Stay This Way Forever-An Interview with Linsey Davis

Stay This Way Forever-An Interview with Linsey Davis

As parents or adults with young children in our lives it can often feel like our children’s childhoods are flying by and we want to capture moments and memories as we are experiencing them. We must find intentional balance in how to instill wisdom in the next generation while nurturing creativity and innocence that life can often be challenged as we grow older. UrbanFaith interviewed Linsey Davis, Emmy award winning journalist and children’s book author about her newest book Stay This Way Forever which captures moments of the joys and challenges of kids growing up. The full interview is linked above with excerpts below which have been edited for clarity.

Allen

Welcome to UrbanFaith. We are so glad to have Linsey Davis with us today. She is an amazing Emmy Award-winning news anchor, a mother, and a children’s book author. We are so glad to talk about her book Stay this Way Forever. We will talk about this book and how it’s impacting children, [as well as Linsey’s writing] process. We’re so glad to have you with us today, Linsey. So, my first question for you is, what inspired you to write a children’s book after all of the work that you’ve done in journalism and being successful there? What got you interested in writing a book like this?

 

Linsey

Well, Allen, like you, I have a seven-year-old. And after he was born, I was reading children’s books to him. And I started thinking, you know, I could do this. And ultimately, that could turned into a should because I started thinking about how intentional and deliberate I had to be to find books with characters who look like my son. A lot of times people think that writing children’s books is such a departure from the news industry. At my core, I really consider myself to be a storyteller. And so it’s really kind of more of the same, except that I get to really tell the good news and focus on positivity, letting my creative juices flow in this way, where[as], my day job is often doom and gloom. So, this is kind of a nice release. Additionally, I felt my son wanted to watch me on TV. [But] quite often with the news, I feel like the themes and the storylines are just too heavy for his young mind. [I want] to try to preserve his innocence as much as I can. And so the book was something that I could 100% share with him. He could really be a part of the process, and ultimately we could read the books together. I could kind of guide the inspiration and what was going into his mind–the things that I wanted to instill in him.

Allen

That makes so much sense. You know, as a father–I’ve got three daughters: seven, five months, and  an 11-year-old–and I really relate to the importance of trying to find ways to shape them in positive ways. One of the things you mentioned really sticks out. There’s a lot about creativity there. And then in the beginning of the book, you talked about imagination and trying to encourage that. What are some of the ways that imagination and creativity play a role in the work that you do, or even in writing this?

Linsey

I think being an effective storyteller is all about creative writing and using the language in the most expressive way. My son loves Legos. He likes to kind of create, so we’ll get him a [Lego] set that’s intended to be one thing, and he takes the head from that and the wings from this other thing and comes up with his own creation. And I love that–the idea of thinking outside of the box. Quite often as we become adults, we get kind of pigeon-holed into a certain way of thinking, where for kids, they just are starting from the ground up as far as whatever they can dream they can create and build. I have started being more intentional with my son, and he just got a journal. He had asked me what a diary is. And so I said, “Would you like to kind of write your thoughts down?” He said yes. I think that writing is such a key way for us to express ourselves–whether we’re young or old, or just hoping to remember and hold on to certain moments that we’re going to forget decades from now. We can go back and relive some of those moments and think about how we processed them at the time.

Allen

So that actually gives me a really great segue to another question. I felt like when I was reading this book, I was capturing feelings from raising my girls and from being a child myself, and you did such a good job capturing feelings and memories. Thank you. Were there any particular moments that came to mind for you, or can you talk about some of those memories or feelings that stuck out as you were writing this?

Linsey

So I have a journal, but I do a terrible job at actually keeping up with it and regularly doing entries. So I treated this book as every mom and dad’s thoughts with regard to childhood, and really kind of trying to press the pause button or freeze these moments before they all slip away.

And so yes, in particular, the pitter patter of my son’s feet in the morning before he jumps into bed with us, especially on the weekends. I thought so many times, I’m going to miss this one day when he no longer wants to jump in bed with mom and dad. And with so many of the aspects of childhood, you never know when it’s going to be the last time. When they’re going to cuddle up in your lap and fall asleep or reach for your hand. When you’re walking along, think sometimes they become, you know, too cool.  They’re ready to go off with their friends. But for right now, I’m really cherishing this time. And I think that so many parents will really be able to relate, and it’ll kind of resonate with them about this intimacy and this shared time.

Additionally, when my son was falling asleep, he’d want somebody to be in the room. I would keep my phone with me while the lights were out, and I would try and write down different ideas from the day that I just really wanted to keep with me. And one of those nights, he said, “You know what I’m going to do tomorrow?” And he was telling me about how he was gonna have certain ice cream, and he was gonna have this play date, and he said, “It’s gonna be the best day ever!” And I love that idea.

I really hope that no matter if he’s 30, or 50, or 70, the idea of tomorrow is still so pregnant with possibility and excitement for him. I think that when we stop being excited about the future, it’s a detriment for us. And so I’m hoping that so many of these things–his curiosity, his creativity, his excitement–these are the aspects of childhood that I think that he can take with him into adulthood. He doesn’t have to, you know, kind of put away [those with the] childish things. At some point, when he becomes a man, I hope that he’ll take those with him.

Allen

Absolutely. And one of the other things that you mentioned is everything that’s going on in the world. Now we’ve got kids who have just lived through a pandemic and all of this unrest, and there’s uncertainty. I hear my daughter asking, “Why is this happening? What are we supposed to do?” What are some ways that you can encourage your son or help other parents to encourage their kids as they’re seeing and hearing some of this stuff, whether it’s in class or elsewhere? How can we keep encouraging our kids?

