Faith, Media & Culture

Here’s today’s dispatch from the crossroads of faith, media and culture.

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Leigh Anne Tuohy reality showTeam Touhy takes on television. Family Addition with Leigh Anne Touhy, premieres tonight (Friday, June 7 @ 9:00 PM ET), is the first new original to  premiere on UP since the Uplifting Entertainment network formerly known as GMC TV  changed its name last Saturday. The show, which certainly is a prime example of Uplifting Entertainment, follows families as they go through the practical, physical and emotional process of adding a new family member to their home through adoption.

Anne and her team, which includes her daughter Collins Touhy (herself a noted inspirational speaker and co-owner of Whimsy Cookie Company) and Special Educator “Miss Sue” Mitchell (the character played by Kathy Bates in The Blind Side) offer both emotional and practical support. The latter comes in the form of assisting the family with home makeover projects designed to make the child feel comfortable and welcome as he or she makes the transition from foster to adopted child.

The show’s concept fits Leigh Anne Touhy, a strong adoption advocate, who (as portrayed by Sandra Bullock in The Blind Side), along with her husband, fostered and then adopted future NFL star Michael Oher.

Leigh Anne recently fielded questions about her new show in a press conference call I was happy to take part in. The event was moderated by Paul Lauer, CEO of Motive Entertainment.  Motive has been responsible for the grassroots marketing campaigns of movies like, The Passion of the Christ, The Chronicles of Narnia and most recently, the highly-successful miniseries, The Bible.

PAUL LAUER: I think we can just start with probably the most obvious question, which is what is this show all about?

LEIGH ANNE TOUHY:  Well, really this show is all about people that are doing good things and that’s why we are so happy to be partnered with UP because it is an inspiring, uplifting station, and it’s exactly platformed to our family.  We’ve been offered every show you can think of, Secret Millionaire, Undercover Boss, Strictest Parents, Amazing Race.  You name it, we’ve been offered it, and we’ve turned them all down because that’s not who we are, but this show actually just enhances our platform and our message because there are great people trying to adopt kids.  They don’t know how to get through the red tape.  There could be one SNAFU keeping it from happening, and we are taking one family at a time and we are trying to make a difference, and obviously, we have just all kind of people that we have lined up to get help because adoption in this country is a maze of red tape, and we hope to bring that awareness and hopefully change some of the laws and expose some of the situations going on, and at the same time make sure that every single child gets a chance because we know from our journey with Michael that all kids are valuable, and if you offer them hope and love and opportunity, you can change their life.  So, we want to be able to hook up families that want to be able to provide that for kids with the kids that need it because we firmly believe in our family that there are no unwanted kids, that there’s just unfound families.

PL:  Leigh Anne, can you share with us how adoption changed your life and the lives of your family and not only some of the positive sides but the struggles that you went through in making that decision and following through with it?

LAT: There was never a struggle in making the decision.  It happened exactly as the movie portrayed.  We were passing Michael.  We turned the car around, which those two words are very important in our family now, turn around because we tell people that the view from behind you is a whole lot different looking than the view in front of you, but one day became the next.  Monday was Tuesday and Michael ate a meal with us and then spent one night and then was there a week, and for us, that’s just how it happened.

Now, it’s not that way with all people and it’s not easy even now.  It’s not easy with anything.  With your biological—I love these people that always go this adoption’s been really hard, these kids, and I’ll go okay, so it’s easy with your biological kids.  Well, they’re lying if they say that.  I have two biological kids.  I have two good biological kids, and it’s not easy, but neither is getting an education or going to work every day.  Marriage is not easy.

So, everything in life that is worthwhile, you have to work hard at.  Adoption is no different.  That’s also what we want to make people aware of.  Stop thinking it’s the Pollyanna perfect situation that this kid’s going to be grateful to you because you took them in.  That’s not reality.

So, we want people to know that it’s difficult, but all good things in life that are worth working for are difficult, and we feel like that we have been—are very simple people and that God has picked us to tell a message, and that is why we’re putting ourselves out there because we want to make sure that people realize that there are valuable kids in every city in the United States of America and all they need is a chance, and if you can—you may not can adopt them, but we also show in Family Addition that there are things that everyone can do.  You can help the family.  The Jackson family that is going to be one of our families from LA that’s on one of the episodes, they’ve taken in seven biological siblings that this mother has continued to birth and I’m sure she’ll continue to do so.  Just their laundry every day because they had some of their own kids, it’s a massive amount.  You can show up and help somebody fold clothes.  There are a lot of things you can do to make a difference, and we want to make sure that you’re aware of the options that are available to you because one person can have a huge impact on someone’s life.

