Sunday, September 11, 2016

Stand Sunday - A Day to Stand Up for Foster Children

There's a movement rising up...

A movement that will address a huge issue in the US. 

An issue that affects over 400,000 children each year.

400,000 plus children and teens. That's more than the population of New Orleans. 

The issue? 

Foster care.

For many years now, Christians around the world have dedicated one Sunday a year to address the issues of orphans around the world. This Sunday is Orphan Sunday - dedicated to the over 140 million orphans around the world.

I've been blessed to participate in Orphan Sunday in my local church for many years now. I love speaking about this issue. I love calling the Church to rise up and "defend the cause of the fatherless".

Well this year a new movement has begun. 

It's a movement to call the Church to continue to rise up for orphans - the "orphans" in our cities, our communities, our own backyards. The local "orphan". We know them as foster children.

I've had the pleasure of working with a fiery pastor from Texas that's been working for the cause of foster children for decades now. Bishop Aaron Blake, pastor of Greater Faith Community Church is the kind of man who does more than preach sermons about the cause of foster children in his community and around the country. 

He lives his sermons.

Bishop Blake and his wife Mary have opened their home to several young men over the years -- young men that very likely would have bounced from foster home to foster home. Or they may have landed in group homes or shelters. Instead, the Blakes opened their home. They have loved these young men, trained these young men and raised them as their own.

Bishop Blake has called his church to do the same. Aware that not everyone is called to foster a child through the state system, he has challenged his church members to do something for foster children in their community. Every year he makes a fervent call to his members, asking them to "Stand Up" for children in local foster care.

One such Sunday, he posed this question to his congregation: "Who will stand with me to defend, care and support abused, abandoned and neglected children in our community?"

At the end of this charge each year, Greater Faith church members literally stand up - one by one. They commit to foster or adopt. They commit to support other families that foster or adopt. They commit to serve foster children through local ministries. They commit to pray. 

They commit to CARE.

A new movement has grown out of this passion to care for foster children - STAND SUNDAY. Stand Sunday is an Initiative newly formed by the Christian Alliance for Orphans (CAFO). Stand Sunday will coincide with Orphan Sunday on Sunday, November 13 this year, and will provide churches and Christians with a heart to serve children in US foster care a platform, resources and a message.

So... I end this post with the same question that Bishop Blake posed to his congregation...

Who will stand with me to defend, care and support abused, abandoned and neglected children in the United States?

Will YOU stand?

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Diversity and the Olympics

In July I shared a post titled "The US Racial Divide - Where Do We Begin?" that began with these words, "This week was one of the most discouraging in our country in some time." I wrote this post in the aftermath of glaring racial tensions around the country. In the aftermath of several African American men gunned down by police officers. In the aftermath of police officers being murdered in the same city streets they had sworn to protect and serve.

Since that posting, there have been more mass shootings, more hatred and more racial tensions in our country. More lives have been lost in senseless violence. We are a long way from solving these issues.

Yet today I wanted to share some good news in the midst of all the horrible.

Last week I was excited to share a perspective of the 2016 Summer Olympic Games that I'd heard bits and pieces of leading up to the Games. I love a wonderful foster care or adoption story, so in "Foster care and the Olympics" I shared the backstories of Olympians Simone Biles, Tori Bowie and Carlin Isles. Backstories that include time spent in foster care during their childhoods. Backstories that also included loving people that came alongside them to raise them, love them and become the parents they were all desperately needing.

And now I must state the obvious. EVERY child needs loving parents. 


I won't rehash last week's post again today, but I do want to illuminate something else I've noticed about the Olympics this year in Rio. It's something else I'm very passionate about. Something that our country forever struggles to get right.

It's something that even the Church doesn't get quite right. Something that Christian nonprofits struggle with even more, with minority people hugely underrepresented in most Christian nonprofits, especially in leadership roles.

The thing I want to discuss today? DIVERSITY and the Olympics.

As I watched the US Olympic trials and celebrated with the five girls chosen to flip and twirl on the Olympic gymnastics stage, I noticed something quite beautiful. These girls were a beautiful representation of the various hues, ethnicities and cultures of our country. 

The Amazing "Final Five"
Simone Biles, Gabby Douglas, Laurie Hernandez, Madison Kocian, Aly Raisman. These girls are diverse in every way. They are amazing athletes. They are strong young ladies. They are each amazingly beautiful. 

And I couldn't be happier for them.

Olympic Swimmer Simone Manuel

One more highlight during the Summer Games... another Olympic rock star named Simone.

Thursday night, I screamed as I watched Simone Manuel stroke her way to first-place in the Women's 100-meter Freestyle. I thought she'd clinch a silver or bronze maybe, but that baby girl pushed through the last seconds of that race and tied for a gold.

Simone made history with this win, becoming the first African American woman to win an Olympic gold medal in individual swimming. Swimming has been a largely Caucasian sport for multiple reasons, like those highlighted in a recent BBC article.

The magnitude of her win wasn't lost on Simone who said, "This medal is not just for me, it's for some of the African Americans who have been before me and been inspirations. I hope I can be an inspiration for others. This medal is for the people who come behind me and get into the sport."

Despite racial disparities that still exist in the US, seeing these young people of color represent Red, White and Blue did my heart so much good.

We've got a long way to go, but we've come a long way too.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Foster Care and the Olympics

I LOVE the Olympic Games - both the winter and summer games. Every two years, I'm captivated by the national pride, physical strength, mental endurance and emotional resilience of the athletes from all over the world. Last night I sat captivated while watching the Olympics opening ceremony. Brasilians* are beautiful, spirited and warm people, and I fell in love with Brasil over a decade ago when my son Kalin and I served orphans and vulnerable children on a mission's trip there.

Another love of mine - following the lives of former foster children. My heart is always moved to hear the stories of people - young and old - whose lives began with so much stacked against them. Inevitably, while hearing the "how did they get here?" stories shared during the Olympics trials, I've discovered some amazing Olympians whose lives have been touched by foster care and/or adoption in some way. 

