About the Guest
Does your hospitality reach into the streets to those you don’t know, or does it stop at your front door? Today Dennis Rainey talks with one couple, Sean and Leigh Anne Tuohy, who took the Scriptures to heart and welcomed 15 year-old Michael Oher into their home, eventually adopting him.
Sean and Leigh Anne TuohyA Memphis, Tennessee native, Leigh Anne was raised by her devout Christian mother and tough-as-nails U.S. Marshall father, a JFK appointee who served the administration in its efforts to racially integrate schools in the Deep South. She attended Briarcrest Christian School and went on to graduate from the University of Mississippi, “Ole Miss,” with a Bachelor of Science degree in Interior Design. There Leigh Anne met Sean Tuohy, her husband of 27 years. The Tuohys are the proud parents of d...more
Does your hospitality reach into the streets to those you don’t know, or does it stop at your front door?
Bob: Did you go to the country club with your girls and have…?
Leigh Anne: Yes, that was an interesting scene. Due to time restraints I think that John Lee Hancock had to put a compilation of stories from the book together to exude a feeling in the movie.
Leigh Anne: He wanted you to know what people’s emotions were, what we dealt with. So, he took several scenes and put them together that just almost mirrored that particular scene. But the funny thing about it was after the movie had been out about a week my phone blew up with friends going, “That wasn’t me in that scene!”
Bob: Yes! I had to wonder…
Sean: Yes, they were all blaming it on the other girl. “Hey, I never did like Nancy! She wasn’t any good!”
Leigh Anne: That’s really scary if you have to ask. You need to step back and evaluate, sister! So, it’s been a lot of interesting twists and turns like that in the movie.
Bob: And at the very end, when you dropped off Michael at Ole Miss?
Leigh Anne: 100 percent accurate.
Dennis: Oh, really?
Sean: Oh, yes.
Dennis: No kidding?
Leigh Anne: 100 percent accurate.
Bob: You wrote that dialogue, huh?
Leigh Anne: I mean, it was…
Sean: …she cried, she still cries.
Bob: But you charged him not to get anybody pregnant or…?
Leigh Anne: Oh, absolutely! That was a direct quote!
Sean: That’s 100 percent accurate. There are parts of that that you would think it are inaccurate.
Bob: Now, you said you were on your way to breakfast, but didn’t the movie make it night time in a rainstorm?
Sean: Yes, but it was freezing cold. In fact, it was spittering of snow. It was the day before Thanksgiving so the time was just the same but as we’ve said, chronology was, day time, night time; to us, it really didn’t matter.
The writer and director were one and the same, John Lee Hancock. I don’t know how many good people there are in Hollywood. We’re not Hollywood people. There could be millions.
I know there’s one. We really repeat this a lot.
When people try to figure out how we’re here talking to you, or how this whole thing happened. And, how long we have depends upon how detailed we get, but at the end of it, we just say, “Look, if you don’t believe in miracles, none of this makes any sense.” So if we can get you to believe that miracles happen, we can get past a lot of the minutia.
Leigh Anne: That’s a big word for you.
Sean: I saw it on the refrigerator today. You must have put it up there for me to use.
John Lee, how he ended up with this movie, is anybody else would have turned it into a football movie or would have made it really soft. He’s from Texas. His daddy was a football coach. He understood the athletic side of it to where it wasn’t important. A non person would have thought the athletic side was important. The football was really just inconsequential and he saw it exactly for what it was.
Now, is that luck? You can call it luck. We don’t. We get past all that and say, “I don’t know how many of those are out there, but we got the one that understood it.”
Dennis: Well, that’s a powerful story of redemption. I feel sorry for any listener who hasn’t seen The Blind Side because they’re missing some of the significance of the authenticity, and Bob wanted to do this interview to find an answer to those three questions.
He just asked Leigh Anne I just want you to know that. I want you to take us to the moment though. You’re driving down the road, and I want you to both to tell me, just very briefly, what did you see? I mean, when you’re going to breakfast, it’s what, is it a Saturday?
Sean: No, it’s Wednesday before Thanksgiving? School was out.
Dennis: Wednesday before…? Okay. You got your kids in the car?
Sean: No, it was just she and I.
Leigh Anne: It was just Sean and I.
Sean: They were still sleeping. You see, she’s not a cook.
Leigh Anne: OK, this is going personal.
Sean: No, I get to tell this story. She’s not a cook, so she really believes that if we go pick it up or somebody cooked it and we take it back home and eat it, she tells the kids that that’s home cooking.
