We’ll Never Walk Alone: Kristin Smedley and Donovan Carter
Kristin Smedley: I’ve been in that pit of hopelessness. It’s such an empty, scary, horrible place, and when one person comes and even just puts a crack in the wall of hopelessness and a little bit of light of hope, that’s where my energy comes from. That’s the fuel to keep moving towards my purpose in this life.
We’ll Never Walk Alone: Kristin Smedley and Donovan Carter – Episode #313
Narrator: Welcome to the Jesus Calling Podcast. The statement “God works through people in our lives” could be just a cliche—until we start to really take notice of the people around us and begin to identify what they bring to our world. This realization provides a comforting perspective that shifts us from feeling alone in the world to a grateful understanding that God shows up through the people He uses to walk alongside us through the worst and greatest times of life. And in that, we see a little bit of the divine in the faces of our friends and family.
Our guests this week articulate with great clarity how special people have helped them find their paths forward when it didn’t seem possible to get there on their own. Kristin Smedley became an advocate within the blind community after becoming a mother to three children, two of whom are blind. She’s given a TED talk about her experiences and also hosts the podcast Brilliantly Resilient. Donovan Carter is a former NFL player turned actor who makes it abundantly clear that his successes would not have happened without those who stood by him before he ever threw a football or landed an acting role.
We’ll start with Kristin’s story.
Kristin: I am Kristin Smedley. I am a mom of three and an advocate in the blind community, as well as co-host of the Brilliantly Resilient podcast.
A New Baby and an Unexpected Diagnosis
I had a lot of success in life and my theory was—because it had played out for very long—you set goals, make a plan, you work hard, and you achieve it. And I was the box checker: make the goal, check the box off. I knew from the time I was very small that I wanted to be a teacher, and I worked my whole life to do that and landed that job, and the husband, and the McMansion home and all those things. I had planned my whole life for those things, but I had dreamt my whole life to be a mom.
I have a phenomenal role model in a mom and a grandmother and women around me that were good moms. So I dreamt my whole life to be an even better mom than I had as role models.
When I was carrying my firstborn child in my belly—as you know, you find out you’re pregnant and you just want a healthy baby. And then when you’re like me, as my belly was growing, my dreams for him were growing. I mean, I went from, I just want a healthy child, to I didn’t know if it was a boy or girl, and I thought, I know they’re going to be an athlete. Are they going to be the next Mia Hamm or Mike Schmidt? Will this baby be a pitcher for the Phillies or catching touchdowns for the Eagles? And then you start to think Valedictorian, summa cum laude? All those things, and my dreams for this little human were ginormous by the time I gave birth to him.
Michael came into the world and was the happiest baby. I had known a lot of babies and a lot of kids, and I had never seen somebody so happy and pleasant and interested in everything. And I thought to myself, I have everything I worked for and dreamt of. People had said all my life, “God shines His light on you,” and it confirmed in that moment of looking at my Michael that He really does. He really did shine His light on me.
And then at four months old, I was holding Michael and a doctor said to me the worst four words that I have ever heard. “Your son is blind.”
I’m not proud of it, but my first question was, “Will he play baseball?”
The doctor looked at me like I was a little nuts, and he said, “No.”
I said, “Will he drive?”
And he said, “No.”
I said, “Is he at least going to be able to go to school, have success there?”
And he said, “Probably not a regular school.”
I said, “Well, what do I do now?”
He said, “I don’t know what to tell you, but good luck.”
You know, I was raised in a firm foundation of faith and that God is good and He wants good things for you in this world. And I thought to myself, What kind of a god does this? This is hard. And honestly, I thought, It’s mean. I’m looking at this perfect little person and all of my hopes and dreams for him were extinguished.
“I was raised in a firm foundation of faith and that God is good and He wants good things for you in this world. And I thought to myself, What kind of a god does this? This is hard. And honestly, I thought, It’s mean. I mean, I’m looking at this perfect little person and all of my hopes and dreams for him were extinguished.” – Kristin Smedley, on discovering her four-month-old son Michael was blind
Like I said, I’m not exactly proud of how my journey started, but I spent the next three years walking away from my faith, because I just could not get my head around a God that would do something like this. I did kind of pray blindness away every night. Take this away, take this away, take this away. And every morning Michael was still blind. This went on for three years. I was digging myself down deeper in the pit of hopelessness, and I could not see a way out.