Linsey

Well, if you look at studies, kids are so resilient, right? I think that in some ways, while this has been hard for every age range, I think that the kids are going to be the ones who really snap back, the fastest. And that gives me hope. And so in our household, we really try to be hopeful about the different phases of what we’re going through.

It was my son’s birthday at the end of March, right as everything started shutting down in New York. We were supposed to go to Disney for the first time. And then we’re thinking, well, things are going to be better in September. So we replan the trip, but things were not better at all.

It’s been about really focusing on the positives through it. So we’ve talked about how we’ve gotten to have breakfast and lunch together as a family for almost a year, and we were able to really have this quality time that otherwise, we wouldn’t have. Otherwise, my son would be at school, and then I go to work at a later shift. So we really would only see each other on weekends. This has given us this renewed family time. And I think that there are ways in the midst of the toughest of times to find something that kind of sparkles a little bit in the midst of it. We’ve really tried to hold on to that and be intentional about counting our blessings. Because we know that there are people who do have those empty chairs at their tables. We’ve talked to our son about that–both the good and the bad–and what we have to still be so thankful for. The journal that we just got my son is a gratitude journal. Again, a very intentional way to try to focus on the positives.

Allen

Yeah, those daily devotions can be huge. That’s something I’m leaning into. And we’re trying to be more aware of something that else you talked about in the beginning–the lack of images and that need for your son to see characters that look like him. Why is it important for us to have books that speak to children in their context, especially as African Americans? Why, are books like yours important?

Linsey

Sure. You know, there was an essay that I read years ago called Windows, Mirrors, and Sliding Glass Doors. And the point was that for every children’s book to really be effective, it needs to have a mirror so the child can see themselves reflected in the pages. It needs to have a window also so a child can peer into a world that’s perhaps unfamiliar to their own. And if that window is really transformative, it can serve as a way to transport them into that world that may be unfamiliar.

So initially, I was writing this thinking I needed to have black and brown characters for my son so he sees himself. I was really only thinking about the mirror of it. But then as I started kind of having this shift where I was seeing justice as just as important. The book needs to have the windows because of this climate that we continue to be in, even in the midst of the so-called racial reckoning. And there’s been so much talk about how we’re different.

And people often say that kids don’t see color, but I totally disagree with that. Kids do see color–they just don’t assign a value to it. It’s adults who do. It’s learned behavior that the children get from their parents and their environment, people they’re around. And so I think that it’s just as important that I provide those windows.

In many scenarios, parents really need to examine their own bookshelves and see how diverse their book collection is. If you live in an area that doesn’t have a lot of diversity, or if your school or place of worship is not diverse, I always recommend to parents that they start with their toys and their books. That’s an easy way that you can expose your children to a child who doesn’t necessarily look like them.

Quite often we fear what we don’t know. The more that you have a sense of, “Oh, yes, I’ve seen people who are that color before,” or “I’ve seen people who have that belief before that religion,” or whatever it is.  My son goes to school or camp or something, when he comes home and has met a new friend, he tells me immediately what they have in common. “They like Legos, just like I do. They like Star Wars, just like I do. We ate popsicles together.” Adults will often think of how we’re different from each other, but kids just are looking at how we’re alike.

That’s why I wrote my second book, celebrating how we are more alike than different. I felt like, let’s just confront it. Yes, our hair is different, our skin is different, our features are different, our beliefs are different. But in the end, God gave us one big heart, that’s the most important part, because that’s where love starts. I think that’s kind of a continuation through all three of my books. It’s very deliberate that on at least one or two of the spreads in each of my books, there’s a group setting. So they’re going to be at a school, in a classroom, or an airport or a block party–we have a lot of different people. So anybody who’s looking at the pages of these books or reading them will see somebody who they can identify with who looks like them, or a family member or relative.

When people talk about diversity and inclusion, I think that they’re not necessarily looking at the big picture, unless you’re including everybody, right? It’s not just about bringing only black and brown people to the table. It’s about bringing Native Americans and Asians. But when I was looking [at this data] seven years ago, more than 90% of the children protagonists in children’s books were white. And meanwhile, if you look at the U.S. Census Bureau, half of the kids in this country are kids of color. Additionally,  a 2018 from the University of Wisconsin found that 27% of children’s books have animals as the central character. And so that means that children are more likely to see an animal than children of color in their books. So that’s really a problem. And so rather than complain about it, I figured I’d just be part of the solution and start creating some books that have black and brown characters.

Allen

It’s great. So let’s pivot to the message that you wanted to communicate to children reading this book. My daughter has just started reading in the past couple of years. She’s trying to grasp some of these words, but she looked at your book and she knew what it said. She said, “Stay this way forever.” she could read that out loud, and that stuck out to her right away. What are some of the messages that you want to pass on to kids who are reading this? Maybe new readers or even those who are hearing their parents read?

Linsey

You know, I think that that’s where it’ll be really profound. Hearing your parents or grandparents reading these words, knowing that you’re loved and cherished. I think that there’s something really special and meaningful when somebody tells you, “I love that the way you smile,” or the way you throw your head back when you laugh–not [just that] you love them, but the examples of the ways in which you love and the qualities that you love in a very unconditional way. We go through the book with the very specific aspects of children that again, I think that everybody is going to relate to. Like the belly laughs or the tickle fights or whatever it is that you do in your home, chances are a lot of families are doing the same thing–just going through these different stages of childhood. Mainly, I hope that the children who are reading this or being read to just feel cherished and adored by their loved ones.

Allen

You have a line in there that really touched me. You said [may] your heart would stay open wide, so that love can rush in. Can you talk a little bit about what that may mean? And how we can stay open?