So, we would go, as I say, we were going to get us some home cooking.
Dennis: You enjoy this a little too much.
Sean: I figured that’s my last line, but I got it anyway.
Dennis: Yes, you did get it in!
Leigh Anne: We’re getting ready to gong you!
Dennis: So, you’re driving down the road…what did you see, Leigh Anne?
Leigh Anne: Well, first of all we live in a part of town that usually you do not see large black men walking down the street, and it was obvious that Michael was a fish out of water. I had not seen Michael at school, but I’d certainly heard about him. Sean had talked about him and the kids had talked about him as we passed him.
Sean just briefly said, “Oh, that’s the young man that I was telling you about at Briarcrest.” And I said, “What in the world is he doing here at this time of day?!” Sean said, “I have no idea.” I thought, “Well that is really odd,” so I said, “Turn around!” I said, “Turn the car around and see what he’s doing over here!”
And Sean kind of did a Dukes of Hazzard slide and I was pretty impressed…
Sean: She didn’t say it that nicely, so I reacted pretty good on that one.
Dennis: Turn it around?
Sean: …right now.
Sean: She didn’t have to say it, but she meant it.
Dennis: Okay. So?
Leigh Anne: Well, Sean asked him, “Hey, Mike, Coach Tuohy from Briarcrest.” He kind of just nodded and didn’t say too many words, and Sean said, “What are you doing over here?” And he said, “I’m going over to the gym and shoot some ball.” And Sean said, “Well, son, the gym isn’t open today. It’s closed.”
From Sean’s upbringing and from Sean being in the athletic world he reads kids very, very well. I think he knew immediately that the young man was going there to fill a need. At that exact moment, we didn’t know what it was. We had no idea the depths of Michael’s needs but it was apparent that it was a rather chilly day and he had on shorts and a T-shirt and was ill-dressed for the weather, and early in the morning, shouldn’t have been there. It just didn’t add up.
And so Sean deducted in his mind that he was probably going just for shelter, heat, whatever the reason was, and he said, “Why don’t we drop you back off at home since the school’s not open?” And that mighty extremely uncomfortable, and he said, “Let us take you back up to the bus stop.”
And at that time, Michael rode an express bus from downtown to East Memphis, which we didn’t know any of that at that moment, and he said, “There’s not another bus coming along.”
And Sean said, “Well, let us take you to someplace.”
Michael knew that he wasn’t going to get rid of us that easily, got in the car, and we didn’t take him home with us at that exact moment, but we drove him back to Poplar and Highland. He got on the express bus that took him back downtown. So that was our first encounter and it just set off all kind of alarm signals in my head that, “Okay, there are issues here that need to be addressed.”
Bob: It’s a long way, though, from alarm signals in your head to let’s have him come stay at the house.
Sean: Not with her! (laughter) It’s a short gap.
It is. It is! And I’m not kidding, either! She doesn’t have a lot of time to waste and so when she met up with Michael again A to Z was taken care of pretty quickly. So that’s an accurate statement with most people, but not with her.
Dennis: Would you say, Sean, that Michael felt like he was taking a risk as well?
Sean: You got to believe he was. Now, again, we get a lot of the credit for giving. He had, probably, the harder side. I don’t know if it was a risk for him, if it was uncomfortable for him, whatever it was, but he was the most open receiver that you could ever have. It benefitted him early because he got through all the bologna, but it had benefitted him later because he never took a backward step. He never challenged us on things that we thought were right, and some of them I wouldn’t have done. But he was so good at it and he was so receiving that he accomplished so much because of it.
Dennis: James Chapter 1, verse 27, commands us to visit the orphan and the widow in their distress. Many times we stop there and don’t finish the rest of that passage, because it commands us to keep oneself unstained form the world. You don’t know this about us, but Barbara and I have six children, one of ours is adopted. We like to say we don’t know which one.
And we mistakenly, when we adopted our little girl, thought we were doing her a favor and helping her grow up, and, honestly, what Barbara and I say is by doing that step of faith in our lives, we found that God had a ton of work to do in our lives, and that the lessons we learned through that adoption have been heaven-sent.
I can’t even begin to explain the love of God like I know it today, and we don’t have time today to talk about my story; we’re here to talk about your story, but I know that you all believe the same thing. You adopted this young man thinking you were doing him a favor in a way, but you discovered an enormous amount of blessing in the process.
