There were ten passengers on Kobe’s helicopter.

This helicopter carried nine legends, leaving behind their own legacies, loved ones and heartache. It’s impossible to adequately honor each of them enough. Siblings were lost. Spouses were lost. Children were lost. Eternity though was gained for those nine. I have a sneaking suspicion that they are playing one heck of a basketball game in a heavenly stadium where the hoops are lined with gold and the ref is wearing a sweet pair of Nike Mamba Focus shoes with his golden robe.

When the reports came in along with the rest of the world, I sat saddened. Being a wife and mother, it hit too close to home. Every news channel, sports channel, and every social media outlet was about Kobe & Gianna. It was heartbreaking, but I began to wonder about the “other passengers on board” and set out to know them as best as I could. And, as I did, it hit me that we’re missing the ultimate reverse-pivot, crossover fadeaway; there was undoubtedly a tenth passenger on board.

I know what you’re thinking, how have we not heard of this tenth passenger? Is this some crazy conspiracy theory? No! Allow me to explain.

First, though I need to breakdown a few words and the meaning in terms of basketball. The first is, Reverse: to change course, go back to where you came from. The second is, Pivot: a movement in which the player holding the ball may move in any direction with one foot, while keeping the other (the pivot foot) in contact with the floor. The third is, Crossover: player dribbling switches the ball rapidly from one hand to another to make a change in direction. And, lastly, Fadeaway: a jump shot while jumping backwards away from the basket.

So, how do we tie these nine lives to being a reverse-pivot, crossover fadeaway? If you’ve ever heard Kobe speak, he not only mentions but credits, God. He said, “God is great” during his trials and tribulations and specifically spoke of how God carried both he and his cross to bear for him. Prior to boarding the helicopter Kobe and Gianna received communion at church. Receiving communion, is knowing that, those who receive it, the body and blood of christ, will have eternal life with our Lord in heaven. Reverse, returning home. Pivot, remaining grounded. Crossover, entering heaven. And a fadeaway – taking a step back as we talk about this loss from another perspective. Are you following now?

Hillsong United has a song titled, Another in the Fire. This song can be tied to many scriptures but Daniel 3:17 is where I am focusing today. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were thrown into a fiery furnace for refusing to commit idolatry. King Nebuchadnezzar witnessed a fourth person in the fire, and while even the guards outside of the fire perished from the scorching heat, the four were never harmed. The fourth person was God. As we were singing this in church yesterday, clear as day – it hit me. The nine people aboard that helicopter were not alone. They were protected before the crash, and during the crash that led them home. There was a tenth person on board, and that was God.

God loved all nine on board. And, I’d love to share with you what I learned of them. What family members were left grieving their loss? What their legacies we were and how we can honor them as people instead of others.

legend is “an extremely famous or notorious person, especially in a particular field” and to many there were more than one legend on board. There was more than one parent/child basketball duo – there were three. There was more than one father on board, there were two, technically three because the pilot, Ara, counted his girlfriends children as his own. There was also more than one mother on board, there were three. This helicopter carried family, it carried legends and it carried strong believers of faith.

John and Keri Altobelli left behind a daughter, Alexis, who is a junior is highschool and a son J.J. who is a scout for the Red Sox. The Altobelli’s were considered the “first family” of OCC (Orange Coast College) where John, 51, known as Coach Alto, coached for twenty-seven years. He loved the game of baseball – but Alyssa, his daughter, only 13, loved the game of basketball! And, she was phenomenal. Keri, 46 was a wife and mother who practically raised her children at the baseball field. Within minutes, JJ and Alexis went from a family of five, to a family of two. Suffering a loss more than any junior in high school should ever face, and much earlier than any man should lose a father and stepmother, as JJ has. The Altobelli’s were legends to their family and their community.