And you know I had to share... 

Simone Biles ~ Gymnastics

This 4-foot-9 inch powerhouse is all the rage this year. During the Olympic trials this year - of which my daughter Jada and I watched every second - the 19-year-old dominated, finishing first in the all-around gymnastics competition. Simone soars through the air like no other. Her power is undeniable. As she owned the vault during the Olympic trials, sports commentators consistently marveled, "No female gymnast has done this before." 

This girl is amazing.

And yet her life started off much less secure than her standing on the world stage of gymnastics. Simone's biological father abandoned her while she was very young, and her biological mother struggled with drug and alcohol abuse. Simone and her sister Adria, unfortunately landed in the Ohio foster care system. In 2002, Simone's grandparents, Ron and Nellie Biles, stepped up to take in their granddaughters, moving them to Spring, Texas. 

A year later, a 6-year-old Simone would experience another life-changing event. On a daycare field trip to a gym, the gym staff observed her imitating other gymnasts. The gym sent a letter home to Simone's new parents, requesting she join tumbling or gymnastics.

And the rest, as they say, is history...

Carlin Isles ~ Rugby

I must admit, I don't usually follow the U.S. Rugby Olympics Team, so I had never heard of Carlin - until today. I was instantly inspired by this 26-year-old sprinter-turned-rugby player. After achieving great success in football and track, his first year in rugby was only 4 years ago. He has already been dubbed "the fastest man in rugby".

Yet Carlin's life began with heartache. He spent the first years of his life in Ohio foster care, and remembers days that he was so hungry he would eat dog food to survive. He and his twin sister Cambra watched while a police officer drove away with their birth mother in the back of his car. Carlin told CNN his life "was basically survival of the fittest. I had to fight. I went from home to poor schooling - I had to eat dog food. We didn't celebrate birthdays, Christmases or anything like that."

At age 8, Carlin and his sister were adopted by a loving couple, Starlett and Charles Isles. Carlin says, "My parents have always been there for me." No doubt they'll be supporting their talented son as he dominates on the rugby field in Rio.

Frentorish "Tori" Bowie - Track

I can't tell you how much I rooted for this young woman during the Olympic trials. I hadn't heard about Tori until the trials, but she's not the kind of athlete you forget. And as much as I love Allyson Felix, who made her mark in London during the 2012 Summer Olympics, I couldn't help but scream for Tori when she edged Allyson out of the 200m trials by .01 second. Her 3rd-place win secured 25-year-old Tori's spot for the 200m in Rio.

Like Simone and Carlin, Tori also spent part of her early life in Mississippi foster care - albeit brief. As a 2-year-old toddler, Tori spent a short time in foster care, when her mother was unable to care for her and her sister Tamarra. Her grandmother Bobbie Smith took her young granddaughters in, taking over for their troubled mom and a dad that was mostly absent from their lives. A natural athlete, Tori played basketball and moved on to track in high school, being named All-State Basketball and Track. Incidentally her father reentered her life when she began her track career, which was great timing since he had excelled as a long jumper in high school.

Her loving Grandmama might be as responsible for Tori's road to Rio as her speed and athleticism. "I encouraged them to go to school, don't think about boys at a young age, and to do good," Tori's grandmother told NBC. "And they took my advice." 

Great advice. 

And my advice to you? 

Don't miss Tori or Simone or Carlin during the Summer Olympics in Rio.

* Native Brasilians spell their country with and "s" instead of a "z".

Sunday, July 10, 2016

The Racial Divide: Where Do We Begin? Part 2

Yesterday my heart was so grieved over the tumultuous events throughout the week, that I felt I had to share my heart here. So I posted The Racial Divide: Where Do We Begin? yesterday, hoping to encourage us as Brothers and Sisters in Christ to love one another well during these times.

Love digs deep. Love is costly. Love calls us to live not only for our own benefit and welfare, but for the benefit and welfare of others.

Yesterday I felt called to call us all to LOVE one another during these times. It's what I believe our Father expects of us, now more than ever.

Today, I feel called to inspire us to do one more thing. This is perhaps the most important thing we can do right now. This is perhaps the real starting point. I believe I took it for granted that God's people were already doing this. I took for granted that it didn't need to be said.

Then I read a Facebook post from a man I call my "Big Bro". His words were poignant and powerful. His words reminded me that these are times when nothing can be taken for granted. All truth must be said and shared - LOVE.

Here... His thoughts:

"I have read the news articles and posts here in response to the news of recent days. I have read of suggestions for protests, marches, recalling our legislators, add and modify legislations, calls for "dialogue", sensitivity training, additional training, body cameras, youth centers, prison reform... whew... NONE OF THESE WILL EFFECT A LASTING AND POSITIVE RESULT. To my friends who believe in Jesus Christ, the ONLY solution is prayer. The Bible says "and the government shall be upon His shoulders...", not the other way around. As much as I love and respect social justice as a ministry I believe that this country, and down to our community are in need of a focus that has not been experienced in quite some time. Therefore I am asking my preacher friends to point out to their congregations scripture that will (1) get us through this period and (2) offer solutions based on prayer and supplication. I no longer have faith in our government... to effect change in our quality of life. 'MY faith is built on nothing less...'"

As my Brother has said, we must run to the Father, His Word and Prayer like never before.

HE is the answer.


And always.

Amen and Amen.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

The US Racial Divide - Where do we Begin?

This week was one of the most discouraging in our country in some time.

Sure we've lived through deadlier weeks - soldiers falling while fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, 9/11, the Boston Marathon Massacre...

And yet there's something that darkens the heart and minds of Americans when we witness fellow citizens - especially our young African American males - gunned down in the street and during routine traffic stops. 

There's something that oppresses the human psyche when we witness police officers, charged with the oath to protect and serve, gunned down and murdered by a gunman motivated by hatred and racism. (And as a military veteran that served in Afghanistan, possibly out of mental illness and PTSD.)

