On a mission to spread smiles and encourage positivity, Warren and Kimberly Griffin use their personal experiences with loss and love to craft stories that inspire a kinder and more compassionate world.
In her published children’s book “My Beautiful Lips,” Kimberly tells the story through the eyes of Abana, a 12-year-old girl living in South Africa who was born with a cleft lip. Although she is a fictional character, Abana faces real challenges and endures many of the same barriers that Operation Smile patients often encounter along their journey of living with an untreated cleft condition.
“Making that character, it made me feel proud,” Kimberly said. “But it also made me feel sad because there are kids who are going through this in real life.”
As advocates of acceptance and equality, Warren and Kimberly aim to inspire people to act with kindness through creating their motivational publication called Bully magazine as a platform for others to share their stories.
“I think once the recording stops, that’s when the healing starts,” Warren said. “That’s what Bully magazine is all about. When someone leaves me and my wife, and they have a breakthrough in their life, we can come together later and see how their life has blossomed from just a conversation.”
We recently sat down with Kimberly and Warren to further discuss Bully magazine and “My Beautiful Lips” as well as their excitement about connecting with Operation Smile as an opportunity to achieve their goal of spreading healing and embracing others.
Q: You wrote a book about a child with a cleft condition called “My Beautiful Lips.” Can you share more about that?
Kimberly: “I created children’s books back in 2019. I wanted to do another one, but I wanted to do a different one that could touch someone. That's when I did “My Beautiful Lips.” When we saw a video that [Dr. Bill Magee, Operation Smile Co-Founder and CEO] shared, it was identical to “My Beautiful Lips.” I said to my husband, ‘That's my book.’ He said, ‘We’ve got to meet them, and we’ve got to tell them your story.’
“It’s about a little girl named Abana. She’s from South Africa. She was in an orphanage because her parents had a condition and passed away. She is alone a lot of the time. She was alone because she got teased. The other kids would make fun of her because of her cleft lip. Every time she ate, the food would fall out. Abana got really sick, and she met a lady who took her into town. She thought she was just in the hospital for her sickness, but then found out she was getting sick because of her cleft lip. When she woke up, they said: ‘So, Abana, are you here to get your lip surgery?’ She asked, ‘Lip surgery?’ She was in shock. That was the dream.
“I told Bill and [Kathy Magee, Operation Smile Co-Founder and President] my story, and said to them, ‘I would just love for that book to be in the hands of a child that’s getting a surgery.’”
Q: What was the process like when you were writing and thinking about the storyline and putting yourself into it? How did that affect you?
Kimberly: “It made me feel a little emotional just knowing that I was talking about someone who wanted beautiful lips, and here I am. I was shy for my full lips. Making that character, it made me feel proud, but it also made me feel sad because there are kids who are going through this in real life.
“That’s why I did that book. I wanted children to understand the importance of what a child may be going through. By bullying someone who may have a condition, you don’t know how harmful that is to them. You’ve got to be respectful of what people go through and how they look. Everybody’s made different. God made us that way for a reason. That’s why I wrote that book about cleft lip.”
Q: Do you know someone who was born with a cleft condition, or how have you been exposed to the condition? You’d be surprised how many people know what it is, but they don’t really understand the bullying aspect.
Kimberly: “I have seen stories about children in poverty in different countries. Even when my children were small, we saw it. And I always told them never to make fun of people because you don’t know what their conditions are. As I was writing, I thought about how I was teased about my lips because they were full when I was younger. I never liked my lips. I never liked a lot of my features, but I wanted to speak on that in a different way.
“So, I said, ‘I want to do a cleft lip story because I know these little kids can suffer. I know these children are going through stuff, being bullied, and I know their wish is to have beautiful lips.’ My mom always told me, ‘One day, you’re going to be grateful for those lips because they’re going to get you places that you’ve never thought of.’ Here I am with a book about cleft lip and talking to Operation Smile!
“My dream is to have my children’s books in the public school system and to have children read them from different parts of the country. Just having that in their hand and understanding the mission behind the book and the story behind it is what I really want.”
Q: Tell me more about your background and getting into children’s books and the issues that you raise in those books.
Kimberly: “The first two books were Through ‘Daddy’s Eyes’ and ‘Joey’s Boots.’ I created ‘Joey’s Boots to teach children to not be fearful in life. It teaches children a story about courage and strength and motivates them not to be fearful. I wrote that story about my grandson, and I wrote ‘Through Daddy’s Eyes’ about my granddaughter. My oldest son lost part of his eyesight. I wrote that story about my son and granddaughter and the things my granddaughter would do to help my son. To let children know that it’s okay to have a dad or a mom who have physical differences. You still love them and understand that it’s important that you are a part of their life.”
Q: Tell us more about Bully magazine.
Kimberly: “Bully magazine deals with testimonial stories to heal people. People have a time letting go of their past painful experiences, and it all started with me losing my son and knowing that he was holding onto his depression and the things he went through in his life. Having a platform to allow people to speak freely about their pain has shifted people to open up and not hold onto that.”
Q: It sounds like one of your foundational values is taking adversity in life and trying to create something positive from that. Could you speak a little bit more about that?
Kimberly: “We wanted to open people up. Reading these testimony stories and gearing them toward victory. You can be at the bottom’s end, but if you push yourself and believe in yourself and believe in faith and just work toward what dreams you have, you can do it. That’s what those stories do, they target people’s loss, their tragedies, but from pain to purpose can lead to victory. Even with the children’s stories, in the end, it’s always some victory.”
Warren: “I can tell you this, from the inception to now, it’s amazing just sitting back and watching how people’s lives have changed. We continue to follow the people that we interview and see people’s lives change from a testimony. You have got to understand that once we are writing those magazines, we give people the opportunity to review their story. There’s a lot of people who didn’t even want to share their story because they dug so deep into their lives. I think once the recording stops, that’s when the healing starts. That’s what Bully magazine is all about. We can publish the stories all day, but when someone leaves me and my wife and they have a breakthrough in their life, we can come together later and see how their life has blossomed from just a conversation.”
Q: Do you have any final thoughts you’d like to add?
Warren: “I think the most important thing we have to remember is that with relationships, they have to start somewhere. So we take our time. We understand that Operation Smile has been around forever, but it’s like you say, we just don't want this to be the last conversation.
“I love things being organic. That’s where the realness is. It’s not fabricated, it’s not something that you feel like you have this thing on your back. Just let it flow. Let it happen. Because not only with Operation Smile, but Bully magazine is also being recognized.
“It’s being recognized, and I believe that God is going to take us to a level that we’re going to have to be ready for, and I want to be ready for it. Me and Bill and his wife, Kathy, and knowing that you are willing to work with us and share your platform with us, that means a lot. It really does.”
Note: In addition to impacting lives through their inspirational magazine and children’s book series, Kimberly and Warren Griffin also have a nonprofit organization called Support Joey’s Heart, created in honor of their son who passed away. The foundation of their nonprofit is to provide resources and support that help make a positive impact on individuals, families and communities.
But the duo doesn’t stop there. Warren and Kimberly also have a podcast called The Talk Over Podcast where they discuss mental health, overcoming adversity, relationships and more.
You can find "My Beautiful Lips" and other titles from Kimberly Griffin on Amazon.