Christina Mauser, 38, of Huntington Beach, was the woman known as “MOD” mother of defense to the mamba team she helped coach, will be defending her family from heaven now. Her youngest daughter will be 4 on February 4th, a golden birthday without her mommy. I read today that heat refines and purifies gold. Our faith, like gold, when tested, when held to the fire, can either be refined & purified or perish. A lesson this family is surely living now. Her husband, Matt, has to set aside his own grief in losing his best friend and wife, a woman he humbly admits could kick his butt on the court anytime – to comfort their three young children, ages 3,9 and 11. Another definition of a legend is “a story people talk about concerning people who once existed” and these three children have a whole new perspective. Their mommy was a legend off the court, and she was a legend on the court to a group of young mamba ladies who looked up to her.

Sarah Chester, 45, and Payton Chester, 13, were an adorable brunette duo that had smiles that changed the mood in a crowd. Smiles that made my heart smile, smiles Sarah’s 15-year-old boys Riley & Hayden will never see in person again and Chris, the husband and father – will miss every second. Payton’s principal said she made everyone feel like someone. That’s a legend in my book. Riley and Hayden both have #14 with a ❤ on their Instagram bios for their little sister which I found to be a touching tribute.

Ara Zobayan, 50, was the pilot. He left behind a girlfriend, Tessie, of eleven years and her two children, which were like his own. He had a private job but was a “put a smile on your face kind of guy.” He wasn’t a father, but he was every bit of an example of a man I would hope to be at his age. I mean he’s got about 15 years on me, and what he was to my kids, my family, the way he let us into his life, he’s the kind of guy you just wish the world was infected with.’- Jesse Clark

This helicopter carried nine legends, leaving behind their own legacies, loved ones and heartache. It’s impossible to adequately honor each of them enough. Siblings were lost. Spouses were lost. Children were lost. Eternity though was gained for those nine. I have a sneaking suspicion that they are playing one heck of a basketball game in a heavenly stadium where the hoops are lined with gold and the ref is wearing a sweet pair of Nike Mamba Focus shoes with his golden robe.

There is beauty in God lending us our loved ones. No ones days are promised, we are all on loan, living on borrowed time and possibly if we’re lucky, double overtime. Toby Mac said it best in his song, 21 years, about the loss of his son:

“Is it just across the Jordan
Or a city in the stars
Are you singing with the angels
Are you happy where you are
Well until this show is over
And you run into my arms
God has you in heaven
But I have you in my heart” – Toby Mac

Friends with Benefits (of the doubt) and the Ten C’s.

We are not the others cancellation. We are collaborators doing life together. If your own friends can’t celebrate you than who can? And, if you can’t celebrate your friends then you need to reevaluate how you are “friending.” Being a friend’s cheerleader in life should be a desire that comes wholeheartedly and without any fear of being or receiving less because of it. You purpose set aside by God will never lessen or dissolve by another’s gain or step ahead.

“If you want a friend, first you must be a friend.” I’m sure you have heard this quote before but what I am curious about is if you believe it? Because if I am honest and blunt – two qualities that are sometimes like a bad gift, re-gifted until finally appreciated by the right recipient – then I would say most people don’t want a true friend. They want an agreeable friend.

The problem with that is that a true friend isn’t always agreeable. Friendship means the combination of affection, loyalty, love, respect, and trust. How can you possibly love, respect or trust someone who stands beside you with the sole intent of being pleasing to you instead of being more concerned with being a true friend to you?

There are ten C’s to friendship. I call these the ingredients to Friends with benefits – of the doubt. With these ten C’s put into action within your friendships not only will they thrive but you’ll recognize the difference between a friendship who benefits them or a friendship that benefits you both.

Communication & Contribution. There must be open and honest communication for any relationship to strive, especially a friendship. And, it is a two-way street. Conversations don’t work well when they are one sided. They may be nice if you want to be right all the time, but if you think you’re right all the time, you are already wrong! So. There’s that. Both communication and contribution require feedback and action on both sides. On the days when they can’t pull the full weight of the friendship, you take on the task. You pick up where the other lacks. If you feel hurt, speak it. If you miss them, say it. If you want to see them, get your tush in the car and drop by. The days of “the phone works both ways so they could call me if I mattered to them” only works if you are calling too. So, call your friend!