PL:  In The Blind Side, there were some moments where your family was able to express your faith and lean on your faith during difficult decisions that you had to make.  Can you share a little bit about how faith has played a role in this whole story, in the story of what’s happened in your life and also in the story of how this show came to be?

LAT: Honey, it hadn’t played a role.  It’s the head cheerleader.  We don’t believe in Karma.  We don’t believe in fate.

We believe that every single thing we do is 100% God-driven.  It’s not like that God looked down today and said, oh, look down there at Leigh Anne in New York today.  No, this is all absolutely part of his plan.  This is not by surprise.  This is not coincidence.  He uses simple people to tell a story  and that is what he did with us.

This is a message as I said a minute ago that is intended, was much needed and there are great kids every single day falling through the cracks and He just happened to choose our family because believe me, there are people doing much greater things than our family has ever thought about doing, and we were the ones that are to be good stewards of this message, and we just get up in the morning sometimes and go, oh goodness, Lord, where are we going today, but we absolutely put all of our faith in Him and that is one basket that all of our eggs are in is the Kingdom of Christ, and we know that this is all directed by Him, and some days we hold on for dear life.  Some days I go I’m not sure what you’re thinking here, but we don’t question it.  We just move left foot in front of the right and we just daily ask everyone that says oh, we’re praying for you; I say good, pray harder because that’s what allows us to get through this maze every single day.

PL: Wonderful…Leigh Anne, I’m sure there are countless stories that you could recount right now, your experiences of shooting these first episodes of Family Addition.  Most of the news media on the phone haven’t had a chance to see an episode yet.  They’ve seen silver reel and they’ve read about it and so forth, but would you mind sharing any stories that pop into your mind that are particularly memorable and heartfelt that you experienced while filming this show?

LAT: I would be lying if I told you that every single moment wasn’t heartfelt because these are people that are putting themselves out there and I am surprised with them.  I’ve been where they are.  I know if you don’t mark the right box that you get in trouble in the adoption form.

You deal with, as I say, every day, I said on Katie Couric’s show this morning, I wish that there was a cure for stupid, but there really isn’t.  I pray every day we have one.  There are just people out there that it’s crazy what they think should be the right way to do things when it’s not.  There are judges that are putting kids back with parents that they say have been rehabilitated and they haven’t, and we lived this.  My heart breaks for some of these people because they really are trying to make a difference in kids’ lives and they just need someone to point them in the right direction or hold their hand or give them that proper hug and that’s a lot of what we try to do, and every single family, I became attached to because every episode is totally different.

That’s one thing I’m so proud of is so far we haven’t crisscrossed because we’ve made sure that we’re covering a lot of genre.  This is not about a particular color or size or shape or state.  This is multicultural, multi-everything, and our first six episodes—each one diversified and had their own personality, and every single week, I kept thinking I can’t get any more attached to the next family than I am the last one and somehow I would and I loved each one of them.  So, I would be here all day trying to tell you a story and I’d probably hurt someone’s feelings.  So, I can just tell you they were all wonderful families and we were honored to be associated with each and every one of them.  It was a very humbling experience.

PL: That’s great.  Well, let’s go ahead and queue up a few questions here; Krista, our moderator, if you could go ahead and click on the first question or open that up.

JWK:  This is John Kennedy from Beliefnet.  Just wondering how it feels as an adoptive parent to see the success that Michael Oher has had.

LAT:  It’s amazing. We go to all the games.  I cry every week when he runs out of the smug, but when he came on the field at the Super Bowl, I just literally broke down and sobbed because to see one of your kids live their dream out, that’s rare.  That doesn’t happen, and reality, it’s a tough gig to see and he did.  Then, we won the Super Bowl, it even made it even more—I was the epitome of obnoxious.  I will tell you that, and it was absolutely a wonderful moment, but I’m no more proud of Michael than I am the fact that my daughter, Collins has a gourmet boutique cookie company called Whimsy and it’s doing fabulous, and SJ just completed his freshmen year at Loyola of Maryland, and he has his own website, Generation Y news for generation rights called Not Your Parents News, and it’s doing incredibly well.  So, I’m proud of all three of the kids.  I really am.

