Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Wednesday Wonder - Melani Skinner

Alganesh needed a friend. Days from delivering her second child, the dark-skinned young woman patted her protruding belly, a mix of anticipation and fear tugging at her emotions. Surveying her shabby apartment in east Fort Worth, this courageous Etheopian refugee wondered how she would possibly care for her new baby in this unfamiliar place. Her few friends - Somalian refugees living in her apartment complex - shared in Alganesh's plight of caring for their families in a foreign city posing language and economic barriers.
Then came a knock at Alganesh's door. A friend showed up. And then that friend came again. And again.
Armed with baby gifts and a warm smile, a young woman from the other side of town heard of Alganesh's need and heeded the call to help.
Meet Melani.
In Alganesh's eyes, Melani is a listener, encourager, counselor, nurse, and laundry-lady. Most important, Melani has become the friend Alganesh didn't even know she needed.
Of course Melani is much more than that. In my eyes, she's my junior high and high school friend who now serves as my boys' public school nurse. She's a brave and hardworking mom, joyful in keeping foster children (while single and working full-time as a nurse) and eventually adopting her darling daughter, Sarah.
I remember hearing Melani speak at a women's luncheon years ago sharing her story of how she came to adopt Sarah. My oldest son, Branson, is the same age as Sarah, and it amazed me that Melani had the courage to do this great thing, knowing that she was not only doing something counter to what her friends were doing, but also that she faced the coming years as a single mom.
Now Branson & Sarah are second graders together, and Bran sees Melani regularly at school (maybe a little too regularly... I get wind of numerous passes to the nurse's office.) I see through my boys, as well as many of the kids at school, that Melani generates an atmosphere of kindness and security. Her office serves as a refuge for children with both hurting tummies and hurting hearts.

I asked Melani about her driving force in regards to adopting Sarah, and here's her reply:
"James 1:27 - This is pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father, to help widows and orphans in their distress..."
I have always had a heart for the orphan- this is simply a gift from God. When I was 25 and working as a new school nurse in a very poor community I saw a lot of child abuse. Often the worst case perpetrator was the child's foster parent. Through a series of events I believed God was calling me to become a foster parent myself. But I often got caught in the trap of "waiting." Waiting to get out of school, waiting to get a job, waiting to get married... I finally realized I could be missing great and exciting opportunities right where God had me so I took steps to become a foster parent. I fostered six different children (not all at the same time!), and when my last, Sarah, had been with me for several months one of her caseworkers approached me about adoption. Having never been a fan of single-parent adoption, I was reluctant and scared. I felt unequipped. I had fallen in love with two-year-old Sarah, and wondered if this was what God was calling me to do, wondered what would happen to her if I said no. I remembered an old pastor/friend telling me once, "Where God calls, He provides." And He has been faithful! At times it is an uphill journey, but I gain confidence and courage from these words and the knowledge that God is sovereign:
"I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength- Phil 4:13" and
"My God will meet all your needs according to His glorious riches in Christ Jesus - Phil 4:19."

Sarah has a sweet spirit and a heart of compassion- she is a gift from God.

Asking how she met Alganesh, Melanie said,
This fall I was cleaning out all the JUNK in my house. I noticed a blurb in the church bulletin wanting household items for refugees living in east Fort Worth. So I called and offered my junk and was invited to help and deliver the items. This is when I first met my friend Alganesh, an Ethiopian refugee, living among many Somali refugees, quite a few thugs, and many, many children! Alganesh was pregnant and felt scared and alone. We instantly became friends. Her kind and gentle spirit was evident in our first meeting. On our second meeting I brought hot soup (no bowls), crackers, and chocolate chip cookies. It was a feast, and even though all we had to eat our hot soup out of were the OLD tupperware containers I had cleaned out of my house weeks before, I felt the Spirit right there with us - it was a divine appointment for sure! Alganesh has become my very good friend. She teaches me about her culture and I help her through mine. She shows me her beliefs and I share mine. People say I am kind to minister to her. Truthfully, I am ministered to through her. Isn't it interesting how God equips us and directs our steps all for our own good and ultimately for His Glory!

