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Christmas 2016

Center: The whole family after Lincoln’s birthday weekend. Clockwise from top left: (1) Andy, Lincoln, & Janet at Lincoln’s honor roll ceremony. (2) Andy & Leann during Spring Break visit. (3) Leann, Mom, & Dad during their Summer visit. (4) Leann & Lincoln at Lincoln’s birthday. (5) Leann, Janet, & Mom on Black Friday. (6) Leann at Rocky Mountain National Park. (7) Stefanie & Leann decked out for the Ugly Sweater Party. (8) Visiting with the Leonards & Schwambs in Colorado Springs for Broncos Training Camp 2016. (9) College roommates/friends Leann, Stefanie, & Angela together again after 17 years. (10) Leann & Jessica at the Pro Football Hall of Fame Induction. (11) Broncos Super Bowl 50 Championship Ring. (12) 3 Generations: Andy, Lincoln, & Dad.

 

Dear Family and Friends,

Each year, when I compose this letter, I always go back and read last year’s Christmas letter to get myself in the mood to write the next one. This year, I decided to write this letter a little differently, organized in more of a compartmentalized format. I’m hoping it will keep me from rambling too much. Probably not, but we’ll see. Let’s start off easy.

Sports: When I left you last December, Alabama was headed for the college football playoffs as the #2 team in the nation. They won their playoff game against Michigan State 38-0 and went on to win a very hard fought and stressful game against Clemson 45-40 and be crowned the National Champions for the 16th time in school history. They are currently the #1 team in the country and slated for a playoff game vs. Washington on New Year’s Eve with a potential championship game vs. either Clemson or Ohio State on January 9th. Fingers crossed and Roll Tide! In other football news, Peyton Manning returned from his injuries at the end of last season and the Broncos marched their way right to San Francisco for Super Bowl 50, which they won in stellar defensive fashion against the Carolina Panthers. This proved to be the perfect ending to Peyton’s incredible football career as he decided to retire on March 7th. There were tears, but he got through it and so did I. In April, the North Carolina Tar Heels, after an up and down season, made it all the way to the NCAA Men’s Basketball National Championship game but unfortunately, lost on a last second shot. I couldn’t have been more proud of how they fought their way tooth and nail to that game. I even got to attend their ACC Tournament semi-final game as it was being played here in DC.

Travels: In May, I visited my college roommate Stefanie and her family in Georgia for about a week. We took a little side trip to Alabama to meet up with my bestie and college friend Angela. The three of us hadn’t been in the same room together in 17 years, so we thought it was time. Keeping up with each other through texts, social media, and phone calls just aren’t the same as being able to visit with someone in person. In summer, I returned to Colorado to visit with my friends the Leonard’s and Schwamb’s and attend Broncos Training Camp. I wasn’t sure how Peyton’s retirement would affect my passion for the game of football, but through training camp and the start of the season, I discovered that by being a fan of his, he taught me to love the game in general. While there, we got to explore Rocky Mountain National Park, and I attended the wedding of a fellow Broncos fan and former co-worker. In August, my friend Jessica and I went to the Pro Football Hall of Fame Enshrinement Ceremony to see Coach Tony Dungy and Marvin Harrison receive their gold jackets. This was our trial run for 5 years from now when Peyton is sure to receive his. We also decided we need to go back when it isn’t enshrinement weekend with thousands of people so we can see everything. In September, I traveled home for Lincoln’s birthday. He turned 9, and I’m still trying to figure out how we got to the last single digit birthday so quickly. I was home in November for Thanksgiving and also went to Georgia earlier this

month for Stefanie’s Ugly Christmas Sweater Party. I went to NYC a few more times this year to visit with my friend John and his husband Justin and to see a few more Broadway shows including the final performances of 4 original cast members of Something Rotten. The tour of that show starts in January. I highly recommend it if it makes it to a city near you. During one trip, I even got to see the planting of the Rockefeller Christmas Tree.

Visitors: In January, my sweet friend Anita came for a weekend visit. We did a little sightseeing, watched Hallmark movies, and shopped til we dropped. In March, Andy, Janet, and Lincoln visited me during their spring break. We went to the National Geographic Museum, National Zoo, the Natural History Museum, the Lincoln Memorial, and every cupcake shop we could find! We also saw a motorcade and walked by the FBI building. In June, Mom and Dad came for a visit. It had been a long time since they’d been able to come up because of dad’s chemo treatments last year. Plus, they needed to see our new baby panda, Bei Bei. We celebrated mom’s birthday, father’s day, and my birthday all in one night since we wouldn’t be together on the actual dates.

Health: Dad’s leukemia has remained in remission at each of his follow up appointments and scans, the most recent of which was this month. My doctor has reduced my diabetes medication to a ½ pill each day as I continue to move towards managing the disease without medication. One day I hope to be able to type that I’m no longer on the medication, and I really hope one day I can say I no longer have diabetes because they found a cure. By all accounts though, we are all in good health.