LYNN TOUCH: This is Lynn Touch from National Temple for Adoption.  First, we just want to thank you for brining adoption into such a public light here.  It’s obviously something that we focus on every day.  We’re all just so grateful to you, but my question is and you addressed it just very briefly earlier is are you going to follow families adopting both domestically here from the United States as well as from foster care and inter-country adoption.

LAT: Well, right now we don’t have that great of a budget and while I assured them that there were families in Paris, France that needed help, they have yet to step up and agree with me on that.  We all hope that we will have the opportunity to get more episodes.  We’re blessed that we didn’t have to do a pilot.

We have six episodes in the can already.  Every one of them I love.  You laugh, you cry, you see Team Tuohy, which is Miss Sue, who was Michael’s tutor and my daughter, Collins, are involved with me as you see a little bit of our real life in each episode.  I even got the boys involved in some of the episodes, but we hope that we will get more episodes, and as we do that our budget will grow and we will be able to show families that are experiencing issues with adoptions out of the country or have had their hat in the bucket and thinking that they’re getting ready to get a child from wherever and it not happen because of a law or this or that.  We want to explore all of those.

We have not closed off any avenues of foster care and adoption.  We want to bring every issue to light because we want to help people through the maze, but we also want to help people realize that every kid in everywhere, in every country, in every inch of this world is valuable and worth having a forever family.

PL: Leigh Anne, it’s Paul again.  For couples that are looking at moving down the path of adoption and we mentioned before you guys were able to get on the call that there seems to almost be a trend of folks, it’s almost becoming hip to adopt children, but I know being a foster … and I’ve sometimes mentioned to my wife we should adopt another child, of course she looks at me cross-eyed like are you crazy?!, but part of the concern for parents thinking about that is the transitioning an adopted child into the family especially when there are other kids and you did that.  Can you talk about how you manage that and really—it obviously worked out in your case, but that is one of the biggest fears that parents face.  How would you address those fears?

LAT:  Well, one of our issues addresses it.  It’s the Sanders’ family and it is highlighted in one of our episodes.  So, you will be able to see how we dealt with it in one of our issues, but we were very lucky.  SJ and Collins never—there was never a hiccup as far as why Michael should be in our home, but we also raised our kids to be givers and your children will mirror images of you, and if you don’t like the way your kids are acting or behaving, then you should look at yourself in the mirror because they are little images of their parents, and we’ve raised Collins and SJ from a very young age to realize that they are no better than anyone, that we all put our pants on the exact same way and that you are to be a giver and to who much is given, much is required.  So, they understood that.

So, it was like they were just okay, now what can we do today to make Michael’s life easier.  Michael’s very spoiled.  We’ve all spoiled him, and that’s not a bad thing because he missed out on 15 years of that, but you just have to do what works for your family and your kids have to realize that it’s about giving, and we always tell people the best time of the year is Christmas because you give unconditionally, and with Michael, we got to give unconditionally every single day, and that’s the way that we approached it.  Whether that approach works for someone else’s family, I don’t know; I’m not Dr. Phil, but it worked for ours.

PL: We all would love to know what your experience with Sandra Bullock was like.  I’ve heard great things.  Gil Netter is a friend of mine who produced The Blind Side and I know that you and Sandra have stayed real close.  Can you share with us what it was like to work with her and I think she also has her own experience with adoption?

LAT: She actually was already in the process of adoption before she was ever approached about The Blind Side.  So, we had nothing to do with her thought process of adoption, but I think through the journey of The Blind Side, it just solidified to her what a great decision that she had made and she’s a wonderful mother.  She’s very philanthropic.  She’s an amazing giver and she’s very under the radar.  People have no idea what that lady does day in and day out under the guise of anonymity.  That’s a big word for me, but she is a big giver and it’s amazing what she does and I couldn’t be honored and flattered that that’s who played me.

