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! **