Hero Story

Jimmy's Baptism

The sermon on Sunday was just for Jimmy. And of course, for me, too. After all, it was Randy A’s message, and of all the pastors he’s the one who’s known our story best, and cheered for us longest. He was the first pastor I told about adopting, and from the very beginning he knew how hard it would be – knew it better than we did. Most likely he thought we were crazy, even though he didn’t say it. He just said he’d pray.

So earlier this summer when it was Jimmy going to McAllen, and me a leader on the trip, and we sent out our letters, Randy was first to respond. And not just a little. And when it was Jimmy coming home from the mission trip and saying yes to being baptized, showing the world he’s following Jesus, it was Pastor Randy who said he’d be there again, cheering him on, and preaching his sermon.

The Bible is one big story from beginning to end, and God is the hero of the story. How many times have I said it like this? In classes I teach, and the stories I tell. My Covenant Story. And Sunday last, Randy chooses this message for our special day. “God is the hero of your story, too.”

We’re in Hebrews 11. What Faith Looks Like. The past several weeks, telling these stories about the Bible’s faith heroes. Abraham and Isaac, Jacob and Joseph and Moses. We’re tempted to see them as spiritual giants, until we look at them closer, and see the whole picture. How little they did, and how often they failed, yet amazing things happened, and there’s only one explanation. The Faith Hall of Fame has only one Hero, and it’s God who’s the hero of all of the stories.

Jimmy’s been telling his story a lot this summer. First to me on the way home from our mission-trip training. Then in McAllen, one night at the pool. A shorter version for his baptism video. He tells this story of coming to Jesus. He talks about memories of fighting and hating, and how the struggles of life made a little boy angry. Made him want to be bad. But then God gave him his foster parents, and they loved Jesus, and they loved Jimmy, too. They’d take him to church, but even there he was somewhat inclined to be a bad little kid. Everyone else was singing and dancing and worshipping Jesus, but he’d sit there not caring at all. And then one day he was there at church, still not caring, when something happened. It was the words of a song about the Holy Spirit, about being thirsty and longing for filling. And this tough little boy knew the song was for him. That’s when it hit me. I was missing something, and it was the love of Jesus. So later that night with his foster family, Jimmy prayed for Jesus to enter his life.

He tells us, too, about how it was hard, leaving home and country, starting all over. A new family, a new language, nothing the same and everything different. Life again was overwhelming, and he said it to God – This is too crazy! But looking back now, he can see the big picture, and how God has been good and His plan’s been amazing. God’s been the Hero of this story, too.

We’re tempted sometimes to make people the heroes. A scrappy little kid makes his way through trouble, suffers all kinds of loss, and still manages to thrive. A foster mom and dad open their home to dozens of children, show them God’s love, and take them to church. An American family says yes to adoption, welcomes teenaged boys and gives them a home. Who are the heroes? It’s true it can be hard to tell. Yet there’s Something Bigger weaving all these people and all these places and all of these stories, and I’m here to tell you, this is SO IMPORTANT!

There’s only one HERO and the Hero is God.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11 –the verse Jimmy chose for his baptism, August 20, 2017)

Iowa Bound

UNI Photo Booth

(Dorky UNI Photo Booth. Cheese.)

It was another week of Anderson family transition, and you’d think by now change would feel normal. Which in some sense, it does. We’re used to coming and going, and adding and subtracting. When you consider the summers Luke spent at camp, all the way back to early high school, we’ve been practicing now for a good long time. And yet. Each time you launch a new kid you discover fresh how your heart is wired.

The guys like to ask, when it comes to big moments, “Mom, are you going to cry?” To which I answer, “I have no idea.” It’s never predictable, never has been. I tend to be upbeat and dry-eyed when emotion seems normal, and weepy when least expected.

Nils was the weepy one Wednesday morning, and I hope he doesn’t mind if I mention it here. It’s a beautiful part of this mom’s heart story. Boy number three has always wanted to go a bit further to spread his wings. He’s been in some ways my most independent. Since he was young, a true self-starter, always on top of his game. So when it came to college he set his sights on far-away places. And landed in Iowa. A UNI Panther.

Like all good adventures, it tends to seem easy until the actual ascent. And just like his mom, I think he might say, it’s hard to predict when the floodgates will open. Saying good-bye to a girlfriend the night before, and good-bye to a puppy-dog the morning of, and all said and done it was tougher than expected.

But it’s just what this mom really needed. To hug a son tight and to see how he loves us, and how he treasures this place we call home. He is, after all, the boy who’s told us that when the day comes for us to sell our house he wants first dibs on buying, and the dog, too, if it’s ever an option. So I guess I shouldn’t worry about this offspring taking flight and never returning.