Linsey

Sure. Well, I think that it’s anyone I don’t even think it’s just having a black son. But I do worry about how when he gets older, he could become guarded based on the world’s perceptions of him just because of his skin color. I really don’t want that for him. I really don’t want to have the albatross around his neck and that waiting  list that can come along with that. And, and so I’m really hoping that he’ll still love so freely and that he won’t feel that he’s been boxed in.

But I think that any parent can relate to that, whether it’s bullies or whatever we could be ostracized about in our community in a way that we feel that, you know, we don’t measure up or people kind of keep us distant or that we’re not going to be they’re not going to be friends with us for whatever reason, it could be kids have unfortunately so many reasons that they end up kind of guarded and boxing themselves off from the hurt or the pain. And, and so I really am just hoping for as long as he can, that he can really preserve and children in general can can hold on to that idea of just loving it’s kind of like, you know, when people talk about, you know, dancing, like no one’s watching and that kind of thing. Just you know that that freedom that unbridled, just, you know, excitement and wide eye, you know, love of life and joy. That is what I’m really you know, talking about in that in that line, that sense of just loving and being loved and giving it in exchange. He very easily very, in a very fluid way.

Allen

So, my last question. I really appreciated being able to read this. I honestly started to tear up when I got to the end. It’s a beautiful book, and I’m so glad that you wrote it and that I’m able to share it with my daughters. What’s something that you want to leave parents with as we think about how to help our children maintain these qualities of openness to life and love?

Linsey

First of all, just spend quality time with our children. And even in the midst of this turbulent past year, I have tried to be really intentional about going out on dates with my son. Just taking him to lunch and really trying to put the phone down during that time–talking to him about what he’s thinking and what he’s feeling. And I think that whatever it is that we can do, if it’s that reading time, right before bedtime, prayer time, or the mealtime–whatever it is, the time that we’re able to kind of set aside. I think in the same way that kids are resilient, they’re going to remember even though you’re busy, you’re going off to work or you’ve got a hectic schedule on Zoom calls all day, I think that they will be very forgiving if they know that. But at the end of the night, you were there to tuck them in at the end of the day, you were there, at dinner time, and you kind of talked through their day or whatever it is. I would like to think that, but maybe I’m being too optimistic. When I think about my own childhood, I think you’re willing to let a lot of things ride if you felt fulfilled at the end of the day. I think many parents would be surprised about how a little bit can go a long way in the heart and eyes of a child.

Allen

Fantastic. Well, thank you so much for this again. I’m just touched to have Stay This Way Forever and share it with my daughters. My five-month-old loved the pictures. She tried to eat it, but couldn’t. But it’s just a joy. And I thank you so much, Linsey, for sharing with us today and just look forward to continuing these conversations with our children and our audience.

Big, Bold, & Beautiful: An Interview with Kierra Sheard-Kelly

Big, Bold, & Beautiful: An Interview with Kierra Sheard-Kelly

UrbanFaith Editor, Allen Reynolds, sat down with Gospel artist, entrepreneur, and new author Kierra Sheard-Kelly to talk about her new book Big, Bold, & Beautiful: Owning the Woman God Made You to BeThe book shares Kierra’s experience, wisdom, prayers, and insights in conversation with her faith as she has journeyed from being a young woman to adulthood. Her book is available everywhere books are sold and can be found here. The full video interview is above and excerpts are printed below which have been edited for clarity.

 

Allen

Good morning, everyone. Again, this is another awesome opportunity for UrbanFaith. We are excited to have with us today an absolute gem in Christian life, gospel music, and just our space. It’s an honor to have Mrs. Kierra Sheard-Kelly with us. We’ll be able to talk to her about her new book called Big, Bold, and Beautiful: Owning the Woman God Made You to Be. It’s an exciting opportunity for us.

So I know that you just have so many things that you’re doing. I mean, what a year for you. To be an artist, an actress, and you have gotten married–you just have so much going on in your life. What made you decide to take these thoughts and share them in a book, as opposed to sharing your message some other way?

Kierra

Yeah, well, first, thank you, Allen, for that warm introduction and the warm welcome. Why did I want to put it in a book? Actually, I’ll say this: it was unintentional. The book was unintentional. This was really a God thing. For me, I was only journaling as a form of therapy, just my way of life. That was my way of seeking the Lord: diving into Scripture, studying Scripture, and learning the depths of what I was reading. And it came out this way.

I find myself just kind of getting answers when I write down things. Sometimes you have a whole bunch of things going through your mind. And so I’ve just trained myself to not miss those moments. Because we believe the God we serve is a Spirit. So sometimes He’ll communicate from within. So that’s literally what I did. And I said, I want to share this with the world. HarperCollins Zondervan gave me the opportunity. And it was an opportunity that was in an email account that I hadn’t been checking. And something told me to check this email–it had to be the Lord. And so now they’ve given me this opportunity to share my story and my therapeutic process that just so happens to have some answers. All along, God had been writing a book through me, and I didn’t know it. So that’s really how it came about. And then I was just able to show [my life from] being single to dating to becoming a wife. We will see if there’s another book that I got to share with y’all.

 

Allen

Wow, for you to be able to take what God was downloading over time and turn it into the book is phenomenal. So you just brought up that journey that you took from dating to singleness to being a married person. And of course, there are a whole lot of young women thinking and wrestling with that, so what would you say helped you prepare to become a married person? Now, on the other side of that journey, which of those lessons was really key?

