Anne Elizabeth

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In two weeks, Anne graduates from high school, and I can’t believe they plan to give my four-year-old little bug a diploma. Really, where has the time gone? She’ll graduate with honors and attend both Ozark Christian College and Missouri Southern State University in the fall, in a dual degree program where she’ll earn two bachelor’s degrees in five years. Anne will be in the Honors Program at MSSU, she has academic scholarships to both schools, and she received an MSSU music scholarship, too. She was also just named “Senior English Student of the Year”…which is good, because, after college, Anne plans to teach high school English.

Many thanks to Grammar Rock for that.

Andy has repeated for years, “We aren’t raising kids. We’re raising adults.” It’s a wise perspective to have in parenting, but a little hard to hear now as the days at home are few. Anne has been an absolute joy and delight to raise since her arrival on a snowy December day. (Actually, she cried for the first six months of her life…but she’s been delightful since that May.) Anne’s strength has always been her heart. She loves deeply, compassionately. She has always loved beauty, and art, and beautiful art—poetry, music, dance. Anne makes the world a more beautiful place, and the Lord will use her strong heart in big ways, for his glory.

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Anne, as you become the adult we had the privilege to raise, here are ten memories about you that I don’t want to forget:

  1. Your little munchkin voice. I can still hear toddler Anne in my mind, and it’s a precious sound. Nathan called you Eeen, and you called him Boy. You also said “yah” instead of “yeah,” and I wondered how I’d mothered a Swedish child.
    “Oh, Eeen! You wook byooful!”
    “Yah, do, Boy!”

  2. Your artwork. As a child, you drew me pictures nearly every day, with cut grass fringe, soaked in Elmer’s glue, and covered in glitter. I don’t know where most of those pictures are now…but I’m positive the glue is still wet.

  3. You said “Hi” to every single person we passed. At Target, at church, in the airport…you greeted everyone warmly—and kept at it until they responded.
    “Hi! Hi! HI, I’M ANNE!”

  4. E-N-N-A. You printed your name—perfectly backwards, right to left—absolutely everywhere, including on walls and furniture.
    “Anne, did you write your name on your bed?”
    “It’s my letters! A-N-N-E spells me! But my E is quiet.”

  5. Night after night:
    “You don’t have to wake us up when you go potty at night, honey. You can just go.”
    But, I just want you to know where I am.”

  6. Your spectacular falls. You inherited this talent from me, and you’ve had some doozies. An incredible backflip out of the swing set on the beach. Falling out of the van onto the garage floor—your thick ponytail saving you from a concussion. Riding your scooter full-speed into an SUV trailer hitch, and flipping over it. And always popping back up with, “IIII’m okay.”

  7. The night you got sick and had to miss a ballet performance. You were heartbroken. You and I stayed home and snuggled. I made up a tune to Numbers 6:24-26 and sang it till you fell asleep. “Sing it again, Mama.” That’s one of my all-time favorite memories with you.

  8. When you read Little Women for the first time, and you came downstairs, nearly in tears.
    “Mama! Jo doesn’t love Teddy?!”
    “No, honey. She doesn’t.”
    “Oh,”
    you said, choking back a sob. “I just…want her to.”

  9. Sister voices. You and Molly haven’t always loved sharing a bedroom, but I’ve always loved hearing you talk together. The little girl voices, chattering non-stop as you played pretend, and the teenage voices, laughing, singing, arguing, talking late into the night.

  10. The way you looked when you got home from Haiti last year. You were tired, you’d been serving all week and traveling all day…but you were radiant—absolutely shining with God’s love. You love so beautifully.

And to close, here are ten things I want you to know, Anne—ten truths to carry into adulthood, to “always remember and never forget.”

  1. Your mama loves you. No matter what you do or where you go or if you take another spectacular fall…my love for you will never stop or lessen—even a little bit. You are deeply, completely loved. Know that in your marrow and never wonder if it’s true.