Consideration. This is one of my top two favorites of the C’s. The reason being is that if consideration is given to any relationship it’s as if it’s the nutrients underground that causes it to grow. The true benefit of a friend is for them to know you well enough to know you meant better. If someone says something that hurts you, but you give them the consideration you already know they deserve, and the benefit of the doubt before you take on any anger or hurt – you’ve already won. A true friend won’t choose to hurt you. When a true friend apologizes to me when they think they have hurt me, my response is “I know your heart, and I know your intentions always come from a good place.” That consideration saves us both wasted time in a sea of assumptions and what ifs that can drown a skilled sailor. By the way, what-ifs usually don’t happen so give your wandering mind and sensitive heart a breather.  

Celebration. The girls and tribes that surround each other at each life event and celebrate them, are women after my own heart. You lost 10 lbs, heck yes girl! You got a new job, let’s go to dinner and celebrate! You got the job I applied for too, the better person for the job, won. We are not the others cancellation. We are collaborators doing life together. If your own friends can’t celebrate you than who can? And, if you can’t celebrate your friends then you need to reevaluate how you are “friending.” Being a friend’s cheerleader in life should be a desire that comes wholeheartedly and without any fear of being or receiving less because of it. You purpose set aside by God will never lessen or dissolve by another’s gain or step ahead. Grab a megaphone and shout how awesome your friend did and how proud you are to know a woman who goes for what she wants!

Confrontation and Condoning. Odd right? These two are my FAVORITES. What are these two C’s doing here and how do these two attributes benefit or define a true friendship? Easy. A true friend will confront you and will not condone bad behavior. And, this causes one of the biggest demises in friendships. Who wants a friend that doesn’t accept them treating the other poorly? Or a friend that says you shouldn’t cheat on your spouse? Or, that you should not allow someone to abuse you. God does and I do. We are not here to tell someone it is okay for them to set themselves up to self-destruct or to destroy others. The sin of passivity tells us just that. We are not to idly sit by and do nothing. And, when a friend does something to us, that is wrong, you are supposed to call them out on it. (Matthew 18:15-17) You pull them aside, address the issue face to face, remedy the issue and then forgive. That is friendship. Yet, so many want to be passive and pleasing – or to have others be that way to them. Not me, I want the truth, I want to be held accountable and questioned when necessary. If I am wrong, I will own it and make amends. That is how we grow. (James 4:17, NIV)

Challenge, Confidence & Competition. There is nothing wrong with a little healthy competition, right?! But, why are we competitive and how do we benefit? When we see others doing well, we want to do well. That is why people create like-minded circles to work-out, do bible studies with, etc. because can learn so much from the people around us who want better and more for us. I love a friend that challenges me, that adds a dose of healthy competition because they can see my ability as stronger than I can. And, this over time builds confidence, not just in yourself, but in your friendship. When you can sit with someone and they can see you need a boost of confidence and they not only help with that but celebrate when you step up to the challenge, that is beautiful!

Ah, the final C, and the most important, Christ. You had to know this was coming! If you’re not into God, or the bible and I just lost you – please keep reading. Because if you want to be a better friend, it starts with wanting to be a better christian. Christ is love and if we enter any relationship through love – it’s a game changer. With my friendships I’ve realized a great many of them were as if I walked through a crowd and picked from the most broken of people. A beautiful sentiment in part because who that is broken doesn’t deserve or want to be loved? After all God loves me and I have been broken most of my life. (Ecclesiastes 4:19-12)

I love first. I commit first. I do all these C’s first – jumping in with both feet and praying I make a big splash. That splash is for God. You see, it isn’t even about me in the end – it’s about him. That friend that walked away from me, that is okay because I know I did just as God says I should. That friend that needed someone at 1 am and never spoke to me again, that was God using me to help them. I’ve not lost friends; I’ve just been re-purposed to a new friend for whatever he needs of me. And, as a pinch to grow an inch, I’ll throw in a little extra C solely for his glory. Completely. Love others as such, just as he loves us.

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. 1 John 4:7

The truth sets you free

It’s time to be real. To be honest. To lay it bare.