Wednesday morning we loaded two cars for our journey to Cedar Falls, parents driving and Nils riding shotgun, splitting his time halfsies with each. I got the boy first, and after fueling up at a local station, with unexpected hugs from favorite neighbors, we started our journey south.

I remember Luke’s first days at the U of M. I tell Nils the story of his big brother’s transition, overwhelming and good. One teary meltdown, and God’s amazing provision, and not one thing we’d change about the way things worked out. Luke’s first day on that campus of 40,000, knowing not one soul. And the very first evening he sends me a text about going alone for dinner to a sandwich shop and meeting Grant’s buddy’s brother. A kid Luke didn’t know, and had never met, but he saw the family resemblance, and started a conversation. And this story is so Luke, but it’s SO like God, too, to see a boy’s need and come to his rescue. And I say it to Nils – just wait and see. Your God is faithful.  

And of course, He is, and Nils already knows it. A new friend texting and awaiting his arrival down at UNI, another God-story. A friend Nils met in July at orientation, a fellow believer, and soul-connection, and later these two guys discover a mutual acquaintance of a cherished friend. And it’s these crazy collisions fueling our faith in our all-knowing God.

Yes, it did hit me, and not how I expected. Yesterday, all day, back at home without him. Every little thing a reminder. A trip to the grocery. A load of laundry. His half-drunk chocolate milk on the shelf in the fridge. Aware all day of a missing him ache and I pull into the garage and there’s his face on a banner. And it’s my turn for tears.

Of course by now I know how this works. The comings and goings and the ins and outs. One boy leaves and another comes home, which is just how it happened. The very same day Nils moved out, Luke moved back. The cycle it seems, of this season of life.

My nest is not empty. Not for a while. There are five of us still, and a dog. With two sons and a daughter just one state down-under. Home sweet Iowa. For now



I’m different. Not different like odd, which may be true, but it’s not what I’m meaning today. I’m different like changed. In a different place than I was before. Perhaps in a different season. 

I noticed it first in McAllen. Later back at home I tried to explain to Kiana, who’d asked me about my trip. I was a bit embarrassed, but gave my best description. The whole time I had this sense of feeling grown-up. Which is to say, I guess I felt mature. A laughable statement, considering I was, no doubt, a great deal OLDER than most of the team. The other two gals leading with me were younger than my oldest two offspring. But the different I felt is not what I’d call the maturity of age so much as the age of the soul.

Writing this now I chuckle out loud. Thinking about a t-shirt I saw earlier this week, and how it struck me funny. The slogan said something about Jesus loving this hot mess – and after a minute it hit me. Wait a minute, you’re talking about ME?! I was amused by the application. But yes, just months away from that birthday, and thank you, Greg, for subtracting a decade, but my oldest son as of Tuesday has been married two years, and when you do the math the numbers don’t lie.

All that to say, a hot mess and a grown-up soul is its own miracle and I’ll take it.

The past few months have been hard. Not the same hard as the last couple of years, our grueling season of relearning family. The wrestling and stretching of recent months has been less about us and more about me. A season of humbling. Of counting limitations. Less than the least. I got to the place where I knew what this meant as each day I was faced with a long list of the things I am NOT. And looking back now, I can see His wisdom in leading me there. For the sake of my soul.

It’s my soul that’s different. Settled, I think, and at peace.

Last week our church hosted the GLS – a leadership conference out of Willow Creek Church. Two days nonstop of inspiring speakers and I jotted my takeaways in the pages provided, eager to see how the Spirit might lead. And of course, He did. But even in this I can see how I’m different. Conferences past have been more about passion, dreaming of vision and the doors God might open in terms of vocation. But this year I listened with a different perspective, seeing myself in light of today. Aware of PROVISION – and as I write this now, I can see it clearly. How provision and vision share more in common than one might be prone to think.

There was this woman, a high-profile leader, and she told her story – the story of her own sad loss.* And I don’t for a minute compare my struggles to hers, and yet – I think I can claim correlation. It was a distinction she made about post-traumatic stress and what she’s personally experienced as post-traumatic growth. And there it was. My aha. Because PTSD was a consideration, two years ago with lives turned upside down. My husband, especially. And we wondered out loud about long-term effects. But now we’re different, and it’s true what she said. Here in our family. Every one of us. We’re reaping more growth than stress.