Kierra

That’s such a great question. It was learning to just be me, learning how to live with just myself. When you’re able to live with yourself, then that means that you’re compatible. But when you have a problem with yourself all of the time, and it’s always something to do or something to fix, you can’t be still. That is what I had to learn about myself. And [if that’s you], you’re gonna make it hard for anybody to live with you. It was also the conversations with my mother and my grandmother. I spoke about them in the first chapter.

I think, just taking trips on my own, not waiting on anyone–of course, being safe–but not waiting on a man or putting all of it on a man if he’s there or not. And that’s not me being a man basher or anything like that. But it is me just saying that I had to learn to become secure with myself and with the Lord.

God will mold you into this proverbial woman so you’re able to build your home, you’re able to be a companion, you’re able to know when to stop talking. Like this morning, I wanted to respond a few times with something to say to my husband, but I just let him have the last say. I’ve learned to submit or to hold your tongue. It doesn’t make you weak–it actually makes you very strong. It’s almost like strength behind the veil.

So those are some things that I had to learn while I was in my single space. But also, establishing the things that God has called me to do is the long, long answer, and I could go on and on about the preparation that got me to this point. But I can say in a nutshell, it was me just being and trusting God in that process. And then I developed into this woman who could be a wife.

But enjoy. I enjoyed my days, and I had a good time. You know what I’m saying? I even played the game. My Nana told me “Baby, you can date.” Even my dad said, “Don’t put down makeup.” That’s one thing. And I said it in the book. Don’t make a boyfriend a husband if it’s temporary. Don’t try and make a lifetime thing out of that if he’s not in agreement with you. And that was a mistake that I was making, which caused a lot of heartache and heartbreak. So those are some things that I did to prepare.

 

Allen

Well, the presence of [mentors] in our lives makes such a difference. And that’s such a theme that you came back to in your book, talking about how to choose the people around you wisely. And I just kept hearing boundaries. What is one of those key ways that you can distinguish or discern how to draw that boundary?

Kierra

I had to learn that at a young age, because I couldn’t do what a lot of my friends wanted to do. And I’m sure a lot of us can relate to this–especially as believers–when we’re growing from high school to college, college to grad school, or just college and out. There are some sifting seasons that we go through naturally in every season. And I like to acknowledge the fall season because the leaves have to fall for the new to come. But after fall, there’s a cold season. So I’d like to highlight the fact that it’s not always the summer of everyone’s life. I mean, I know there’s Cali and I know that there is Florida, but you have earthquakes and tornadoes and hurricanes there. So there are some challenges that we have to go through.

But to answer your question directly, I think the way is to acknowledge that boundaries is a part of our reality, both naturally and spiritually. And when you see those signs, don’t ignore the red flags. I’ve had a tendency to ignore the red flags because I wanted to be a loyalist, but there’s a way to be loyal and to learn to compartmentalize relationships. And that’s what I’ve had to learn to do. Because if I can’t exist with people, then I won’t know how to exist in heaven, because I’m not the only one who’s going to heaven.

So that’s how I see it: how can I love people, but re-adjust and say: okay, you know what? This relationship has depth to it, but that relationship is one where we can go to lunch and just laugh, but we don’t need to go no deeper than that. And if there is a moment, I go by God’s leading when He’s authorizing me to go a little deeper.

So  I think designing is just having that on, and not ignoring what you feel. There was a chapter that I was going to write in the book, and it was called “The Vibes You Feel,” but we took it out. I don’t know if that’s a book that the Lord is having me to wait on. But we call them vibes. Now in the church, they call them a spirit. And in the street, they call it something else. So I think it really is, when you feel something, understand that it’s the Holy Spirit helping you to navigate through life. He’ll be a GPS for you. And if that is a roadblock, then acknowledge that. I hope that answers your question.

 

Allen

Absolutely. I think that answered a lot of things, and it brought up another good question for me. I know you’re getting your master’s degree in clinical psychology, which is just amazing that you’re doing that kind of work. What are some of the ways, and why is it important for us to maintain good mental health? Whether we’re successful or whether we’re at our low points–a lot of people think it’s only in low times that we need to be concerned. But really, you’ve made it a holistic thing in this book. So why is it important to you to maintain good mental health?

Kierra

It’s so important because first the Bible mentions it. Whenever the Word mentions something, I’m like, “Alright God.” I take it [because] it’s almost like He’s speaking to me. And there’s a Scripture that we often highlight the latter part of the clause, where it says the prayers of the righteous availeth much, but before that, it says, confess your faults one to another, that you may receive healing. Then it says, the prayers of the righteous availeth much.

When I broke down that Scripture, it was letting me know that confession is a form of therapy. You’re confessing your issues, you’re confessing your challenges, the things that may lodge in your mind–confess those things. And then it says, as you confess them, you’ll receive healing. So sometimes talking about these things and really dealing with them with a valid person, if I can say it that way, because it says the prayers of the righteous. So I like to use that as identifying a therapist, because the Bible also authorizes physicians–people who have studied the science. So, seek professional help. But maybe you’re seeking professional help from someone who has a faith-based background.  They will tell you that you need to pray about this, or that’s a spirit you’re struggling with versus a mental disorder you’re struggling with. But I think it’s so important, because the Bible also talks about the emotions that have an effect on our body like jealousy.

So the Lord lets us know that these emotions that have to do with our mental housing can eventually wear and tear on our bodies. And it can overflow into our lives with how we treat people. When we’re tired, some of us get antsy, and we get snappy. We’ll say things with our tongue, because the Bible talks about how the tongue can be like a fire that just hits a tree and it sets a forest on fire. I think it all goes back to mental health.