Fear. Shame. We all have it and shy away from anyone who may hurt us by exposing us. The people in our life can be split in half right down the middle by two types; those who love us anyway and those who love to hold us back.

When I sit and ponder my life and my purpose, I know it well within the deepest core of my soul – that I’m supposed to write. But, I also tell myself that I am disqualified, undeserving and a fraud. Someone will surely expose the events in my life that hold the most disappointment – and I will be publicly reminded of my worthlessness and be humiliated.

Each time I began to write the excitement floods in, maybe this will be the piece that hits someone, maybe this will be the one that goes viral. It ignites my soul and once the piece is done – it feels phenomenal. But fear still visits.

When we succumb to fear we give in and find other ways to sabotage ourselves by disguising our fear in a respectful manner. Posing it as something outside our control.

Korie Robertson’s advice to her children, shared by Sadie Robertson.

People read my words and tell me that it makes them feel good too. Shame reminds me that there are parts of my life I’m not prepared to share, and if I continue down this path, I must be prepared for battle. I let fear consume me like a kudzu vine, and kill the dream.

It is a harsh reality when you must own up to the fact that you are not courageous enough to be fearless. That in the face of challenge, adversity and judgment, I was a coward. Can we be real for a minute? Do you understand the amount of courage it would take to write my story? …for me to say to the world I’ve messed up and I am strong enough to stand proud regardless. About everything.

Do you understand that if I write my story, if I share my truth, the world will need to know my faults, my hardships, and my demons before they could understand my triumphs? Do you realize that in order to be accurate in my personal accounts, I would have to bare my weaknesses and give my enemies permission to use them against me?

To write my story, I’d have to go back to where I first got stuck. I’d have to tell you the why’s and how’s before the gratefulness of the now’s!

How many times I’ve been married and broke my vows. How many times I’ve been divorced. How I met a criminal who almost killed me. How I met a man who was kind and good, and I hurt him. How I cheated. How I lied. How I got fired. How I stole. How I almost loved a lost man so much that trying to save him, almost caused the loss of myself, and put my children in indirect danger.

How I have a daughter I did not raise, and that I fear I’ve failed. How I have a father that couldn’t and wouldn’t choose to love me, and a mother who’s addictions replaced her desire to want me. How to this very day there is a man who daily attempts to break me. I’d have to share about the time I was on assistance. The times we had no money & no food.

You’d learn that I have a brother who’s an addict, in and out of prison for the past 20 years. And, I’d have to tell you about the time I attempted suicide, and woke up angry at God that it didn’t work. And, how each and every one of these instances were the broken ground on which a more firm, stable and loving foundation was formed – and where I found Jesus met me each time.

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The answer Mack was given when he asks Papa why she brought him back to the Shack where Missy died.

Do you know how much power is in all this truth? And how much courage it took to even write these truths down? And, guess how much fear I feel having now released it? None.

Sharing my stories, will be painfully honest, and to be honest it will have to be dark at times, and I have to be willing to share these stories with people I love, people who’s respect I would want to keep, and whose judgment I am now ready for. Because their judgement has no bearing on me any longer.

I choose to share my truth with complete strangers who may attempt to tear me apart but won’t succeed. Because there is one person, the same person who built me for struggle, who built me to share my story, who gifted me the desire and ability to write out my inner most personal feelings in a way that enraptures people’s souls.

Today, for the first time in my life, I can say wholeheartedly that with God within me, and above me, that anything below can never break me. Because the truth is there is one person who knows my story, one person who loves me anyways and the only person who can justly judge me, and it’s not the person who sells the story, it was the person who co-wrote it beside me. God.

God didn’t answer my prayers to change my circumstances, because he needed me to be in those trenches, to be in the lions den to allow me to escape unscathed. And, the first step is facing the fear of those lions, facing the fear that they may bite, they may intimidate and they could easily devour me – but God protects me. My faith has to be stronger than my fear.

This is my story of a past that built me. A beautiful story mixed with that of a tattered reputation and an inspiring redemption. No one can tell my story for me, but me.

And, I AM READY.