There's something hugely wrong about weeks like this...

And yet we are a resilient people. We have persevered through many difficult times. We have stood together and marched together, hand-in-hand, in solidarity of heart and mind.

We can make it through these challenging times as well. We can rise up from these ashes - better, stronger, more unified even.

How, you ask?

Well I don't have all the answers or every single step, but I believe our rise begins with one word.


As we examine the cultural-transforming power of the US Civil Rights Movement of the 1950's and 1960's, it is impossible to miss the varying hues of people that actively participated in mass marches, freedom rides and sit-ins at "whites-only" lunch counters. African Americans were joined by Caucasian and Jewish brothers and sisters that lent their presence and their voices. They were joined by politicians that fought bigotry and status-quo mentality to lobby for and sign legislation that afforded African Americans the freedoms we experience today.

America will rise or fall as one. We are inseparable in respect to our fate as a country. We will self-destruct if we continue to fight one another. White vs. Black. Police officer vs. civilian. Republican vs. Democrat. 

One way to empathize? We should all respect and support the Black Lives Matter Movement. Doing so does not negate that "All Lives Matter". It only confirms that fact.

We must march together, hand-in-hand in solidarity of heart and mind. We must use our voices to speak against the disparity of our penal system that lands a larger percentage of African American men in jail than any other race.* We must speak against a culture where a person is viewed as a threat simply because of his dark skin. We must speak against a social system that dictates a child's destiny largely because of the color of her skin or the strength of his parents' bank account, assets and financial portfolio.

We must admit that there is such a thing as "White Privilege". Can we just start there?

And in the words of that great philosopher Forrest Gump... "That's all I have to say about that."

This week, I was encouraged by so many of my brothers and sisters of a lighter hue, men and women that spoke out against the violence and injustice of this week. I'd like to share a powerful Facebook post written by a dear sister-friend of mine who "gets it" (and happens to be Caucasian).
"I am shocked and deeply disturbed at the assassinations caught on video of two African American men by white police officers over the past few days. I have no doubt that if they had been white, they would be alive. I can't really describe my disgust accurately with words. Then, the premeditated assassination of 5 white police officers. Horrible. What can we do if we are white? Pray for insight and for courage to speak up for our brothers and sisters of color. Become educated about the reality of the often covert and unrecognized racial oppression in our country. White privilege is invisible to us because it's all we know. I actually had a white, blond haired, blue eyed man deny to me that white privilege exists as recently as 3 months ago. Get educated! And LOVE others like never before. Praying for change and peace in our country." 
I will end this post with my sister's words. We must ALL get educated. We must speak up when others around us are oppressed or denied basic liberties. And we must LOVE others like never before.

Amen and amen.

* According to the NAACP's "Criminal Justice Fact Sheet", African Americans are incarcerated at nearly six times the rate of their Caucasian counterparts. Click the above link to see even more eye-opening stats like these.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Farewell Elie Wiesel - Your Words Still Speak

My heart broke at the news yesterday...

Elie Wiesel, writer, professor and human rights activist, passed away yesterday, at the age of 87.

I don't remember when I was first introduced to Elie, but I do remember seeing him interviewed on The Oprah Winfrey Show. I also remember watching footage of his tour of the concentration camp he had endured and survived at the young age of 15. I still remember the pain in his eyes.

I also remember reading his book Night for the first time.

I wept every night as I turned the pages of Elie's retelling of his young life as a young Jewish boy. His sister and mother were killed upon arrival to Auschwitz concentration camp. After being transferred to the Buchenwald concentration camp alongside his father, Elie watched his captors beat his father mercilessly. He also watched his father die before his eyes, his spirit nearly destroyed by the helplessness and shame he felt.

His father died only weeks before Buchenwald was liberated.

Night ruined me. I couldn't fathom the horrors that so many faced during that period in history. I couldn't understand how human beings could mistreat other human beings so. I wanted justice for the bodies and souls lost during the Holocaust. I was furious.

And then I read the rest of the story...

After Elie survived the concentration camps and the horrors and pain that accompanied them, after he survived the deaths of his mother, father and sister, after he survived being orphaned following the Holocaust, with no parents or living relatives to care for him -- he made a conscious choice.

He chose to live.

Elie Wiesel chose to tell his story. He chose to teach others. He chose to forgive. He chose to love.

And he chose to fight for justice for other people around the world. He became a voice for those who had no voice.

So much so, that in 1986, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for raising his voice against violence, repression and racism.

When awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, Elie shared some powerful and memorable words. In this excerpt, he speaks of the teenage boy that he was, the boy that emerged from the pain of those concentration camps:
"I remember: he asked his father: 'Can this be true?' This is the 20th Century, not the Middle Ages. Who would allow such crimes to be committed? How could the world remain silent? And now the boy is turning to me: 'Tell me,' he asks. 'What have you done with my future? What have you done with your life?' And I tell him that I have tried. That I have tried to keep memory alive, that I have tried to fight those who would forget. Because if we forget, we are guilty, we are accomplices. And then I explained to him how naive we were, that the world did know and remain silent."
He went on to say...
"And that is why I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere. When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant. Wherever men or women are persecuted because of their race, religion or political views, that place must - at that moment - become the center of the universe."
Many years ago, Elie Wiesel encouraged me to take sides. To interfere. To make the place where other people are being persecuted or forgotten - to make that place, right then, the center of the universe.

What side should I take today? Where should I interfere? Where should I go to aid the persecuted and forgotten?

This is a question I ask myself today, in honor and memory of my hero and friend, Elie Wiesel.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

A Father's Day Message to the Fathers That Mourn

I don't fully understand what happens inside.

I can't explain the shift.

But it seems that when we experience loss, our eyes are opened to others around us that have lost as well. We feel just a little deeper for those experiencing pain. We are more empathetic, more sensitive, more aware somehow.

Living through loss can be devastating. I've share a lot about the loss I experienced in 2015, when my Mom and Dad became very ill and passed away three weeks apart from one another.