She is a very dear friend of mine.  We keep our relationship very personal.  The world has no business in our friendship, but I will tell you that it’s been nothing but a wonderful positive experience and I’m honored to call her a friend.

PL: That’s great.  Where do you see yourself and your family five, ten years from now?

LAT: Is that a trick question because if you’d have told me ten years ago that this is what I’d be doing now, I’d have said you have been drinking?  Who knows?  We take one day at a time, as I said earlier.  We live in 24-hour increments.

My husband always says now we really do have to think about this in two weeks.  I said I can’t do it.  We just plan what’s going to happen tomorrow because our lives are crazy. Michael plays in the NFL.  My husband broadcasts in the NBA for the Memphis Grizzlies who still happen to be in the midst of the playoffs.  He does their color commentary for TV.  SJ, as I said, plays D1 basketball at Loyola of Maryland.  My daughter dates an NFL football player.  Our lives are crazy.

So, just after we grid our sports schedules, we try to see how many days are left to do something else in life, and it makes for crazy, but that’s who we are and what we do and I couldn’t tell you where I will be.  Right now, I’m concentrating on the show and making sure that all these wonderful people that have put a lot of time and effort into this, that they know they did it for the right reasons and it’s a great thing because I do think that continuing to put adoption and foster care in the forefront of people’s minds is amazingly important and we’re just loud and proud about I and we have a voice, and right now, we want to be able to use that voice that we’ve been given to try to make a difference, and while the fire’s hot, we’re doing as much as we can.

One day down the road, people may not have an interest in this.  They’ll go what was The Blind Side, and we won’t have the opportunity to talk about the Michael Ohers of the world.  Today, we do, and so, all five of us, the three kids and Sean and I, sometimes together, sometimes separately, sometimes in different clumps of us take every opportunity we can to say, hey, it is worth turning around and checking out what’s behind you and reaching down and pulling someone up because everyone has value and everyone should have the opportunity to have a chance.

PL: Is the challenge of adoption or I should say the challenge of kids who need to be adopted out there, kids who are homeless or who do not have a family, is that a solvable issue in our nation?

LAT: A big percent.  There is no reason, as I told someone this earlier, I’m making these numbers up, some fact checker could get it exact, there’s 470,000 and change kids in foster care in our country right now.  I think there’s close to 480 faith-based organizations.  If every faith-based organization would be responsible for placing one child in a loving home, then that would wipe out the need for foster care, and then we can work on the kids that are on the street because these kids are on the street through a cycle that was by no choosing of their own and when they’re born to these young parents, they can’t provide for them.

I went in a home the other day with a police officer and there was so—the floors were so nasty you could have thrown seed out there and a flower would have grown, and there were several kids crawling around on this floor, several teenage mothers walking around pregnant and I just sat there and just thought none of these people asked for this.  So, we have to step up and be responsible citizens.  We are charged to take care of these people, and we have to stop turning a blind eye to it and we have to get involved and make a difference, and if this show will help move the needle at all, then it’s worth what we are doing to have to fit it into our lives to make people say hey, we have to do something.

PL: Last question.  Leigh Anne, I think you’ve kind of answered it already, but maybe you’ll have a chance to just put it in some succinct words one last time, and that is what your hopes are for this show.

LAT:  My hopes for Family Addition are truly that people will tune in and they will talk about because we all know that we are very—we’re a nation of followers.  We’re very trendy.  We want to wear the newest style, make sure the right pair of tennis shoes, the right sunglasses, that we’re drinking the latest soft drink.  Whatever it is, we tend to emulate what’s out there in front of us, and if we can get people talking about foster care and adoption, if we can get people being loud and proud that it’s okay to bring a member into your family that doesn’t look like you, families don’t have to match, family is not about genetics, family is about loving, and if we can get people to wear that on their sleeve and to be talking about that, then we will have achieved our goal.

So, that’s just what we’re asking.  We’re asking you to tune in, talk about it on social media, tweet me.  I’m @Leigh Anne Tuohy; Leigh Anne, leave us your comments.  There’s going to be some interactive things on there you can do down the road, but we just want people to get involved…Talk about this and help us to move the needle and to make sure that everyone’s aware that these valuable kids just need a little bit of hope and they need a chance.

Encourage one another and build each other up – 1 Thessalonians 5:11

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