Family: Mom’s big news this year was she finally got to see Barbra Streisand in concert. I don’t think I’ve ever seen her so excited about something. Even days afterwards she was telling me that every time she thought about the concert it made her smile. Lincoln competed in swimming, engrossed himself in Pokémon, finished 2nd grade, and took 3rd grade by storm at a new school. He even sang in the chorus program a couple weeks ago. Janet is now working as an Instructional Mentor for Hillsborough County Schools to help new teachers get acclimated to their job. Andy finished all his post-graduation requirements with Hillsborough County to be eligible for an Assistant Principal position, and he was hired in the summer as the Assistant Principal at Benito Middle School, the same school where he was teaching.

Next Year: As I sat down to write this letter I found myself grateful we are just a few days away from closing the books on this year. Despite what you have just read, 2016 has not been easy emotionally. We lost a lot of good people to cancer, Alzheimer’s, heart attacks, AIDS, diabetes, and unspeakable violence. We watched a man stand at numerous podiums and give a voice to hate, racism, intolerance, assault, and general disrespectfulness. It has made my heart grow weary because I was raised in a home where those thoughts, beliefs, and behaviors were unacceptable. I was taught that we, as human beings, are basically good people and that in good times and bad, we take care of each other. However, this past year challenged that teaching and made me question how much I really know the people in my life as I watched people I love be persecuted. There’s a lady who stands in a harbor with her arm raised high lighting America with the lamp in her hand and teaching us from her tablet which states, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” Those words are not unlike Jesus’s words in Matthew 11:28, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” On my office wall at work hangs a quote from the late Coach Dean Smith that reads, “There is a point in every contest when sitting on the sidelines is not an option.” So, as the new year begins, I am grasping at hope that love, kindness, and understanding will rule over hate and fear. I pray we will learn to trust each other again by showing compassion and care to rid our country and this world of the pain it has known in 2016. Despite the potentially damaging decisions that may be made in the coming years by our country’s leadership, I pray our society will continue to progress and not regress in human and civil rights for all people, and if we do regress, I pray we all live to see us find a better way as I am determined to always shine a light in the darkness. I hope you will join me in this prayer.

Happy Holidays, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Yule, Season’s Greetings, Feliz Navidad, and Merry Christmas!

Leann

Christmas 2015

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Dear Family and Friends,

This year seems to be the year of blink and you missed it. I turned around one day and it was December when it felt like it was just January the day before. I don’t know about y’all, but the years seem to move faster as I get older. Nevertheless, I still try to pack as much into those fast moving years as I can. This year was no exception.

Sadly, at the beginning of the year, two of my heroes from the sports world shuffled off this mortal coil. First, in January, sportscaster Stuart Scott finished his battle with cancer and left behind a legacy of courage and determination as well as a completely different vocabulary of how we talk about sports. Then, in February, the world lost one of the kindest gentlemen it ever knew when Coach Dean Smith passed away. This one hit mom the hardest as a lifelong Tar Heel fan. He changed the way we play the game of basketball far and wide, and his contributions to our country’s civil rights movement remind us we should never be proud of doing the right thing. We should just do it.

In April, Dad’s chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL), which he’s had for years but never needed to treat it, decided it wanted some attention. He completed six chemotherapy treatments between April and September, and at the beginning of November, he officially received the remission stamp. He will go back every three months for new scans to make sure he remains in remission, but at this point, it’s safe to say, dad kicked cancer’s butt with the help of mom and his wonderful doctors and nurses.
In May, I traveled to Rochester, Minnesota to visit some college friends, Robert and Erin Jackson and meet their sweet little guy, Beckett, who handled my stockpiled smooches and squeezes like a champ. The weather was beautiful as they showed me around their city where the Mayo Clinic is located, and I tried every form of fried cheese curd I could get my hands on. Also, having been a Twins fan since high school, I managed to talk them into taking me to the Twins game on Memorial Day, which they won because I was there, obviously. Booyah!

After seeing the Broadway cast of Something Rotten! perform on The Tonight Show, I was so entertained that I had to see this show, so I took a trip to NYC in July to see it. The cast is amazing, and over several trips back to NYC this fall for various reasons, I have seen the show a total of six times. The lovely people who work the front of house for Jujamcyn Theaters treated me like family and reminded me just how much I enjoyed being a part of live theatre back in my high school days, so if you find yourself in NYC anytime soon and you can’t get tickets to see Hamilton walk on over to the St. James Theatre on 44th and see Something Rotten! to laugh so hard you’ll cry. While I was there, I caught up with my high school friend John Cosenza. He and I grew up together, and while we have kept in touch with each other through the years, we hadn’t seen each other in far too long. He went to the show with me one night and showed me some of NYC from the perspective of an actual resident. It’s a beautiful thing to fall in love with a city through someone else’s eyes. He tells me that since the congestion in Times Square now drives me batty, I am officially a New Yorker!

In July, we lost my great Aunt Virginia. She was one of my favorite people in the world. She had a sweet smile, a rambunctious personality, and an insatiable hunger for all life had to give her. She was what they used to call a classy broad, and I miss her every day.