Since then, I've had days when my grief followed me around like a storm cloud, threatening to send a lightening bolt right through the heart of me.

Days that storms brought thunder that shook the ground beneath my feet, threatening to upend me.

Days that I've moved through the day as if on auto-pilot.

I've also had days, and now weeks, when I can feel God's healing balm within me. Days that I believe I'm stronger and wiser and better than before. Days that I know I've grown, not only in spite of my pain and loss, but because of it.

And yet, I know I'll never be the same again. My perspective is forever changed. I am forever changed. I am somehow more sensitive, more caring for others who hurt.

Now mind you, I've always been a "feely" kind of girl. I tear up quickly. I hurt for perfect strangers whose stories of difficulty and challenge I read, watch or hear about. Watching a touching movie moves me as if I actually know the folks I'm watching. I'm not a pet person, and it still breaks my heart to hear about someone intentionally hurting an animal.

After I lost my parents, however, I became even more connected to others' feelings. I care more. I feel more.

I guess I'm experiencing what the Bible explains in 2 Corinthians, Chapter 1*. When I experience trials and loss, God comforts me. Having received comfort from the Lord, I can in turn comfort others when they experience trials and loss.

So when I heard about the Orlando shooting and the 49 people who lost their lives, my heart broke.

Each murdered and injured person from that nightclub was a son or daughter, a sister or brother, a spouse or friend. Each one has left a wake of people that loved him or her. People that will grieve their entire lives for them. People whose lives will never be the same again. People that are forever changed.

It is to this group of folks, the ones left behind to continue to do life here, that I dedicate this post.

I dedicate this post especially for the fathers that mourn their children - gone-too-soon.

For the fathers of the 49 Orlando shooting victims, I mourn with you.

For the fathers of every victim from the countless school shootings that are becoming far too commonplace in our country, I mourn with you.

For the fathers of every victim of senseless crimes in every city, suburb and rural community around the US, I mourn with you.

For the fathers of fallen US soldiers from every military branch, I mourn with you.

For the fathers of those killed in terrorists attacks around the world, I mourn with you.

For the fathers that have lost a child to illness -- including mental illness -- since last Father's Day, I mourn with you.

The world mourns with you.

You are loved - by us who share this global community with you.

You are also loved by a compassionate, loving God. A God that has not forgotten or disregarded you. A God who sees your pain. 

A God who sees YOU.

* "Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God." 2 Corinthians 1:3-4

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Roots: What we learn from History & Our Story

Last night, I finished the final episode of the History Channel's TV miniseries Roots.

To say I was pleasantly surprised at the historical and emotional depth of this remake of Alex Haley's 1977 miniseries Roots, based on his personal genealogical history and biography, would be an understatement. I was a young girl when I watched the first Roots with my family, and I'll never forget how much that movie impacted me so many years ago.

As a matter of fact, as I watched the first episode of the remake, I sadly thought, My parents would have loved this movie. I'll miss talking about this with my Mom tomorrow.

Well, in honor of my sweet parents, and my other ancestors that have gone on before me, today I want to share three themes from Roots that moved me. I could probably list ten, but here's just a few that spoke the loudest to me.

1. We African Americans were blessed with strong and brave ancestors

I loved the focus on the pre-slavery era of African slaves. Kunta Kinte's story did not begin on a plantation in the American South. Born into the strong Mandinka tribe, his story began in West Africa. 

As an African American, I have often seen my people portrayed during the era of American slavery. This is a fascinating and important part of our history that displays our strength and resilience as a people. Yet our story did not begin there. It began on the continent of Africa -- a continent that endowed us with inner strength and resilience.

Roots mastered the display of this strength and resilience, with Kunta Kinte's proud resolve and fortitude.

2. Strong families were the roots that stabilized and upheld a strong people

When Kunta Kinte completed his tribal "rites of passage" into manhood, one of his elders asked (paraphrased), "As a man, what is your most important contribution to your tribe?" The answer was not as I thought - defending the tribe or providing material needs. No. Their most important job was to raise and lead a strong family. 

Amen to that.

This theme of strong families permeates throughout Roots. From generation to generation, we witnessed devoted fathers and mothers lead their children and grandchildren to create legacies of love, integrity and faith.

3. Our communities, country and world are strengthened by unity

From the disunity amongst various African tribes that facilitated the American slave trade to the institution of slavery itself to the disarray of the Civil War era, we see firsthand how disunity infects our communities like a cancerous tumor, leaving sickness and death in its wake. Roots illuminated the ancestral roots we share with one another. One example: Chicken George's birth was the product of his African American slave mother Kizzy and his Caucasian slave-owner father Tom Lea.

I look at my biological children today, my "Brown Gingers", and think of the different races that are represented in the blood that runs through my veins. To reject any other race is to reject the blood that possibly runs through our own veins. As a nation -- and a world even -- we are more the same than we are different. More connected than apart. We Americans are interconnected, much more than we realize -- our history intertwined. Likewise, our future depends on our interconnection, our support and respect for one another. 

I'm not here to preach y'all, but during this presidential election season, it's painfully obvious that our country is horribly divided, splintered even.

Roots reminded us that we rise when unified. We fall when divided. 

Whoever makes it into the White House, we must work towards unity as a nation.

Can I get an amen?

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Stephen Curry - Why We Love This Guy

This post might be a bit premature...

After all, Stephen Curry and his Golden State Warriors still have a road ahead of them - against the Cleveland Cavaliers - to the NBA Championship. And if it goes anything like their last run, Curry and his cohorts will be fighting until the very end.

And yet, I thought I'd share today. But first - a few words from Sports Illustrated after Monday night's game:
"[Curry had] just scored 36 points. He'd finished off an unlikely 3-1 series comeback. And he'd reminded those who doubted him -- whether in the media or chuckling at a podium -- that he remains the most illogical, impossible basketball player on the planet, a two-time MVP whose toughness continues to be second-guessed, as Steve Kerr said, only, 'because he looks like he's 12 years old.'" **
Steph Curry has captured the hearts of NBA enthusiasts and people like me -- people who watch a game here or there. And when we do watch, don't get fired up until the fourth quarter. Okay so... I admitted it, and got that out of the way.

