Thursday, March 8, 2018

Grief and Celebration

We had Mack dedicated at church a couple of weeks ago. Right in the middle of Lent. We're Baptist (well, technically, I'm a "Baplican," but that's another story for another time), but were we of a more "high church" denomination, we would have been asked to wait until after the Lenten season to perform such a celebratory act. We also would have been asked to sprinkle him. Yet another story for another time.

It has been noted on this blog before that despite being a Baptist I am a huge fan of the Liturgical tradition. I revel in the anticipation of Advent and the solemnity of Lent. However, as I contemplated this joyful occasion we were imposing on such a sacred time of year I felt a peace.

I have come to realize that one of the bittersweet tensions we hold this side of Heaven is that grief and joy are not mutually exclusive. They are not confined to their own separate corners only coming forth when asked. They ebb and flow and mix and mingle and cannot truly be separated.

I have seen this in my own life as I feel I am constantly grieving the end of one stage of life while celebrating the beginning of another. I remember as our wedding approached I felt a surprising amount of grief for the end of my single days. The same was true as my due date approached last year. I grieved the end of the "just the two of us" newlywed stage Will and I were preparing to exit. And in a brief three months of parenthood I have already grieved many stages of Mack's life even as I rejoice to see him growing and progressing into a healthy little boy. I have no doubt that will continue.

This tension between grief and celebration became clearest to me last summer when my grandmother passed away while I was almost nine months pregnant. I stood in front of a crowded chapel and gave her eulogy while inside me I could feel my son kicking--a sign of life. The significance was not lost on me and I remember in the moment taking a minute to soak in the beauty of God's mercy that as He had called my grandmother home He was simultaneously gifting my family and me with new life. It left me breathless.

We also see this tension in the life of Jesus, especially the end of his life that we celebrate during the Lenten season. The Bible tells us that "for the JOY set before him, Jesus endured the cross."* There must have been some bittersweet thoughts in his last few days. Knowing the agony that was to come but the joy and peace that would follow--I often wonder what He was thinking. I think the human side of Jesus held this tension in the same way we do today. After all, on his last night on Earth he did not retreat to solitude to mourn his impending death. No, he gathered together his closest friends and had a meal. We don't know every detail of that night, but I have to believe Jesus rejoiced, even if only inwardly, over the work they had done and would do in the name of the Father.

This Lent has been perhaps my least devoted. I can't tell you what I'm giving up or what I've added to my life except that I have a bit less sleep and personal time and a little more laundry. However, as I stood in front of our church dedicating my son back to the Lord on the second Sunday of Lent, I felt a tinge of that bittersweet tension washing over me and knew that in this particular season I was exactly where I needed to be.

*Hebrews 12:2

Monday, November 20, 2017

Womack Hopson

This baby could come any day now. Its due date is 10 days away. If it's a boy, his name will be Womack Hopson Sanford.  He will be called "Mack." 

His name will be all family--my maiden name coupled with Will and his father's middle name. I love that the name is a perfect merger of Will and me. That Mack will have a name from both his mother and father.  I love that Womack will be kept alive with him, because it would have otherwise died with my getting married. I love that he would be the third consistent generation of Sanford men with "Hopson" as a middle name. 

Mostly, though, I love the men for whom he will be named.

William Gregory Womack will be an awesome grandfather--but oh to see him with a little boy! Although he'll tell you he had "the best of both worlds" with two girls who were tomboys, he also says that if "God himself" had guaranteed his third child would be a boy, he would have gone for it! Bless him, he would have spent more time playing with GI Joe action figures than gluing the heads back on my Barbie and Ken dolls. I'd love for him to have a grandson. I'm told Dad was an energetic child who got into things...a typical boy. I'm also told that through high school and college, though never jumping too far over the line, he pushed the limits on what was kosher and acceptable.  Some of that hasn't changed. Dad still has a lot of energy he has to get out of his system, hence his regimented daily workout routine. He also, at least in the 32 years I've known him, hasn't always stuck to what is "kosher and acceptable."  I'm not sure that it's kosher to turn down promotions at work in order to be able to spend more time with your wife and coach your kids' rec league teams. I'm not sure that it's "socially acceptable" to spend more time making sure your family is spiritually and practically secure rather than trying to keep up with the rest of the community. And frankly, I don't know who in the WORLD pledges SAE at Auburn and never takes a drop of alcohol. Greg Womack is not like every other man, and thank God for that. I think he's the greatest man in the world (over the age of 32) and hope his grandson takes on his "differences."

