Roll Tide, baby girl.

I used to write a lot about Anna Beth. She is my first child, so by virtue of inexperience, the newness of even the most mundane happenings would inspire me to sit down and peck out story after story. I wrote about how she “cooed” and rolled over; how she slept with her arms above her head, like the models from the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition (circa 1991); how she snorted like a pig once after I made her laugh when she was just a few months old.

I even wrote about her poop when she was a baby. I wasn’t trying to be funny. I was just kinda proud that she had a poop the size of one of mine.

I wrote about her handprints and the amazing noodle art she created in Sunday school. I wrote about her first this, her first that and even her second, third and fourth thisses and thats.

She was this brand new part of me that I helped create, and she was the cutest little angel on God’s big earth. But I didn’t just write about her. I talked about her incessantly. I can only imagine my friends’ dread as I approached with another Anna-ism. They would smile while no doubt thinking to themselves, “What’d she do this time, memorize the Magna Carta?”

But there was a lot I didn't write about. Memories that were mine and hers to share, like singing "You are my sunshine, my only sunshine..." every night before bed; telling stories about a talking housefly with a penchant for orange sherbert; reenacting Beauty and the Beast in her bedroom; going on bear hunts in the bonus room  – with flashlights and coat hangers – you know, for protection; finding dragon food (that happens to look a lot like moss) while walking in the woods; listening to her pray, "God is grape, God is good, Let us thank him, For our food." So many memories.

She was the smartest, most beautiful, talented, and remarkable child to grace the planet earth, and a few years later, she helped welcome her siblings into the family. I’ll never forget the sweet tears that formed in her eyes the day her Mama and I told her she was going to be a big sister. She would finally have a real, live baby doll to show off to friends and family and strangers at the mall. She was equally excited when she found out about her baby sister and then another baby brother. And Anna became the family’s biggest cheerleader as we prayed about adopting baby number five.

That’s just the way she is. It’s the way she’s always been.

I stopped writing about every inhale, exhale, and funny word that came out of her mouth a lot of years ago. There just wasn’t enough time, what with all the other kids and the miracles they were uncovering at every turn. Sometimes I would share a story here and there, but focus most often turned to her siblings. They were smaller and cuter and learning to do life for the first time. She was a "big girl" now.

That was a long time ago. That was the blink of an eye. 

My baby girl. From the very first moment I held that breath from heaven in my arms, I knew that I was changed. Forever. I was her daddy, and she was my world. At some point along the way, though, I seemed to forget the awe I felt knowing that God had blessed me beyond anything I could have ever imagined or hoped for. At some point, the miracle became a little girl and the little girl became more of an obligation, a responsibility, than a blinding glimpse of God’s radical love and favor.

She's not a baby anymore. None of my babies are. Today, Anna Beth and her siblings often serve as reminders of things that must be dealt with as opposed to divine creations that their mother and I have been gifted for a short time.

Such a short time.

Divine grace allows me to forgive myself for not acknowledging the gift of my kids every moment of every day, but my heart still breaks today because Anna Beth does not — she cannot — fully understand the love and pride that her Daddy feels each time she enters a room or flashes that crooked smile. She cannot possibly understand the aching in my throat right now in this moment as I try to somehow connect the words that might somehow do justice to the immeasurable pride I feel because I am hers and she is mine.

Over the years, she has grown into a beautiful, graceful, faithful, and determined young woman, and my God, I fear I’ve missed most of it! I’ve taken for granted how much she has brought and continues to bring to this family. I’ve focused on the fact that she cannot keep her room clean, or she holds her fork weird, or she talks too loud, or she dresses like a slob, or she sleeps too late, or she watches too much Netflix, or she doesn’t floss her teeth enough... As opposed to the fact that she is a masterpiece; a treasure; and a perfectly, wonderfully made-in-the-image-of-our-Creator-child of God and of Billy and Bethany Ivey. 

Tomorrow, we are taking her to college, and oh, dear, sweet, merciful Lord, I pray that I can once again approach each of her days — each new miraculous and mundane milestone — with the awe, the wonder, and the gratitude of a Daddy experiencing the magic of firsts, seconds, thirds, and fourths, forever, and ever.

Amen. And Roll Tide, baby girl.