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Tina wanted to wait until her new home was unpacked to send pictures, but who can wait to tell the good news?

Tina has everything she needs.

“I have an entire bedroom set — even a washer and dryer,” she told me as she unpacked and settled in to a borrowed home. “We still need a couch and a love seat but those are coming in another week. We may have to buy a hot water tank, we’re not sure… oh, wait, no we won’t. Dad just said he’d buy one for us if we need it.”

In the week since the wildfire, her voice has grown stronger and our conversation has gone from worry and uncertainty to celebration and gratitude.

“People have responded like crazy,” she said, still in awe of how folks opened their hearts and their homes to help her. Now, when she and Lee return from their honeymoon they’ll have a two-bedroom house waiting for them. “God is great,” Tina said.

And they’ll know that they aren’t starting their new lives alone.

We’re all standing with them.

 

“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me. 

Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ 

The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’” — Matthew 25: 35-40 (NIV)

 

 

Sometimes the darkness of depression seems insurmountable and that’s where Tina has been this year — right there in the middle of a lost job, a battle with Lyme disease and the grief of losing her future mother-in-law. It was piling on, layer after dark layer. And then last week brought the life-threatening sting of a wasp and the all-too-close escape from the wildfire.

“I’ve almost died twice this week, but God saved me,” Tina said, her voice still weak from the smoke and allergies. “I know I’m here for a reason.”

So, even though the wildfire stole her beautiful trees and her home, it’s given her a new confidence in exchange.

“Share the story of my depression,” she urged. “I want them to know what a loving God we have and that He’s never left me.” Tell them that people have been donating. That Lee’s boss gave him money. That your friend is sending money for wedding shoes. Maybe it will help somebody else who is depressed, she said.

And so I share it all.

I know that Tina’s road won’t be an easy one. Depression isn’t something that disappears after a sunny day or two. Unfortunately, it’s a slippery opponent to wrestle with, one that seems to wiggle away and rise from the mat again and again. But now every time she slides her feet into donated shoes or dries her hair on a towel from my sister’s closet, she’ll know she’s loved by God and by all of us.

“Thank you” seems small in comparison to what you’ve graciously given, but they are the only words I have.

Thank you for helping my dear friend. Thank you. Thank you.

You can still help by praying for her strength and courage and wisdom. A family member has offered a home to them. It needs a bit of work but Lee hopes to have it ready in a week or so. If you live nearby, she could use any of your extra household items, like linens, kitchen supplies or furniture. They can all be dropped off at her parents’ house near Sapulpa,Okla. “I don’t care if I have to sleep on the floor,” she said. “At least we have a place of our own.”

She was able to save some pictures, but I’m sure she’d appreciate copies of any photos you might have of her or of her family and friends. She’s very sentimental and those things mean a lot to her.

Today I hear the pain in Tina’s voice as she tells me all that’s left of her house is a twisted piece of metal. Their 80 acres of trees used to be beautiful, she says, and full of wildlife. Now, you can see right through to the charred trunks and the ashes that fell like snow after the wildfire licked up the leaves and the underbrush.

This month was supposed to be one of celebration. She and Lee had planned to sneak away and elope in Eureka Springs, Ark., and then come back and start their new lives. In a year, they had hoped to move out of their trailer and build a new home right there on their land in Olive, Okla. — a little slice of secluded paradise for a country girl like Tina.

Now, she needs shoes for her wedding, and she doesn’t have a place to come home to.

She has flip-flops that she wore out the door, some favorite pictures and her grandma’s ring. But the other things, like a treasured Bible and a yearbook with scribbles and jokes from her high school friends, are all gone. Nothing is left and there’s no insurance to replace them.

She’s grateful to be alive, grateful for the hard-working firefighters and for friends who have already started dropping off donations at her parents’ house. Grateful because this is a blessing in disguise, she says. She’s sure of it, even now.

If you’d like to help, please pray for strength and wisdom for Tina. If you’d like to help by donating, her family’s most urgent need is clothing, especially for Lee and his son. Lee and Eric both wear a size 13 in shoes. Lee wears a 2X in shirts and has a 36-38 waist. Eric wears a large or 1X in shirts and has a 34-inch waist. Donations have already started to come in for clothing for Tina, but I’m sure she could use something other than flip-flops, especially for her wedding. She wears a 9 or a 9.5 in shoes.

They are staying with family members now but would love to borrow a travel trailer to use as a temporary home.

I’d also welcome suggestions for getting Tina another copy of our senior yearbook — and maybe even pictures from lower grades. Does Sapulpa High School keep old copies of yearbooks? Could we organize a yearbook signing of sorts? 

You can call Tina’s niece Krystal at (404) 771-3515 for more info as well. 

If ever there was a family that knows the value of friends, it’s the Brunos.

When their oldest daughter, Alyssa, was diagnosed with brain stem cancer, their co-workers donated time off so Lori Bruno could stay home with Alyssa without losing pay. When medical bills mounted, friends and Henrietta neighbors hosted fundraisers. When Alyssa needed cheer for her sixth birthday, a teacher sent an email requesting cards and lucky pennies. Tens of thousands of people from around the world responded.

So, when Alyssa passed away shortly after that birthday, it made sense for the Brunos to start a foundation in her memory and help other families.

“When you’re worrying about a child being sick, you certainly don’t want to have to worry about the bills coming at the end of the month,” said Chris Bruno, father to Alyssa and now to Addison, who is 3 and looks like her sister.

“Alyssa taught us about living life to the fullest and about helping people out,” he said, and now Alyssa’s Angels has given gift cards and other support to hundreds of people who were in danger of falling through the cracks.

The foundation hosts fundraisers throughout the year, like an Easter egg hunt and an upcoming euchre tournament. There’s no paid staff. No agency overhead. It’s a simple, streamlined process. “I take pride in that the assistance goes directly to families in need,” Bruno said.

I imagine it’s good to give back, healing in fact, for a family that will always grieve – and I know it’s comforting to me to know that Alyssa is still inspiring people.

While I never met Alyssa, I covered her story from the time she first started treatment until it was time for me to write her too-soon obituary. I did my best to honor her memory in that final piece, but I remember being not quite satisfied with it. I felt I had missed something I couldn’t name. Now I know. Her story wasn’t done.

Some day the Brunos will take Addison to a storage building that holds thousands of birthday cards and letters.

“When she’s older, we’ll let her read them so she knows how important her sister was,” Chris Bruno said. “She’ll understand one day.”

I’m sure she will.

To learn more about Alyssa’s Angels, visit: http://www.alyssasangels.org/

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