What I’ve learned from Annette Joy Wakefield
I’ve been thinking about my daughter, Annette. She spent two weeks with us recently and I was left with a renewed sense of awe with who she is. She is one of God’s wonderful gifts to me and many other people. She has taught me many things about how to live life — and how not to live it.
Annette’s middle name is Joy. When Winnie and I gave her that name we didn’t know that it contained a prophecy about how she would live out that truth as one of the main characteristics of her life. What we were aware of early on was that Annette’s development was slower than we expected. She was late in walking; her speech we slow in developing; she had a “lazy eye.” Annette was in special ed throughout her grade school and high school years.
But all of this made no difference to us. Mom and Dad and her siblings loved her richly. During her grade school years, we were a part of a house church and all who attended came to love and cherish Annette. To this day, many years later, people still speak lovingly of her and want to visit with her when she comes to town.
Whatever Annette’s handicaps we learned that she was also gifted with a number of special attitudes and skills that we didn’t have. And we learned that these were the things that really are important in life.
One thing we quickly observed about our daughter was her remarkable ability to connect with people. My family traveled with me when I was speaking at a family camps and conferences. Annette would “attach” herself to some lady and say “She’s my special friend,” and a close bond would result for that week. Annette also had a unique ability to connect with children. She loved infants and preschool children and they loved her. They sensed a love, warmth, innocence and cheerfulness that they didn’t always find in adults. She loved to volunteer in the church nursery and for many years served faithfully at United Cerebral Palsy in north Phoenix. When she moved to Loveland, Colorado she volunteered at a local daycare. The children loved Annette!
Eventually Annette said that she wanted to volunteer with adults. An opportunity opened for her to participate in a program for disabled adults in Loveland. Every day she was eager to catch the bus so she could go to Stepping Stones and shower her love on whomever came. She’d come home and report to us who she met, who she played game with and what was happening in everyone’s life.
I should mention Annette’s disability. She is a very concrete thinker. She has difficulty with anything that is abstract. She cannot comprehend such matters as the complexities of finance, geographical location and distance, politics, etc. She likes to carry $20.00 dollar bills with her because she knows that will cover anything she is purchasing. But if she gets a lunch that costs $10.00 she’ll take whatever change the person gives her because she can’t make the mental calculations that are easy for you and me. If you live in the state of Vermont I have a mental map of where that is in the U.S. Annette doesn’t have the mental map so Vermont is “somewhere.”
But Annette is champion when it comes to interpersonal relationships. Her smile and warm greetings penetrate the heart of all those who come into contact with her. She breaks through any barrier with her smile and nonjudgmental spirit. She loves the unlovely and they quickly come to love her. Her sense of humor is infectious and heartwarming.
Annette also has a remarkable ability to remember peoples’ names and birthdays. She remembers details that Winnie and I have forgotten. So, if we want information about the past we just ask Annette.
So you see, Annette has taught me a lot about life. By watching her I’ve learned that most of the matters that we “intelligent” adult argue about, worry about, and spend sleepless nights disturbed about are not that significant when it comes to the real issues of life,
1. She has modeled for me a person who wakes up with a smile on her face and a hug for her dad.
2. She has demonstrated to me how to love people who are handicapped, or not easy to be around. She shows no hesitance to reach out and embrace them.
3. She reminds me of what is important in life. She doesn’t worry about who the president is, which party in in control, the national economy, the crises in the local news, etc. Her life is lived in the here and now. The perimeter of her concerns is very restricted to the immediate world in which she lives.
4. Annette is not a Bible scholar; she is more of a demonstration of who Christ challenged us to be in everyday life. She reminds me daily of what is most important.
Recently Annette celebrated her 50th birthday. And she wanted a real party! She wanted her friends and family to be there. So, the Wakefield house was filled with laughter and fun because Annette was there and you can’t be around Annette without catching the virus of joy!
By the way, do you think that you might learn something about how to live life from Annette?