In August, I returned to Colorado to spend my birthday with my friends Vanessa and Brad Leonard and Tim and Cristi Schwamb and their kids and to attend Broncos Training Camp, again. There were to be two days of training camp while I was there, but the first day got cancelled due to rain the day before flooding the practice field. At least it wasn’t snow. Never fear, Vanessa and I filled the day with visits to Red Rocks Amphitheatre, the historic town of Morrison, the Broncos training facility team store, and every Walmart, Target, Kohls, and King Soopers between Denver and Colorado Springs that we could find
making sure I had all the Broncos gear I needed for the coming season. Vanessa, Cristi, and I even found time for a girl’s night out. It was refreshing to my soul. My sister-in-law Janet has taken a few of those soul rejuvenating girl’s weekends this year, too. There really is no substitute for them. Also this summer, my brother Andy finished his master’s of education in educational leadership with straight A’s throughout and is working towards a position as an assistant principal hopefully in the next school year.

Lincoln turned 8 in September, and we had an Ant-Man themed birthday party at Hooters after a day at Busch Gardens. Ant-Man was his choice of costume for Halloween, too. He continues to excel in school with his perfect report cards, and he can tell you anything you want to know about Minecraft. Mostly, I just nod my head and say, “uh huh” because I have no clue what he’s talking about. This September marked the start of the 40th season of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, which mom, dad, and Andy have thoroughly enjoyed celebrating as inaugural season ticket holders still going strong. God love ‘em.

Also in September, one of my trips to NYC was for a 5K charity walk benefiting the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF). My college friend Ti Keshia lost her sweet niece this year to Type 1 Diabetes and asked her friends to contribute to and/or join her on this walk, so I jumped right in and had the wonderful opportunity to meet and walk with her and her NYC friends across the Brooklyn Bridge. The views from up there are spectacular, and it was a beautiful day to celebrate Princess Victoria. Speaking of diabetes, my doctor has reduced my medication to one dose per day instead of two, so I am one step closer to managing the disease on my own without pharmaceuticals. While I was there that time, I managed to squeeze in a trip to see Les Misérables. This was especially exciting because my high school friend Joseph Spieldenner is currently performing in the show as Grantaire and occasionally goes on as Javert or Thénardier. He’s just brilliant in it and was so kind to give me a backstage tour after the show, and I got to stand on a Broadway stage.

In October, I was so excited to get a visit from another high school friend, Adrienne. Her husband was here for a conference, so she tagged along, and spent the better part of one day with me. I got to show her around the Capitol and take her to some fun little places that are not on the tour like lunch in the Senator’s Dining Room. I’ve come to truly understand the importance of keeping in touch with the people in our lives who make us smile and remind us of the dreamers we used to be before the world became jaded and routine.

In November, my sweet friend Annie from Australia came over to the states for what she calls holiday. We call it vacation. While she was here, we went to a John Lloyd Young concert at the Kennedy Center. He’s a Tony winner for originating the role of Frankie Valli in Jersey Boys. She also wanted to see the Washington Monument and the ruby red slippers from The Wizard of Oz, and I took her to the larger Air and Space Museum out by Dulles Airport because she’s a flight attendant. It made perfect sense to me. And I got her to try a fried pickle, which will likely never touch her lips, again. Pickles are apparently not a thing in Australia.

When I was home for Thanksgiving, I got to meet my new four-legged nephew Coco, Lincoln’s new cocker spaniel puppy. He’s adorable and loves to cuddle. We became fast friends, and that has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that I kept giving him treats. I swear. Mom and dad have loved spoiling their puppy grandchild, too. Mom and I shopped til we dropped the week of Thanksgiving, and I helped them decorate the house for Christmas before I left.

And, that brings us to December. After fourteen years of living in the DC area, I finally made it to the White House at Christmastime to see the decorations. Everything is breathtakingly beautiful and intricately detailed to fit each room’s theme and purpose. Next weekend, I’m traveling to Pittsburgh to see the Broncos play the Steelers where I may or may not get to see Peyton Manning. I was afraid of this when I saw how late in the season this game was, but hopefully, he’ll at least be there even if he doesn’t play. At the end of the month, my Alabama Crimson Tide will try, again, to add to the National Championship total. They’re #2 in the college football playoff rankings, but they’ve certainly got their work cut out for them vs. Michigan State with a potential championship game vs. either Clemson or Oklahoma on the line. Roll Tide and Go Broncos!

Whew! Are you still with me? I would understand if you weren’t. I’m exhausted myself. I hope y’all managed to pack just as much into your fast moving 2015s as I did. Here’s to a slower 2016 with a little more peace and love around the world. Let’s never forget that “hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Leann

Just Living

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These two people have a great deal in common. They love sports…lordy do they love sports. They love learning and understand that education is a life long journey. They love movies. They love to laugh. They love hugs. They are fiercely loyal to the ones they love.

And as of this week they are both LIVING WITH diabetes.

I stress the words “living with” because diabetes, which he has been diagnosed with for more than 20 years and I have been diagnosed with for 4 days, is NOT a death sentence. It is also NOT a wake up call as some might think because neither one of us did anything wrong. It is an indication that your pancreas doesn’t work the same way a non-diabetic’s pancreas works and genetics are a HUGE part of it. Neither one of us will ever not be diabetic for the rest of our lives. It’s just a matter of how we control our blood sugar either through medication/diet or just diet.