James Hopson Sanford will tell you with complete sincerity that he's "just a cotton farmer from Prattville, Alabama." This is about as accurate as Peyton Manning describing himself as a "just a guy who likes to throw the football now and then."  Before I met Jimmy Sanford, I wasn't sure "renaissance men" still existed. Trust me, they do. At least one does. With interests and expertise ranging from agriculture to business to higher education to real estate to sports, there's not a whole lot Jimmy cannot do or hasn't done.  And while I swell with pride each time one of his accomplishments is pointed out to me, it's not those accomplishments that would make me proud for my son to bear his name.  Jimmy Sanford the resume is impressive.  However, I can assure you that Jimmy Sanford the father, father in law, and grandfather is even better.  I'm coming up on four years of knowing Jimmy.  That's not very long, but it's long enough to know I won the father in law jackpot.  It's long enough to have seen the trust, confidence, and pride Jimmy takes in Will as he runs the farm.  It's long enough to have seen (on multiple occasions) Jimmy drive over to our house in the freezing cold or pouring rain to deliver us a "to go plate" from a family meal we missed. It's long enough to have learned that although he'll never push anything on me, he is always there as a listening ear and a second dad when I want to process something. And it's long enough to know that if his grandson is half the man he is, I'll be a proud mother!

William Hopson Sanford is the love of my life. He is the man God created perfectly for me and there truly is not a day that goes by that I do not stand in amazement at God's sovereignty in bringing us together.   Will is the calm to my frenzy.  He is the patience to my hurry. He is the detail oriented to my "let's rush through and just get it done."  He is the laid back to my planner.  He is the quiet to my loud and he is the happy being back stage to my "performer" personality.  I hope our son would inherit all of this from his dad (with just a TOUCH of my planner side so we aren't always late). I also hope that our son would inherit his dad's gentle spirit, sacrificial work ethic, tender heart, servant leadership, and ability to see others with the eyes of Christ.  On the surface level, I wouldn't hate it if Mack had his dad's curly hair, long eye lashes, and tan skin tone either.  His dance moves, sense of humor, and ability to rock a bow tie would be even greater added bonuses! Will is going to be an amazing father--I get more and more excited each day to have a front row seat to this.  And if this baby is a boy, I hope he grows up to be just like his dad!

Womack Hopson Sanford will have a lot to live up to, but he'll also have these three men to look up to as well.  If he ends up a nice blend of all 3 of his namesakes, he'll be doing just fine.

Friday, July 7, 2017


If Will and I have a baby girl, her name will be Virginia. I've been wanting for sometime to articulate why, and like so many things in my life, writing is the easiest way to do this.

Oddly, using the name Virginia comes from another from the Bible.  Many of us have grown up singing the second verse of the popular hymn "Come Thou Fount" without ever knowing what in the world an "Ebenezer" is. In 1 Samuel 7:12  we are told that after God had delivered his people from the Philistines, "Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen and called its name Ebenezer; for he said, 'Till now the Lord has helped us'" (ESV). Samuel was drawing a line in the sand. Creating an altar. Reminding himself and his people of God's faithfulness to that point and thus pointing them to the fact that they could trust His faithfulness moving forward.  Once I learned the meaning behind this word, it changed the way I sang the hymn and caused me to ponder what the "Ebenezers" in my life might be.

I've said for years that (until Will) the greatest proof and reminder to me of God's faithfulness and sovereignty in my life is my journey to and through Virginia--both the state and the school. When I was 15 I decided that I would attend the University of Virginia for college. This became my goal--it's what motivated me to study, to participate in extra-curriculars, to attempt to play volleyball well. I didn't get in...twice. Early Admission: deferred. Regular Admission: Wait Listed. I never came off that wait list. It was the first time in my life I'd been truly disappointed. That I'd wanted something so badly and had failed. And it humbled me at a time in my life when I very much needed to be humbled.

So, this child will be named for humility.