  2. God loves you even more than I do. How is that possible? Know that to your core, because knowing God loves you changes everything. His love will give you confidence and joy and freedom and identity and purpose and peace. (Romans 8:35-39)

  3. Hold fast to Jesus. Only Jesus is a sure foundation. Everything and everyone else will fall short. Only he will last and satisfy and fulfill. (John 4:13-14; 6:35, 68-69; 1 Corinthians 3:11)

  4. Hold fast to God’s Word. That’s how you can know him, and how you can discern truth from lies. May Scripture become life to you. Memorize it, live in it, and let it live in you. (Psalm 119:9, 18, 32, 36-37; Jeremiah 15:16; Philippians 2:14-16)

  5. Speaking of Scripture, you, my sweet girl, are clothed with strength and dignity. (Proverbs 31:25)

  6. Charm is deceptive and beauty is fleeting, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised. (Proverbs 31:30)

  7. God has not given you a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind. (2 Timothy 1:7)

  8. The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. (Deuteronomy 31:8)

  9. The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace. (Numbers 6:24-26)

  10. And finally, this gem, which helped us through many mornings together. It may not be biblical, but I think it’s still inspired: You can wear two plains…or you can wear one plain and one fancy…but you can’t wear two fancies. ;)

I love you, Anne Elizabeth.

Passover

Passover

Andy teases that I’m secretly Jewish—I, the preacher’s kid from Oklahoma. I must have some Hebrew roots, he says, considering the mezuzah by our door and the Jewish holidays I make our family celebrate.

It’s true. Over the years, our family has stamped out Haman’s name during Purim and built a booth in our living room for Sukkot. (It was made of branches from our backyard lemon tree, and we stayed in it for only an hour—not a week.)

My favorite holiday is Passover. With matzo and Martinelli’s, we answer the Seder questions and recall how God rescued his people. One year, my friend and I attended a Passover meal at a local temple. I loved every minute. When the rabbi said, “Maybe this will be the year that redemption comes,” I audibly gasped and shifted in my chair so much that my friend laid her hand on my arm. “But redemption has come!” I whispered.

That night, I learned a song—the “Dayenu,” which means, “It would’ve been enough.” In verse after verse, the song recalls God’s provision for his people. It says, in essence, “If God had only led us out of Egypt, it would’ve been enough. If God had only split the sea for us, it would’ve been enough. If God had only fed us manna in the desert—and not done anything else for us—it still would’ve been enough. But God did all of those things and more for Israel.” Dayenu is a celebration—a call to remember and be grateful.

And yet…one year, it struck me: No. No! It wouldn’t have been enough. God’s rescue and miraculous provision were amazing displays of his power and mercy, yes, but they weren’t enough to bring God’s people all the way back to him. Even all those miracles still weren’t enough to pay for sin.

“…you were redeemed…with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect… Through him you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him, and so your faith and hope are in God.”
1 Peter 1:18-21

Until Jesus Christ became the Passover Lamb…it wasn’t enough. But through him, and in him, and because of him…truly, redemption has come!

Escape Room

A few years ago, I went with some friends to an escape room in town. It was our friend’s birthday…so we “partied” by letting ourselves be locked in a dark room to hunt for clues.

We’re all smart women. We all work in higher education—two as professors and one with a doctorate! And yet, even with all that intelligence, I’m sad to say, we failed to escape.

A low point was when we found a cassette player, and excitedly tried to play its contents…only to realize that we’d not yet found the cassette to put inside. But we listened to several seconds of dead air, just the same.

Every time we made a mistake or did something silly in that room, I’d look up toward the ceiling, where the camera was hidden, and apologize to the employee I knew was watching. “Oh, I’m sorry!” I’d say. “We should’ve gotten that one!”

When our time was up, the lights came on and the door unlocked. We left, discouraged by our failure, but heartened by the fun we’d had and the memories we’d made.

It was less of an “escape” room, we decided, and more like a “have-a-good-time-till-we’re-set-free” room.

I thought of that escape room recently when I read a favorite verse in Psalm 18. I memorized verse 19 several years ago as part of a Bible study I was in. It struck a chord and stuck with me:

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He brought me out into a spacious place; he rescued me because he delighted in me. Psalm 18:19

My heart leaps at the thought of being led into a spacious place of freedom, rescued by a God who delights in me. It’s similar to the escape room: I strive for freedom in a spacious place, apologizing profusely to the Employee in the Ceiling, but God sets me free. God is a God who rescues.