I’ve spent a great deal of time this week learning and making changes. Though my learning curve is shorter than some because I have a built in resource in my father, there are still a million things to learn about my own body because just like almost everything else in life, every person’s body is different.

For detail purposes, I am Type-2 just like him, so I will be taking oral medication as opposed to insulin shots or an insulin pump more common with Type-1. I have this tiny, fancy new machine that tests my blood sugar. (I do love a good gadget.) I’m considering getting a MedicAlert bracelet cause hey why shouldn’t I get some jewelry out of this. And somewhere down the line I’ll probably get to go shopping for new clothes!!

My father was my first teacher, so it seems only appropriate that he is also my teacher through this new “adventure” probably finding ways to laugh all the way through it. Laughter is the best medicine after all.

Christmas Letter 2011

Center: Leann and Lincoln. Clockwise from top left: (1) Grandpa (the Cat in the Hat) and Lincoln. (2) Andy, Lincoln, and Grandpa ~ 3 generations. (3) Janet and Lincoln. (4) Mimi and Lincoln on his new bed. (5) Dad and Leann. (6) Mom and Leann. (7) Ti Keshia, Leann, Mandy, and Carla in LA. (8) Houndstooth ribbon painted on the field at Alabama to honor the tornado victims. (9) Leann standing on the glass skydeck ledge in Chicago. (10) Leann, Annie Kate, and Angela. (11) Mom in the snow. (12) Dad shoveling snow.

Here is this year’s Christmas letter.  Enjoy!

Dear Family and Friends,

I don’t know about y’all, but I have packed everything I can into one year.  As I begin to reflect on all that has happened, my halls are decked, my shopping is done, and writing to y’all is last on my Christmas list, so let’s get started because I do love crossing items off my to-do list.

One advantage to living here is how close I am to other metropolitan areas.  In January, I ventured north to New York City to see my very first Broadway play.  I’ve been to NYC before for the cursory tourist attractions, but this was just to see the play.  I saw “Driving Miss Daisy” starring James Earl Jones and Vanessa Redgrave who were perfectly on par with Morgan Freeman and Jessica Tandy from the movie version.  Also in January, I visited my best friend, Angela, in Birmingham to meet her beautiful new daughter, Annie Kate.  I tried to hide Annie Kate in my luggage and bring her back with me, but she wouldn’t fit much to the elation of her mother.  Angela has been such a blessing in my life for so many years, and seeing her so happy with her family makes my heart smile.

In February, Andy’s USF Women’s Basketball team came up to play Georgetown.  Mom and dad decided to come, too.  It had snowed right before they came, and a good bit of it had not melted by the time they arrived, so dad got to shovel some snow that was still hanging out in my guest parking spot.  He didn’t seem all that enthused by it.  I really don’t understand why.

In March, Alabama’s Men’s Basketball team was invited to participate in the NIT, and they made it to the NIT Championship game at Madison Square Garden in NYC.  So, once more, I traveled north because I didn’t feel it appropriate for me not to be there with them so close.  Unfortunately, they lost the game to a Wichita State team that appeared to have brought their entire town.  Nevertheless, I was grateful along with my friend Ti Keshia to have the opportunity to be there for them.

And then April happened.  The Alabama Gymnastics team won its 5th National Championship.  It was their 27th appearance in the National Championship Competition.  For work, I traveled to Chicago for the first time, but with work completed and a little time before my flight, I took in the sights.  I toured the Willis (formerly Sears) Tower and stood out on the glass balcony ledge that extends about four feet out from the 103rd floor over the street below.  That’s 1,353 feet above ground with only a piece of glass under your feet.  It is AMAZING!  I also stopped to see the Michael Jordan statue at the United Center as all good Tar Heel fans should.

Sadly, I did not know that by the time I landed back in DC, a piece of my world would be torn to shreds.  During my flight an EF4 tornado ripped through Tuscaloosa, AL, a place that knows no other name to me but “home.”  This tornado tore a mile wide by 6 mile long path straight through the town that contributed greatly to the woman I am today.  When it was all over, more than 350 tornadoes were confirmed throughout the southeast over a three day period with 239 deaths in Alabama alone.  I am thankful everyday no one I personally know was harmed.  In the days since, we have witnessed from near and far that no matter our differences or disagreements or team pride, a tragedy of this magnitude pulls us together. People from every state in the country have helped with the relief efforts.

In May, I flew to Los Angeles to visit my friend Carla. She has lived there for many years, but I’d never worked in a visit until now.  She obliged my silly requests like a stop at the Rose Bowl to see where Alabama won its 13th National Championship, chicken and waffles at Roscoe’s, a trip to the Pacific Ocean, and a personal tour of ABC/Disney Studios.  I even made new friends in her roommate, Mandy and their puppies, DJ and Luke.  As luck would have it, while I was there, our friend Ti Keshia was in LA, too, so we got to meet her for dinner one night.  As you can imagine, it was VERY hard to leave.