And then I think, if the Lord speaks to us, and He’s an invisible being, and if your mind is always clouded, and you’re not there mentally, then your judgment and your discernment can be clouded. So that’s why mental health is everything to me, because the enemy will use that against us. And [the enemy] can just weigh us down and keep throwing stuff at us to where we’ll become more anxious. The Bible talks about being anxious for nothing. So if the Word is speaking about it, then I think it’s something that we should pay attention to. And that’s why it drives me. I also have family members who have wrestled or struggled with mental health. So that’s [another reason] why I’m an advocate of mental health. I could go on and on and on.

Allen

Yeah, and I love how you connect your faith in the Scriptures to that, because so many people don’t get to hear that we read the Bible, and we may not see it, or we may not hear it spoken about enough. But it’s living in you, and you talked about that so much in this book. And so one of the things that I really like about the book is that in each chapter, you had those Scriptures and those prayers. Why did you decide to do that?

Kierra

In the dedication, I said something like, I hope that this book blesses other people [like] the book Nana gave me did for me. And that book was Rick Warren’s Purpose Driven Life, which she gave me when I was 18 or 19. I read it at least two or three times, and it just changed my life. It transformed my way of hearing, listening, living. And [because of it] when I went to Bible study, I was more attentive to what my father was teaching. So me seeing what that book did for me [inspired me]. And it has Scriptures in there. I don’t remember if it has prayers in there, but I was happy to dive in deeper into God’s word and really elevate in my relationship with the Lord.

So that’s why I wanted to put those in here. Because we think that, as you mentioned, we think there’s a disconnect when it comes to the faith way of living [versus the practical way of living]. And it ties in together, So that’s why I wanted to give Scriptures, because sometimes we don’t know where to start. We don’t know how to tie these Scriptures to our everyday life. And I wanted to give basically a dose of what my father, Bishop J. Drew Sheard, gives me in a week–and I wanted to give a dose of what I got from Pastor Rick Warren. And then I wanted to give a dose of the home girl approach that I get from my mother, my Nana, and my home girls. So that’s why I wanted to give that, because I felt like it was more digestible.

 

Allen

Yeah. And I think that one of the impacts that it has, as I was reading through, is that it helped us to ground ourselves–not only in who God is–but to see your groundedness. You’re not just up somewhere in a tower sitting there reading your Bible, but you’re living this thing–you’re living out God’s word. And so I want to know, what’s one of the most important memories that you have as you navigated? What are your favorite memories that you have from this book, or that you shared? Something that you had to overcome, or something that really struck you?

Kierra

I think one of the challenges that I had to navigate–and I spoke about it, I don’t remember what chapter it was – was being young in the recording industry. They only wanted to take pictures from the waist up. And I was like, you know, I want to show who I am. There’s no such thing as me being a big girl and still being fly. And I was younger, but I was also bigger. I think even talking about the experiences with former relationships, where the first thing that they could do was call me a “fat B” or just go like ham with names and words.

The Lord just assured me and had me to see if that’s all you have on me–my  look– then I have a reason to celebrate myself. You have nothing to say about my character. And we forget to celebrate those beautiful parts of ourselves, because the world is so locked in and zoned in on what you look like externally. But how do you look internally?

I think that even goes back to the mental health piece. There’s a peace that I have about myself now that no man can move or shake. And that’s not just speaking to men, but that’s man as in humanity in general. I used to be ready to go off, and now I’m just ready to move differently. Like, my father taught me something. He said, Kierra, if people can get you to step outside of yourself, and to step out of what you really want to give in that moment, then they have control of you. And I was like, oh, then that means I don’t have control of myself. So those are some things that I had to get over. Whether people say you are beautiful or not, how will you live your life?

And then me learning to speak up for myself. Like, when they would say, oh, you’re going to just get pictures from the waist up, I had to eventually say, No. I want a full body shot. This is who I am. And it was a challenge. But out of that challenge came peace, security and audacity. And I think that that is so important for us to have, especially because the enemy will use any and everything against you. And if you’re operating with a spirit of timidity, he’ll walk all over you. You’ll just be somewhere stuck in the dark and that’s it. But I made it up in my mind, like, no, yeah, I’m not gonna do that to me, period. That’s it. So that’s the challenge that I had to get over.

 

Allen

Absolutely. And you know, we’re talking so much to young people and young women, especially, [as well as] young men. I as a man was just impacted. I have three daughters, and I’m just thinking about the lessons that they can learn from this book and from your work. And I want to know, what is a message, what’s a takeaway that you would want to pass down for those younger generations and even the young girls?

Kierra

Man, it is to stand up for yourself, but remain a student [of] who you can trust  and know that the village is not just for the child, the villages for you, too. So don’t get so grown for your own good to the point where you can’t listen to anyone. In the Bible it says that there is safety in the multitude of counselors. I think I flipped it, but you get what I’m saying. And I think it is so important that we bask in that part. The Lord speaks through people, and the enemy uses people also. So I would tell them to not be too grown for their own good, because even the Word says that in order to enter into the kingdom, you have to take on the disposition in the heart of a child. [A child’s heart is] innocent, but if I know it all, “can’t nobody tell you nothing.” They can’t even tell you the truth about yourself, because you’re just always on the defense. So that’s what I would tell a young woman.

And I would tell her, “You’re beautiful, and a relationship does not validate that.” A relationship does not give you your identity. You go with your identity to that relationship, and you empower it. You make it into what you want it to be. But I would also encourage young women [by saying] that whoever you connect with is almost a preview of your life. You know, your conversations are almost a preview of your life. So don’t waste so much time. But listen. There are some things that I wish I had listened to that my parents told me as I look [back on] it now. And it’s like golly, I could have saved so much time and so much money. So those are some things that I would tell young women.

