In July 2009, I had the incredible blessing of meeting the young lady who would become the daughter of my heart the following April. The photo above captures the instant love that happened between future big sister and her baby brother. Annie was getting ready to turn fourteen and Michael was just fourteen months old. It was love at first sight with both little guys and they were in awe of her. And this young lady had my respect from the beginning. I will never forget her first question for me after she sent me a friend request on Facebook in May 2009…”Mary, I need to know what your intentions are with your relationship with my Daddy. I don’t want him hurt and he really cares about you.” Annie was very protective of her Daddy. As the weeks went by the two of us had the opportunity to get to know each other better through our many conversations on Facebook and then through Google video chat when she was at her Daddy’s apartment. I will never forget getting to hug her for the first time when we met to go fishing together and have a picnic so we could get to know each other during the boys’ and my first road trip to the Ozarks with Will. And just as Will fell in love with Josh and Michael, Annie found a special place in my heart during that trip too.
Annie was the first person to tell Will that she thought he should marry me…and that was after a few weeks of communicating on-line and on the phone…before we met in person. LOL She decided that we were right for each other and God was in it. Wow.
Annie’s love and protection of her family has grown to include me, Josh and Michael over the years. And I love her just as I love all three of my children. My love and respect for her has grown deeper over the four blessed years we have had together…from the time Will started courting me (May 2009). She is and always will be the daughter of my heart.
Last July, when I lay in the trauma unit in the hospital in St. Louis, Annie, her mom, and her dearest friends drove the many miles to be there with me the day after the accident…the day after her Daddy, my sweet husband, went home to the Lord. (without me asking her to come) My heart needed to see her so badly and it meant so much to me to have her and all of them there with me. Her mom had and friends had taken her to see her brothers at Children’s hospital before coming to see me so that they could tell me how they were doing. She knew I would be extremely anxious to know. (tears) She was so worried she would lose us too in the accident. She was there for us through phone calls and in person even while she was deeply grieving the loss of her Daddy and we have continued to spend time together when it was possible during her very busy senior year, even time together during Thanksgiving and Christmas. And she and her mom have stopped by our house on several occasions over this past year too. I will share more about God’s faithfulness in that in another post someday.
Over the past ten months, I am blessed beyond words by how our relationship has continued to grow. I have been so blessed watching God’s work in her heart, mind and life over the past four years. It is her faith and relationship with the Lord that carried her through and grew and strengthened her faith through this very challenging year.
This past Saturday, this once young girl stood in front of a packed gymnasium as the beautiful young woman of God that she is today. Not only did she graduate from high school, she graduated as Salutatorian presented with honor after honor, scholarship after scholarship…and we, all three sides of her family, were there to celebrate and cheer her on as she shared from her heart and gave honor to God as she spoke to the crowd during her speech. And we were all invited to her graduation party that her mom hosted after the graduation ceremony. And so very blessed as her mother, continues to share her with us even after Will’s homegoing to heaven. God is faithful.
We all know that her Daddy is so very proud of her accomplishments but most of all the young woman of God she is today. There were bittersweet moments as I knew how much it would have meant to physically be there with her and how much she missed having him there. But it is through the strength of their relationship and their mutual faith that she knows he is proud of her and that she will see him again in heaven someday.
I am so honored that Annie has given me her permission and blessing to share her Salutatorian speech with all of you here on Unwrapping His Grace. In her words, spoken before a packed house at her town’s public high school. We are so very proud of her accomplishments and the woman of God she is today.
Family, friends, board members, administration, staff members, and fellow classmates, I would like to welcome everyone and thank you for being here to share these final moments of our senior year and the first moments of the next stage of our lives together with us. I remember bits and pieces of our early schooling years, but oddly enough I remember watching my mom leaving me in Mertzlufft’s kindergarten classroom filled with people everywhere I didn’t know. This one memory is of my first day of kindergarten. This memory is fond to me, even though it is not the est, because to me it reminds me of a start of something new. I have thought about this moment many times as I am nervous of what lies ahead of this new start. That first day of kindergarten when we all watched our mom or dad leave us was probably filled with many mixed emotions. Now we sit here about thirteen years later with mixed emotions again as we are seniors graduating from high school. I feel like time has gotten away from us all because to me thirteen years ago, I couldn’t even picture this day. today is filled with smiles, diplomas, speeches, tears and excitement. Today is both an end and a beginning. For the past couple of years or more we have been given the overwhelming task of deciding what we want to be for the rest of our lives. I don’t know about anybody else, but I still think of my future as “what do I want to do when I grow up?” instead of “what do I want to start becoming in three months?” To be truthful with you, I am still not sure how my “what I want to be when I grow up” plans will turn out. To think that when we were in kindergarten they would say “what do you want to be when you grow up?”, I would have an answer. Now, fellow seniors, the time has finally arrived in our lives that we can pursue our dreams. This journey has been a real soul searching process for me, and I am sure as well for my fellow classmates, but one thing I have figured out through the process is that we all need to put full trust in God each and every day as we travel through a sea full of decisions. We must have faith in God and believe in ourselves. As we have approached this day and are still approaching our next step in our lives, I have had to constantly put aside fearful thoughts and instead trust that God has a a plan waiting ahead for us. This past year has been quite an interesting year. A lot of us dealt with emotions and situations we never thought we would have to face. Truth is, this year has been the most challenging year for me, but I have learned some important lessons this year that I believe I will never forget. I don’t know about anyone else, but one of the most important things I have learned is that life isn’t always going to playout exactly how you want it to. Each step of life may turn out a little different than expected, but if you trust in God and believe in yourself everything will be alright in the end. This is only one out of many things that I have learned in the past year. Because of the things I have learned it has allowed me to relax more, accept things for what they are, and to trust in God on a day to day basis.
I would now like to take this opportunity to thank a few people. I would first like to thank all of my teachers for always pushing me to give the best of my ability. I would also like to thank Tyra for being my best friend for as long as I can remember and for always being there for me. Mom, I want you to know that I love you and always will! You have helped hold me together when I felt like falling apart and I am very thankful God chose you to be my mom! Love you! I am thankful for the love and encouragement that my dad gave me throughout my journey of school and I know he would be proud of me. Most of all I am thankful for God and Him sending his son for me because without that I would definitely not be who I am today.
One last thought~ Don’t forget to call upon the Lord, He will be there good times or bad. Psalms 145:18 says, “The Lord is near to all who call upon Him, to all who call upon Him in truth.”
Here are a few of the pictures of her with family from our sides of her family from her graduation and celebration with her family and friends…you will notice that all the pictures say “courtesy” of the special person who shared their photos with me…mainly her dear mom, Janis. I was heart-broken when I realized that we had gotten to her graduation and the memory card was not in my camera. I am SO grateful to Janis for generously sharing her photos with us. God is faithful!
I hope you have found encouragement through this post today and especially through the words of Annie’s inspiring speech. It is her prayer, as it is mine, that when life hands you something you weren’t planning on that you turn to the Lord and remember He is always there for you. God is faithful.
Thank you for taking the time to celebrate this big milestone in the life of our Annie.
May God bless you and your family…
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