As has become a tradition, Lincoln ran the bases at a few Tampa Bay Rays games this summer, but during one trip to Grandpa and Mimi’s he ran the bases at the Rays’s minor league affiliate.  This was special though as he got to be in a tag team race with the Charlotte Stone Crabs mascot, Stoney.  Stoney usually races against and loses to the kid runner, but this time Stoney and Lincoln competed against two others.  It was the first time Stoney (with Lincoln’s help) actually won the race.

By July, I’d stayed away long enough, and I took a trip to Alabama to see the damage myself and volunteer with the tornado relief efforts.  It took my breath away when I turned that first corner into town where I could see the destruction.  It felt like the world froze, and it broke my heart all over, again.  While I was there, I helped with organizing a warehouse where every day items are stored and distributed to those in need.  I also got the opportunity to spend some time with my friends, the Cunninghams, who I hadn’t seen in ages.  They are always gracious in opening their home when I come for a visit.  I also made quick stops to see Angela and her family in Birmingham and my friends Tom, Anita, and Jilian in Huntsville before I headed back to DC.  Jilian even gave up her Disney Princess bed to me so I could spend the night.  It was a rollercoaster of emotions during my July Alabama Tour, but it was worth every minute.

In August, my annual work conference took me to Las Vegas for the first time, and I have to admit, I finally understood what a dry heat was. It was still ridiculously hot, but not sticky like it is in the South.  The bulk of entertainment value in that city is lost on me because I’m not a big gambler, but I did enjoy the food and the fountain show at the Bellagio among other attractions, but I failed in getting a quickie wedding.  At the end of my trip, I crossed off a bucket list item and saw Garth Brooks live.  It was fabulous.  He puts on a heck of a show, and if you get the opportunity…GO!

Lincoln turned 4…FOUR…in September, and we all celebrated with a pool party.  It was the first time he’d gotten to invite his school friends to his birthday party, and they were all adorable to watch.  At his 4 year old appointment, our 2lb 14 oz, 16 ¼ inch preemie, weighed 45lbs and was 43 inches tall.  He’ll talk your ear off about dinosaurs and animals if you let him, and he’s smart as a whip, but I’m not biased at all.

In October, I did something I haven’t done in 11 years.  I went to homecoming at Alabama.  I took in the bon fire, watched the parade with my friends the Heggems, and thanks, again, to the Cunninghams, attended the Alabama/Vanderbilt homecoming game, which Alabama won 34-0.  Tuscaloosa was much easier to see this time around because I could see a lot of progress in debris removal and rebuilding preparations.  It’ll take time, but they are going to come back from this better than ever.

I was home for Thanksgiving.  Andy and the team were invited to the Great Alaska Shootout in Anchorage, so I didn’t get to see him while I was home.  Still not sure if they could see Russia from their hotel rooms.  I did get to see Janet and Lincoln who came down to mom and dad’s for Thanksgiving and Black Friday shopping.  I’m staying here in DC for Christmas, but mom and dad are coming up for New Year’s when they will see “The Jersey Boys” for the gazillionth time.  It’ll be my first time seeing the show though.

Well, that about wraps it up.  As I said, I don’t think I could’ve packed anymore into one year.  I hope your year has been just as jam packed with blessings and memories you’ll never forget.  I’m sending y’all warm thoughts, lots of hugs, and wishes for a spectacular year to come.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year,

Leann

P.S. Roll Tide Roll ~ 01/09/2012

Happy Trails to You, Mr. Jobs

When I was in elementary school, I played two computer games constantly: Lemonade Stand and Oregon Trail.  I couldn’t get enough of them, and I played them on one of these:

My parents were both educators: my mother a teacher, my father a principal.  Most days I’d have to stay later at school after the final bell because teachers don’t leave at the same time students do…or at least my parents didn’t.  So, I would sit in my mom’s classroom and play those computer games on a Macintosh computer until she was ready to go home.

Steve Jobs had the intelligence to create these personal computers and one of his target markets at the beginning was the classroom.  My father had the foresight to follow Steve Jobs early on and put Macintosh computers in every classroom in our school.  Since then, my father has only owned one computer that wasn’t an Apple product…and eventually I ended up with that IBM laptop.  In fact, I think I was the first person in my family to own a computer that was not an Apple product.

The phrase “think outside the box” is wholly overused, but allow me to use it here to describe Steve Jobs. Steve Jobs didn’t just think outside the box.  He WAS the outside of the box, and quite frankly he was out there all alone because no one could come close to his visionary audacity.  He was incredibly down to earth yet a little whackadoo, but that genuineness is what we loved about him. He changed the world in one of the most simple, yet important ways possible: he changed the way we communicate with each other. Communication is our world’s greatest asset, and Steve Jobs used his brilliance to harness its direction.

Today, Steve Jobs died at age 56.  He left behind a wife, four children, millions of dedicated customers, and some of the greatest inventions this world has ever seen.

Rest in Peace, Mr. Jobs.  Maybe some day we’ll meet somewhere along the Oregon Trail and catch up over some lemonade.