Blindness Can’t Hide a Children’s Vision of Hope
It wasn’t until Michael was three and a half years old, I was actually pregnant with my second child and was ignoring all of the advice and numbers involved in the blindness that my son had—which is a very rare blindness, LCA CRB1 (CRB1 Degenerative Retinal Disease). And the stats were that you had a twenty-five percent chance of a second affected child.
I was digging deep to bring “optimistic Kristin” into the picture through that whole pregnancy, that twenty-five percent is big, but seventy-five percent is bigger. There’s no way that if there really is a God up there, there’s no way He’d put me through this twice.
I remember I was sitting on the edge of my bed that morning and I was probably eight months pregnant. So you can imagine how big my belly was, and “realistic math major in college Kristin” showed up in my head and said, Oh my goodness, twenty-five percent is a really big chance. We could be looking at another diagnosis. Now what do I do? And I went into the ugliest of ugly cries. “You cannot do this to me again, You will not do this to me again.”
And then I kind of was, you know, doing my negotiating and bargaining and I said, “You’ve known me for thirty-two years now. Of course I could never handle this again. I just can’t do this. If You are a God that’s up there and are all good, then You know it’s not good to hand me a second diagnosis.”
And when I was literally on my knees, a sobbing, ugly cry mess, I heard Michael coming down my hallway. And Michael did not walk—he bounced and he skipped and he danced his way through the day—he still has a little bounce in his step. And he bounced into my room and he was standing right in front of me and had no idea I was sitting in front of him, and he said, “Mommy, are you in here?”
I looked up and thought, Are you kidding me? Another sucker punch to my heart? You have to put it right in my face that Michael can’t see me?
Then I said, “Michael, what do you need?”
And he said with all of the joy that just spills out of Michael in his little, tiny body and his big, glowing, smiling face, he said to me, “Mommy, isn’t this the best day ever?”
And I thought, Oh, my goodness, how could you possibly have a best day ever? You’re missing so much in this world, and your road is going to be all struggle.
I asked him the best question I have ever asked him. I said, “Michael, why do you think it’s the best day ever?”
He said, “The sun is shining and I have all my toys, and Mommy, I’m just so happy!”
And you know, if Hollywood were to produce this moment on film, there would be a lightning bolt that came down and hit my heart and fireworks would go off. And that’s exactly what I experienced in that moment. It was like God took a freight train and hit me in the head and said, “Kristin, look at this little person. Blindness is not bothering him. It’s bothering you. He is figuring everything out. He has spent three and a half years on this planet doing all the things he wanted to do.”
“It was like God took a freight train and hit me in the head and said, ‘Kristin, look at this little person. Blindness is not bothering him. It’s bothering you. He is figuring everything out.’” – Kristin Smedley
I realized also in that moment that I hadn’t armed him with any of the tools of blindness. I just kept praying it away and hoping it away. And he was still still figuring it out and having a great life. And I will say in that moment, my miracle happened: it was my blindness of Michael’s life and his purpose in this world that was cured.
The only way I knew how to take a step forward was I started looking at it from Michael’s point of view, and Michael’s point of view was, “Oh, every day is the best day ever.” And I committed at that moment to making sure that I was his number one guide in this world, to get him the tools that he would need to do the things that would fulfill his purpose in this world, not my dreams for him.
Letting Go of Our Dreams for Our Kids, So Theirs Can Shine
When Mitchell was born and was diagnosed at about four months old, also with the exact same blindness, I’d love to say that I was good to go, I had my miracle moment, and I was just fine.
Honestly, it took the wind out of my sails and crashed me again, but only for a couple of weeks, because here’s what I realized: when Mitchell was diagnosed, which snapped me out of the sadness quickly, was Michael bouncing around the house and bouncing around life. I thought that was what I needed. I needed a role model that would show me that blindness was only a barrier if I allowed it to be. Blindness was a mere inconvenience to Michael every now and again. And with that knowledge and that little three and a half year old role model, that’s how I was able to take Mitch and Michael by the hand and jump into an extraordinary life.