Leigh Anne: Oh, Michael blessed us a million times more than we ever blessed him. I mean, just the fact that you took this young man into your home and it made the whole family closer. We did things together that I don’t know if we have ever done before. We enjoyed…
Dennis: Such as?
Leigh Anne: …such as we ate at the table almost every single night.
Sean: We hadn’t done that since he left. Oh it killed me when he graduated and went to college, and, oh gosh, we no longer…we sat at the dinner table every night.
Dennis: And the reason was he’d never seen a dinner table?
Sean: No, that’s where he was studying!
Leigh Anne: That was kind of where…that was like the center point of the bull’s eye. Everything happened around the dinner table. We were on a schedule and we all just sat down and rehashed the day. We would start at dinner, and…
Bob: Did you bring home a sack of cheesy gordita crunches and then…?
Sean: We brought home something.
Dennis: That super volcano taco?
Sean: Well, that would’ve been one of them!
Bob: That would’ve worked!
Dennis: You said you didn’t become a coach because you’re dad set such a high standard, and you weren’t sure you could achieve it. This became kind of your coaching, your team, at that point?
Sean: It was…
Leigh Anne: Team Oher. We had Team Oher.
Sean: We did have Team Oher. What’s amazing, though-our daughter’s the same age as Michael. They’re both 23 and when she was 21 she did an interview on television. I was watching it and she said that. She said, “He became the center focus and we rallied around him.” I hadn’t even thought about that.
Then I think back of all the times we’ve sat at the table and then their friends would come sit. Michael was being tutored and all of a sudden Michael’s grades were better than anyone else’s. Well, they’re not stupid. They go, “Well, we’re going to on in this, too!”
Collins went to heck with, so she sat at the table, and then her friends, then Michael’s friends! We’d have 20, 25 people.
Leigh Anne: I knew when it was a big biology or geometry test. I’d turn the corner of the house and the cars would be lined up and I was, “Oh, they must have a big test tomorrow.”
Everybody would pile in to study, all the kids would, and it was…it was just a great center of activity.
Sean: It was the best time we’ve ever had.
Dennis: I have to ask you this question. Bob just does not like me asking this question, because he’s very sequential…
Bob: You’ll see why, it’s just a bad question…
Dennis: It’s a terrible question, but I got to ask you. If you could only keep one image, one snapshot of one moment in your family, what snapshot would you keep and why?
Bob: See, isn’t that just an impossible question? How do you even answer that?
Dennis: Because you have to review all. You have to go through your whole family scrapbooks, so…but I want to ask you anyway, because you’ve given us some pictures here that are really memorable.
Leigh Anne: I think the snapshot would probably be graduation because Michael was the first person to ever graduate in his family and Collins and he were in the same graduating class. She gave up a lot. She was in all these AP courses her senior year and I kind of panicked at the last minute that I was not going to know exactly what goes on in his classes, and so she dropped down to regular classes to be in his class, which was helpful.
They are and were extremely close to each other. They’re almost, you know, left brain/right brain. It was kind of scary. That day was just a great day for me because he had worked so hard to get there.
Dennis: Was it emotional for you?
Leigh Anne: Oh, extremely, but I’m emotional. I cry every time they announce him from the starting lineup at the Ravens.
Sean: It’s so embarrassing. It’s so embarrassing.
Leigh Anne: When he comes through that smoke my little section 203—God bless their heart—they all just pat me, because every time he runs through the smoke, I’m like…it just took so much for that kid to get there, and he is the starting left tackle for the Baltimore Ravens.
And he should have been dead on the streets of Memphis, Tennessee because he was tapped for a gang leader, and for him to be on that football field, going to talk to kids about his predicament growing up, making millions of dollars a year. I mean, you just can’t make up a story like that!
It’s like Sean says, “Childbirth is easier to explain than how Michael Oher is the starting left tackle for the Baltimore Ravens, and thinks that I birthed him and takes great offense to people that question the fact that I did or didn’t.
And so, to get to this point, I cry every time, you know, something like that happens because it’s just…it’s a miracle. We have a big sign in our carport that when you drive in it says, “It’s a miracle.” Because that’s the only way to explain.
Sean: My brother got married for the first time at 50 and we drove to New Orleans, which my wife believes if it’s further than two hours, she’s flying on something. This was a big deal. In fact, I rented a minivan because there were the five of us and we needed some size.
