by Kay Etheredge

I’ve written before about my own struggles with weight.  I know it doesn’t necessarily compare with drug and alcohol addiction but it is similar enough that I feel like I can sympathize with the mind of an addict.  It has been interesting this year that passages keep coming up in my daily Bible reading about others who struggled centuries ago with food.  It is not a new problem… it’s as old as mankind.  Esau bartered his birthright, his inheritance, the very security of his future, to his brother Jacob, for a bowl of stew.  His hunger meant more to him than his own birthright did.  The children of Israel grumbled and complained in the wilderness and decided they would be better off to just turn around and go back to Egypt…because of food.  “In Egypt we had leeks and garlic and cucumbers…” they said.  But they forgot one small detail…in Egypt they were in bondage.  They had no freedom.  They reached the point where they were willing to consider returning to slavery so they could eat tastier meals and not have to eat manna.

It is hard for me to picture most of the men at Brother Bryan Mission as being addicts.  I can’t picture them drunk or selling a family heirloom on some dark seedy corner for a small bit of crack.  I can’t picture them sitting in their family home high, eating frozen food straight out of the freezer and they don’t know the difference.  I can’t picture them standing on one end of a sawed off shotgun robbing a pharmacy and risking arrest and prison just so they can get their next high.  All of these are stories that I’ve been told, but the men I see and know here aren’t the same people.

I see kind gentlemen who know how to say “yes ma’am” and who call me “Mrs. Kay” because it’s polite, not because I’ve ever said to do that.  I see men who come in the front door and stop and visit, asking about our kids and grandkids and even our dogs, who they also know by name.  This morning when we drove up to the mission and opened the doors of the car, we were asked before we put our feet on the curb, “Y’all need some help?”  We didn’t, but it sure is nice to be asked.

Several years ago we had the wonderful privilege of going to Cuba on a mission trip.  It was two friends from BBM who had the keys to our cars, the keys to our house, and took care of our pets.  It was one of them that we called as we waited at the Birmingham Airport and realized that Jim had forgotten a prescription.  He had just dropped us off at the airport and was able to run back to our house, get the prescription, and make it back to the airport before we went through security!  As he ran breathlessly into the airport he “reported” to us that it was a good thing he went back, because the minute he walked in our house he saw that our dog Caesar was standing in the middle of our dining room table and couldn’t get down.  And when we flew back into Birmingham after being in Cuba for 12 days with no phone or computer, he was there in our own car to pick us up.

As I ran into Wal-Mart last night to grab a few groceries, a boy who looked about 10 walked in with his mom in front of me.  I saw him pull out a cart for his mom and when he noticed me behind them he pulled one out for me as well.  I thanked him and said he was a true gentleman, and I could see him grinning as he ran to catch up with his mom.  She hugged him and I could see the pride she felt in her son.

I am proud of the men here.  I am proud when an outside guest comes after lunch is over and says loudly and rudely “I’m hongry”, and one of our kitchen guys says, “Come on in and I’ll fix you a plate”.  I’m proud when I overhear one say “I know what it’s like to not have many friends so I try to be nice”. I’m proud when we’re doing the program fees and I see jotted on the same man’s envelope week after week the simple message, “Thank you”, a small bit of grace that he doesn’t have to write but he knows we will see.

There are good things happening here and the love of Jesus resides in these walls and in the hearts of the men.  And they are kind and they are good because He is kind and good and lives in them.  It is cold today and I’m told it will be through the weekend.  It is drizzling rain.  But inside this place there is warmth and there is grace and there are men who are walking one tentative step at a time into a new way of living.  And I am proud of them.