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HANDS THAT TELL A STORY

by Kay Etheredge

It wasn’t an ordinary Friday.  My husband had an eye appointment so I drove myself to work at BBM.  As I stepped out of the car and onto the sidewalk out front, I noticed a beautiful yellow colored finch lying dead on the sidewalk.  I bent over and looked at it and thought how sad to be greeted first thing by this pitiful sight.   I wondered what had happened to him.

Jimmy Coshatt pulled up behind me and got out of the BBM van.  I called him over to look.  I pointed out that ants were beginning to crawl on the bird and if Jim were here, I’d ask him to bury him.  Jimmy and I stood over the bird for a moment then went in two separate entrances to the mission.   I was approached inside the door by an outside guest who asked if we could give him a bottle of water on this hot day and another man who asked where he needed to go to get an ID.  I had just made it to my desk when Jimmy walked in.  He held out his hands which were obviously dirty and said, “I buried the little bird”.

Many of you may have heard Jimmy’s testimony.  When he was 8 yrs old he saw his father murder his mother.  He felt such rage and anger toward his dad and suffered from anxiety attacks for years.  He lived in fear of having one at school, but he tells about how family members would hold his little body as he shrieked in fear of what, he didn’t know.  He told me his mom wore a tank top…it was August in Alabama.  She was shot in the chest and fell over backwards and he ran to her.  Their eyes met.  And she was gone.  He said he remembers her look and knows that her last thought was of him.  No child should have to experience what he experienced.

His mother’s parents were godly people and they took him and his sister in, raising them in the church.  They gave Jimmy the choice of whether to keep his last name or change it to their own, his mother’s maiden name.  He chose to change it.  He remembers that over and over his grandparents would say, “You are going to have to forgive.  Someday, you will have to forgive your Dad”.   Jimmy says he never once heard these people who lived out their faith say a harm word about his dad.  And he did forgive his father when he died.   He talks about going to see his dad’s body and expecting to feel more hate and rage but when he saw him in the casket he didn’t feel that.  He said that day was the beginning of his own healing.

After that Friday when Jimmy buried the bird, I was awakened and felt prompted several times, “Ask Jimmy about his tattoos”.  The next Friday when I worked, he came by the office door.  I said, “Do you mind me asking what your tattoos say”?  He seemed a bit embarrassed but held up his hands, knuckles bent, so I could see.   I don’t know what I expected him to say, but what he did say was not what I expected.  The 13th letter of the alphabet is M, the first letter is A, so the numbers on his fingers spell out “Mama”.  The tattoo on that hand is a tribute to his mom.  The other hand has similar numbers which stand for “I Miss Little Man”…a tribute to a young nephew who died.  He said he did feel slightly embarrassed over the tattoos and had paid for them with coffee when he was in prison.  I said it is part of his story and God is the author of each of our stories and he should never be embarrassed.

Today I sat down with Jimmy to collect information to write this.  He told me in graphic detail about the murder of his mom.  He told me about his freedom from the anxiety attacks, and how even in his own drug and alcohol abuse and eventual prison time, God protected him and guided him to the life he now has.    As we talked our conversation turned to the kidnapping and subsequent murder of Kamille “Cupcake” McKinney, and we talked about the fact that we both fervently prayed for her safety and release.  Jimmy said he got angry at God when he found out she was dead, then apologized to God the next day.  I said I got angry too, and my faith was tested as well, as I’m sure is the case with many people across our city and state and even nation.  We all cried out to God to deliver this precious girl…to bring her home unharmed…to protect her and keep her.  And we prayed unceasingly as the days ticked by and fall finally arrived in Birmingham and we read that she was abducted wearing no shoes.

Jimmy said, “You know I went to the memorial for her over at the park”.  I had to lean in to hear because his voice had gotten softer.  He said they gave out purple ribbons because that was Cupcake’s favorite color.  He has his in his Bible he said, and he’s using it as inspiration to read through the Bible again. He will do it, he said, as a tribute to this little girl.   I said I wish I had known 8 year old Jimmy…that I could have hugged him and said to the scared little boy who watched his mother’s life taken right in front of him that he would be okay…that he would grow up to be a fine man like his grandfather.  His heart is tender and he has a kindness that proves he has not let any aspect of his story make him bitter.  He wears the word MAMA in numerical code on his hand and their last look at each other is vividly in his heart all these years later.  He can see God’s hand and how the horrible ashes are being turned into great beauty.  He carries a purple ribbon in his Bible and who knew that a little girl named Cupcake would help a heart, already scarred, to heal just a little more.