So although I wouldn't include myself in the NBA enthusiast camp, I am very much a people enthusiast. I love interesting people that rise above the fray. People that make the world different -- and just a bit better. 

Steph is one of those people, and from my vantage point, here's why...

1. He's open about his faith, but not preachy

Steph doesn't shy away from speaking about his faith in Jesus Christ, but his delivery is seamless, it seems. In his MVP speech he shared, "People should know who I represent and why I am who I am, and that's because of my Lord and Savior." This brother makes his faith known, but he does so in a way that's natural, refreshing and appealing. In a way that others might actually find attractive.

When I think of all the up-and-coming athletes, like my 15-year-old son Christian, I'm grateful for ballers like Steph - unashamedly Christian and a beast on the court.

2. He brings so much authenticity onto the court and into the world

Steph's popularity reminds me of another young African American man who became a game-changer for his particular sport. Tiger Woods drew us regular folks into golf like never before. His relationship with his father-trainer, his diverse background, his youth... He was so -- REAL.

Steph has a similar appeal. He's the boy-next-door or the cousin you can't wait to hang out with during the holidays. He's so -- REAL. His funny facial expressions, gestures and boyish grin throw so much humanity into the game.

And if he wasn't authentic enough on his own, what about that interview he did with his cute-as-pie daughter in his lap, telling her Daddy to "Shhhh..." Oh my word... Isn't she just the cutest? That little precious, sassy baby girl reminded us that these "larger-than-life" athletes (or musicians or movie stars) might be wealthy and famous, but at the core, they're all regular folk like us.

3. His athletic ability defies logic

Now if you're an NBA enthusiast, it's probably killing you that I made this my third point. But an-ty-way... When I started following Steph's career, I loved hearing about the countless naysayers he'd defied over the years. The college coaches and program directors that overlooked him for recruitments and scholarships. The critics that said he would never play professional ball. The haters that claimed that at 6' 3", he was way too short to be taken seriously.

And who, I ask, is laughing now?

Steph's rise to fame reminds me of a popular Bible story we've all heard a bunch of times. It's the story of a young Hebrew boy who brought down a 9-foot giant named Goliath. A boy who's father had sent him to deliver lunch to his older brothers while they fought the Philistine army. A boy who's victory against that giant -- via a rock and slingshot -- defied all logic.

Yep... Steph reminds me of David -- long before he was a Hebrew King. When he was just a boy and the most unlikely of heroes.

And don't we all love unlikely heroes?

I sure do.

** This quote is an excerpt from writer Chris Ballard's "The Improbable Magic of Steph Curry Leaves Us Speechless Again".

Saturday, May 7, 2016

This Mother's Day: A Tribute to Two Unlikely She-roes

Tomorrow is Mother's Day - the day we pay homage to our Moms, Aunties and the beautiful women in our lives that have served as second moms to us. 

Today I want to pay homage to two women that have played a special part in my life. But first, a bit of backstory...

This past week I attended CAFO2016, the Christian Alliance for Orphans' annual Summit. This year we were in sunny Orlando, Florida, and what an amazing time it was. Inspiring breakout sessions, tear-jerking main sessions and a great time with my CAFO tribe. A highlight: my time with the African American Church Initiative -- a CAFO movement formed to further engage African American Christians in serving orphans and vulnerable children. I felt so blessed to walk with my brothers and sisters, as we walk out our calling to wrap around vulnerable children and families together. 

Last year this time, I shared about CAFO2015 and the amazing work God did in and through me during Summit. This year I want to share something that moved my heart this year at CAFO2016. This is a post I should have written a long time ago. These are words that I've never shared publicly and don't say often enough in my own home.

This Mother's Day, I want to share my heart about two women in my life that I speak very little about. Two women that are very important to me - precious even. 

And yet, I've never met these women. I've never even seen a photo of them or "friended" them on Facebook.

This Mother's Day Eve, also known as "Birthmother's Day", I want to share a tribute to my children's birth mothers. 

As an adoptive mother I talk a lot about Christian and Joelle. I share the amazing stories of how they joined our family through adoption. I've shared the highs and lows of being an adoptive Mom. I've shared the never-ending story of the love that continues to grow in my heart for my adopted kiddos. I've also shared the challenges that accompany this journey of adoption.

What I've yet to share, however, is the admiration I have for their birthparents. No, I don't personally know their birthparents. I don't know if they are introverts or extraverts. I don't know if they are athletic or fashionistas. I don't know if they like seafood or pizza. I really don't know much about them at all.

But I know my babies.

I know that Christian and Joelle are both extraverts. I know that Christian is a beast on the basketball court and football field and can run like the wind. I know that Joelle has been a fashionista since infancy. As a matter of fact, when we adopted her at 5 months old, she was drawn to my Mom, who always wore lots of jewelry (and was a serious fashionista in her own right, by the way). 

A day after we'd adopted Joelle, my Mom commented on the way she batted at her earrings and necklaces. "This child loves jewelry already," she said. "Look at how's she's drawn to my jewelry."

I couldn't deny it. I still can't. My little diva still loves her bling. Always will, I suspect. And I also suspect that the physical traits and personality bents of my children are small windows into their birthparents' traits. And I think that's pretty cool.

Those traits I see in my children is an amazing gift. Yet perhaps the most amazing gift my children's birthparents gave them was the gift of life. We live in a day when we have lots of choices, and the choice to continue a pregnancy or terminate it is one of those many choices. It's a gift indeed when a mother, when faced with an unplanned pregnancy and unpredictable future, chooses to carry and deliver her baby boy or girl.

Now let me be clear... 