Sunday, next, Jimmy gets baptized, a decision he made in McAllen. He’s been sharing his story, first with me before going, then with the team on the mission, and now again for our whole congregation. And his story’s a hard one. I can’t even imagine. All the loss, and change, and the starting over. I remember well the day he said good-bye to Yopal, a fourteen-year-old boy, and the look on his face. Fear and shock. And if ever a kid had a right to some stress, he’s earned it and then some. And yet. Now he’s different. There’s light in his soul and it shows in his face.

Felipe, too. All summer long we’ve been aware of the changes. Since his trip to Colombia I think we can say he’s been a different person. Secure and happy. Lighter in spirit. It was the trip that stretched him – all the figuring things out and flying back and forth and getting himself back home again, and he conquered. He made it. And now he’s driving a car and working a job; using his downtime to draw and paint. He’s stronger and braver, and it’s true what was said about growth.

During lunch one day at the GLS I sat with pastors from a neighboring church. We talked about families and being parents, and Greg’s wife, Lindsey, was there at the table, and she shared a part of her story. She talked about being the mom of babies with medical needs, the doctors and therapy, and unending challenges. A future uncertain, but then she said this. The past three years have been the hardest and best years of my life. And I had to agree. My own story, too. The same, but different.

* Sheryl Sandberg, Author of Lean In and Option B

All This

Paint Crew

It was Tanner who quoted the verse in his devotional. The boy towers over the rest of us, eliciting stares and finger-pointing everywhere we go, and it’s his turn to take the stage before morning ministry to give an encouraging word. I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength. ALL THINGS, and by now it’s midweek and every last one of us is desperate to believe it.

We’re stretched thin and passing around a bug, too much emotion and far too little sleep. Three and a half hours most nights if we’re lucky. And now Tanner’s reading Scripture and reminding us all of the miracle we’re living. Just like Paul. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength (Philippians 4:12-13). ALL THIS – and do you see how context is everything here? The apostle’s words, often quoted, hardly ever in context. We’d go ahead and print the verse on the tall boy’s t-shirt and tell him to shoot for the NBA, never thinking twice about what that verse is really saying. Not so much about dreaming, but more like miracle-surviving – the author knows it, and so do I.

Ten days of miracles, that’s what it was. We arrived on a coach mid-day Saturday, 37 students and leaders on a 30-hour road trip, and our first night of sleep was folded up like pretzels in upright chairs, or stretched across aisles and under bus seats. Rank and weary, we pulled into McAllen, Texas, 100-plus temps, but glad for the chance to stretch legs and take showers, bags of luggage and VBS bins stuffed tight in rooms, rearranged just enough to inflate the air-mattress, my bed for the week.

And now, listening to Tanner, I remember how this miracle started the very first night. The only time on the entire trip I felt the exhaustion, an irritable spirit, and I asked Him to help me. Nothing fancy, a simple prayer. Jesus, I need… Minutes later my heart was happy and me aware of the Spirit’s recharging, renewing my strength. And every day from that day after I rode on His wind. All this. All things. I have learned the secret. The secret is Him.

Every night we’re eating dinner well past my bedtime; 10pm mopping floors and cleaning tables, a half-hour drive from church to hotel. Just getting started. These kids have been at it since before the sunrise – 4:30am to church for praying; a full day on mission; they’ve poured themselves out in love and good deeds. Now gathered at poolside for their own time of refilling. All this through him who gives me strength. And it’s well past midnight when we’ve finished singing and sharing our stories. Lingering tears, and strengthening hugs. So many broken, desperate for healing. Our kids on mission, needy for Him.

My own boy, Jimmy, shares his story, later that night after Tanner’s devotion. He takes his place in the poolside chair, bright blue mesh over PVC pipe, and he leans in close. All these faces by now BFFs, a team undivided, cheering each other. And it’s time for my son to add his own chapter to the Bigger Story of broken people and Jesus healing, which is just how he tells it. Tears dripping off chin as he remembers and tells about the hardest things and how it’s been worth it because God has a plan and His plan has been good. My heart aches and rejoices as Jimmy tells it. All these kids with broken stories, and this boy’s story’s been hardest of all. But they’d never know it. This kid whose gift is encouraging others, words of healing for places of pain. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret…

I’m proud of them all, but proudest of Jimmy. Knowing where he’s been and what he’s Jimmy & Reeseexperienced, and seeing him now, this servant of God. The boy is special. Everyone knows it. Ezra and Sophie and Joel and Dylan. Reese. Kids broken and lonely, touched by Jesus through the touch of my son.

A week of miracles. Strength and healing and soul revival. Ten days later we’re different people, we all can say it. In any and every situation… we can do all this because of HIM.