 

Allen

Wow. So, this is your opportunity. Is there anything else you want to leave with our audience, Christian young adults all over the country and across the world? Is there any last thought that you want to share from this book or your work? We want to hear from you.

Kierra

Yeah, I would like to say, as young believers, we kind of feel like outcasts. But remember that we’re living for life after this one. And I know, it can be hard. I know it can be a challenge, especially if we’re single. And [if] we’re, you know, dating and if he’s fine, if she’s beautiful, I’m sure we can get [tempted], I understand. But I want to encourage you that there’s more to life than just that moment. And remember, our goal is to make the Lord smile. So do what you need to do to uphold your standard, to say no. Not just in those sensual moments, but even saying no for your sanity. Like, I’m not even gonna deal with this. I can’t deal with it. You can’t afford to deal with it.

So I’ll stop there. But really download what heaven is saying to do with your life, because tomorrow isn’t promised. And I think when we get that understanding that the carnal man doesn’t understand what the spiritual man understands. I think there’s more to life than bliss, if you understand what I’m saying. So hopefully, that is something.

A Chance In The World-Interview with Steve Pemberton

A Chance In The World-Interview with Steve Pemberton

This month is National Foster Care Awareness Month, an opportunity for people across the nation to learn about and speak about the challenges and opportunities of the foster care system in the United States. In honor of this month we are glad to share this interview with Steve Pemberton. Steve Pemberton is a man with an incredible story of resilience, determination and vision. After spending years as an executive, philanthropist, and speaker he decided to tell his story in his new USA Today Best Selling Memoir: A Chance In The World. Our UrbanFaith Contributing Writer Maina Mwaura had the opportunity to sit down with Steve and discuss the book and how his faith was at the center of his incredible journey from Foster Care to Fortune 500 companies and philanthropy.

https://www.stevepemberton.io/

 

All Along You Were Blooming: Thoughts for Boundless Living

All Along You Were Blooming: Thoughts for Boundless Living

Video Courtesy of Hour of Power with Bobby Schuller


Morgan Harper Nichols describes herself as a quiet and passionate introvert longing for self-expression in a noisy world. In her book, “All Along You Were Blooming: Thoughts For Boundless Living,” Nichols not only expresses herself beautifully in both word and visual art, she holds a microphone to every person familiar with the sting of suffering and offers a poetic balm.

“All Along You Were Blooming” was originally the fruit of one of Nichols’ Instagram campaigns where she invites her 1.4 million followers to share their stories and, in turn, she responds to those stories with encouraging messages. This book is a collection of poetic encouragements and affirmations—each piece designed as an ode to those who were vulnerable enough to share their stories and their journeys to growth.

Nichols’ book appeals to both the soul and the eye. Sprinkled throughout “All Along You Were Blooming” are Instagram-worthy doodles and soft watercolor-esque visuals, giving the work both a therapeutic and aesthetically pleasing angle.

Nichols’ book not only acknowledges the reader’s wounds, traumas and hurts, but offers a constant, unrelenting, yet gentle push towards the Light. “All Along You Were Blooming” is neither a self-help book nor a polished 12-point plan on how to heal from hurt. It is the book you read if you seek encouragement, inspiration and the audacity to hope in the midst of your mess. These are the human-inspired pages you thumb through when your back is against the wall and you feel alone in your suffering. This book offers a breath of fresh air, the warmth of Light and a necessary bear hug for the soul.

To someone desiring a breakthrough but needs a nudge to step out in faith, Nichols encourages you to say: “I will go forth, with all I have now: a breath, a dozen steps, and a pocket full of fears, but no matter what tries to pull me back, I will find the strength to be here” (Page 3).

To someone actively fighting to make it through each day, she encourages you to repeat:Even if my eyes are heavy, I will push forward with audacity, and I will rise with strength at dawn” (Page 51).

To someone eager to see the light at the end of the tunnel, Nichols proclaims: “May you know this to be true: no matter how dark the night, in the morning, Light pours through, filling every corner of the room” (Page 5).

Each line of Nichols’ work leaps out of the page with hope and welcomed, non-judgmental encouragement. The affirmations contained throughout the work are simple yet profound universal mantras for the hope-seeker. The book is a triumphant victory march for the long suffering, full of warmth and light.

Interestingly, while Nichols’ work and the basis of her encouragements appears to stem from her Christian faith, “All Along You Were Blooming” does not hold itself out as either an explicitly Christian work nor a theological examination of trauma and hope. In fact, the word “God” is only mentioned once in the entire work. Instead, Nichols may be taking a more nuanced approach to expressing her Faith through this work. Throughout the book, references to “the Light” and “Hope” are capitalized, as is typical when referring to God as the object in question. This subtlety is, perhaps, one avenue Nichols has found to be most inclusive—particularly where matters of suffering, trauma, hurt, pain and overcoming are universal experiences. Nichols does not claim to offer answers—theological or not. Through “All Along You Were Blooming”, Nichols offers a sounding board for the soul—a moment in time to feel heard and understood, regardless of where you stand religiously.

Nichols’ book can be summed up in this quote, where she hopes this for the reader: “I hope someday you know the taste of early morning mountain air, and the saltwater waves of the ocean, and the unexpected bliss of some strange sweet-bitter fruit. But I hope you also know the taste of hope on an ordinary Tuesday, when you do not feel okay, and you rise up anyway” (Page 53).

“All Along You Were Blooming” reminds us that, somedays, having and holding onto hope can be a small act of rebellion. Nichols encourages readers to strive for that hope. To go joy-hunting. And to live a life that blooms, regardless.

 

 

Bible Trivia Made Easy

Bible Trivia Made Easy


Where did Elijah go when he fled from Jezebel?

