Articles written by Stefanie Lewallen from various publications. Please email Stefanie at Stefielew@yahoo.com for publication permission. Click on titles to read.
"Gifted in Glory" (this column ran for two years and spotlighted different testimonies and stories)
| WOW: WRITE ON WEDSNESDAYS SPOTLIGHT
Anita Houk, communicator and writer, felt God calling her to do something new. She knew in her heart it was going to be something new, but something new with the gifts that she already possessed.
She heard Rev Peterson of St. Mary’s Catholic Church downtown preach about using what we have to do the Lord’s work and ideas began to form in her mind. “I knew how to write, and I could talk to strangers,” said Houk who worked for The Commercial Appeal full time for 27 and a half years. She still writes the How We Met Column for the paper. What she came up with has helped homeless people connect and build bonds with family members, sometimes even letting them know they are alive.
WOW, Write on Wedsnesdays, is her ministry that she sets up every week from seven fifteen until ten twenty outside the St. Mary’s Soup kitchen. She brings two card tables, art paper, cards, pencils, rubber stamps and other art materials for the homeless to write letters to family members and create art.
The first time she sat her table up no one came near her. “Because of my career, I have been in a lot of odd circumstances, so it did not bother me, “ said Houk. The next week she sat up again and one man came close to her, sat down and began to draw. She was taken back by the beautiful picture the man had drawn of John the Baptist baptizing Jesus. Another man, John Gilchrease, soon become her guardian angel. He helps her unload, unpack and reload every week. “He just stands quietly to the side and makes me feel safe,” said Houk. Gilchrease has 11 brothers and sisters. He writes to a different one every week and has started to have a lifechanging bond with them.
Houk also takes pictures of them to use in their cards. One person wanted to propose to his girlfriend, so she bought the art, flowers and set up a photo shoot for the special picture to go into his letter. “People began wanting their photo taken multiple times," said Houk. She takes lots of pictures and has them developed for the next week for them to use. She now has a collection of over 300 people on the streets that she keeps in a special “family album”.
The response to her ministry has been overwhelming. One guy who liked creating art at her table began to sell his artwork to other people. Another man came to her at Christmas time and said “My wife is on the phone, and she says to tell you thank-you ,thank-you, thank-you.” He said because of the new connections he had made that it was the best Christmas ever. It took one man a year of watching and thinking about it to participate. “For about a year he watched when I would come, and I just began to talk to him. I asked him 'so are you ready to write a card and have your picture taken?' He said ‘yah’,” recalled Houk. He sent if off and made a new connection with his brother. Sometimes she just has someone pop in and ask for a certain type card, such as a sympathy card for funeral they are going to attend.
Besides setting up Wow every Wednesday, Houk has also set up at the Union Mission and is asked to do special workshops with patients who suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome at the Veterans Affairs Hospital. “I don’t know how to fix them, but I am skilled in helping them communicate to others.” She also has her own writing and photography business. Her photography, which includes pictures of people who live on the streets, has been exhibited in Central and Cossitt Libraries. She also tutors children in art. She helps them make it, frame it, set up their exhibit and even lets them help pick out the food for the reception. Houk loves having her own art studio in her midtown backyard and using her gifts to help other people.
If you are interested in helping with supplies for WOW, such as donating cards and art supplies, or would like to learn more please contact Houk at email@example.com or visit the website at beeloveworks.com.
What began as a love for pictures and photos as a teen has now grown in to a passion for leaving a legacy of Christ for Pat Thomas of Byhalia, Ms.
Thomas started out with some photos and an old fashioned scrapbook when she was a teen. She used the “sticky” albums when she was a young married, and then when her daughter, Alicia Steele, was a teen she picked it up again to help preserve pictures of her daughter’s cheerleading activities. “When the scrapbooking craze started I really got into that part,” said Thomas who enjoyed the creative side to it. She enjoyed adding details and embellishments to her pages. She also loved getting to spend some extra time with her daughter doing it. “It was a lot of fun and something we shared.”
Thomas is now chairing Legacy Builders, a new group at Central Church whose mission is “to help chronicle and pass down to future generations their family’s spiritual legacy.” Participates will do this by means of scrapbooks(both digital and tradition),photo albums, heritage letters, online options and much more. The group is based on Psalm 78:2-7 where God tells us to pass our faith down to future generations.