My greatest joy with Alganesh is the look on her face when we drop by for a visit. Sometimes it's a look like - you came back??? Teaching her to care for a newborn baby in AMERICA, which is much different than in Ethiopia. Sharing the gospel with her. Seeing her have joy and contentment living in an apartment I am scared to visit. Seeing her grateful heart for the things she has, which is not much!
My biggest challenge with Alganesh is teaching her that she does not have to buy Gerber baby water for her baby! Tap is OK! She wants only the best for her baby. Navigating WIC, Medicaid, and welfare. Helping find honest ways to earn money to care for her family, as well as teaching her self-respect and not to be taken advantage of.

I asked Melani if there were any practical ways we could help with Alganesh and the other Somalian women. Her response:

1. Pray for salvation, safety, basic needs.
2. Befriend another refugee.
3. Be a part of a "baby shower" for these women! A group of women are preparing some basic supplies for six refugee women who have recently had babies all living in the same complex, and we plan to deliver goods on March 1. We are in need of the following:
*6-12 (28 oz) bottles of Johnson & Johnson Head to Toe Babywash
*6-12 (14 oz) bottles of Johnson's Baby Oil Lavender
*6-12 (27 oz) bottles of Johnson & Johnson Bedtime Lotion
*Childrens DVDs that might appeal to young boys- lots of boys- anything with Christian values would be great!
*Childrens games
*"Learn to Read" Bibles

If you would like to help with the much-needed baby supplies, or live in the area and want to help deliver the goods this Saturday, March 1st, and meet these precious women, contact Melani at:
melaniskinner at sbcglobal dot net
She would love to hear from you! And even if this "shower" opportunity passes, there are many needs in the coming weeks, so feel free to contact Melanie at any point to see how you can help.

Melanie - you are a gift, friend! To Sarah, to Alganesh, to me and my kids, and countless others you come into contact with. Thanks for all you do AND the beautiful example you are of truly serving as the hands and feet of Christ. He is beautiful in you!

P.S. A little insight into both Malanie's "dailies" at work AND Branson's flair for the dramatic... Melani e-mailed me several days ago: "Right after we talked Branson came into the nurse's office. He said he bumped his lip, and then kind of passed out, and then gushed blood, and then....., and then....."

** Look for my Wednesday Wonder posts (most weeks!) - please forgive the cheesy name - as I highlight inspiring friends and people in my life... enjoy! **

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Worth a Thousand Words

Basden Joy with her Cappy...any doubts of the outcome?

A VeriEze Adventure

Branson & Hudson took their first flights in Dad's plane a couple of weeks ago... I hadn't been able to put my thoughts into words yet, it was such a sweet afternoon! The following is Dad's description of the event. Lots to look forward to at Bourland Field. Thanks, Dad!

The plane has been at Bear Creek Aviatory for about 24 hours now. Back-taxiing to the top of Runway 17, a little left rudder and the nose ezily nods and swings around to the south. Final checks complete and throttle up and the nose wheel marries to the flashing centerline. A little back stick and the nose is up and the tires spin free and the runway drops away. As we flit by, Daboo, Ton, Corb and crew wave from mid-field. At 160 mph a gentle pull has us lofting up left toward downwind. The pull is accompanied with a “YEEEHAAAWWW” from the back seat. Evidently Branson approves. This is his surprise first ride on birthday number 8. The climb is subdued to stay at pattern altitude. Turning down for the low approach sets us firmly in the seat. At mid field I point at the white blur on the right telling Bran to wave to everyone.

After the second gentle low pass Branson is offered a final landing… or a three minute trip to the north to see his soccer fields. On the way north along Hwy 377 we see miles of black pastures that we had seen burning on the news the day before. I point out a half-mile long train and over the hot-mike can hear Bran quietly mentally deciphering this new perspective. Passing over the lake and soccer fields, Bran remembers my flyovers as he played. You can hear the same ground-to-air mental connections sinking in. Bran is engaged and comfortable flying the airplane. It is a great flight for both of us. On touchdown he rewards me with a “Cool, man”.

