined. God would want us to define ourselves as His people, because in God’s family—where His heart bursts with love for us—there’s not a felon amongst us. We’ve all been pardoned.

This prayer is from both the gospel of John and a letter by John.

Heavenly Father, we see the love that you have given us

that we should be called Your children and so we are.

Your Son set us free, and so we are indeed.


I have especially appreciated the opportunity to walk together. Your comments encourage me and I pray that I might encourage you as we do life together.

Believe in the possibilities.

Deanna is the author of Fruit of My Spirit and Signs in Life.

Deanna Nowadnick author

Hi, I'm Deanna

I am a writer and speaker who loves helping women of faith connect our delightfully ordinary stories to God’s extraordinary love and faithfulness, so we can be encouraged and empowered knowing God’s been in the details–always has been, always will be.

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