Remembering Anna Today

7 05 2014

IM_A0202Six years ago today Anna died.

I am wearing batik today. My students think I am getting ready for vacation. I just tell them no, it is something else. It is my silent reminder to myself.

I have written elsewhere on this blog about the confluence of dates every spring. Anna’s birthday comes at the end of March. The anniversary of her death comes today in early May. In between nearly every year comes Easter Sunday, the day we celebrate Jesus’ resurrection. We remember his resurrection in the past and we look with hope to the day all believers, the living and the dead, will rise to be with him. As one of the many ways that God has been gracious to us in these events, I have considered the calendar to be one of them. Before we come to the day when we remember Anna’s death, we are given an annual fresh glimpse of our future resurrection. It removes the sting of the memory a bit when we know that Christ has conquered death; we now have hope instead.

Having said that, there is another confluence of dates on the calendar that is not quite so kind. I often forget that Timberley has to endure every year a set of dates that I do not experience the same way. When we come to May 7 each year, Timberley is faced with knowing that the next Sunday is Mothers’ Day. That opportunity to honor our mothers is always mixed with more than a regular share of sadness.

God has blessed Timberley this spring in a different way. When we moved to our house five years ago, one of the previous owners had left several rose bushes at various points around the yard. Timberley moved them all to the back of the house where they get good sun and we could enjoy them when we go into the yard. This spring, for some reason, the plants have exploded with flowers. She has been daily bringing more flowers into the house. Her fingers are getting scarred from the painful process of removing the thorns from the stems. But she cannot resist the beauty and aroma of these enormous roses.

The first spring after Anna’s death, I thought the arrival of leaves and flowers in the spring was some sort of cruel joke from God. I wanted a perpetual winter. I had become Lewis’s white witch. But God had other plans. He forced spring upon me that year in Louisville. I was forced to watch bulbs spring out of the earth in new life emerging from dormancy. I was forced to watch seemingly dead trees come to life again with the regreening of the branches. And I had to confess then that God had a better plan for us. He had already conquered death that first Easter morning 2000 years ago. Springtime was one of the annual events that he would give us to remind us that death is not the final word on our lives. He will one day restore all things. Anna’s body, like each of ours, will one day reemerge from the ground like a crocus in the spring. And it will be a beautiful flower indeed.

Happy 15th.

29 03 2014
07 June 023

Pouty Face Anna

07 June 025

Pity Face Anna

07 June 029

The Queen Holds Court and Blesses Her People




Anniversaries are upon us. Today marks the fifteenth year since Anna was born into this world. April 11 will mark the day that she and Samuel were baptized in Salatiga ten years ago. May 7, of course, marks the day six years ago that she died. Tucked in the middle of all this is the day that we celebrate the resurrection of our Lord and that annual reminder that this world is not our home. Anna’s death is not final in any way since she was baptized into death with Christ and was raised with him in his resurrection. She, along with the rest of us here and the rest of the dead saints, awaits the coming of our Lord, at which time the final resurrection will occur and her body–now lifeless ash–will be raised again. What a wonderful day that will be!

These anniversaries that we have every year accompany another related anniversary this year. It was ten years ago that four missionaries were killed by terrorist gunfire in Iraq. One of the four was a young woman named Karen Watson. We had the joy of knowing Karen at our missionary orientation before leaving for Indonesia. She was training for her time in Iraq. That was in Janueary 2003. One evening at orientation, Timberley and I had an opportunity to go out together, and Karen watched Sam and Anna for us while we were out. The kids, almost four and six at the time, probably did not remember much about it. But they did remember a little more than one year later when we heard the news that Karen had been killed in Iraq. The news was a shock and a rude awakening for us that the world around us is a dangerous place. But alongside that thought was the realization that Karen would not have wanted it any other way. You don’t go to Iraq in 2003–we invaded March of that year–without saying goodbye to this world first.

It was a few years after that that we went through the long ordeal of waiting for news about another woman in similar circumstances. Cyd Mizell was a close friend of Timberley and sang in our wedding. But while we were in Indonesia we heard news that she had been kidnapped while working in Afghanistan. Months went by without news until finally the authorities announced that they had enough credible evidence to say that Cyd had been murdered. Her body was never recovered as far as I know. When Cyd died, Anna was definitely aware of the situation and prayed through it with her mother. Again, Cyd would not have wanted things differently. You didn’t go to Afghanistan in 2007 without saying goodbye to your world first.

I say these things not to drudge up bad memories, but to remind myself that Anna understood tragedy. She knew about life and death. She had matured far beyond her nine years. I believe that she could in some sense identify with Karen and Cyd and was able to say with Paul that “to live is Christ and to die is gain.” That was a bargain that she knew she could live or die with and be content.