The street is busy in front of Brother Bryan Mission and the sidewalk is rarely still.  It is a concrete jungle but there are trees with dirt beneath them, and a beautiful yellow finch placed in its final resting place by a man with hands that tell a sad but beautiful story.

Fall has finally come to Birmingham and the trees give up their leaves – their true colors ablaze with glory.  And we know that even the hardest and saddest things, placed in the hands of the Master are never ruined or wasted.

THE SAME MEAL

What would happen if you were offered the same meal someone on the street would eat today?

ACROSS THE STREET

By Kay Etheredge

They lived right across the street from a small town Baptist church.  The church is picturesque; very typical for the South… white with a steeple and stained glass windows.  On a recent Sunday night I watched the people as they filed in.  Some were dressed in sport coats and khakis and one man with a nice face wore bib overalls.  I’ve always liked a man in overalls because my grandfather wore them.  I associate them with kindness and hard work.

We sat across the street from the church in a home that our friends rented.  It was close to Christmas and our friends, a married couple, are hurting.  He is dying.  He was told just that week that he had two weeks left.  We had driven two hours to visit, and he had requested that my pastor husband bring communion.  So as the people of this charming southern town filed into the church across the street for a Sunday night service, we watched from the living room.  The room was dimly lit; across the room a large shelf held a collection of ceramic Christmas villages, each one illumined with tiny bulbs inside. A beautiful handmade quilt covered the sofa where I sat.  The room held warmth, love, and sadness.

And even though I studied each face that walked into the church a rock’s throw away, not one person glanced in our direction. Not even one.  I found myself lost in thought.  Could it be the mattress and washing machine that lie discarded beside the road?  I watch through the windows, willing someone, anyone to look our way.  No one does.

My husband pulled out his Bible and read as the four of us took communion.  He asked our friend if he would like to pray and he said “yes”.  His prayer, the prayer of a dying man, was simple and sweet.  He prayed like someone unaccustomed to praying aloud.  Sometimes those prayers are the least rehearsed and most genuine.    In fact I told my husband as we drove home that night that in our almost 35 years in ministry, that night was one of the most beautiful I’ve ever experienced, and he agreed.

Two days later, in the morning, a text message told us he was gone.  We were stunned.  He had died in his sleep.

I struggled with anger toward the people in the church.  They knew he was dying.  Why didn’t they simply walk across the street, pray, offer an outstretched hand or just sit for a while?

Our friend’s wife told us a story about the large nativity in front of the church.  She had noticed one day that there was no star.  She had a star that she had bought the year before in an after Christmas sale.  She walked over one day and simply laid the star inside the nativity.  Later, she noticed someone from the church had hung it up.  And that story, that beautiful story, stuck with me.  How the people deemed “less than” in a small southern town can offer up something beautiful when their own lives were shattered.  And aren’t we all shattered in some way?  Even the people filing faithfully into this beautiful little church every Sunday carry their hurts with them…up those steps and into those pews and aren’t the pews filled with the most broken of all?  How is it that we can so carefully and intricately hide those hurts…tucked away in pockets and behind doors and we can become hardened and calloused to people who don’t fit a particular mold…who leave broken appliances by the road and can we look over a broken appliance if we know there is a death pall over a rental home and this is the last Christmas for one of the people inside?  We all live under the sentence of death unless we know the One who took the penalty for our sin.

Almost every church has someone on the other side of the street or someone next door or someone within a rock’s throw distance that is hurting.    Someone with tiny lit up Christmas houses that glow with holiday warmth is broken because of something.  The words to a Christmas carol tell us “far as the curse is found” and that means that in tiny picturesque towns as well as big cities, we are all carrying some burden.    Mattresses wear out, people get addicted to alcohol and drugs and we get diagnoses that say we have days left on this earth. Appliances break, hearts break, and people die right before Christmas. The sin curse of this world doesn’t stop because of the sparkle and goodwill of the holidays.

On a Tuesday morning in December our friend went Home.  He spent his first Christmas in heaven.  He told us two days earlier he looked forward to seeing his mom, dad, and siblings.  And that very same afternoon a brave person from the church across the street walked over…past the mattress and worn out washing machine and gave some money to a numbed and grieving widow.