After shutting down back at Bear Creek it takes several minutes for Branson’s feet to actually touch the ground. I can hear four year old Basden Joy correcting someone that she IS old enough to fly the airplane. Year-old Esther bounces hurriedly toward me, jostIing and evading. I am watching six-year old Hudson to gage his interest level. He finally quietly informs me that he wants to go. After approvals all around, he is strapped into the elevated rear cockpit and checks in over the intercom. He has a great view. He is feeling good during taxi and runup at the top of the runway. So off we go. During the same takeoff and climb I hear nothing over the hot-mike. Leveling on downwind I ask Hudson if he is OK. “Cappy, that is the coolest thing I have ever done. Can we do that again!” Guess he’s OK. During the low approaches I remember his firm full throttle control of the jet-skis, and the time on a river run where he threw me off. He particularly enjoys watching the ailerons and rudders do their things.

Another perfect first flight. After landing, being interviewed by the pressing media, asked if it was better than the jet-skis, after thinking a moment Hud responds, “the jet-skis are number two”.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Wednesday Wonder - Michelle Helton

I met Michelle last September. She is arguably one of Essie's favorite people, which makes her one of my favorite people. Michelle dances with Esther, cleans her chubby little fingers from paint and food, and even changes her punctual 10:00 am dirty diapers twice a week. This smiling (and mischievous) woman welcomes my baby girl into her arms each Monday and Wednesday morning, waiting at the open dutch door of Esther's little preschool class.
If you're a mom, you know the value and sanctity of your little ones' teachers, especially preschool teachers. And I especially admire Michelle. She's four years younger than me, but about a year ahead in terms of life stages. All of her kids are one year older than mine: Michelle is mommy to Victoria (9), Rebecca (7), Joshua (6 - pictured here) and Emily (3), and she has been married to Paul for twelve years.

I think what caught my admiration of Michelle was learning that our families are so similar, and she's JOYFULLY serving twice a week in our fabulous preschool program, happily keeping up with nine 18-month olds (yikes) and doing it all with a convincing grin that she wants to be there loving our kiddos.
Did I say she's mischievous? Something about her smile communicates that this seasoned mom knows how to both enjoy and keep her sanity in balancing her own family and these active little ones at school.
I think Esther gives Michelle a run for her money. Standing up in her crib and screeching during nap times (SO GRATEFUL the screeching phase is over - I've not experienced any thing like that before...), one glance from Michelle would remind Esther who's boss and who needs to lay down and rest. Love it. And I love that Michelle embraces and appreciates Esther's vibrant, (tornado-ish) laughing personality.
One day last Fall I picked Esther up early, and the elaborate Thanksgiving crafts weren't quite ready. Michelle insisted the darling hand-printed placemat make it home for our Thanksgiving dinner and scurried around the church, laminating and completing Esther's little creation for us to take with us. Michelle's a bundle of energy and makes school "fun with boundaries" for little Essie, something this mommy appreciates deeply.

Oh, and did I mention that Michelle's husband Paul is a night-duty police officer? He currently works 11-7 am. Michelle has a paralegal degree but is currently in school and one year away from completing a degree in criminal justice. Balance, balance, balance. Her favorite hobby (if she were to have such a thing as free time) is quilting. She's created quilts for each child and dreams of finishing three-year-old Emily's.
When asked about a life verse, Michelle said one of her favorites, something she's teaching her boys is 1 Samuel 16:7. But the LORD said to Samuel, "Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart."

Michelle, you are appreciated, and truly a WONDER in my life...and Esther's... and all those families you touch. Blessings to you, friend!