I have no desire to debate over the pro-life or pro-choice movements today - or any day for that matter. I absolutely do not want to throw shade or bring shame on women that have made the choice to abort a child. My heart is simply to honor and thank my children's birthmothers for not making this choice. If they had, I would have never kissed Christian's adorable dimples or scream -- I mean cheer --  at his first football game. If they had, I would have never held Joelle's feminine, delicate hands or applauded her for creating beautiful paintings.

These two women are heroes in the lives of my children. This Birthmother's Day, my children's birthmothers are my she-ros. I applaud them. I honor them. I pray for them.

Because they deserve it.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Dr. Karyn Purvis: A Tribute to My Adoption She-Ro

I was sitting in my minivan, having just picked up my son Christian from his football team workout, when I heard the news.

The car in park, I noticed I had 4 texts. I assumed they were texts from a ministry I've recently joined. We've got a lot going on this month, and when a leader sends out a text, we typically start firing our responses back at her.

I checked my phone. It was from a member of this ministry, but it read differently from previous texts...
"Fyi - you may already know, I just got word that Dr Karyn Purvis passed away."
I was shocked. I kinda had a moment... To the point where I had to tell the kiddos not to worry. I'd be okay. I'd just read some bad news, but everyone in our family was okay. (After losing my parents so close together, I've had to give my kiddos this kind of information when anything unusual comes up.)

To say I was sad to hear Dr. Purvis had succumbed to her battle with cancer is a gross understatement. In this post, I want to share why.

But first...

For anyone who needs an introduction, let me share some background on Dr. Karyn Purvis. Dr. Purvis directed the Texas Christian University Institute of Child Development. She spent a decade developing research-based interventions for vulnerable children, or "children from hard places", as she referred to them. She received a bunch of awards and co-authored The Connected Child, which has become a bible of sorts for many of us adoptive parents.

One of her most notable achievements was the Empowered to Connect (ETC) Conference, "a two-day conference designed to help adoptive and foster parents, ministry leaders and professionals better understand how to connect with children from hard places in order to help them heal and become all that God desires for them to be."

Coincidently, my husband Anthony and I had just attended ETC on April 8th and 9th in Brentwood, Tennessee. I was so sad to hear Dr. Purvis wouldn't be present at the conference, because she just wasn't feeling well enough to travel. The conference was amazing still, and I highly recommend it.

Anyway, I could go on and on about her achievements, but I wanted to share my personal thoughts about Dr. Purvis and what I'll miss most about her.

Anyone who has benefitted from Dr. Purvis' work can attest to the deep and fierce love she had for children -- especially children that are often the hardest to love. Some have called her the "child whisperer" -- reaching the children that everyone else has given up on. Her gentle voice tone, her tender touch, and the way she kneeled to talk with children eyeball to eyeball... Her methods were not methods at all. They were simply an extension of her compassionate heart.

But her love extended far beyond the children she served. Jedd Medefind, President of the Christian Alliance for Orphans (CAFO) said it well:
"Countless parents and friends share the sorrow of this moment. We not only mourn the loss of a wise instructor and guide, but also sense the palpable absence of a beloved parent or grandparent who helped nurture us even as she taught us how to nurture our children."
I've heard Dr. Purvis speak in person several times and read her book, and yet I never personally met her. Yet somehow her love for others -- for me even -- was so evident. I knew she cared about children she would never meet. I knew she also cared for us parents -- parents that were struggling to parent our children with love, grace and compassion. 

I wish I'd read The Connected Child when I adopted my son Christian from a Russian orphanage over a decade ago. I wish I'd heard Dr. Purvis speak at CAFO's annual Summit or attended her Empowered to Connect Conference before our adoption. I wish I'd had access to her mobile number on speed dial back then. We struggled much with our cherub-cheeked boy that we'd just brought home. He was obviously distressed and missing Russia, his orphanage, and everything he'd ever known. He had lost so much in his short life of 2 1/2 years. I understood and wanted to love him well through his transition, but I was clueless about how to do so.

I told him "no" often, instead of saying "yes" a lot. I slapped his little hands when he misbehaved, instead of lovingly pulling him close and talking through his needs -- the very needs that were manifesting in his misbehavior. I revealed more exasperation and frustration on my face than love, grace and compassion.

A decade later... I'm learning. I'm growing and evolving. I'm becoming the mother - to all four of my children - that Dr. Purvis, and many other brothers and sisters like her, have encouraged me to be. I'm becoming the mother -- full of love, grace and compassion -- that God knows I can be.

I am forever grateful for Dr. Karyn Purvis whose impact has changed my life -- and now my children's lives -- forever. I'm grateful for her legacy. I'm grateful for the love and grace and compassion that God gifted her with, and that she extended towards others.

Even me.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

This Easter: How Grief Connects Us to Christ's Sacrifice

My Parents in their Twilight Years -- Still Sharp and Beautiful
Last year Easter was very challenging for me. 

When Easter arrived last year, I was reeling from the loss of my parents just months before. I was deep in the "acute grief" that a counselor had taught me about, given me vocabulary for and helped to walk me through.

Honestly, I don't even remember anything that happened on Easter day last year. I think I was pretty numb to the celebration of Jesus' death and resurrection. In my head I knew that He'd given me - and the whole world - the most awesome gift ever when He died on the cross for my sins and rose from the dead. 

But last year, I wasn't exactly feeling it.

This year has been different.

As I've approached Resurrection Sunday, I have been very contemplative. I've thought a lot about the depth of Jesus' sacrifice. I've been reading the Passion story -- the story of Jesus' death, burial and resurrection -- with my children every day. I watched Tyler Perry's Passion Play with my family, and cried on the finale - Unconditional. On yesterday, Good Friday, my children and I walked the "Resurrection Trail" at Christ Community Church in Franklin, Tennessee, where we now live.

This year I am absolutely feeling it.

Anyone who knows me knows that I ask a lot of questions. I've always been a curious person. I've always wondered why people act, think and feel the way they do. And often I turn that same introspection on myself. I'm always curious about why I act, think and feel the way I do.