33

Dear 33-year-old little girl,

Today is your birthday. It’s hard to believe that 33 years have passed since this:

 

But after 33 years of what this world has thrown at you, this little girl is still plugging along:

Chasing dreams, believing in the good in people, thinking you can change the world.

Year 32 wasn’t an easy one, but as you’ve done with every other year of your life, you’ve survived any way you could…determined to have more good days than bad.  You have few complaints, really.  After all, your problems are stupid little 1st world problems, but you still live with one motto: no regrets.  Everything in life is a learning experience not to be taken for granted and only to be earned wisdom.  There is no way to change the past, but how you change your future because of your past is what matters.

Happy Birthday to that 33-year-old little girl who still believes in fairy tales and never giving up.

Love,

The 33-year-old little girl

Kirill Update

Ok, y’all, Kirill’s adoption story isn’t over, yet. The adoption decree was supposed to be ready no later than today (Tuesday), but it wasn’t, and now they’re not expecting it to be ready until Thursday or Friday. This wouldn’t be a problem if Greg and Tesney didn’t have an expiration date of 6/10 on their tourist visas. The US Embassy can expedite the paperwork to get them and Kirill out of the country once they have it, but they cannot extend their visas because they are tourist visas instead of business visas.

Please be in prayer that all these pieces fall into place.

God has already moved a mountain range. What’s a few more pebbles?!

Updates on Gregory Kirill Davis

I know a lot of you prayed for Tesney, Greg, and Kirill throughout this process to bring him home to his forever family.  So, I will try to keep you all updated as much as I can about the progress!

Yesterday, the Supreme Court overturned the judge’s original ruling effective immediately meaning the process to get the adoption approved is over, and now begins the process of getting all the paperwork necessary to actually take him home to Alabama! Roll Tide! (Sorry…had to do it.)  There are no words appropriate to thank you all enough for praying for my friends and being just as excited for them as I am.  God does amazing things, and sometimes He just wants us to ask. =) He has opened doors for these precious children, and I pray that the hearts of everyone involved will be changed forever because of the mountains God moved for Kirill.

Here are a few messages from Tesney:

“Honestly, I’m totally overwhelmed and humbled by the outpouring of love and support for our family and Kirill. I don’t know what to say. I can’t respond to every message right now, but I will do my best over the weeks and months ahead to respond. If you’ve tried to contact me about something important and I haven’t responded, try again. I’m reading them all, but my brain is so FULL and we’re so excited.”

“Found out we will likely be coming home on June 8th.”

“We will pick up Kirill as soon as we can get to Pskov, which will be after the court decree is ready here in Moscow. They have 5 days from the ruling so it has to be ready by Tuesday. We are praying the decree is ready tomorrow or Friday. If so, we can pick him up as soon as we get it to the regional court in Pskov on Monday morning. I’ll probably be waiting outside the doors for them to open. :)”

And this one from Twitter, which made me giggle: “Off to buy luggage and necessities for Kirill! Yay!”

Here are some celebration pictures post-Supreme Court ruling.  Enjoy the smiles!

Greg and Tesney with their lawyer, Alexander, after court, outside of the Supreme Court building in Moscow.

Greg and Tesney with their translator, Natasha, after court.

Greg's excited about Kirill coming home...so what else to do but a handstand in front of St. Basil's?!?

Leave the Pieces

The basement of my house is unofficially called “The Bama Room.”  Its walls are covered in paintings and posters and pictures of The University of Alabama and its various sports and campus landmarks. In a small 8×10 space on one wall is a framed quote with no clear indication that it is Alabama related, but when I read the quote, all I see has everything to do with Alabama.

“You never really leave a place you love. Part of it you take with you leaving a part of you behind.”

On Wednesday night as I was somewhere over the Midwest in an airplane returning from a short business trip to Chicago, an F-5 tornado ripped through the pieces of myself I left behind in Tuscaloosa, Alabama on a mild August day in 2001.  A tornado that measured nearly a mile wide cut a track of almost six miles through the center of town on one of the main roads.  The storm was so strong that debris was picked up in Tuscaloosa and deposited some 60 miles northeast in Birmingham and even as far north as Knoxville, TN. The destruction was so great that piles of rubble replaced some of my favorite places beyond the point of recognition. Pictures were posted, but even though I can drive Tuscaloosa in my sleep, I couldn’t for the life of me figure out where the picture was taken. You can see before and after pictures here and here. Entire housing and apartment complexes have been wiped off the face of the earth.  As of today the death toll in Tuscaloosa is 39, and while that may look like a small number when you consider how tremendous this storm was, to me, 39 is 39 too many.

I’ve heard of other college towns or towns where a major university is located. I’ve heard in most of those places that the locals don’t like the college students. Sort of a “get off my lawn you snot-nosed kids” kind of attitude. But not in Tuscaloosa. Tuscaloosa embraces the students and the students embrace the locals. Plenty of students go to college at Alabama and like me, move away to start their careers. But so many students stay in Tuscaloosa or nearby in Birmingham, Huntsville, Montgomery, and Mobile to begin their careers. It’s a place you never want to be very far from geographically or in your heart.  It’s where so many of us feel centered and at home. Though it sounds far-fetched, every day of my life for almost the last 10 years, I wake up and wish I were there. Thursday morning that feeling was stronger than it ever has been.