** Look for my Wednesday Wonder posts (most weeks!) - please forgive the cheesy name - as I highlight inspiring friends and people in my life... enjoy! **

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Wednesday Wonder - Esther A. Gilbreath, aka Grandma

Grandma was raised in Glory, Minnesota, and on this date eight years ago she was raised up for eternity in GLORY.
Undoubtedly named after the Biblical Queen of Persia, Grandma inherited quite a legacy. And she left a legacy of her own in four children, ten grandchildren, and twelve (so far) great grandchildren, one of whom is her namesake.
I just started Family Driven Faith by Voddie Baucham Jr., and in the first chapter he writes the phrase "multigenerational faith" about twelve times. He introduces he and his wife by saying, "Ours is a picture of systemic multigenerational dysfunction." And then a few pages later Voddie writes, "I am a father with a desire to see his family characterized by multigenerational faithfulness."
A beautiful passion.
One that Grandma shared, and the rippled effects are felt in my own home.
We didn't talk on the phone regularly, but Grandma would call me every now and then during my Baylor years to tell me "I pray for you every day, little Tonya."
She continued that trend with all the grandkids, and didn't seem scared or discouraged when a family member strayed from the Lord. She loved each of us deeply and simply expected God to get our attention and pull us to Him in His time.
Grandma was the typical American grandma - at least typical to me. Southern Baptist to the core, she knew her Bible well. I remember her surprise when as a young adult I wasn't familiar with Isaiah 40. "Oh Tonya, it's the most wonderful passage: Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength, they will soar on wings like eagles..."
I hastily went home and memorized the majestic verses.
Grandma was "fluffy" enough for a child to snuggle up her lap and feel safe. I recall a perpetual aroma in her kitchen of freshly baked pies or AMAZING homemade Sweedish bread ("Caca bread" is what she called it, but unfortunately that doesn't translate so well in South Texas).
When I share about God's work in my life, I always start by saying that my "story" didn't start in 1972, but instead generations ago, as far as I know, on both sides of my family. Without having read the entirety of Voddie's book, the message is critical and necessary, as it is a marvelous thing to be raised in the shadow of one's parents, grandparents and ancestors' faith. I claim Psalm 16:6 with gratitude: "The lines have fallen to me in pleasant places; Indeed, my heritage is beautiful to me."
One of the first times Corbin met Grandma was at a Gilbreath family reunion. Newly engaged, we joined about forty aunts, uncles, and cousins at a hotel in San Antonio. At the end of the colorful weekend, everyone crowded onto a small covered porch bidding hugs and good-byes, promising to see each other soon. My brother Trey seized an opportune moment as Corbin hugged Grandma to walk past them and goose Grandma's rear. Grandma's gasp silenced the crowd, and Trey exclaimed, "Corbin!" Grandma looked at my future (deer in headlights!) husband with smiling, piercing eyes and said, "Corbin, I knew that was you!"
Corbin was either too embarrassed or simply didn't have the heart to reveal the true prankster, but before he managed to escape to the safety of our car, my spirited Granny (dad's mom) walked past Corbin and whispered, "You're gonna have all the old ladies walking past you now."
An example of Grandma's resourcefulness and practicality is the Christmas Grandpa cut the top of his head in his carpentry shop. After showing the wound to Grandma, he spent the rest of the Christmas holiday with a thick maxi-pad bandage attached to the top of his head. I was in junior high at the time and could have died from embarrassment. (If you're following these posts with any regularity, you're figuring out there's a pattern with my family and creative solutions with Christmas-time injuries....)
I could go on and on with comedic and precious memories. My dad could also insert some amusing stories regarding the whole Bush/Gore presidential race in 2000, but I'll leave him to comment on that if he chooses...
As her health began to fail, Grandma prayed that she would just "fall asleep and wake up in the arms of Jesus." And she did. Two days after Branson's first birthday, Grandma closed her eyes and went to be with her Lord. She died at home in her own bed, and it was a beautiful example to all of us not only of a life well lived, but of a graceful, hopeful passing.
I wrote and read the following poem at Grandma's lovely memorial service:

Dear Grandma,
I see Him holding you gently now
Cradling you in His arms
Stroking your forehead tenderly
As He has been all along.

You're in the strong arms of Jesus
He took you in your sleep
Just as you'd requested of Him
A very special promise to keep.

I see Him holding you gently now
Whispering in your ear
He's so excited for you to see
Your crown and home He's prepared.