That failure to get into UVA led me to Auburn where I had the best four years of college anyone has ever had. Ever. Come at me if you'd like to argue.  I majored in History--specializing in American History which, in case you've forgotten, involved studying a good bit about Virginia. I met amazing people, had incredible experiences, and made best friends that will be with me for the rest of my life. It provided me an opportunity to share an experience with my parents and sister that has become something treasured we share together.

So, this child will be named, although indirectly, for my undergraduate alma mater and my family--for those life-changing friendships and experiences at Auburn and the gift the is a shared experience among family members.

After college I moved to Falls Church, Virginia to participate in a Fellows Program. While I was craving the content of the program, I was pretty sure that I was full to the brim on friends and needed no more. I was wrong. I met more amazing people, specifically six women who have enriched my life in ways I cannot fully express. In addition the program itself, as well as the subsequent two years I spent in Northern Virginia, opened my eyes and shaped me significantly. My time there allowed a part of myself to grow and blossom that, I firmly believe, could not have done so in another setting.

So, this child will be named for more life-changing friendships and the time I spend learning to know and experience God in ways I'd never imagined.

Once I left Northern Virginia, the Lord completely redeemed my experience at the University of Virginia where I applied, was accepted, attended, and graduated with a Masters of Education in Higher Education. It was only a year, but at age 26 I was finally able to realize a dream I'd dreamed for 11 years. During that year my "relationship" with Virginia was put into such a new, eternal perspective. UVA, like any other place this side of Heaven, has warts and imperfections. However, it is also so much of what I'd imagined it would be as a leader in higher education. Charlottesville is a picturesque town with incredible people, beautiful mountains, and a vibrant local culture.  It is home to one of America's greatest founding fathers and presidents and my history-loving self relished in all it had to offer.  I realized that at age 18 I might not have appreciated it the way I did at 25 and 26. And once again, I met wonderful people who helped me learn, think, and grow and who God used to continue to shape and mold me into who He has created me to be.

So, yes, this child will be named, in part, for the University of Virginia and what it and its people have meant to me as a 15 year old, a 26 year old, and now a 32 year old.

Upon graduating from the University of Virginia I stayed 14 more months in the Commonwealth. I took a job at an all-male, small liberal arts college in the extremely rural town of Farmville, Virginia: Hampden-Sydney College. I knew no one when I took the job. I had no place to live. I ended up renting a duplex off a dirt road where the only television was satellite and there was no garbage pick up service. As a 26 year old single girl I went to work at a place where there were no other females my age. My friends became a group of Hampden-Sydney alums who were all vastly different from one another and from me. We did things like play Settlers of Catan until our eyes bled, hang out at the swimming pool outside the guest cottage one of them was renting, watch DIII basketball and pray for the home team to score more than 100 points so we could get free Bojangles, and listen to a lot of music. These guys took me in as family. They welcomed me with open arms and loved me well. I didn't invite any generic "guy friends" to my wedding, but I invited them. Although they were different than me and some of them hold different beliefs from me, they were the hands and feet of Jesus to me for those 14 months. They loved me without asking (m)any questions. They also allowed me a lot of time to myself (I can't hang out with dudes ALL the time). I had plenty of afternoons and nights to work on myself, to spend time delving into things that interested me, to read and pray and study God's word. It was the most alone time I'd ever had and the most I will probably ever have.

So, this child will be named for boldness. For going into unknown situations and new adventures trusting the Lord will provide what you need. For learning about yourself and about God and about who He made you to be.

Since moving back to Alabama from Virginia in 2012, I've had incredible professional and personal experiences--the greatest of which was of course meeting and marrying Will.  I can now say he is the greatest proof I have of God's faithfulness and sovereignty in my life.  And as I reflect on my life thus far, I can say with confidence that "till this point, the Lord has helped me."  So now when I sing "here I lay my Ebenezer, hither by Thy help I come," I am reminded of my journey from age 15-26 to and through Virginia. I am also reminded of the man God made to be my husband, to fulfill such a great desire of my heart. And when I look at our daughter, I will rejoice and give thanks for God's faithfulness and provision to this point and claim it for all three of us in the days and years to come.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Cleaning the Shower

Last weekend I cleaned our bathroom. It wasn't just the usual spit shine, once-over. This was the scrubbing on my hands and knees clean that was much overdue. As I was doing this, I came to an odd realization: I would MUCH rather clean the toilet bowl than the shower. I started to ask myself why. I discovered that it came down to expectations and distance. With the toilet, well, we all know what happens there. I'm prepared for any nasty I may encounter. It's a toilet. It's supposed to be gross. I can handle that. It's also convenient that to clean the toilet (at least the bowl) there is a brush with a large handle that allows me to keep my distance from the messy stuff.