I pray that as we pass through this season and celebrate the resurrection of our Lord, that you come to know the same peace and contentment that Anna had with Jesus.

Fading West

22 02 2014

Jon and Sam
Sam, Timberley, and I were in Lynchburg the last few days on a college visit for Sam at Liberty University. While we were there (and, privately, what prompted the visit in the first place), we saw Anna’s favorite band, Switchfoot. We never had the opportunity to see them with Anna, but have seen them three times now since we returned to the States. Each time we see them, it seems the show gets better.

Switchfoot had already became our family’s favorite band when we lived in Indonesia. We had their CDs A Beautiful Letdown (a gift from my brother), Nothing is Sound, and Oh! Gravity, as well as their first two CDs Legend of Chin and New Way to Be Human. I began to notice a difference in their lyrics from what we were used to hearing in today’s music. I still remember the day in our house in Semarang when I first heard the lyric to the song “More than Fine” from A Beautiful Letdown. “When I wake in the morning, I want to blow into pieces; I want more than just okay.” I knew at once that I needed to find out who these guys were. We were not disappointed.

Anna’s favorite song, I think, was “American Dream” from Oh! Gravity You can see in the photo below the colored hair bands she kept on her wrist. When I asked her one day if there was any significance to them, she smiled, looked at her brother, and sang out loud, “Red, White, Blue, and Gre-ee-een!” If you know the song, you’ll get it.
Beautiful Anna on Bike

Their songs took on a new meaning for us after Anna’s death. I began to notice more carefully the intense tragedy of much of their music. It became very clear to me that the songwriter, Jon Foreman, has experienced significant loss of his own. How else would he be able to write “Amy’s Song” or “Yesterdays”? Another aspect of his music that was already known to me, but which took on a new life, was the immense debt Foreman owed to C.S. Lewis. Foreman had obviously read much of Lewis and he understood him. He understood Lewis’s portrayal of our lives as being in the shadows, but that we will one day see things as they really are. This was captured most clearly in the song Switchfoot did for the second Narnia soundtrack, “This is Home.”

And they did it again on their latest album, Fading West. The last song, “Back to the Beginning Again” features this:
“I can feel it building up inside/The images that play inside my mind/The dreams that I’ve been dreaming all my life/The colors that live outside of the lines/But dreams aren’t all I hide beneath this skin/The cord is cut, the fears and doubts begin/My hope is anchored on the other side/with the colors that live outside of the lines.” Foreman understands that this life is not all we have. And it is not even what we might call the real life. It is a shadow of what is really real. Where the colors live outside the lines.

Anna would have loved the concert last night. Her favorite part, of course, would have been when Jon Foreman came out into the crowd, as he always does. Tonight, however, he stood right in front of her brother, Sam, and essentially sang another of her favorite songs, “This is Your Life”, to him. In the middle of the song, he borrowed Sam’s red sunglasses and wore them for awhile until he returned them to Sam and went back to the stage.

If you get a chance to see their Fading West concert, I would encourage you to see it. If you don’t know their music, it would do your soul some good to get to know it.

Time Well Spent

16 02 2014


I am listening to Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade. It is an old record that I have which I have been able to lately listen to again thanks to Timberley’s Uncle Butch giving Sam an old portable phonograph. I guess that I never listened to any of my vinyl albums while Anna was alive. But I suspect she would have liked this album. The music is beautiful (if you like Russian Romantic era music–I have friends who don’t). Anna liked beautiful things. The music is big. It has a sense of adventure in it. But mostly she would have liked it because it was about Scheherazade. Anna knew the story of Scheherazade in the form of a book called Shadow Spinner. That book tells the story of Shahrazad, a young girl who creates new stories every morning. It is the story of a strong girl who becomes the heroine through her bravery and creativity. Anna probably never thought of herself as particularly brave, but she loved stories of heroines.

As I was listening to Rimsky-Korsakov, I thought I would peek into Anna’s room (our guest room where we keep many of Anna’s old things–Anna never lived in this house) and see if I could find the Shahrazad book. I couldn’t remember the title or what it looked like, so I was having to search through all of the titles on the shelf–and there are many. I finally saw Shadow Spinner written in a mildly Arabic-looking script and knew that I had it. I opened the well-worn pages. Anna was certainly not hard on books, but she read books many, many times. Hearing the story long ago of Shahrazad (Timberley and the kids used to read stories out loud) made me think of Anna. When I hear the music of Scheherazade now I am reminded of Anna.