God rescues from anxiety and fear. He rescues from my need to control. He rescues from my constant striving to earn my place on my own merit. (Earned freedom is just release. But rescue is a gift—a grace.) God rescues me from my temptations and unhealthy patterns and mental strongholds—from deeply rooted, incorrect beliefs that play on repeat in my mind, shouting lies louder than the truth.

A few years after memorizing Psalm 18:19, I had a moving encounter with the verse. (I don’t tell this story often, because it sounds a little mystical and hard to explain—but it happened.) One evening, we looked through old pictures with our kids, and laughed at how little they were, and smiled at the happy memories the images recalled. And yet, some memories were bittersweet, too. Along with the joy came the sharp sting of past pain. When I went to bed that night, I cried, and asked God again to help me with my anger. “How long till these things heal up,” I asked him, “so the wounds won’t hurt?”

I fell asleep, still burdened.

But then…next morning, exactly three minutes before my alarm went off, I woke up suddenly—and those are two things I never do: wake up early or suddenly. My eyes popped wide open as though something had startled me awake—except, nothing had. I lay there, head still on my pillow, and all at once my first, clear, waking thought rushed in:

“I brought you out into a spacious place; I rescued you because I delight in you.” I “heard” those words in my mind, as clearly as if someone had spoken them aloud. It was Psalm 18:19, but not as I’d memorized it. The psalm talks about God in the third person: “He brought me out…” But—I believe by his Spirit—I heard it in first person, as though spoken to me. I brought you out.”

The tears came again as I realized…the God of the universe had stayed up all night, watching me rest, till he “wakened my ear to listen like one being instructed” (Isaiah 50:4). He woke me up to remind me of his good, gracious, spacious freedom. “You didn’t just escape that pain in the past,” he was saying, “I brought you out and set you free.”

That is a God who delights in his child!

That is a God who offers more than escape.

That is a God who rescues.

Amy, Alliterated

Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God?
Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people,
I would not be a servant of Christ.
Galatians 1:10

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Amy's ambitions aren't appropriate. Awful, actually. Always after attention, Amy adores approval and aims at acknowledgment.

"Applaud Amy!" "Accept Amy!" "Admire Amy!"

Awkward.

And, Amy's attempts at admiration always achieve anxiety and anger. Abundance and assurance are achingly absent.

Although Amy's aims are amiss, appropriate ambition (as an apostle affirmed) appreciates an Almighty.

Amy, advance another agenda! Accurate aspirations are after Almighty's approval…and Almighty’s approval alone.

This one took 18 years to write.

Recently, one of our dorm guys asked for my best parenting advice. He's not a parent yet--he's not even dating anyone, actually--but he'll make a great husband and father someday.

It's a huge question, really, and one I'm not qualified to answer. The verdict is still out on my parenting, since all three of my kids still live at home. But I've been at this parenting gig for almost 18 years now...what is my best advice?

I've read a thousand parenting books--should I tell him my favorites? These four come to mind:

We had two rules that we recited (with hand motions!) every morning at breakfast. Should I tell him those?

  1. "Love God and love people." (I stole that one from Jesus.)
  2. "Obey the first time, every time, with no complaining." (I stole that one, too, but I can't remember from where.)

Our family also regularly reviewed our "Three Reasons for Spanking," which I stole from Kaylene Idleman, the wife of the former president of the college where I now work. Does he want to hear those?

  1. Disrespect
  2. Disobedience
  3. Dishonesty

(Should I show him the paddle we used, and how I decorated it with all three kids' names printed in happy dot letters, along with the text of Proverbs 23:13? Probably not.)

We read family devotionals and celebrated monthly family days--"Stormy Days", we called them--and we took each kid on one-on-one dates. All of it, by God's grace, helped Nathan, Anne and Molly become who they are now. But how can I boil it down into advice? What's most important to tell? 

