Stories of Grace: What’s in a Name?

As we count down to our 10th anniversary conference, we’ll be featuring stories of grace on our blog. This series is a very personal one to those of us who have been with Rooted for a while. Our journey as a ministry is only one that can be understood through hunger for the Gospel and the generosity of God with his beautiful grace. It’s the story of unlikely travelers embarking on an unknown journey filled with many triumphs and failures – and being blown away at God’s grace every step of the way.

Our prayer is that as you read these stories of grace, you’ll come to see your own story in the light of God’s grace. And that you, too, will be awakened afresh to the grace of God in your own lives, and to anticipate together with all God’s people the adventures that lie ahead! 

I am currently pregnant with my second child.  If the baby is a girl, we will name her “Virginia.”

For me, the name is inspired  by a familiar hymn and Bible story. 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 encouraging them to 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 I met my husband Will) the greatest 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 fifteen 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 extracurriculars, 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 failed. 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 a better college experience than I could have ever imagined. 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 also provided me the opportunity to join my parents and sister as an Auburn graduate, which is a bond our family continues to treasure.

So, this child will be named, although indirectly, for my undergraduate alma mater and my family – for those life-changing friendships and experiences and the gift of sharing Auburn with my family.

After college, I moved to Falls Church, Virginia to participate in a Fellows Program where 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 me to grow and blossom that I firmly believe could not have happened in another setting.

So, this child will be named for more life-changing friendships and the time I spent learning to know and experience God in ways I never knew possible.

Four years later, the Lord completely redeemed my earlier experience when I  graduated with a Masters of Education in Higher Education from (you guessed it) the University of Virginia. The Program lasted only a year, but at age twenty-six I was finally able to realize a dream I’d dreamed for eleven years. During that year my “relationship” with Virginia was put into a new, eternal perspective. UVA, like any other place this side of Heaven, has warts and imperfections, but my history-loving self relished all it had to offer. I realized that at age eighteen I would not have appreciated it the way I did at twenty-six. And once again, I met wonderful people who helped me learn, think, and grow, who God used to continue to shape and mold me into who He created me to be.

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

Upon graduation I stayed fourteen more months in the Commonwealth, as the state of Virginia calls itself. I took a job at an all-male, small liberal arts college in the extremely rural town of Farmville, Virginia: Hampden-Sydney College. It was a wonderful opportunity, but I knew no one when I took the job. 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 woman I went to work at a place where there were no other females my age. This allowed me a good deal of time to myself. 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 and I am better for it. 

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

Since moving back to Alabama from Virginia in 2012, I’ve had multiple opportunities to reflect on this journey. What God continues to remind me is that this redemption story is only a glimpse of the larger one He is working in my life and in the world. Through His death on the cross and His resurrection, Jesus is indeed redeeming all of creation! He gives us stories like this as signposts along the way, pointing to that day when all that is wrong will be made right, all that is lost will be found, and all that is marred by sin will be made pure. 

As I reflect on my life thus far, I can say with confidence that “till this point, the Lord has helped me.” And now, when I sing “here I lay my Ebenezer, hither by Thy help I come,” I am reminded of every time He has shown Himself to be trustworthy.

And if we have a daughter, I will rejoice and give thanks for God’s provision to this point, and claim His faithfulness for all of us in the days and years to come.



Anne Sanford joined the Rooted team in March of 2023 as the Senior Director of Development. Originally from Mountain Brook, Alabama, Anne is a graduate of Auburn University and the University of Virginia. She and her husband, Will, live in Prattville, Alabama with their young sons Mack and Hardy. Anne enjoys travel, sports, reading, and music.

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