Anna has been on our minds much lately. Today perhaps more so because of an unrelated milestone. We are celebrating Timberley’s 50th birthday today. As I searched Anna’s bookcase looking for that book, I had to look through many titles. Mixed into the shelf were some books that belong to Timberley about homeschooling and such. I saw the Children’s Herodotus (what is homeschool without reading Herodotus?). I began thinking of the long hours that Timberley spent on teaching the children. The books on this shelf represented an enormous investment that she made in the lives of our kids.

With our loss of Anna at such a young age, one might be tempted to say that Timberley had wasted those hours in school, preparing Anna for a future that never came to pass. Of course that is not true. I have heard of and know parents who have lost children at a point in life where the child is ready to move into adulthood and sprout their own wings. They are graduating from high school or college, or just getting married. The questions about what might have been, I’m sure, are devastating and would continue long in the parents’ minds. But that is not so much the case with Anna. Anna was meant to be a child. Not really that. It was almost as if she were already fully grown, or fully mature as a nine-year old. She was aware of the physical change that would begin to take place in her body as a teen-ager and she was terrified of it. She liked her physical age, but her mind had already far surpassed it. (Anna would be approaching her 15th birthday were she still with us. I cannot imagine her at that age. I have tried. I failed.)

So what did Timberley do in school with Anna? She prepared her to be a fully mature nine-year old girl. She built into her a godly character. She encouraged a love of reading and a love of God that created a thirst for God’s word and a passionate desire to be with the Lord. She now has her greatest desire.

So, Timberley, as you look back at your first fifty years and remember the things you have done and where you invested your life, I want you to remember the call that God placed on you to make disciples of your children. I want you to know that you prepared one of them very well, and she graduated at the top of her class. You have done well.

God’s Love in Its Various Forms

16 05 2013

Two days before Anna died, she sent an email to her second grade teacher, Mrs. Buckner, back in Louisville. In the email she let Mrs. Buckner know about some of the things that were going on in her life in Indonesia. She told her about some new friends she had made. Then she asked for prayer that, because they couldn’t speak English, and she couldn’t speak Indonesian very well, she would receive help “to share God’s love in its various forms” when they played together.

I am at the Nigeria Bible Translation Trust in Jos, Nigeria helping to lead an Old Testament workshop. I was thinking about Anna’s email yesterday morning during our devotion time before breakfast. One of the Nigerian translators was sharing some thoughts from the book of Esther. He talked about Mordecai and how his act of bravery in saving the king from an assassination plot went largely unnoticed at the time. Later in the story, however, his act is remembered and leads to the downfall of Haman, who had been plotting to destroy the Jews. His point was that many of our acts will go unnoticed in history. But we continute to do our work, not to be heralded by men, but because God has called us to the work.

About that time, I remembered Anna’s words. I remembered her desire to share God’s love with the Indonesians. She didn’t have the ability to use her words, so she simply prayed that God would give her other means. Her acts will go unheralded in history, but she was trying to do what God had called her to do.

Yesterday afternoon I met with two Nigerian translators and a translation consultant. They are working on a translation of the Old Testament in the Gokana language. I was able to join in on their work as they pored over their translation of these verses:

“And Yahweh spoke all these words to Moses,

‘I am Yahweh, your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.

Do not have any other gods before me.

Do make an idol or any image of a thing in the air above, or on the earth below, or in the water below the earth.'”

I am here doing this because I understand, in some sense, that God has called me here to do it. But as I sat in our meeting hall yesterday morning during devotion I began to silently weep, thinking about how much Anna would love to be a part of this translation meeting. The reason she would want to be here is that she knew her Lord Jesus. And she knew what it meant to be saved. And she knew that, even if we “shared God’s love in its various forms”, people are only saved through hearing the word proclaimed to them.

When I met with the Gokana translators the first time, I sat in a room with the consultant and one of the Nigerians. The other was late getting there. I asked the Nigerian man, “How many Gokana are there?” He thought for a moment and said, “I would say there are about 75,000 or 78,000 of us.” The consultant sitting next to him seemed surprised and said, “Oh really! I thought there were more like 150,000 Gokana.” They both shrugged and we went on with the conversation. A few minutes later, the other Gokana translator came in and sat down. I turned to him and posed the same question,”How many Gokana are there?” He furrowed his brow and tried to remember. After a moment he said, “According to the last census, there are,  I think, about 250,000 or 300,000.” The rest of us let out a laugh. 75,000? 150,000? 300,000? What is it?

But whether it is 75,000 or 300,000 Gokana, the same thing is true for them all. They are in need of a Savior. That Savior is Jesus Christ. If they call on his name for salvation, they will be saved. But they cannont call on a name if they do not believe in that name. And they cannot believe in a name if they have not heard the name. And they cannot hear the name unless someone proclaims the name. Faith comes through hearing the word of God. May God bless the work that these translators are doing.

