ESPN’s Sage Steele and Our Foster Child

Until I sat in the Indiana University Memorial Stadium, I’d never heard of Sage Steele. Her name sounds like it belongs in a heavy metal band. When I learned she was the chosen speaker for the 2015 I.U. graduation I confess to rolling my eyes and thinking,  a sportscaster, come on, can’t we do better? As I sat listening with about 10,000 other family members, I looked down the row at our foster daughter who was on the edge of her concrete seat. Sage Steele gave us all a lesson in effective speaking to a LARGE group but she gave our twelve year old Liberian darling much more:

  1. Be vulnerable – She talked about how she almost flunked out of college, a fact not often shared. Her professors brought the problems to her attention and put people around her to get her though. It took five years, but she made it.
  2. Be gutsy and virtuous – Despite the fact that the I.U. rabbi managed to give the invocation without making it a prayer or even mentioning God, Ms. Steele offered a portion of the Cadet prayer from West Point to close out her speech.

O God, our Father…encourage us in our endeavor to live above the common level of life. Make us to choose the harder right instead of the easier wrong, and never to be content with a half truth when the whole can be won. Endow us with courage that is born of loyalty to all that is noble and worthy, that scorns to compromise with vice and injustice and knows no fear when truth and right are in jeopardy. Guard us against flippancy and irreverence in the sacred things of life. Grant us new ties of friendship and new opportunities of service. Kindle our hearts in fellowship with those of a cheerful countenance, and soften our hearts with sympathy for those who sorrow and suffer.

Her challenge to the I.U. graduates, choose the harder right along life’s path instead of the easier wrong.

  1. Inspire – When she was 12 years old, Ms. Steele told her parents she wanted to be a sportscaster. Her dad drilled her on sports facts, teams and trivia until she knew more than Bob Costas. Patiently working her way up the ladder from local Indiana basketball coverage to bigger arenas, her career moved forward. But, when the ESPN dream phone call came, she said, “No, thank you.” Pregnant with her first child, Ms. Steele chose to put family first and stay home. As she put it, she chose the “harder right instead of the easier wrong.” ESPN called again when her child was older and this time she was in a position to say, “yes.”

Our five foot tall foster daughter learned this semester that she can jump. Upon the encouragement of her gym teacher, she competed in her first track meet. In the long jump, she broke a ten year school record and flew 14’ 8”. She also came in first place in the high jump, and in gym class first place for the vertical jump, 25” without trying. Apparently there was only one student to challenge her with 23” and all she needed was an inch more to out jump her. The weekend she heard Sage Steele address the fulfillment of her dreams and her failures along the way, our little jumper told us, “I’m going to go to the Olympics in track and field someday.”

Thank you Sage Steele for helping a five foot Liberian girl believe in big dreams! Thank you for sharing your heart and having the guts to instruct us in things most people today are too afraid to say.

A New Year, A New Life and Love

She’s never been to Starbucks. Never stayed in a hotel. Never heard a bedtime story and now she’s living with us. Our new year began on Janurary 2nd.  We drove a quiet 11 year old girl from Boston to our home, arriving at 2:00 a.m. to be greeted by welcome notes and lavender macaroon cookies left out on the counter by our other kids.

On December  10th, 2014 we were going about our lives, getting ready for Christmas. We snuggled into our cozy beds and drifted off to sleep as the street light shone through spyrographic ice on our bedroom window. At 4:00 a.m. God woke me up, to the sound of my own voice yelling, “Hurry!”  At first I wasn’t sure it was God, it was “just a dream,” a dream about an adorable girl we know in our Sunday night Bible study in the refugee apartments. “I’m going to be adopted,” she said in the dream, working her small rough hand into mine. “I want to show you where I’m going to live so you can meet them.” We flew through the air and landed in the rugged courtyard of her new apartment complex. Several young, jobless or homeless men gathered around burning trash barrels to stay warm. The icicles dripped rust from the balconies. “It’s that one up there on the end, next to the stairs. I’ll be able to come and go as I want to.” She smiled as she pointed out a lacquered black door on the second floor. We began to creep across the courtyard toward the staircase, arms locked so we didn’t crash on the ice. The circle of young men in “wife beater” t-shirts, gangsta jewelry and flannel coats approached, questioning me. “What are you doin’ here?” Danger slashed across their faces. We began to back up. I whispered to my little friend, “I think we need to get out of here. Hurry!”

This dream, so vivid, spoke of impending doom and urgency. Something was wrong. Reaching over the edge of the bed for my computer, I immediately emailed the Bible study co-leader. It was 4:00a.m. “Is she o.k.?” I just needed to know. Her response back, “I think your dream was from God. Her father is moving her to Boston on December 16th. She doesn’t want to go.”  In six days!  We started praying. My husband agreed that perhaps God was showing us something in the dream and we should speak to her dad about the possibility of her living with us. Her dad agreed, but first she would go to Boston for Christmas. We checked out the neighborhood they were moving to. From a crime perspective, it’s one of the worst.

Many miles later, we sit in Starbucks and sip hot chocolate. I’m teaching her to play the piano after school and she is singing in our church children’s choir. We’ve read Mrs. Piggle Wiggle, Number the Stars and tonight, The Witch of Blackbird Pond at bedtime. She’s getting fat eating American food rather than Liberian pepper soup. She laughs with her brothers who live nearby and our kids and we’re all learning together; learning to make room, to share, to sacrifice our personal schedules, to listen to 103.5fm instead of our favorite stations on the way to school. We are learning to live with and love someone new every morning and every night.

As I walk the dog after getting everyone to school, I’m thankful. I thank God that he still speaks in dreams and visions. I thank him for always doing something new, so thankful that her father said, “yes,” and as we walk toward Valentine’s Day, I thank him that he is still teaching us all how to love.