In the movie Sean Jr’s a little bitty kid. He’s six foot, 185 pounds. He’s a big kid. I turned around and in the back of the van was Sean Jr. and Michael, I mean, elbow to elbow, with headphones on, looking at a little TV playing some video game, and they were elbowing each other. Collins was sitting there, she had headphones on watching something on television and I went and said, “This will be the last time we’ll be this close together,” and it has been. And it wasn’t the most enjoyable vacation, but it was the most fun.
To see those two big kids with earphones on playing video games in a car and as happy as can be…I don’t know if you’d get in a car right now and drive with us to New Orleans because I don’t know if I would either!
But he did at that day, and all the kids did it, and everybody was happy, so that’s my picture.
Dennis: You know what you guys did and the challenge you gave us earlier in the broadcast of looking out for the person who’s in front of you in line and behind you in line is a great image. Right now, across the country there are 500,000 kids who are in the foster care system and over 150,000 are adoptable.
One of the reasons I keep doing what I do here on this broadcast is because I know there are people listening, and there are folks whose stories won’t ever be in a movie like yours, but are every bit as heroic, doing some very good things, and are stepping in the lives of these young people, and making a huge difference.
I just want to ask the listeners, are you one of them? We need to empty the foster care system of every child who either needs to be adopted or needs a home to go to and the Christian community needs to do it.
Sean: Well, listen to this statistic my wife has about the churches in America.
Leigh Anne: If every church in America would be responsible for one child placing them, it would basically wipe out the adoption and foster care needs in this country.
Sean: One. One kid.
Leigh Anne: Come one!
Sean: We talk about great things that you can do. That’s not necessary. Just do the little things, but do them greatly. I was at an event, and she said that, and you can get that visual. You can drive down the street and there’s a church. Well, if they’re doing their part, so you’re right. It’s an achievable goal.
Dennis: There’s no other institution in America that has the capacity, and the people, and the volunteer force the church has, and there may be some listening who need to take a step toward the foster care system. Others may need to take a step towards starting an orphan ministry in their church.
Bob: Well, and there are a lot of people who here you say that and go, “I wouldn’t know where to start with either one of those.” At FamilyLife, as you’ve mentioned, we have an area of our ministry called Hope for Orphans, and one of the goals for Hope for Orphans is to help individuals and churches know how to equip people for adoption, for foster care, for starting an orphan ministry.
We’ve got resources designed to help people know how to engage, and it kind of spells it out very simply for you. You can go to our website, FamilyLifeToday.com. There’s a link to the Hope for Orphans area there, and it’ll give you all kinds of ideas about how you can engage and it may not be as you’ve said, bringing home a teenager and adopting him or her as a son or a daughter. It may be that your church gets involved in helping with an orphanage in the former Soviet Union or Asia or Africa or Central America, South America.
There are all kinds of things that individuals and churches can be doing. So, again, go to FamilyLifeToday.com and click on the link to the Hope for Orphans part of the website, and look on what’s available there.
Let me also mention…Sean and Leigh Anne have just written a book. It’s called In a Heartbeat: Sharing the Power of Cheerful Giving and we are making that book available this month to listeners who can support the ministry of FamilyLifeToday with a donation of any amount.
Many of you have been very generous with this ministry in the past, and we appreciate your cheerful giving to FamilyLife Today. This month, if you’re able to help with a donation of any amount, we want you to feel free to request, as a thank you gift, the new book by Sean and Leigh Anne Tuohy called In a Heartbeat.
If you’re making your donation online at FamilyLifeToday.com, when you come to the key code box on your online donation form, just type the word ‘HEARTBEAT’ into the box so that we’ll know that you’d like a copy of the book sent out to you. Or call 1-800-FL-TODAY. You can make a donation over the phone and just ask for a copy of Sean and Leigh Anne’s book, In a Heartbeat. And, again, we’ll send it out to you.
And let me just say, we do appreciate your support of this ministry, and we hope that in giving to FamilyLife Today, you’re not taking away from giving to your local church, that needs to be your first priority when it comes to giving, and with that in mind, again, we do appreciate those of you who go the extra mile and help support the ministry of FamilyLife Today. Thanks for your partnership with us, and we trust Sean and Leigh Anne’s book will be an encouragement to you.
And we hope you’ll be back with us tomorrow when we’re going to continue our conversation with Sean and Leigh Anne Tuohy and ask them a little bit about their philosophy when it comes to the subject of giving. That comes up tomorrow; hope you can be with us.
I want to thank our engineer today Keith Lynch and our entire broadcast production team on behalf of our host Dennis Rainey I’m Bob Lepine. Have a great day. We will see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas.
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