You see I can deal with the bricks and mortar being gone. Those things can be replaced.  It’s not the fact that the Krispy Kreme or the Milo’s or the Big Lots is gone. It’s that THAT Krispy Kreme and THAT Milo’s and THAT Big Lots is gone.  Those places where I created memories with my friends. The Krispy Kreme where we knew the schedule of when the HOT NOW sign would be lit. You haven’t lived until you’ve loaded up the car at 2 am during finals week to drive to the Krispy Kreme for a study break and snack, and as cliché as it may be, there always seemed to be a Tuscaloosa Police Department cruiser parked outside. I can’t for the life of me remember what restaurant was there before Milo’s, but I can remember when we found out we were getting one. Milo’s sells hamburgers…in Alabama…and their secret sauce is still a mystery to me but oh so delicious on the burgers and fries. And until Tuscaloosa got a Milo’s, the closest one was in Birmingham. The pieces of my heart and my memories now lie in the piles of rubble of these places.

Over the last few days, I have watched from many miles away as members of the Alabama Family have come together and stepped up to save Tuscaloosa. Every new story I hear brings tears to my eyes like Houston Texans and former Alabama football player DeMeco Ryans showing up this afternoon with a truck load of every kind of supply that has been requested or newly drafted former Alabama football player James Carpenter calling the athletic department the morning after he was selected in the 1st round not to talk about the draft but simply to ask “what can I do?” or men’s basketball head coach Anthony Grant climbing on the roof of a house that was gutted yet still standing to help empty the attic of the resident’s personal belongings or the baseball team canceling practice on Thursday so they could help the relief efforts.

But, the ones that make me cry the most are the outpouring of support: physically, monetarily, and supply donations from people who any other day of the year would have no reason to acknowledge Tuscaloosa. The Yankees organization gave $500k to the relief efforts. Penn State football set up a fund for their fans to donate to. A guy drove from Wyoming in his utility truck to help with the downed power lines.  Auburn University has even set up collection sites all over Auburn and is personally driving the donations of supplies to Tuscaloosa this weekend. And nearly every university in the Southeastern Conference as well as the other universities in the state of Alabama are lending a hand as well.

The University itself was spared any structural damage but lost electricity until late Friday. Now though, it can fill in as shelter locations and volunteer support and organization. In short, it can give back to the city that has given it so much over the years. Some of the greatest people God ever put on this earth live in Tuscaloosa, AL, and they’re hurting and fighting and stunned and they need our help. This is a comprehensive list of ways to help. And this is a list of the volunteer efforts and donation needs. And pray…prayers are always welcome. God is healing Tuscaloosa.

The city of Tuscaloosa became a place I call home almost 15 years ago. Wednesday night I slept in an Alabama sweatshirt just to feel some tiny bit of closeness to that home. It has given me so much over the years, and I hope and pray that in the days, weeks, months, and years to come I can give back at least a fraction of that because some how, some way, we will put the pieces of our collective hearts and lives back together, and Tuscaloosa will grow stronger because of this. Roll Tide, T-Town, Roll Tide!

Listen To Our Hearts

I have a friend named Tesney. I still remember the very second I met her. She is kind and smart and funny and desperately faithful to God. And she married a man who complements all of that. Two years ago they, along with their son Clayton, decided to adopt a child with Down Syndrome from Eastern Europe. In the last couple weeks, they have faced the Enemy at every turn and have stood firm and faithful with God. During an agonizing 5 hour court date in Russia, they were grilled, but still stood firm and presented what everyone believed to be an airtight adoption case. However, when the judge returned her verdict, she said she rejected their application to adopt sweet Kirill citing that he was “not socially adaptable” because of his Down Syndrome. There are not enough words in any language in the world to describe how angry those words make me, and I despise the fact that I live in a world where this kind of opinion still exists.  Yet, here we are. As Tesney and Greg submit an appeal to the Supreme Court in Russia, all of us are trying to spread Kirill’s story.  As the days have gone by, we have all become abundantly aware that this fight is not simply about Kirill but about every single one of the beautiful children in his orphanage who have Down Syndrome and have been deemed unworthy of a family and forced to continue living in institutions that cannot possibly provide the love and care these beautiful creations of God need. Below you will find Kirill’s story. For their complete adoption journey, please visit their blog here.  If you have successfully adopted an international child with special needs, please comment on their blog so that they can get in touch with you ASAP.  Please repost this blog entry or the link to their adoption story and spread the word. Finally, look at the pictures below the story of beautiful Kirill and tell me how anyone could call him “not socially adaptable.”

Kirill’s Story

Two years ago Greg and I began praying for God to do whatever he wanted with our lives. We handed him a “blank check” so to speak, and told him to cash it. He opened our eyes to children with disabilities wasting away across the ocean in Eastern Europe. We joined God and started our adoption journey.