Different sessions will cover different topics and techniques, such as organization and different kinds of scrapbooking. “You don’t have to have the first supply,” said Thomas. “People who are already working can bring their work and see what other people are doing and get ideas.” One option is to digital scrapbook. Participates will learn about the different sites online and how to pick out paper, fonts, and embellishments. “You basically decorate entire pages on your computer screen,” explained Thomas. “You upload your pictures to the site, order the pages, and they will ship them to you.”
Thomas has a few personal projects she is working on including photo books that she is creating online for her granddaughters. She takes the time to take pictures with them and lets them pick which pictures will make it into the book.
Thomas understands that getting started and blocking out time for scrapbooking is a problem. “Photos are sitting in a box because people don’t know how to get started,” said Thomas. Legacy Builders exists to show people how to get them out of the box while setting aside time to work on projects. The group meets every third Tuesday of every month from 9:30 AM to noon, and there will be a night meeting once a quarter that will give scrap bookers a whole day to work on their projects. Moms will be glad to know there is free childcare in the church nursery during the morning sessions.
“Psalms 78 also talks about telling our children about our faith,” points out Thomas. “The Lord puts a lot of emphasis in scripture on remembrance. Scrapbooking is a way to do that. I want to show people how to incorporate scripture onto the pages. It becomes more than a photo book. It becomes their legacy.”
If you would like more information about Legacy Builders contact Pat Thomas at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Cynthia “Cyndi” Siegfried, of Germantown, TN. and author of Cancer Journey. A Caregivers View From the Passenger Seat, found herself back in 2002 overwhelmed with fear as her husband Jim of now 41 years of marriage was diagnosed with lung cancer. He was an athletic, healthy non-smoker who showed no symptoms.
“There was an abnormality on Jim’s chest x-ray,” said Cyndi. “They did more tests and confirmed it was cancer. All of a sudden we were bombarded with information. All frightening.”
Cyndi had never actually considered writing for publication, but after four years of gathering information, journaling and writing emails to family and friends to keep them informed of Jim’s condition she began to think about putting what she had learned into a book to help others going through the same thing.
“The period of diagnosis is a difficult time,” said Cyndi. “I want to help people though that time. I wasn't prepared. The initial experience is the one I remember the most. You feel most alone and responsible."
What makes Cyndi’s book different than other books on cancer is that her book is written by a caregiver for caregivers from a Christian perspective. She found out the hard way that Christian advice on how to handle cancer is hard to find. She believes that the spiritual aspect of dealing with cancer is the most important one.
Cyndi says that there is a grieving that comes with a cancer diagnosis. “There are tremendous losses with a cancer diagnosis,” said Cyndi. “Even if you don't lose your life you can lose your occupation, health and your self identity. Everyone facing an illness goes through a spiritual or psychological process. All of a sudden you ask What am I here for? Where am I going? My book gives practical advice and takes the reader through my quest to find those answers.”
Cyndi also recognized that her and her husband both had different reactions to the things they went through because they have different personalities. “I had to make some truly life and death decisions,” said Cyndi. “Jim didn’t want to do that even when he was feeling better. He was fine with me doing that.” Cyndi realized that the physical parts of caregiving are the easy parts, it is the emotional attachment to that person that is so hard.
She and her husband also started a cancer support group in 2003 called f.a.i.t.H. (facing an illness through Him). The purpose of the group is to mentor and councel other people facing an illness and to share Christ. “People are ripe for evangelism, to hear about Jesus and the hope that comes through knowing Jesus,” said Cyndi. Never seeing herself as much of an evangelist, Cyndi feels like she is much better at it now. She sees the urgency in sharing hope in Jesus. "Before I didn't think it was my job to do that. Now I do."
Their group meets once a month and draws many non-Christians because they are drawn to the available cancer information. “They are ripe and seeking answers.”
