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I am, I can, I ought, I will. These words are hanging in my classroom in a prominent place on the chalkboard. When I began teaching first grade at a Christ-centered school in downtown Indianapolis four years ago, I didn’t know at the time what those four phrases meant, nor did it occur to me that  they might change my life.

I am a child of God. That is the foundation; it is where we begin. Every year, on the first day of school, we begin by contemplating this truth: I am a child of God. I am created by Him. I am one of His many amazing and beautiful masterpieces. I am created in His image. On that first day, I look at each child and say to them, “You are a child of God,” and I can see in their eyes that they believe that truth wholeheartedly. Then I see the smile that comes across each little face, and it reveals that they can understand, grasp, and accept this truth at a different level than me. I am thankful to be around their innocence and also prayerful that they are able to choose to believe that truth when they have weathered more storms and had more experiences that will cause them to forget or doubt.

I am a child of God. I am created in His image. I am his masterpiece. I sometimes understand these truths better when I place them alongside the study and observation of a poinsettia. We did just this in December as we looked at Christmas traditions from around the world. When I and the children take time to sit and study a piece of nature, I am always surprised by what begins to emerge. With a poinsettia, the obvious observations are the vibrant red leaves (which we learn are just that: leaves and not a part of the blossom) and the dark green leaves in the background. The connection is made as to why this plant is quite popular during Christmas. Then we sketch the beautiful plant and notice that the red leaves are perfectly placed as a five point star surrounding the gold beads in the middle.

We continue our observation by allowing this beautiful piece of creation to feed our souls. I ask them who created this plant. Hands shoot up into the air: “God!” they say. I ask them, what do you think of it, what do you notice? With delight, they begin to point out the small details they think no one else will see. During these moments of observing pieces of nature, there is a palpable sense of joy, peace, and wonder that fills the classroom.

They connect it back to the phrase hanging on the wall. We too have been created by Him, we too are beautiful, and we too have details that are not easy to see at first glance.  As I listen to their observations, I think how God must take great delight in this poinsettia, this creation of His that reveals a bit of His majesty and poise and I envy the children. It is easy for them to believe that God sees them this same way, beautiful and delightful.

Those moments of seeing and experiencing God’s beauty, His goodness, and His truth seem fleeting. The poinsettia has withered; I forgot to water it. The beauty is gone, and I am reminded of the other side of reality that is often more apparent and visible.  Each encounter I have with the ugliness of sin, pain, grief, oppression, injustice, and the great deceiver leaves me forgetting or doubting who created me and that His intention was for beauty, goodness, and love to reign in this world, in me and in the people around me. I spend more time thinking about how I fall short than the truth that I am created in His image. Often times I forget to look at each person I meet as beautiful masterpieces created by God.

When we study the next piece of nature laid out in our curriculum, I will be thankful once again for the opportunity to practice meditating on God’s beautiful creation. As I practice looking for His beauty in a poinsettia, in an evergreen sprig, or in an oak leaf, it becomes easier to see His beauty in the people around me and to treat them and myself with the same wonder and delight, knowing and believing that every part of God’s creation has purpose, value and beauty.

So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.  -Genesis 1:27

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Angie Smith spends a lot of her time teaching first graders at a private Christ-centered school, which she loves to do. She also loves to pray for and shepherd the church body of Common Ground West, which she has been a part of the past 10 years. She lives on an urban farm with some friends and a bunch of animals, and she frequents Ohio quite often to visit her beloved family and childhood friends.