Five Years Gone By

7 05 2013

It is hard to believe that five years have gone by since Anna left us and went to be with the Lord. In her memory I am posting three videos for you. They have all been here before, but many of you may be seeing them for the first time.

The first video is of Anna at three, when she learned her first tongue twister. At the time we were in Richmond, VA preparing to leave for Indonesia. Anna was three. It was a very cold January and Anna decided, for whatever reason, to go into hyperdrive in her aversion to certain irritating pieces of clothing. This included socks and shoes. That would not have been a problem had we already arrived in Indonesia, but we were still in a very freezing Virginia. In between the screaming and tears, however, we caught her here in a particularly pleasant mood.

The second video is from Salatiga, where we did out language study. Anna was a much calmer four years old. In this video she is reading a book to me at bedtime. Two things are funny watching the video now. First, while Anna missed the word “her” at one point, she had no problem with the phrase “beautiful arabesque.” Second, at the 1:18 point, you will hear Anna’s older brother, Sam, going into a very excited and high-pitched scream of “Scat, Cat!” I’m guessing that Sam had taken charge of the kitchen and was trying to keep our new cat outside.

The last video is from her memorial service. It is a montage of pictures set to two songs: Michael W. Smith’s “Anna” and Switchfoot’s “This is Home.” We used to listen to the cassette containing “Anna” in our car in Indonesia. Anna used to ask me to turn up the volume on “her” song.  Another song that we would listen to together, and that would cause her to lean up to me, was Phil Keaggy’s “Child (in Everyone’s Heart)”. Switchfoot became our favorite band while we were in Indonesia. We had most of their albums and for a long time, our car had a Switchfoot only music policy. Many of their songs would have been appropriate to remember Anna because it seems that Jon Foreman, the songwriter, has experienced significant loss of his own. “Amy’s Song” and “Yesterdays” deal specifically with losing a friend. Anna never heard the song “This is Home.” It was released in the days immediately after her death. But as soon as I heard it the first time, I knew that this was the right song to remember Anna with. Since then, Switchfoot has released two more albums and each one of them has its own “Anna” song. “Needle and Haystack Life” reminds me that Anna was unique, like finding a needle in a haystack, and that we need to hold on to such things while we can. And then “Souvenirs” on their most recent album speaks for itself.

I’m not sure about the truth of the saying, “Time heals all wounds.” Yes, in some ways. But some wounds leave behind scars that never go away, even with the best plastic surgery. Some wounds heal for a while, but the new skin is such that the wound keeps getting reopened from time to time. But while we may wish things were different, we must continue with what we have. Memories are sweet. They are painful as well. But these things only serve to remind us of the fellowship in the sufferings we share with Christ. Sin entered the world through Adam, and with it came death. But death was not the final statement to be made. With the curse of sin, God also pronounced his victory over death. So in time, God sent his son in form of man to die the death we deserved. God showed his great love for us in that he did this while we were still sinners. The righteous died for the unrighteous. His resurrection from the dead proved God’s final victory over death, and was a foreshadowing of the resurrection that we will all one day experience. But resurrection does not come without a prior death. So God’s victory over death on our behalf, does not eliminate the battle. It merely guarantees victory in that battle.

Anna knew these things. She loved Jesus more than life itself. She spoke often of her desire to be with her Lord. In the midst of the sad memories, it is a great comfort to know that Anna has, in part, what she wants. The part that is still incomplete we await along with her. We can still stand alongside Anna and cry out to the Lord, “How long, O Lord!” We await his return and final resurrection from the dead, when the dead in Christ will arise first and then we will be caught up together with her and the Lord. What a day that will be!


10 04 2013

dscf3579I don’t know if I have posted this photo before. The photo for the masthead of the blog was cropped from this one. I thought you might like to see the whole frame. Anna loved animals of all sorts, even the annoying ones. We lived with a great number of snails in Indonesia. They were of several types, and usually quite large. I have some photos that I can’t show of Anna and Sam when they were trying to break the Guiness record (really!) for the number of snails attached to a person’s face at one time. They read that the record (I believe) was only eight. They thought that was ridiculous, so they ran to the pond in the backyard and fished out a dozen or more of our “pond snails.” These are like our American snails, but with shells perhaps a little larger than a golf ball and a body that stretched to four or five inches. Each one in turn would lay down while we placed the snails on their faces. The trick was to make them stick while the person stood up. They needed to stick to the face to count for the record. We were able to fit nine of those monsters onto Anna’s face, but two of them would not cooperate and stick when she stood up. Very frustrating!

Anyway, here she is with a smaller, and more attractive green snail. As you can see, she loved that snail.