“Blindness was only a barrier if I allowed it to be.” – Kristin Smedley
I think about the dreams I had for them. If I would’ve forced those dreams on them, it would have limited their lives in excruciating ways, because I had envisioned the baseball pitcher and scoring the winning touchdown. Michael and Mitchell both wanted to go into the regular Little League in our town at nine, ten, eleven, and twelve years old they played. Both of them have been on championship baseball teams, and they were voted All-Stars. They were contributing in very major ways to those teams with just a few adaptations, and that has played out in their entire lives.
They have out-achieved almost everyone in their public schools when they were in K-12. They’ve been in the blind community. They are top in the Braille Literacy International Challenge competitions. I mean, they have just taken on everything they’ve wanted to do. And Michael is about to graduate from Penn State University. He’s in the top 0.5 percent of 10,000 graduates. And Mitchell is in the top three percent of all the high school seniors that took the SATs last year. He’s thriving as a college freshman, has a country music radio show that is topping the charts. To say that they are thriving and succeeding is almost an understatement.
However, none of that would have been possible if my perception of blindness and their lives and their journey had not changed. And the other part of the equation was access to the resources and the adapted stuff that they needed to achieve all the things that they wanted to achieve.
And I will also say as a proud mom: kids can soar without the weight of our dreams on them. You know, I had envisioned Michael as the valedictorian, and he never knew that. But he became the valedictorian of his high school class, and he stood on that stage with thousands of people in the audience because his class was over 600 kids in that graduating class. It was an extraordinary moment, and Michael talked about in his speech that you need to build a team around you to do the things that you want to do, but you can’t do everything yourself, so build a team. And he also told that crowd that you need to look up and see who needs you, who needs you on their team. Because nobody should go about this alone, and you need to be out there looking for who you can help.
“Kids can soar without the weight of our dreams on them.” – Kristin Smedley
Joy Is Independent of Circumstances
There’s a saying that God doesn’t call the qualified, He qualifies the called, right? And to be able to go from crying on the couch, crashing to the floor, having no idea how to handle this, to being able to create the resource that I needed twenty-two years ago—to be able to create that and be that for other people now is extraordinary. And it’s proof that although we don’t always agree with it, understand it, and can debate it until the cows come home, God’s plan is an extraordinary plan. If we look at it through His lens and allow it to happen and have the patience for it to happen—and honestly, to know where I began this journey, to see where I’m at now, and how many thousands of people reach out to me to be the resource to help them or their child thrive is extraordinary.
I made Jesus Calling part of my morning routine. It has carried me a long, long way. And I think what I love the most about it is I am not a spit off a Bible verse at any second, I would have to really dig deep to remember some Bible verses. But I love how it gives you the biblical part, so you know it’s truth. No matter what I’m going through, it starts my day in a positive [way], keeping that lens on God’s plan, not my plan. It’s been extraordinary for me.
This is a passage from the Jesus Calling for Moms devotional.
I continually call you to closeness with Me. I know the depth and breadth of your need for Me. I can read the emptiness of your thoughts when they wander away from Me. I offer rest for your soul, as well as refreshment for your mind and body. As you increasingly find fulfillment in Me, other pleasures become less important. Knowing Me intimately is like having a private wellspring of Joy within you. This spring flows freely from My throne of grace, so your Joy is independent of circumstances.
Waiting in My Presence keeps you connected to Me, aware of all that I offer you. If you feel any deficiency, you need to refocus your attention on Me. This is how you trust Me in the moments of your life.
I have so many things going on and plates spinning in the air and kids that need me and all these great things that I’m able to do in this world. And so many times it gets overwhelming. You know, Am I enough? Am I doing enough for all the people that I serve? And then I get to read something like that, I can sit or go for a run like I do and know that it isn’t on my shoulders.