How many songs did King Solomon write?

Who was the first person in the Bible to bake a cake?

Answers on the tip of your tongue? Not so sure? Want to phone a friend? Every Tuesday, Meta Washington, Midday Host of Kirk Franklin’s Praise, SiriusXM Channel 64, keeps people on their top Bible game with trivia on her radio show. The popularity of the “Tuesday Trivia,” sprinkled in-between Gospel songs throughout the day on air, also inspired her to write “Bible Trivia Made Easy,” a themed book of bible questions with illustrations, photos.

Bible Trivia Made Easy

Bible Trivia Made Easy by Meta Washington

“I knew it was a big thing when one time we had a famous artist who I would say was on and interviewing and a real big to do. And his interview was somehow placed over the time when I usually start asking the questions, and somebody said, ‘Is there going to be trivia today?’ And I thought, ‘Wow…alrighty,'” said Washington, who lives in Brooklyn, NY.

Washington says it started with just a few people responding but has grown so popular that she now has “Bible Scholars,” a mix of new people to the Word, along with ministers and Bishops. They interact with each other on her social media channels, cheering each other on.

“It’s a huge, big thing that people are doing,” said Washington. “People were saying, ‘Wow, I was so blessed because I didn’t understand much of the Word before.’ I let the people have some fun, take the tension out of it. I tell them, ‘Hey, don’t beat yourself up if you didn’t get it right. Consider the blessing. If you learn something new from the Word of God.”

Here’s how it works on her radio show. She’ll throw out a question, people will email her their answers, and she’ll call out the names on the air of those who got the answers right. Although her radio show listeners inspired the idea behind creating the Trivia book, she was also motivated by her personal experience in church Bible Study. Washington, a Brooklyn native whose family is from Barbados and Jamaica, grew up Episcopalian, but she moved to the Baptist church as an adult. An eager learner, she was dismayed to see how people were interested in hearing the pastor or Bible study teacher speak but were intimidated when asked to answer questions.

“They were worried that one of their church peers might realize or think, ‘They don’t really know. They’re not as close to God as I am because they don’t know as much about the Bible.’ So the pastor would ask questions, and people would sit there in dead silence. And I’m like, ‘Well, don’t you want to ask? Don’t you want to know?’ They were just afraid,” said Washington.

With that in mind, you might think the idea of being hit with a Bible trivia book could be equally as intimidating. But Washington’s book is a fun, and as its name states, easy read. The 300 questions came from six years of trivia on air. Washington says she attached a fun theme to each question, such as “Compose Yourself,” which appears right before the question about the number of songs King Solomon wrote,” to help people learn by association. And unlike many other trivia books, her book is organized by sections and topics and not skill level, such as beginner, intermediate, or expert. 

“The Bible isn’t written like that, and I don’t do it like that on the air. You learn it as you receive it. And I think to try to dumb it down for people doesn’t help them. While you’re participating, you are learning, and you’ll be surprised, you know the more complex parts of the Bible as well as the parts that are, yeah, they’re easy.”

Washington also has a book in development called “On the Third Day,” which includes pictures of nature she’s taken over the years that appear to tell scripture stories.

“Generally, we talk about ‘on the third day’ Jesus rose, but on the third day, God created trees and plants, and all of what we know is nature. And I said, ‘It has its own story to tell.’ And in this book, I am allowing nature to tell its story in its way,” said Washington. “I have an image of a type of plant that looks like flames. It looks like little fur, and I have a patch that’s all red, and it looks like flames. I had the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. They are in the fiery furnace. I had the scripture there, you have the picture, and you can see the imagery.”

Even with the newly themed picture book on the horizon, Washington’s still focused on trivia, too. She self-published Bible Trivia Made Easy in September 2020 on Amazon.com, and there is a new edition on the way. Yet even with her good intentions of just wanting to help people, there have been a few naysayers. One listener accused her of making fun of the Word of God, telling her to just stick to the music. 

“I don’t want the listeners ever to think that I am making trivial of the Word of God when I say trivia. Bible trivia is meant to help people. It’s one thing to memorize Psalm 23 and be able just to regurgitate it back. But when you learn something new after you have been studying the Word for more than ten years, that’s the real knowledge and the nugget there.”

Trivia Question Answers:

Elijah traveled forty days and forty nights until he reached Horeb, the mountain of God (1 Kings 19:3-8)

King Solomon wrote 1,005 songs (1 Kings 4:29-34)

Sarah was the first person to bake a cake in the Bible. (Genesis 18:6)

Dare to Bloom

Dare to Bloom

Zim Flores has had her share of compelling new beginnings.

She grew up in a single-parent household with a strong Nigerian mom, Uchenna, who initially came to the United States for an arranged marriage but ultimately fled with her two kids in tow to escape an abusive husband. Zim and her brother, Chebem, were toddlers at the time. The trio moved around a lot but after some time landed back in Minnesota, the same state where they had originally fled. When Zim was nine, her mom, who is a nurse, moved the family to North Carolina because she got a job at Duke University.

Given such humble beginnings, it’s more than admirable how Zim, now thirty-two, has gone on to accomplish more in her twenties and early thirties than some people have in a lifetime. And some of her experiences are so unique, from cloning a gene at age nineteen and becoming the youngest Precinct Judge in North Carolina to living a year in India as a Henry Luce Scholar and becoming fluent in Hindi, she’s someone who isn’t afraid to step out on faith boldly. An entrepreneur at heart, she launched Travel Noire in 2013, a Boutique Travel company so successful that it landed her on Forbes’ 30 under 30 list in 2016. Also, Travel Noire was named one of the Most Innovative Companies in the World by Fast Company. Glamour magazine tapped her as one of “25 Young Women Changing the World.” Oprah selected her for the SuperSoul 100. But what surprised many is when she gave it all up and sold the company to Blavity. She wanted a new direction — to follow Christ.

