With all the fire and fury, shock and shame, filling the headlines coming out of the USA these days, it is easy to forget that over there, in the footnotes, there are so many tender, inspirational stories.

I've loved living in two of them in recent months - both related to the game of basketball (although that fact is not so significant if you don't like basketball!).

One story begins with Monty Williams speaking at his wife, Ingrid's, funeral - offering forgiveness to the one who killed her in a hit-and-run accident. If you've not watched this 10 minutes, you need to do so. It is amazing. Then follow the story through the various links, especially this one where Monty receives later an award from the sporting community. Just 8 minutes, with Monty speaking at the six minute mark.

The second story, ironically, has to do with the man presenting the award to Monty at that ceremony just six months ago. His name is Ernie Johnson. As host of a basketball show, he came to wider prominence with a little 2 minute speech he gave on his show after Donald Trump was elected as President. This led on to me watching a full documentary on his life - which then gets expressed more fully in his book, Unscripted (Baker, 2017).

My friend, Elliot, slipped the book to me as we passed through Singapore on the way to a week's holiday in Lake Toba. I had a few books on my list (!) ... and didn't start reading it until the final morning - but it was all finished well before we landed in Bangalore a few hours later.

I loved it. I laughed a bit. I cried a bit.
And now I am trying to ask myself 'why?'

The gentle, funny, sincere, unspectacular, self-effacing man that I've seen on the screen comes through in the pages, as he works through his stories. I warm to him as a person with character - and this character touches family members, work colleagues, the viewers of his show ... and now a far wider world through this book.

The stories are compelling.

He and his wife, Cheryl, decide to adopt children from Romania. Cheryl sets off to find a little girl to bring home ... but the first child she sees is a little boy about whom the nurse says, 'Do not take. Boy is no good.' (59). He had been 'abandoned in a park at birth. He could not walk. He could not speak' (59). But her heart broke and so they 'brought him home'. Michael became part of the family and the boy who was 'no good' started touching lives. Beautiful stories. His language was limited but he latched on to the phrase 'love you too' and used it whenever he could. Later Michael was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy. Ernie and Cheryl went on to adopt Carmen from Paraguay - and then, in their 50s - added two little girls (Ashley and Allison) who had lived on the edge of the child sex trafficking world and had 'bounced around' various foster homes. It is quite the story and one senses that they are still in the middle of significant challenges as parents.

'This isn't what either of us wanted, 
but I didn't think this was about what we wanted 
but what we felt called to do' (200).

Another story is about Ernie's own battle with cancer, after finding a lump under his ear and keeping it quiet for too many months. One thing led to another - all the way to chemotherapy and then, thankfully, remission. But woven around this story is the story of Ernie moving towards faith in Christ. 'You can turn on God, or you can turn to God' (140). I love the willingness and the ease with which he lives that faith, which so many keep private - in his public world and on his sleeve. His email electronic signature finishes with 'Trust God ... period'. It is clear that his life intrigues others.

The key message in the book is about life's 'blackberry' moments, built around the story with which he opens the book: members of his Little League baseball team in search of a ball hit over the fence, but getting distracted by the blackberries and forgetting to come back to the game. Later, he defines a blackberry moment as

1. an unpredictable moment that makes life extraordinary
2. an unforeseen moment that catches you off guard and marks you forever
3. a moment so sweet that you savour the last for a life time
4. a moment when God winks and you can swear you hear him whisper, 
'That's what I'm talkin' about'. (189).

As the pages turned, I enjoyed overhearing Ernie gradually move these unscripted 'blackberry' moments from the world of distraction and interruption and coincidence and on towards the world of God's sovereign and providential care within which He is able to be trusted. Good Ecclesiastes 11 truth!

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