Robert W. Lee is a pastor, author, and activist. Having been featured on CNN, MTV, and ABC’s TheView, Lee is now most passionate about making sure his adopted daughters receive the fullest life he can offer. A graduate of Duke University and Appalachian State University, he lives in Statesville, North Carolina, with his wife, Stephanie; his daughters, Phoenix and Athena; and their poodle, Frank.
Tell me a little about Fostering Hope: A Prayerbook for Foster & Adoptive Families. How did you come to write about such a topic and what was your hope for your how new book might impact readers?
Fostering Hope was born out of my desire, along with the desire of those around me to center the foster and adoptive experience in prayer. Churches can get a lot of things wrong when it comes to faithfully addressing the need for foster care and adoption services, often couching these realities in broader political issues or theological underpinnings. To me this is an issue of grave importance that has possibilities for everyone to participate in through their prayers and presence to those going through the process. I sought out all kinds of folk from various different backgrounds because I wanted to show that this is an issue that not only strikes at the heart of God’s people but indeed the very heart of God. I equally was concerned with insuring that the typical tropes and misconceptions in adoption and foster care were avoided so that parents, caregivers, relatives, friends, and congregations could hold fast to their moorings while embracing those among us who are going through this process.
In Fostering Hope you mention that prayerbooks can be a guide for us and “offer fresh expressions of grace.” What are some of the misconceptions surrounding prayerbooks and what is your advice to anyone who is hesitant to start a prayerbook, but want to deepen their relationship with God?
Personally, I love prayerbooks! They center and guide my daily devotional and worshipping life, along with ground me in a tradition that has been in the works for ages. That said I recognize that a prayerbook that is stuffy might seem unapproachable, or untenable for someone on this journey. I sought to make this a fresh expression of prayer in a few ways. Most notably of those ways was who I included as those who offered prayers. We have an Episcopal Bishop, a Jewish Rabbi, a 5-year-old adopted child, and countless others. Just in that sentence you see the full breadth of possibility in prayer. It is also true that we sought to be inclusive of LGBTQ children and parents, cross-racial and geographically diverse adoptions. We were careful to pay attention to scenarios that are difficult, like death and illness, while simultaneously celebrating thepromises that adoption and foster care can hold.
What was the most meaningful or surprising experience you had in the process of editing Fostering Hope?
The most meaningful experience I held and continue to hold with me was the interactions with including my daughter, Athena’s prayer in the prayerbook. She has this incredibly considerate and thoughtful prayer she prays before every meal, so I thought, wouldn’t it be great if she became a published author. I ran the idea by her, and she ran with it. We sat together one day and wrote down her prayer word for word. When my first copy of the published book arrived, she asked to autograph it for me. After all, she had written the prayer in it, she said. Her 5-year-old signature is now proudly affixed on my book, and it will forever be a prized possession of mine. Parenthetically, she now goes around and tells people about the book she wrote, and how important it is to her. It makes me so proud to be her dad!
What were, if any, the challenges you faced shifting from being an author to an editor?
I have always believed that any writer worth their weight in this business must have an amazing editor behind them. I am forever in the debt of people like Leslie Andres at Smyth and Helwys who has partnered with me on three of my four books. So, for me to try to fill her shoes in some small way felt like a daunting task. That said, my contributors made it easy, and by the end of the book I felt like I was dancing with them rather than correcting them. We were all pushing to make sure the book was the best possible book it could be. I’m grateful that I had such ease with this, I recognize that isn’t always the case. Even still I am already grateful to be back to being a simple country author rather than editor of a book.
In your introduction I was most struck by the concepts of “with-ness” and “for-ness” as simple ideas with monumental power in understanding our relationship with God. What power do these seemingly simple concepts have at home and in church? And how can we, as a people of faith, be more aware of the solidarity around us as promised by God?
I love this part of my introduction, I know that I am thankful to Sam Wells, former Dean of Duke Chapel and now-Vicar at St. Martin-in-the-Fields in Trafalgar Square for his expounding this idea for me. I don’t know about you, but I want a God who is both with and for me. A God whose presence is palpable but whose passion for our lives is equally palpable. I want God near and clear about the ways in which God’s nearness and proximity can change us. The same is true for adoption and foster care. God is with these children. God is especially with these children in a system that is deeply broken coming from families that are just as broken. I want to know about that God. I want to follow that God.
On a more personal note, how do you enjoy spending time outside of your ministry?
Well since February of 2021 when Athena and Phoenix came into my wife Stephanie’s and my care as foster children, my life has been consumed by shoe shopping and tea parties, barbies and play-doh. If I have a spare moment beyond being a dad, I am an avid autograph collector. Some of my favorites are a letter from a collateral ancestor, Lighthorse Harry Lee, a signed book from Coretta Scott King, and a handwritten copy of God of Grace and God of Glory in the penmanship of the hymn’s author, the Rev. Harry Emerson Fosdick. These autographs connect me to history and to people I admire. It’s great fun for me!