So the obvious question for me was: Why do I feel differently this year? Why is the story of Easter moving me this year? Why am I feeling it so deeply?

The only answer that I've come up with is interesting to me. It's not the answer that I'd wanted. It's not what I'd hoped for.

I'd hoped that my deeper understanding of Jesus' sacrifice came from spiritual growth on my part. That I'd matured in my faith. That I was becoming more like Jesus, so I understood Him and His sacrifice on a deeper level.

But that wasn't it at all.

I've come to realize that my deeper understanding of the Passion of Christ has come from the very things in my life that I wish I could change. I get it this year because I have suffered.

And chances are, if you truly get it this year, you too have suffered during your lifetime.

Let me break this down as simply as I can...

If I -- a fallen, sinful, completely selfish human being -- have suffered great loss, disappointment and pain and known the depths of grief because of it, how much deeper must Jesus' grief have been when He who knew no sin experienced unimaginable loss, disappointment and pain? 

Even when I've been treated unjustly and unfairly, I have to admit that I have also treated others unjustly and unfairly at times. Even when I've been hurt, I have to admit that I too have hurt others. When someone sins against me, I have to admit that I have sinned against others as well.

But Jesus never once mistreated others. He never treated others unjustly. He never sinned against another person -- not ever.

How deep must His grief have been when He took on the sins of the world while on that cross on Golgotha?

My grief gives me a small taste of His grief. My pain gives me a small taste of His pain. My losses give me a small taste of His loss.

And all of this makes me get it.

None of us want to feel pain or grief or loss. None of us wakes up in the morning with the thought... What can I do today to achieve disappointment or pain or fear or loss?

And yet these are the very experiences that bring us a little closer to the Passion... These are the experiences that help us get it.

Think about it:

When we feel lonely... We better understand how Jesus felt when His disciples couldn't stay awake in the Garden of Gethsemane to watch and pray with Him.

When we feel ignored or overlooked... We better understand how Jesus felt when Peter denied knowing Him -- not once, but three times.

When we lose a loved one... We better understand how devastating it must have been for Jesus to be separated from His Father while on the cross.

When we are betrayed by a friend or loved one... We better understand how the Savior must have felt when His friend and self-proclaimed follower Judas betrayed Him.

When we bear our own crosses in life, we better understand the cross that Jesus carried... The same cross on which He was crucified.

The end result? We come through our cross-bearing stronger, more compassionate for our fellow-cross bearers and much more grateful for our Lord and Savior's sacrifice for us.

And on Easter morning we can sing with assurance and hope and joy...

Because He lives I can face tomorrow

Because He lives all fear is gone.

Because I know He holds the future

And life is worth the living

Just because He lives!

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Remembering My Mom ~ Remembering Her Words

When I first began writing regular posts about my parents, it was easy to find the time and energy to write. I would sit down at my laptop, and before I knew it I'd pecked out some sincere and, I hope, honoring thoughts about each of them.

But that was back when my parents were still with us.

But TODAY I feel like I have to write...

Today is the anniversary of the day my mother passed away. I can hardly believe it's been a whole year. Then on the other hand, it feels like a lifetime ago that my sisters and I walked up and down the halls of my parents' hospitals. It feels like a lifetime ago that I spent weeks at a time in Maryland, sitting beside my parents' hospital beds, talking with nurses and doctors about my parents' prognoses. It seems like a lifetime ago that I was hopeful that my mother might actually recover, especially when her health miraculously improved.

It seems like a lifetime ago that I prayed she'd someday return home.

Little did I know that my Mom was on her way Home... Her heavenly Home.

Three weeks ago I shared three things that I remember about my Dad. It was actually hard to narrow it down to three. Like I said, I'm forever a Daddy's Girl.

Today, instead of sharing what I remember about my Mom, I want to share the things she spoke near the end of her life that I'll never forget. This list could go on and on, but I'll narrow it down to three.

"Yes you can."

As I've shared before, my Mom was a true leader. She was the kind of woman that changed the atmosphere of any room she entered. A close friend of mine once used the word regal to describe her, and I wholeheartedly agree. She was a woman of courage, forthrightness and class. She held her head high in any and every situation that came her way. It's amazing to think of the woman she became after growing up in a poor, rural segregated town in Northumberland County Virginia. 

Perhaps she inherited her "chutzpa" from her mother. She once told me that my grandmother once told her, "Daughter, God gave you a mouth. Make sure you use it when you need to." My mother carried her mother's words to her career as a college dean and to her leadership roles at church, her sorority and many other community organizations.

So it should have been no surprise when my Mom challenged my sisters and me to rise to the occasion when needed. The last time she did so, she was sitting up in her hospital bed, seemingly unaware of the activity around her. My father had just passed away, and my sisters and I were planning his funeral program. When my sister Sherri and I asked our sister Lori if she would share some words during the service, Lori was hesitant and unsure. We all knew we'd be very emotional that day.

We went around and around for a bit, encouraging Lori to at least plan to speak. At some point Lori said something like, "I don't know... It's going to be a really hard day. I'm not sure if I can do it."

Out of nowhere my mother's voice rose from within her with a power we hadn't heard for a long time.

"Yes you can," she said emphatically. "Yes you can."

I wasn't even aware she was following our conversation. But Merlene Elmira Adair had spoken. And we had heard. Needless to say, Lori spoke at my father's service and did an amazing job. We all knew she could, yet my Mom was the only one who could transfer the courage for her to do so.

Pop Pop and Grandmommy with their Grandkids

"So pretty..."

I was hesitant to share these few words, because they felt kinda self-centered. Somehow though, they meant so much to me. So here goes...

One day I was helping tuck my Mom in for her afternoon nap in the hospital, and she looked into my face and said, "So pretty." Two simple words. As little girls, and even as grown women, we want to know that we are seen - especially by our parents. We want to know they think we're beautiful - on the inside and out. We want to know that they see themselves in us, that they see the "good" that they passed on.