Having been through cancer with her husband, who has recently been told he is cancer free, Cyndi feels like it has opened new doors for the both of them. Jim, who played college basketball for MacMurray College in Jacksonville, Illinois, and ran five miles a day up until the day he had his first surgery now volunteers for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and is the Director of the Leadership Board. Cyndi, who has always loved writing, is now an accomplished author, a speaker and has a few more books in the works. She has contributed articles to Nostaligia Magazine, Today’s Christian, Chicken Soup for the Soul-Cancer Book and Moments of Grace.
Cancer Journey will be available for presale January 1st and will be available online and in bookstores February of 2010. Portions of the sales will go to support Fellowship of Christian Athletes.
"The book tells you how to find joy in your situation, and provides hope and encouragement for people in that time of overwhelmimg fear," said Cyndi.
To order Cancer Journey you can visit www.caregivercancerjourney.com or visit www.faithsupportgroup.com to learn more about the support group. Contact Lynne Rooker to book Cyndi for speaking engagements at 901-299-7862.
Care When They Need It Most
By Stefanie Lewallen —Confidential Care for Women Pregnancy Resource Center is a 501(c)3 non-profit crisis pregnancy center offering honest and open answers along with emotional support to any girl who is facing an unplanned pregnancy. They have two locations: the original one in Covington, Tenn., that has been in operation for 16 years, and now a satellite location in Millington, Tenn.
“We offer free pregnancy testing, limited ultrasounds, STI testing, post- abortion counseling, and abstinence education,” said Cathy Waterbury, Executive Director. “Our main goal is reaching abortion-minded women.” Confidential Care is unique in the fact that they reach out to girls to prevent unplanned pregnancies by going into the schools with abstinence curriculum. “We feel like we should try and make a difference before girls get here,” said Waterbury. They use state-approved material which is strong in solid character education and Scripture.
When Cathy first began her work at Confidential Care, her first priority was to fill out grant paperwork to become a medical center. This would give them an exciting opportunity for a grant from Focus on the Family for an ultrasound machine. In October of 2006, they received their first machine, which they placed in Covington; and in 2008 they received a second machine for the Millington office. “Ultrasound is so effective when young women are considering abortion,” said Waterbury. “National Statistics state that 75-90% of women will change their mind.”
Confidential Care is the first affiliate in the State of Tennessee that will have an ICU Mobile. ICU, which stands for Image Clear Ultrasound, is a mobile ultrasound vehicle. Sometimes crisis pregnancy centers are not always open during the same hours as abortion clinics here in Memphis, and this will give Confidential Care the equipment and power necessary to go into the community and fill the gap for woman who need to see their ultrasounds before they make a decision on what to do with their pregnancies. Besides helping the mother with her decision, if the mother decides to keep her baby, Confidential Care continues to stay by the mom’s side and with help and support with their Maternity or Parenting Points Program. This program offers biblical counseling, emotional support, and short-term material assistance. The mother can earn participation points and shop once a month in the Baby Room which contains clothes, diapers, and other baby items.
Our main goal is reaching abortion-minded women.
Also on the horizon is a partnership with One by One which will benefit the new moms. “We are partnering with One by One to have mentors for our girls by January 1st,” said Waterbury. One by One is a mentoring program in the city that also helps these girls on their road to becoming a parent. They are also opening their doors to host a parenting of pre-teens and teens seminar by Brian Housman on November 19th, which will focus on youth and what they are faced with in today’s culture.
Confidential Care is always in need of nurses, sonographers, nurse practitioners, and client advocates. They operate mostly by the work of dedicated volunteers. If you are interested in donating to Confidential Care, who survives solely on donations, or any volunteer opportunities, please contact Cathy Waterbury at 476-6528. The website is www.plannedchoices.com, and the donor website is www.plannedchoices.com/donor.
John “Bull” Bramlett, retired pro ball player, recalls one of his best Christmas memories ever, the one where he was able to give his son Don what he asked for as a Christmas present. Bramlett’s son Don had written a letter to his teacher explaining what he wanted for Christmas and how he got it.
Bramlett’s past aggressive and violent behavior had earned him the nickname “Bull”. He was a notorious pro baseball and football legend, known for outfighting anyone. His family life suffered greatly before he knew Jesus.