Dare to Bloom

Dare to Bloom, by Zim Flores

Zim grew up in the church, and many of her fondest memories as a child were the friendships and fellowship she had in her COGIC church community in Minnesota and later in North Carolina as a Baptist. But she was seeking more—a new beginning. After selling her business, the pain of starting anew led to an identity crisis and working through that is what spurred her to write Dare to Bloom. Zim, who is now married, lives in Chicago and has started a new FashTech company called Italicist, which uses computer vision technology to help women discover modest clothing. I talked to Zim about her faith and the struggles she went through, what it’s like to start all over when your identity is tied to a particular way of life, and the impact she hopes her new book will have on readers.

SN: What has your spiritual journey been like?

Zim Flores: One of the things that I remember most about growing up was my mom’s dedication to the church. Most of my fond memories of growing up in Minnesota were spending time in the church. I grew up COGIC (Church of God in Christ), and so every few days, we were either at the church or our pastor’s house. And I have so many amazing memories from that time.

When I moved to North Carolina, I was nine years old. My mom got a job at Duke University as a nurse, and we started going to a Baptist church. It was a change from the Midwest in a Minnesota, COGIC church. We were listening to contemporary Christian music, Amy Grant. And then we’d go down to the Baptist church, and it was a little bit different. That was a lot for me to get used to, but it colored my spiritual journey as well. I joined the choir, and I was at a Baptist church throughout college.

Moving to India, it was really hard for me to find a church, so I just streamed my online services and strengthened my relationship with God. I wasn’t tied to any community after moving back to the States, but I very much kind of held my relationship with God pretty close. Around 2012, I was floating around. I had drifted away from my relationship with God. I had started Travel Noire. There were remnants there, but it wasn’t as strong as when I was living in India.

I remember moving to Chicago. I didn’t know anybody. I knew one person. And I remember it was a season where I was so desperate. I was desperate for God. I was desperate for community. I started going to meet up groups to connect with other people and to get a body. And so I asked my boyfriend at the time, who is my husband now, if he knew of a church that I could go to. It was a church in Brookfield [Illinois] and my first time stepping foot in a Pentecostal church. That was another really interesting experience, a really special experience. And so, I got re-baptized there, and my walk has grown beyond my wildest dreams.

SN: Your mom is a strong woman to do what she did with two small children. What have you learned from her about faith?

ZF: Back then, as a child, you don’t know these things. You just [hear], “All right, we’re going to a new place. Get in the car and let’s go.” Now, when I have these conversations with her, I hear how much pain she has about those particular periods of her life. Sometimes she’ll even shed a tear. It’s like when you deal with trauma in that way, it stays with you forever. There is an element of hope that’s there because you know that you wouldn’t be where you are without that particular trauma. And then there’s also the recognition that God’s grace was there in that season.

When I think about the stories that my mom tells us, I’m like, man, you just left. You left with my brother and me. We got on a Greyhound bus, and we went to California. I mean, you had to have an incredible amount of faith even to think that everything was going to be okay. I’m still having these conversations with her because our parents’ stories are so fascinating; just as colorful and as busy as our lives are today is how colorful, and busy their lives were then. And so sitting and learning from her and understanding what it took for her to go literally from place to place, but also from faith to faith and knowing that she was going to be covered, that we were going to be covered and that she kept us in a community of believers when we were growing up, because she, as a single mother, needed the support and help. And that’s where the church came in.

SN: And so, what was your childhood like?

ZF: When I think back to my childhood, it was the most beautiful experience that I had ever had. I was always around people. I never knew lack, even though my mom didn’t have much. I remember growing up, and we went to, I think, Walmart. She didn’t have enough to buy me the scissors that I needed for a class. Now scissors, back in the nineties, might’ve been $2 or something along those lines, maybe even cheaper, but she didn’t have enough money for that. That’s the one instance that I clearly remember. Because I was like, “I want to get everything for my school.”

I remember the day that we couldn’t afford those scissors, but she did all that she could to shield us from all of the craziness in her own life. And that, for me, mirrors faith. You know that everything is going to be okay, and you don’t let on. You don’t let other people know who don’t need to know what’s going on with you. You keep your relationship with God as strong as you possibly can. And you lean on those in the church who are there to help.

SN:Tell us what you were going through when you sold Travel Noire and how it inspired you to write Dare to Bloom.

ZF: It was such a period of hardship for me because I’m so used to being in control of everything, or as much of the things that I can be in control of. But when I lost control of this business, it felt like I didn’t have control. I dealt with a lot of shame and many things relating to my identity and who I am. Some of the friends that I had because of Travel Noire are no longer my friends. So, does that mean there’s something wrong with me, or does that mean that I’m just moving on to this new chapter? And so, there are a lot of really hard-won battles. I guess, some of which were in my mind, that I had to deal with due to this business no longer being a part of who I am. Or me even mischaracterizing this business and saying this business is who I am. How successful it is, is a reflection of how successful I am. And I think that a lot of us get it so wrong when we start to think that way.

I hope that those who read the book can be reminded that our identity is always safe with God. Even when the world tells us that we are this kind of person or that kind of person, we have sixty-six books that tell us the kind of person we are. We are made in the image of God. We are his image-bearers. He has put something very special within all of us. And if we only knew how special we were and we are, I think that, that would make the process of starting over so much easier for a lot of people.


Dare to Bloom is available in the UMI Bookstore.