When I think of our Anna, I think of simple. First, she is simply beautiful without a speck of makeup. Her slight but strong frame stands exactly five feet tall and she weighs in at 95 pounds. Her shiny brown hair with natural golden highlights simply glows in the sun. Large chocolate eyes framed by thick black brows simply sparkle when she smiles. And her smile, it simply radiates the spirit within—the spirit of God whom she loves.
And because she is beautiful, few know her struggles. Yes, she grew up on a 44 acre horse farm in a beautiful home with a loving family. Yes, she has traveled extensively. And yet, she came from nothing.
Our Anna, Hebrew for “the Lord has favored me”, was once little Alla, an orphan from six months old, passed over for adoption five years in a row. She tells of the times she saw couples come to adopt children while the rest remained. She tells of hoping for parents to call her own, to give her a permanent home. She tells of the day Todd and I came and how she whispered in my ear, in Russian, “I’ve been waiting my whole life for you, Mama!” Alla, this little girl we renamed Anna, the one the Lord favored that September day, 1997—the day this simple child became our daughter.
And then, shortly after coming home, our concerns began. Even over time, she got lost in our home and screamed terrified not knowing where she was, not knowing where we were. We couldn’t let her out of our sight because if we couldn’t see her, she couldn’t see us. Too many times, we forgot and strayed just a bit too far. Her screams pierced our ears and revved our hearts making them beat wild and our legs ran as fast as they could to scoop her up and assure her we were there—still there.
Most people dismissed our concerns saying they were normal fallout of orphanage experience and developmental delay. But the difficulties didn’t go away. She had a hard time following simple directions. And the learning problems were glaring as soon as she entered pre-school. I described her memory as a bucket with holes. Try to fill it and the water leaked faster than one could pour. She just couldn’t seem to hold anything for long. When we finally thought she had mastered a concept, she would look bewildered the next day, as if she had never been exposed.
The search for help began and Children’s Hospital painted the picture for us to see. Most probably, Anna had been exposed to alcohol prenatally. Her learning disabilities and physical challenges were textbook classic Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, the umbrella under which all other challenges were to be understood. These challenges, this damage done before Anna opened her lungs and took her first breath—are significant and permanent and invisible. Grace is given to those who look obviously different. But for the beautiful, the seemingly unaffected—judgments abound and rejection is ever-looming, the older she gets.
Now 21, Anna still relies on a trial-and-error approach to problem-solving, even in real life situations. But often the trial doesn’t match the problem. She still has difficulty finding her way, and even a GPS wouldn’t help her drive a car. Her brain can only handle one thing at a time—not steering wheel, gas pedal, brake, turn signals, wiper blades, headlights, keys, heater, air conditioner—too many decisions. She needs patience and very slow speed to process. So, she doesn’t drive and probably won’t. She knows her limitations and is grateful for those who help her. And she’s content with simplicity because she has a simple faith in a great God. And our great God loves the simple-hearted. He saves those who rely on Him, those who MUST rely on Him because of great need:
The LORD is gracious and righteous; our God is full of compassion. The LORD protects the simple-hearted; when I was in great need, he saved me. Be at rest once more, O my soul, for the LORD has been good to you. For you, O LORD, have delivered my soul from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling, that I may walk before the LORD in the land of the living. Psalm 116: 5-9
These beautiful words were the words of David, a boy who tended sheep—simple animals who need a shepherd. But even simple sheep have remarkable ability. They know their shepherd’s voice. When different flocks of sheep tended by different shepherds are mixed, the sheep listen for their shepherd’s voice and are able to find the one who owns them—who cares for them—who loves them so much that he will lay down his life for his sheep . . . .
And this little lamb, this woman-child we named Anna—she knows her Shepherd’s voice. Though small in stature and simple, she relies fully on God with a faith that slays giants.
She knows this truth about herself—this truth about all of us that Jesus told:
. . . if you have faith as small as a mustard seed . . . nothing will be impossible for you. Matthew 17:20
David knew of what he was made and he knew the God who made him. He knew the God who equipped him with far more effective battle armor than bronze helmets and weighty gear. He had been saved, over and over, by the hand of God. And this boy, this man-child, he had utter confidence that God would deliver him from the hand of any giant who defied his God. He walked boldly up, laid his fate in the hands of his God, and accomplished what men say is impossible. He slew the giant—the mocker—the one whose faith was in his size and his might. The victory boy only had a sling and a stone. So it appeared. But appearances can be fatally flawed.
David’s main weapon, his main defense, was his faith in his God—his deliverer. And he shot Goliath straight through the forehead—a bull’s eye shot straight through a bull-headed man who dared to mock God. And Goliath fell down dead, struck down by a boy. A young shepherd boy came to the front lines of life and slayed a literal giant who, with his own great army, had terrorized the Israelites. David—young David, the shepherd, the boy, the one with just a sling and a stone—simple David slew the giant with faith, not force.
This past Saturday, 13 women attended a handgun class on our farm. Anna shot four different handguns with precision. Our certified trainer and family friend tended to her, this little lamb, like she was his own. He helped her pick up each handgun slowly, carefully, safely. He helped her take a stand and then he watched. We all watched this small and delicate woman-child. We watched her hold tight, stand firm, and pull the trigger of the nine millimeter. And like David shot the giant with just one stone, dead-center in the forehead, Anna shot straight through the bull’s eye, dead-center.
She looked straight into my eyes, smile wide, and proclaimed, “I’m David!” and I knew what she meant. All the complicated simple that others don’t see beneath beautiful exterior—I knew what she meant. This woman-child, she knows how bullets shoot straight through from people wielding gun-words and saber-stares. She knows how mocking feels, how it blows holes through tender heart fabric. She knows how it feels to be on the outskirts of life looking in at all the other girls and boys who go off and leave her behind, untended—even those within family ranks. They just don’t know because they haven’t sought to understand.
But I am blessed to know and love this simple girl, this woman-child. She has taught me more than any pastor how to live by faith, how to walk in grace. Anna, the one “the Lord has favored”, has done me a favor. She has taught me how to depend on God when I can’t stand on my own. And just when I’ve lost my courage, when the giants of life have nearly caused me to wave the white flag, Anna has shot loving truth stones straight into my heart and soul, demolishing strongholds, and helping me see the God who stands behind me, in front of me, all around me—in me. She helps me see the God who cares for the bird and the lamb—the God who cares for the weakest—the God who loves to love the lowest—the God who loves to love the ones others dismiss. Anna has helped me slay giants with faith as small as a mustard seed.
Like David, Anna has no need of sophisticated weaponry. She has the most powerful force in the universe already in her heart. She already possesses the Spirit of the Living and Almighty God who cares for His lambs, especially those who know their need of Him. And her straight and steady aim, her pure and loving heart for God, her simple faith—this is her glory crown, her badge of honor. She may never drive herself to work, but she always drives her mother right into the presence of God with faith. And faith is what counts, not strength. Faith moves mountains.
So keep on shooting Anna! Shoot straight for the Kingdom, keeping your eyes on God. Keep walking by faith and not by sight. And, little lamb, your Shepherd does great and mighty things through you and all of us lambs who know our need. For our Shepherd is a great and mighty God. We need never fear the giants.