Bramlett and his wife Nancy, along with their two sons Andy and Don, went fourteen years living in a non-christian marriage and home. They battled everything from drinking to physical abuse. Nancy documents her marriage experiences in her book “Always too Soon to Quit”. It is a must read for any woman struggling with marital issues.
Nancy became a believer of Christ first at a revival and then began to work on her husband. She asked him to go to a revival with her, and to her shock he said yes. “The preacher was talking about this second coming,” recalled Bramlett. “I didn’t know anything about a first coming.” He filled out the usual visitor card, and before he knew it two layman came knocking at his door for a visit.
“I was sitting in the house drinking beer and smoking a cigar,” said Bramett. “I was thinking these Christians have come to get me.” They told him how Jesus had changed their lives and that they were visiting because they loved him.
“I came from a poor, hard core family. I was surprised men would tell me they loved me when my own dad never really verbalized that he loved me,” said Bramlett. “Those were the first two men that ever looked me in the eyeballs and told me that.” That experience led him on the path to search the scriptures for himself, and he accepted Christ as his savior shortly after.
The “BULL” pro football player once voted the most courageous player for the Dolphins in 1976, has now become one of the most courageous evangelists of today. “BULL” isn’t afraid to take the message and transforming word of God anywhere. He speaks to schools, ball clubs, NFL teams, churches, retreats, men’s conferences and even high security prisons. He wants to make sure other families have the best Christmas present his family received years ago, the gift of Christ’s salvation. He wants to make sure everyone is on Christ's team.
Bramlett is also the author of Taming the Bull The John “Bull” Bramlett story. His book along with his wife’s book are both available at Lifeway bookstores. To learn more about John Bramlett Ministry you can email him at thebull@Bramlett.org or call 753-6401.
The Hands of the Potter
“I am what they call the accidental potter,” said Susie Hite, 63, of Bartlett, TN. “I thought I had signed up for a class that would just be an easy credit.” Hite had signed up for a ceramics class back in 1980 at Memphis State University, now known as the University of Memphis. She soon discovered that this class was going to be more than an elective, but a life long love of playing with clay.
“When I got behind the wheel I was surprised how amazing the clay was when it took form.” This wasn’t just making pottery to Hite, this was catching a little glimpse of God making man from clay.
Hite has always linked her love of pottery to her spiritual walk with God. “As Christians, there are times in our life where God has to take us off the wheel and rework us,” said Hite. “The different conditions of the clay represent the different conditions of our hearts. God reworks us when we need it and forms us how He wants us, just as potters have to rework the hard clay to make it useable.”
Hite explains that clay has to be wedged just right to be able to follow the directions of the potter’s hands. She makes the analogy that when the clay is too soft, the softness represents us not being firm in our faith. Hite also demonstrates what she is talking about by throwing on a pottery wheel live at women’s retreats. As she works the clay in front of her audience, she compares the different stages of clay to our hearts and our walk with God.
Hite now teaches pottery at Singleton Community Center in Bartlett, TN. She originally paid the pottery class fees in order to have a place to make her pottery, but as soon as the staff saw her work, they knew they had found their new teacher. The staff repeatedly asked her to teach their class and finally Hite agreed. “They asked me one more time than I said no,” Hite laughs. “I had only taken the class to use the facilities.”
Students enrolled in Hite’s class get to work on such projects as making birdhouses, fall pumpkins, textured platters, cylinders, and pinch pots. The room also contains seven wheels and a slab roller. Students will also be particularly impressed with her cabinets full of homemade latex molds made from actual leafs and other designs that are used to make patterns in the clay.
Hite loves the company of her students and has witnessed several of them chose pottery as a second profession and go on to be successful potters. “They all had other jobs and had never taken pottery before,” said Hite. “They come in here and find their niche and their own style.”
Hite's personal work has been featured in different venues over the years including shows in Millington, the Bartlett Performing Arts Center, and most recently the yearly Holly Craft Jubilee at Singleton Community Center. Several of Hite's pieces have won first place ribbons at the Midsouth Fair.
Anyone interested in taking classes from Susie Hite may call the Singleton Community Center at 901-385-5593 for more information. She teaches one day and one night class a week.
“We have to be vessels for God,” said Hite. “Pottery is a ministry to me, and it is a relaxing way to disconnect from the everyday problems of life.”