The shower is an entirely different story. Shouldn't a shower be self-cleaning? I mean we dump who knows how much soap and shampoo in there on a weekly basis. It ought to take care of the messy parts for us! A shower isn't supposed to be gross. It's supposed to be a place of relaxation and cleansing. Wrong. Also, there is (to my knowledge) no toilet bowl brush equivalent for the shower. I was head down on the floor scrubbing with my nose in the grime. There was no keeping my distance. Once I decided to clean it, I was all in.

At some point as I was scrubbing the shower, I realized that I tend to take this same approach to my sin. My "toilet sins," the ones that are easy to acknowledge and out there for everyone to see are often so much easier for me to deal with than the ones I keep mostly inside me, the ones that fester primarily in my heart--my "shower sins." If I don't acknowledge my "toilet sins," other people will notice. They will be repulsed by me, just as they would if they came to my house and saw a dirty toilet. So I clean them up faily quickly with a long handled brush and move on. I look clean and shiny because I've handled my obvious shortcomings for now.  However, the "shower sins" are easier to hide. They get in the crevices of my heart and my soul and they stay there and they mildew and rot until I finally have the courage to go before the Lord and ask Him to scrub my heart clean. Sometimes I don't even realize the "shower sins" exist and many times I choose to just ignore them in hopes they'll go away on their own. But, they don't. I have to go inside my heart and face the dirt and grime, just like I do in the shower.

This could seem discouraging, but the beautiful thing here is that when I bring ALL of my sins before the Lord, it is like bathing in a freshly scrubbed shower.  God's mercy and grace pour down over me and wash me clean.

Here's to praying my literal shower and the one in my heart and soul get a good scrubbing more often!

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Sports and Womanhood

This post is a response to a recent Sports Illustrated article detailing how female sports reporters are still bullied and abused online by a minority of men that just can't handle women in the sports world. I do not agree with every point the author makes, but I agree with enough to write this post. One of my favorite quotes from the article is below. You can read the whole thing here (caution: awful language due to the tweets/comments the author has received). 

"Those of us [women] who dare invade this mostly male space [sports] are generally accepted, but there remains a vocal minority committed to forcing women out and rolling things back to the good ol' days, when women talked about recipes and PTA meetings and shoes. (Is that what they talked about? I’m guessing here.)
Unfortunately for these “meninists,” an entire generation grew up as the daughters of Title IX, with progressive fathers and kick-ass mothers who took us to football games, played one-on-one with us in the driveway, and taught us how to throw a fastball. With more and more women brought up to believe that sports can be their space, too, it’s natural for them to expect a seat at the table when sports come up in conversation."

I am by no means a radical feminist, but this article is heart-breaking and important. I wouldn't call my dad "progressive," but he, along w/ my "kick-ass mom" took me to football games, played one-on-one with me in our driveway, and taught me how to slide into second (I wasn't a pitcher so there was no need for fastball lessons). 

I love sports. I love everything about them. I also believe men and women were created by God with unique gifts and strengths. I don't agree that women can do everything men can do. I don't think men can do everything women can do. Men and women are different. That's why I think it's important to have men and women represented in sports and sports media. They bring different, yet equally valuable, perspectives to the arena. 

I was reminded this weekend of how women are made to appreciate beauty. This is absolutely true, and a role I relish as a woman. However, I don't think beauty is limited to a perfectly decorated home or chic new fashion trend. It certainly involves those things, but there are other types of beauty. A Tom Rinaldi College Gameday piece highlighting walk-on athletes who receive scholarship offers from their coaches is beautiful. Pat Summitt coaching a championship game in the prime of her career was beautiful. A pitcher throwing a perfect game is beautiful. Watching Jordan Spieth play golf this year was beautiful. And of course, watching a young man from Woodlawn High School in Birmingham, Alabama return a missed field goal 109 yards to complete the upset of his in-state rival is absolutely gorgeous.