I finally landed on two things:

1. Remember the end goal. Andy has said since our kids were tiny, "We aren't raising kids. We're raising adults." Because of this, as Stephen Covey wrote, we must "begin with the end in mind." What's the ultimate goal for my kids? To be popular in high school? To play professional sports? No. More than anything else, I want them to be whole, capable adults who love God and people. That end goal is why I made them scrub toilets and sort laundry. It's why we gave them their dollar allowances in dimes...so that they could easily give a tithe to our church...so that someday budgeting and giving will be second-nature. It's why they went to church every week and fed our neighbor's cats and wrote sentences like "I don't hit girls" 100 times when they were unkind. It's why I made them read all those library books and memorize poetry and Scripture...because their minds were being formed and they were learning how to learn. It's easy in parenting to get sidetracked by things that seem important at the time, so...always remember the end goal!

2. Talk. My kids joke that I'm a closet-Jew (I do tend to make them celebrate more Jewish holidays than Christian ones), and as such I based my parenting philosophy on Deuteronomy:

  • "...do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them fade from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them." (Deuteronomy 4:9)
  • "...Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up." (Deuteronomy 6:7)
  • "In the future, when your son asks you...tell him." (Deuteronomy 6:20-21)

Talk. I really don't know another way. Good parenting takes a lot of words, so talk a lot. Talk when they're babies, because how else will they learn to speak? As they grow, listen to their words, and be intentional with your own. Talk about the Lord--where you see him at work in the world and how they can join in. Talk about how much you love them, no matter what. Talk about their stories--their heritage, their roots. Talk up your spouse as a hero. Talk about the wrong things you see around you and on television--things like greed and disrespect and deceit. Point those things out, so they won't become accepted norms. Talk about sex--not in a one-time, awkward conversation after it's too late, but often and in age-appropriate ways, even when they roll their eyes. Talk about the reasons behind your rules, pointing to Scripture as much as possible. Even talk about your expectations when you go places: "When we're in the library, we'll walk slowly and use whisper voices so we won't disturb the people who are reading..."   

And, when you're tired of all the talking, announce that it's "Room Time," and make everyone read those library books on their beds until you're ready to talk again.

Later, I'll think of a dozen more profound things I should've told him, like how much hard work he's in for, and how nothing will exhaust or terrify him more, and how he'll never have a more crucial ministry or privilege. But that's all I've got for now. With consistency and intention and truckloads of God's grace, remember the end goal, and talk a lot.

Fog and Redemption

Sixteen years ago today, I miscarried our third baby--the baby that came between Anne and Molly. Sam or Grace...I can't know this side of heaven...was due the day after Anne's first birthday.

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Two babies 12 months apart would've been hectic, especially since Nathan and Anne were already only 16 months apart. As it turned out, once Molly came along, I still had three babies in 36 months. That kept me plenty busy.

I used to cry every time I recalled this day. Grief and questions were a thick fog, clouding my view of God's goodness and grace. I've never been good at accepting what I don't understand, and as far as I could tell, God had no good reason for letting my baby die. He certainly had nothing to say for himself on the matter.

Over the years, though, the hurt healed and the fog lifted. Not all at once and certainly not in the crystal clear explanation I craved, I came to accept what seemed trite at first, but later became the truest truth: that this world is broken, but God is good, so he redeems it all.

All!

Every last bit of brokenness, he will, through Christ, redeem.

That must keep him plenty busy.

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This year, when I remembered the 16-year anniversary, I teared up again--not in grief for a life lost, but in love and thanks for the child I gained. Had Sam or Grace not passed away, I wouldn't have my Molly, and I cannot imagine this world without her creativity and humor and talent and beauty and intelligence and strength and kindness and sass. I love her so much, and I know the Lord will use her in big ways, for his glory.

Today, I remember that I'm a mother of four, with a sweet reunion in store. I remember that someday, the fog will lift completely, because "now I see only a reflection as in a mirror; then I shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully" (1 Corinthians 13:12). Today, I remember that this world is broken, but God is good, so he redeems it all.

All.

I remember that he has invited me to join him in his redeeming work in this broken world.

And that will keep me plenty busy.