You're in the strong arms of Jesus
He holds you so proud, so dear
Calling 'round so many family and frinds
"Come and look - Esther's here!"

What a sweet reunion as
An old friend kisses your cheek
Loved ones giving you "welcome home" hugs
And look there - could it be?

Grandpa ready with his wide, shy grin
He's been so patient to wait
And now that he's got you, he's not letting go
Oh - how you've missed that embrace!

Nothing could be sweeter
Than to gaze on the beauty of the Lord
Your whole life you looked forward to this time
To be in His temple evermore.

And now...you are in the strong arms of Jesus
It's with praise and thanksgiving we know
That God's love you planted in us
Will continue to multiply and grow.!

We miss you, Grandma, and are forever indebted to your life and love for Jesus. We honor and remember you today especially... and until we see you again, Corbin is anxiously awaiting your hot-out-of-the-oven rhubarb pie!

** Look for my Wednesday Wonder posts (most weeks!) - please forgive the cheesy name - as I highlight inspiring friends and people in my life... enjoy! **

Friday, February 1, 2008

The Evolution of a Red Satin Cape (And Happy 8th Birthday, Branson!)

My seven-year-old is precious.
The only thing is, he's seven for just a few more hours. Monday he turns eight.
Like most parents, I'm incredulous as to how it's possible that my baby is growing up to be a young man right before my eyes.
He was just born!
Yet the evidence presents itself all around me, undeniable proof that he's maturing and growing up.
Last night a good friend we haven't seen in a few months nearly passed out when Branson entered the room, she couldn't believe how tall and "grown up" he looked. She even took a picture of him to show her husband, and said she wouldn't have recognized him without me there.
Even our home substantiates Branson's gradual exodus from little boy-hood.
The shirts in Bran's closet are sliding off his "kid-size" plastic hangars, and I'm slowly replacing them with larger ones from mine and Corbin's closets.
I cleaned out the play room before Christmas, clearing out old toys and making room for the new ones to come. But by about mid-January it hit me that we weren't actually replacing the once-overflowing bins with new toys. Practically everything the boys received were designated to their Nintendo bags, a media cabinet drawer, or the growing pile of sports gear in the garage.
If you were to visit our home, you'd find Esther dragging around her red satin blankie with a few inches of velcro running down two seams. Satin is her thing, and she's attached to that blanket. Only it's original purpose was a red Superman cape. I made it for two-year-old Branson when he wore ONLY superhero costumes. (Anyone remember this? Our church nursery workers assured me it was perfectly normal for him to show up as Spiderman, Batman or even Captain America week in and week out...)
Esther wore a green "Soccer" hoodie all day today that belonged to Bran when he was a baby. I don't even remember seeing it on Hudson and Basden, yet I know they wore it. Somehow the years are passing more quickly and blurring together in the process.
Last week during our respite from "life" and school with everyone sick, Bran and I spent about three hours on the back deck completing his make-up work. It was one of my favorite few hours of my entire week. I enjoyed listening to him rattle off spelling words and whiz through math worksheets, even though the week and half off of school definitely took a toll on his mental readiness. After writing about 20 adverb-filled sentences and preparing to write 20 more (Stephen King would absolutely die seeing all those -ly words), I asked Branson if he felt like this work was too difficult.
He looked at me, rolled his eyes, and said, "uhh, PIE."
"You know, Mom. EASY AS..."
What in the world?!
Most of the phrases I hear from Bran and Hud are simply 30-year old renditions of things my brothers and I said to each other at his age - nothing new under the sun. But "Pie" was a new one to me. And I laughed so hard I could hardly catch my breath.
I am so enjoying watching Branson's personality bloom as he matures. Of course it's bittersweet observing these changes, but it does keep life interesting. I'm already wondering what the red satin blankie will morph into next... perhaps a "something old" treasure for Branson's wife to carry down the aisle? Ok, ok, perhaps I'm getting a little ahead of myself...

Well, happy happy birthday to my nearly eight-year-old boy.
Our home is vibrant and alive and beautiful with you in it. I am so, so grateful and honored to be your Mommy.
I love you, Bran!