Our family is more than equipped to handle a child with special needs. I have a degree in Early Childhood Education. I am a member of the Board of Directors of Best Buddies of Alabama. I have volunteered for RISE and Eagles’ Wings. All of these organizations serve individuals with special needs. My husband I have close friends and family who have special needs and we are a big part of each other’s lives. Our wedding party included some of these special people. Our involvement with individuals with special needs led us to adopt a child with special needs; specifically, we chose Down Syndrome.

As we prayed over the faces of thousands of orphaned children with Down Syndrome, we ultimately chose a little boy named Sergey from Russia. Eight months later, as we neared the finish line of our adoption, one of Sergey’s family members in Russia stepped forward to adopt him. We were heartbroken for our loss, but God showed us that we were following him, and his ways are perfect. We knew we still wanted to adopt, so the way we saw it, two children would find homes because of our journey…Sergey went to his family and now we would choose another child to come into our family. We took great comfort in knowing that God could see this when we first committed to Sergey! We were honored to be a part of his plan.

Shortly after losing Sergey, we received a new referral with a grainy photo of a four-year-old blond-haired boy wearing pink glasses named Kirill. We were instantly in love with him. We had to re-file a lot of our paperwork because of the change in referrals and regions of Russia, but we were fast and we thought we were looking at three more months at the most until we would have Kirill home.

That was well over a year ago.

Since then so many things have happened. A tragic story of an adoptive mother sending her child back to his country alone on a plane with a note pinned to his shirt rocked our world…he was from Russia. Adoptions in Russia came to a screeching halt. Kirill’s region stopped processing adoptions for eight long months. The judge refused to accept any Amercian adoption cases until an official treaty was signed between the United States and Russia.

Even though we wouldn’t be able to finalize the adoption in court until the treaty was signed, we were allowed to go visit Kirill and sign our official petition to adopt him in August 2010. We fell more deeply in love with him. This was our son.

During that time, we found out that Kirill is the first child from his region EVER to be adopted with Down Syndrome. A birth mother keeping her child with Down Syndrome is unheard of in this area of the world. Adoptions of children with Down Syndrome just don’t happen there, these children are literally hidden away from society in orphanages and mental institutions. As our process continued, it became apparent that Kirill would be a pioneer. If our adoption was approved, it would pave the way for other children with special needs to be adopted from this region.

Then, a miracle happened around Christmas and the judge in this region suddenly changed her mind and began processing American adoptions again. We were elated.  Could this be the light at the end of a very long tunnel? I was somewhat nervous about Kirill being the first child adopted with Down Syndrome from his region, but our agency was very confident that if we got a court date, our adoption would be approved. In seventeen years, they had never had a case rejected IF the family was issued a court date. We were told not to worry, so I didn’t. After meeting the judge’s requests for several supporting court documents, we were finally granted a court date-March 17, 2011. St. Patrick’s Day…I was thrilled. This would be our new favorite holiday! Our son was coming home!

Our other son, Clayton, who had just turned three when we started this adoption process, has prayed fervently for his brother. He is now almost five. When we told him Kirill was coming home, oh my…we had an excited big brother on our hands! At one point he even went to his room, dumped out his toy cars and divided them into two stacks…one for him and one for Kirill.

Last week, as we sat in the courtroom and suffered through five agonizing hours of difficult questioning, we were not prepared for anything but an approval of our case. Two doctors, two social workers, and the Minister of Children’s Services all made very strong statements on our behalf. They fought for us. Hard.

But when the ruling was read, the judge said, “Your application to adopt is rejected.” The basis given was that Kirill was “not socially adaptable” due to his “medical condition” and he was better off in an institution than in a home with a family. As the judge read her ruling, she stated several times that we were a good family, that we met all the criteria to adopt a child, but that she would not approve our adoption because Kirill has Down Syndrome and “he is not socially adaptable due to his medical condition, therefore his needs are best met in an orphanage.” She told us that we could adopt another child, because legally our application had no problems according to Russian adoption law. She said she would approve our adoption for a “typical” child, but not this child. Why? The only reason? Because he has Down Syndrome. Even though we were approved by our home study and by the USCIS to adopt a child with special needs. It makes no sense whatsoever. Denying a child a family because he has Down Syndrome is a violation of human rights at its most basic level!

It was like a terrible dream. We were so unprepared for this outcome. As we left the courthouse in a mental fog, the doctors and social workers that had testified came to us and said, “If you appeal, we will fight for you. Appeal. Fight this decision.” Of course we were going to appeal…I could no more walk away from our biological son, Clayton, at this point. Kirill is just as much my son.

So here we are, asking God to move the mountain that is standing between Kirill and us as we appeal to the Supreme Court in Moscow. There are also three other families who are in various stages of adopting children with Down Syndrome from Kirill’s region; one of the families has a court hearing set for next week.

We are hoping that someone will hear our outcry and help us bring our son and these other waiting children home. His adoption will set the precedent for many other children in his region. There are 98 children in his orphanage with special needs alone. It is one of many orphanages in this region that houses children with special needs. This is about more than just one child, the lives of hundreds of children with special need are at stake.  Please help us.