Joy is independent of circumstances. I just turned fifty this year, and I have learned that and [am] loving living that right now. I am in full joy no matter—there’s actually nothing in my life going according to plan right now, and I am still in full joy of what is good and great and extraordinary in my life.
Narrator: To learn more about Kristin’s work advocating for the blind community, please visit www.kristinsmedley.com. And be sure to check out her book, Thriving Blind: Stories of Real People Succeeding Without Sight, wherever books are sold.
Stay tuned to Donovan Carter’s story after a brief message.
When Life is Overwhelming, Jesus Listens
Sometimes life can be really stressful, whether it’s personal struggles or world issues that make us feel overwhelmed. But when we feel helpless, God is still there, ready for us to turn to him in prayer.
That’s why Sarah Young wrote Jesus Listens: to deliver a message of peace, love and hope to her readers every day. Jesus Listens is a 365-day prayer devotional with short, heartfelt prayers based on scripture, written to deepen your relationship with God.
Learn more about Jesus Listens and download a free sample.
Narrator: Donovan Carter is an actor and former football player who credits the many people in his life who helped him navigate the competitive, tricky life in Hollywood. He looked to his father for discipline, his mother for her honesty, his grandmother for her faith, and his coaches for instruction on how to work well with others—giving him the template of the man he is striving to be.
Donovan Carter: My name is Donovan Carter. I am from Los Angeles, California, was born in Washington, D.C., but raised in Southern California. I am an actor. Growing up, I had my father, my mother, my stepmother that raised me. So growing up, it was a blessing.
I played T-ball when I was five and I played football when I was nine. So I always loved sports. Always loved competing and the camaraderie and being around my teammates and my coaches.
My dad definitely installed discipline. He was in the military when he was young, so that’s where he got a lot of his discipline from, and my grandparents. My dad taught me early when I was a kid—I didn’t like it at first, but it got me up early in the morning, running, doing drills, working out, training.
I went to church with my grandma when I was young, but really wasn’t like in the Word like that. But I had an amazing childhood, got to experience a lot of things, got to have fun, got to make mistakes, got to learn from those. And ultimately got to compete and get a scholarship to go to UCLA for college.
When Dreams Are Realized and When They Come to an End
Picking a school, it impacted everything I’ve done to this day. I was just happy to get a scholarship from a prestigious school like UCLA and that they acknowledged my game.
I honestly didn’t know what I wanted to do. I just loved sports, and I love hanging out with my friends and naturally, I just got good at it and I was just like, You know what? I’m good at football. Why not try to go to the NFL? And then once I do that, maybe I’ll figure out some other passion.
So when the NFL didn’t pan out, it was a shock. It was definitely a heartbreak. I’ve played football since I was ten years old, and I started to think my last year playing I was about twenty-three, twenty-four, so it was definitely like the love of your life breaking off with you, like you proposed and they say no.
When it didn’t pan out, I was depressed. I was in my house for like a month or two feeling bad for myself, because I just didn’t know what was going to happen next. And eventually, I just got up. I was like, You know, whatever I do, it’s not in this house. I got to get out. I got to figure it out. I’m in the real world now. Like they say when you’re an adult, I had to hustle and I had to figure out my next move.
One of my teammates at UCLA, he gave me the Jesus Calling book as a present. So I read it, and I loved it because I loved devotions like that. I love reading the Bible as well, but I love each day you get a certain thing to work or a certain thing that God wants you to to think about.
The word friend is so loosely said because you could be friends on Instagram, social media, you know, everybody is quick to say this friend word. But you know, for me, being a friend is a sacrifice. And Jesus said He lays His life down for His friends. Some of the people that you call friends, would they do the same thing? I’m just thankful that I have a friend like Jesus who really looks out for me and that wants to see me do well and is with me every step of the way.
It’s such a beautiful book. I hope I meet Sarah Young one day. She’s amazing. She’s changing lives out here every day, and I appreciate her so much.
Do What You Have to Do Until You Do What You Want
I heard a saying the other day: sometimes you’ve got to do what you have to do until you do what you want to do. And at the time, I was just hustling. I was waiting tables. I was doing security. I was working with kids. I’m a young man out of college in Los Angeles, you know, not on my own, but I’m an adult now. My parents did all they could do for me at the time. You know, it’s on you.