And this past Christmas season a marked-down star was added to a lovely nativity in the church yard of a tiny town in Alabama.  A star not unlike the star over Bethlehem years ago…a star that shone the brightest of bright because someone chose to love.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

GRANDMOTHERS AND GINKGO LEAVES

by Kay Etheredge

He said his grandmother writes him letters, long letters.  He described her precise cursive handwriting and how it leaned in one direction.

“It’s beautiful”, he said. “But sometimes it’s hard for me to read”.

He then described how she included in her letters “random facts” about people and places he doesn’t know.

He is young, in his twenties, and his heart is kind so none of his words were meant as criticism.  I rode in the backseat as he drove, and it was two days after Thanksgiving which he had spent with our family because his was too far away.  And when he mentions his grandmother his whole face lights up and I have never met her but I wish she could see this.

I leaned forward from the backseat and said, “Why don’t you write her a long letter and include random facts about your life?”  I told him it would be such a treasure that it would have to be pried from her cold dead hands when she dies.

He doesn’t see any urgency to do that because he is young, and he says he doesn’t know many random facts anyway, and my mind begins to wander to letters I’ve received and to my own grandparents, all who have been gone for years.

Handwritten letters are becoming a thing of the past.  A social media driven generation puts everything online and emojis tell our moods and spell check gives instant indication if a word is misspelled and I remember fondly and with a measure of guilt the handwritten letters that my grandmother wrote me all my life.  In my own youth I was unwise enough to throw almost all of them away.  Today, they would be a treasure.

She lived in Tennessee and I lived in Alabama and I adored her even though I don’t believe I ever told her that. When we visited her and my grandfather in their tiny town named Liberty, one of the greatest delights was to walk to the post office with her.  She would turn the combination on Box 57 and there were newspapers and letters and magazines.  One of those magazines was McCall’s, and in that magazine were paper doll cut outs…Betsy McCall…her clothing and friends and even pets.  My grandmother would let me cut out the paper dolls from the magazines that had come since my last visit.  After our visit she would write me newsy letters and always include the Betsy McCall paper dolls that had recently come.

This was a habit she continued until I was way too old to play with paper dolls.  She enclosed them in her letters until I was in high school.  It was embarrassing to me, a teenager, to get those paper dolls.  I would scan her letters and stuff them in my nightstand drawer until the drawer became full and I would throw them all away.  I realize now that she was trying to maintain a connection with her only granddaughter who she saw was growing up so very fast and she grasped at something she thought would bring her joy.  I would give anything now to have even one of those letters, and years ago I bought some uncut Betsy McCall paper dolls off ebay, framed them, and hung them in my sewing room.  I smile when I see them and think of my grandmother, who died in our home when I was a senior in high school.

So if I could write her a letter now I would definitely mention the Betsy McCall paper dolls, but probably foremost I would mention how very much I miss her and how I adored her so much that it hurt.  I would tell her the trips to the post office are a highlight in my mind, as well as trips a little farther down the street to her small town store.  I can still hear the wooden boards creak under our feet as we walked inside this small general store illuminated primarily by the sun beaming into the large front windows.

I would tell her random facts as well, about my husband and children she never met and how at 61 I’m a grandmother and I can only pray I can do half the job she did.  I would tell her about the ginkgo leaves on the tree in our yard and how all the fan shaped leaves fall in one day…how they leave a golden carpet on our yard that takes my breath away.  I would say that yesterday I took Tobias, my two year old grandson,  outside to play in the golden leaves and how he belly laughed and we threw leaves up in the air and let them rain down on our heads.  About how he wanted to take one home with him and my heart swelled when I saw him march up to his mom, our oldest daughter, and hand her that one leaf…his golden treasure.   And how on a small table in my living room that actually used to be her table in her living room, two of those leaves lie right now, a sweet reminder of a memory I made with Tobias.