Those who know me well know I often use the refrain "sports tell good stories."  They do.  These stories range from the events happening on the field to the human interest backstories of the athletes and coaches involved. They display redemption and disappointment, victory and defeat, heroes and villains. They remind us that we are simultaneously the image-bearers of God and sinful humans who have a hard time getting out of our own way. Sports offer us a lens into the state of the human condition.

That is why I am thankful for a father who, after having two daughters, did not retreat to a nightly cigar and whiskey while watching old football films and wishing he had a son. Rather, he coached those two daughters in rec-league softball and basketball. He turned down promotions at work so he could be there to watch our games. I am thankful for a mother who cheered in high school and also played flag football in college.  She was Miss Auburn and is also a state-champion tennis player. She taught me how to throw a spiral then would make me come in and help set the table for dinner. My mom showed me that loving sports and being a woman are nowhere near mutually exclusive.

Most recently, I am thankful for a husband who is not threatened by my love for sports, but instead finds it attractive.  He doesn't care if I beat him in H-O-R-S-E every now and then. He always welcomes me to tag along with him to the driving range even if I whiff 50% of my swings, get frustrated, and interrupt what would have been his relaxing afternoon. I am beyond thankful that his confidence in himself allows him to encourage me to be myself. Last night "myself" looked like cooking us our first homemade chili of the season then eating it with him as we watched Monday Night Football and discussed our fantasy rosters. On commercial breaks, he washed the dishes so that I could switch out the laundry. By the end of the night we had full bellies, a clean kitchen, 4 fresh loads of clean clothes, and a celebration over Aaron Rodgers' 5 touchdown passes.          

I don't know the author of this article or the men who made those atrocious comments towards her. I don't know how they spend Monday nights or how they treat their daughters. However, I do know that being a woman has shaped the way I view sports, and sports have shaped the way I view womanhood. I know that one day I want my children to understand that "sports tell good stories," and I look forward to attending the PTA meeting at their school then coming home to play catch with them in the front yard.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015


Will and I have been married four months today. The word "four" has rolled around in my head all day. But it isn't the number 4 that keeps coming back to me. It is its homonym. 

I attended the wedding of a dear friend a few years ago who had a unique set of vows that were spoken between she and her husband.  I remember liking the vows as a whole, but there was one phrase that really stuck out to me.  At one point in his vows, the groom said to her: "I am FOR (insert bride's name here)." As a single person at the time that hit me harder than anything I experienced at her wedding. He was vowing to be FOR her. On her team. Her cheerleader. Encourager. To pray for her. To root for her. To act with her good in mind.  I remember thinking to myself, "that's it. that's really what I want some day."

Fast forward to our first week of marriage and Will came home from work one day with a container full of leftovers his mom had sent us (Praise Jesus!). She had the container sitting on the counter with a sticky note on it that simply said "for Anne and Will" so he would know what to grab. No big deal. 

Except, as soon as I saw that note, my friend's wedding and vows came pouring back into my head. I remembered how I had felt that day and how fully God had answered my prayer in Will. He's not perfect, people, but if Will Sanford is anything, he is FOR me! I've not doubted it since day one. So, I displayed the note on our fridge and it has been there ever since. I hope it's always there. 

I hope that each day as we see it we remember to be intentionally FOR one another. I hope that we remember that we're best served if I'm looking out for Will and he's looking out for me--that we're on the same team. I don't take team allegiances lightly. So, I hope I remember the gravity I felt upon taking his name and officially joining his team FOUR months ago. I hope he remembers the joy he felt in finally finding his partner, his best friend, and his wife. 

I also hope we remember the source of that note--family. I hope that we remember that wedding day FOUR months ago. I hope that we remember the hundreds of family and friends who celebrated with us, and the hundreds more who have encouraged us and prayed for us along the way--essentially showing us that they are FOR us. I hope we remember that we have a team full of people rooting for us and that we are not alone in this sometimes scary new journey. 