I was just trying to figure out how to make it. And I just kept staying in the Word, kept praying, kept talking to God, “Whatever you got for me, Lord, just let me know.”
“I was just trying to figure out how to make it. And I just kept staying in the Word, kept praying, kept talking to God, you know, ‘Whatever you got for me, Lord, just let me know.’” – Donovan Carter, on his first days after leaving the NFL
I went to my school, talked to my coaches, and they gave me an opportunity. They gave me a number to a commercial agent, so I started doing commercials, like background stuff. I was an extra. And then randomly, one day I got another email about auditioning for the show I was on, it was on HBO with Dwayne Johnson. I had never acted before in my life, never took an acting class or anything.
So of course, at first, you know, fear setting and anxiety and just a whole bunch of emotions because I’ve never done this before. And I had a talk with my dad and my dad just told me, “Man, just go for it. Worst they’re going to say is no.”
After talking with him, I went for it. I auditioned ten times in three months, and got blessed with the part. I loved it, it was so much fun. As soon as I stepped on set and did my scene, I said, “This is what I want to do for the rest of my life.”
I would love to keep acting. I would love to be in another series or another movie, would love to get behind the scenes. You know, I’m just living by faith right now, not by sight, whatever God has for me. I’ll do my best and not be anxious and worried. I mean, of course it comes up. But you know, it’s okay. I know God has me and He’s blessed me so far. He’s blessed me to this point right now. And I just do my best to look at what He’s done for me and where I came from, because honestly, every time I’ve been down or I’ve been broke in the past and I’ve had nothing, out of nowhere, just blessing me again.
One of my favorite scriptures is in Philippians 4, “Do not be anxious or worried.” God always has me, so I just know at the end of the day everything’s going to be okay. I don’t know when or where or how, but I’m also comfortable with God. And, you know, I just stay in the Word, stay prayed up, and just do my best to stay positive.
Finding a Friend in God
As an athlete, we know how to work hard, so I just took all the tools I learned from growing up, from what my parents taught me, what my coaches taught me, and just applied that to my new passion, and I just always wanted to get better. That was my thing.
I want my legacy to be that I was a person who worked hard, worked smart, [was] selfless, and always just looking out for others. You know, that’s my thing. I want to see everybody get to where they want to get, if they want to get there. And I just want to lift as I climb, just encourage people if you want to do some of this, you could do it, you know, it’s not going to be easy. But it’s not going to be impossible. But if you want to do it, just do it. It takes time, like with everything. And it’s all about the journey as well.
God is with you all the time. He might not be there physically, but He’s there. He’s there inside of you, is there with people around you. God made me fearfully and wonderfully. I could do anything in this world if I wanted to and if I had the right mindset, and I’m just so appreciative of Him in my life.
“God made me fearfully and wonderfully. I could do anything in this world if I wanted to and if I had the right mindset, and I’m just so appreciative of Him in my life.” – Donovan Carter
He can make peace out of adversity, because I feel like in life, we all go through adversity. We all go through ups and downs. I’m just happy that I can find peace in the Lord and that I can find a friend in Him who’s always there. I’m just appreciative of the challenges every day that He puts me through, and the blessings as well.
Narrator: To learn more about Donovan, visit www.donovanwcarter.com.
If you’d like to hear more stories about the power of people in our lives, check out our interview with Derek Evans.
Next Week: The 5 Love Languages’ Gary Chapman
Narrator: Next time on the Jesus Calling Podcast, we’ll hear from the author of the iconic book, The 5 Love Languages, Gary Chapman, who shares his classic insight into how we can express our love to others in a way that reaches their hearts in the way they long to be reached.
Gary Chapman: By nature, we speak our language. If we don’t know anything about the love languages, we will simply “do” for our spouse or the other person that we’re expressing love to. We will do what we would want them to do for us or say to us. If it’s not their language, it will not mean to them what it would mean to you emotionally. And that’s why it’s important to discover the other person’s primary love language.