I'll always remember these words of affirmation from my mother. It felt good to hear. It feels especially good to remember them today.

"I need Daddy."

My Mom spoke these words days after my Daddy passed away. For as long as I can remember, my mother referred to my father as "Daddy" when she talked to us. When talking to him, he was "Baby". To others he was "Carl". To my sisters and me, he was Daddy.

So when she said "I need Daddy", I knew she was was speaking of my father. I knew she missed him deeply. I also suspected her health would begin to decline after he passed. She wanted to be with him. She couldn't imagine life without him.

As I tear up thinking of losing my Mom exactly a year ago, I understand. I understand her wanting to be with him again. After 56 years of marriage and life together, she didn't know how to live without him.

Today it does my heart good to think of this one thing -- now she doesn't have to live without him. They are together forever and ever. 

And I thank the Lord for that.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Forever A Daddy's Girl: Remembering Dad on His Birthday

I've been putting off writing this post for days now. I've wanted to share so much, but I just couldn't make myself sit down and start writing.

Well here goes y'all...

I'll start with a little backstory. Many of you know I lost my parents in early 2015, exactly 3 weeks apart from one another. I've shared this story and several stories highlighting all that the Lord showed me through my parents during those last weeks with them.

This past Wednesday, January 20th, was the anniversary of my father's death. I didn't know what to expect or how I'd feel. For the most part, it was a regular day. But as I look back, this week I've felt an undercurrent of sadness. Just below the surface. I'm still grieving for sure. Think I will be for a while now. And for some reason, I'm okay with that. I don't feel like I have to be strong or brave.

And I think God's okay with it too. The Word tells us Christians that we shouldn't grieve as those who have no hope. But nowhere does it say we shouldn't grieve. 

Some pain is so deep, we never really get over it. We get through it.

So as I continue to move through the loss of my parents, I wanted to share a little bit about my Daddy. Today, January 23rd, is his birthday, so I'd like to celebrate him for a bit.

Join me as I honor my Dad by sharing just a few things that I loved about him.

1. My Dad LOVED his family

The Carl and Merlene Adair Clan
My Daddy was often quoted for this famous line of his... "Always put God first. Then your family..." I heard him say those words too many times to count.

Everyone knew my Dad absolutely LOVED his family. And that family included the entire family - aunts, uncles, cousins - even cousins twice removed. (And just what is a cousin twice removed? Anyhow...) My father loved community gatherings, he loved church services, but he really, really loved being with his family. And with four brothers, three sisters, and a heap of cousins, God gave him plenty of family to love.

Daddy and Me on my Wedding Day

He loved my Mom and his three girls most. My Dad was what I call a "Girls' Daddy" - a dad with daughters and no sons. A dad that wouldn't have it any other way. (I can spot a Girls' Daddy right away and it still melts my heart...)

When people joked my father about never "getting that boy", my Dad would smile and say, "That's all right. I've got three pretty girls." If he ever longed for a son, it never showed. He was perfectly content with all that sugar and spice in the house.

My parents with their granddaughters - Christmas 2012
Some of my best memories from my youth are my family's conversations around the dinner table every night. My father owned several businesses when I was young, so he had to be exhausted by dinnertime. Somehow though, he stayed engaged and energetic as we talked current events and politics. He listened to the onslaught of stories of our happenings during the day, and I don't remember ever seeing his eyes glaze over. His love for us overruled any fatigue. He'd always unwind later, reading the daily newspaper and watching his favorite sitcoms like "Sanford and Son" and "The Jeffersons". But dinnertime was family time. That was, and still is, precious to me.

Daddy holding my oldest son Kalin

2. My Dad was very PROTECTIVE

This is probably connected to my first point, since my Dad's protectiveness certainly flowed out of his love for us. But anyone who knew my father knew he was fiercely protective over his loved ones. So much so that my Mom, my sisters and I called him Cautious Carl.

During road trips, whenever we followed behind him, Daddy would drive slowly, making sure he wouldn't get too far ahead. When we traveled alone, we were always instructed to call when we arrived at our destination. And even when I was grown and had a family of my own, my Dad would call me on road trips to check up on us every few hours.

His calls would go like this...

Dad: Hey, how y'all doing?

Me: Hey Daddy. We're good.

Dad: Good. Good. Where are you?

Me: We're about 10 miles outside ____________." And I'd give an update on what town we'd recently passed. He would know exactly how many miles we'd driven, and how far we had to go. He could memorize numbers like crazy, and he kept all that information in his mind.

When we travel to Baltimore now, it makes me sad to know I won't be receiving any check-up calls from my Daddy. And yet, I treasure the memories of all those calls he did make over the years.

Daddy hanging out with my baby boy Christian

3. My Dad was very GENEROUS

My Dad was the kind of man that would give you - anyone - the shirt off his back. He loved to give to his church, community organizations and to any family or friends in need. 

He was the kind of father that would ask every time I talked to him, "So how are you doing? You and Anthony need anything?" And when we visited during the holidays and summertime, he would always slip some cash into my hands at the end of our visit.

I think my Dad was grateful for all the blessings God had blessed him with, and he just wanted to pass a little bit of that on to others.

4. My Dad was very RELATIONAL

My father didn't just love his family. He loved PEOPLE. He loved when we brought our friends around the house. He'd ask them how they were doing. He'd ask them who "their people" were, trying to figure out if he knew them or had any connections to their families.

My father loved connecting with other people. He was a true "people-person". As a matter of fact, during the last few years of his life it was difficult watching him age, becoming increasingly quiet and withdrawn. Often I'd see sparks of the man he'd been, but he was different. He remained kind, generous and loving, just quiet and to himself.

I'm so glad I have memories of the man he was. Today I remember Daddy for who he was - the man who loved his God and his church, loved his family, loved others -- and loved ME.

I love you Daddy and miss you so very much. 

On what would have been your 82nd birthday, I honor YOU.