My favorite number has always been 11, which is conveniently the day we got married. However, the month we got married is 4, and I hope it becomes my second favorite. I hope that whenever I see that number, its homonym comes to mind. I hope that little preposition sneaks into my brain and triggers me to pray for the grace to live outside myself and FOR Will every day for the rest of my life. 

Monday, July 27, 2015

Great is Thy Faithfulness

"Thou changest not, Thy Compassions they fail not..."

I've never had a go-to favorite hymn. Several have circulated as seasonal favorites over the years, but there's never been one to consistently take the cake. I don't know that I'm ready to give "Great is Thy Faithfulness" the coveted "favorite hymn" trophy, but it has certainly had a consistent presence in my life, and yesterday I realized it certainly belongs on my list of favorites.
Somewhere around high school or college I learned that in faith, as in life, you cannot always trust your feelings or your heart.  After all, we are told that our "flesh and our heart may fail.*"  And they do. There are times we must lean on Truth--the knowledge we have which may contradict current circumstances, feelings, or emotions.  This seems like an easy concept; one I figured I would grasp, apply, and quickly master. However, I've found the opposite to be true.  This is something I have had to continue to practice and have finally accepted will be a choice I must make for the rest of my life.
So there have been times when I have sung "Great is Thy Faithfulness" with great gusto and joy from the top of my lungs, rejoicing at God's obvious displays of His faithfulness and goodness in my life. Yet, just as frequently, there have been times where I have sung this hymn through clenched teeth or clinched fists. With a somber tone or teary eyes.  There have been days when it was all I could do to utter the words and say to God "I know this is true, I but I do not feel it at all."  And yet each time I choose to sing it, choose to say that Truth out loud, even in my deepest despair, something flickers inside me, a little glimmer of hope. It doesn't make me instantly feel better. It doesn't solve my problems, it usually doesn't even stop me from crying, but it keeps me singing and believing, even if just a little bit at a time.

-Rejected from dream college: "Great is Thy Faithfulness" through tears
-New friends and a new ministry home Freshman year of college: "Great is Thy Faithfulness" with rejoicing!
-First heartbreak: "Great is Thy Faithfulness" with hurt, questions, and confusion
-Opportunities and honors at Auburn I'd always heard of, but never thought I'd have: "Great is Thy Faithfulness" with thanksgiving!
-College graduation "Great is Thy Faithfulness" with fear, sadness, and also optimism
-The Fellows Program "Great is Thy Faithfulness" with exhaustion, joy, and community
-Several more heartbreaks: "Great is Thy Faithfulness" with questions, doubts, anger, and pain
-Accepted to dream school for grad school: "Great is Thy Faithfulness" with perspective on past rejection, rejoicing in God's providence, and amazement at His goodness
-13 months at an all men's college in rural Virginia: "Great is Thy Faithfulness" with many days of "what am I doing here" but also friendships from guys who saved my sanity and made life fun
-Dream job offer in hometown: "Great is Thy Faithfulness" with excitement and nervousness
-Blind date with a farmer from a small town 80 miles away: "Great is Thy Faithfulness" with a feeling of "why not? what can it hurt?"
-Falling in love with and realizing I wanted to marry said farmer: "Great is Thy Faithfulness" with thanksgiving, excitement, but still fear things going awry
-Getting engaged to the farmer: "Great is Thy Faithfulness" with more joy than I'd ever known
-Resigning from dream job, leaving hometown to pursue new opportunities with soon to be husband: "Great is Thy Faithfulness" with the oddest mix of joy and sadness I've ever felt
-Marrying the farmer: "Great is Thy Faithfulness" sung at the top of my lungs accompanied by a congregation of our closest family and friends as we became one on April 11th, 2015.
-Starting a new job in a new town: "Great is Thy Faithfulness" with amazement seeing the path God had laid before me, yet still fearful of the unknown
-Yesterday, officially joining the first church family we'll have as our own new little family: "Great is Thy Faithfulness" sung by another congregation, this one without so many people I know so well, but full of people ready to welcome me and love me as their own, with Will and me standing in front of them, nervous, scared, but thankful to this place we have been led.

I don't know when I'll be singing "Great is Thy Faithfulness" next, but I know I will, and when I do, no matter the circumstances, its words will still be True.

*Psalm 73:26