My other grandmother had only a sixth grade education and there was a time I would have been embarrassed to put that in print.  This same grandmother taught me about cooking and sewing and she sewed professionally even if there were many words she couldn’t spell.  She made wedding dresses for others and soft nightgowns for me and only after her death did I learn about a woman who was a client who wore a size 22 but bought size 18 patterns and my grandmother with her sixth grade education altered those patterns to fit and never said a word about the too small patterns.  Even with bad spelling I would love to get a letter from her and be able to write one as well.  I would surely mention the aluminum Christmas tree she used to have in her living room and I would say I sew but even with more education I don’t have her talent for it, but last year I made Raggedy Ann dolls for my grandchildren and I like to think she watched over me as I sewed these gifts of love with red yarn hair.

One of my tasks at Brother Bryan Mission is to go to the post office downtown.  It is one of my favorite jobs.  I love the activity at the post office and the long rows of boxes and maybe there is a part of me that remembers those walks with my grandmother to the post office in Liberty that would be a fraction of the size of the Birmingham one.  And for the past several months there has been mail for one of the guys in the program here from his mom, who seems to regularly send letters and packages.  As I balance the unwieldy packages I can’t wait to get back to BBM and deliver his mail.  And I hope his mom includes random facts and he replies with random facts of his own, and every line of any letter is an actual gift.

There are also gifts to BBM from supporters…monetary gifts and notes of encouragement and blessings from people we may never actually meet who spill over generosity and prayers and they clump together in that post office box with the brass front and it is always expectancy to pull out those letters.

I hope our young friend has already written to his grandmother and included random facts he thinks he doesn’t really know.  I’ve never met her, but I would love to tell her how he has a certain laugh that he uses only when he talks about her, and how her sweet potato casserole is legendary in his memory.

The holidays are upon us and what a perfect time to put our screens down, take a break from social media, and pick up a pen.  Write someone a letter, short or long, and tell them they have blessed you and why.  Tell them random facts if you know any, and tell them something about them that makes you smile and why.    Put a stamp on it and place it in a post office somewhere and know that you have mailed a precious gift to someone who will more than likely consider it a treasure.

The most priceless treasures sometimes come in the form of letters or golden ginkgo leaves that fall all in one day and make a golden carpet and make a two year old and his grandmother throw them in the air and belly laugh.

 

2018 BRIDGES TO HOPE GOLF TOURNAMENT

The 3rd annual Bridges To Hope Charity Golf Tournament was a great success in raising over $20K for the ministries of Brother Bryan Mission.  Gary Garmany and Barrett Herring at Robert Trent Jones Oxmoor Valley did another excellent job in putting on the tournament and even though the weather from Hurricane Michael was threatening it was a great day for golf.

Thank you to the two tournament sponsors:  Knight Eady Sports Group and the Protective Life Foundation

Our Lunch Sponsor:  EBS

and our Hole Sponors:  Legacy Credit Union, St. Mary’s Episcopal Church, Balch and Bingham, SGI Logistics, Graham and Company, ServisFirst Bank, ERA King Real Estate, UBS Financial Services, RaderMcCary Construction, Hoar Construction, Barfield Murphy, Shank, and Smith Accounting, Bradley, Oakworth Financial, Gospel Tabernacle of Corinth, MS, Brian George, and Denny Ragland.

This year’s winning team was Larry Boggs Construction

Second place was the RaderMcCary Construction team 

Third place went to Josh Hodom’s group 

 

Thank you to everyone who participated! 

 

BBM New Life Fellowship Graduation Ceremony – 10/12

On Thursday, October 12th, 2017, BBM hosted our Phase Completion and NLF Program Graduation Ceremony at Grace and Truth Church in downtown Birmingham. The graduation ceremonies are always a highlight as we are able to see our men recognized and rewarded for all of their hard work. This ceremony, in particular, saw Doug Epple, Tanner Harmon, and Leon Voyles complete the entire, nine-month, NLF Program.

Those in attendance were blessed to hear from all the men moving up in their respective Phases who shared their stories, their pasts, and their hopes and dreams for a new future centered around Christ. It was a special night where we were able to witness firsthand the work that God is doing in and through the lives of the men at Brother Bryan Mission. After hearing from our men, BBM Executive Director, Jim Etheredge shared a message about listening for the only voice that matters in a sea of voices… the voice of the Father.

Congratulations to all of the men for their diligence and effort to work past their addictions and search for a new life here at BBM. We count ourselves extremely blessed to see God use us as a tool to point others back to his love. If you want to support the work that God is doing through BBM, click on any of our social media tabs below and make sure to follow us or visit our website or to make a donation.

 

2017 Bridges to Hope Charity Golf Tournament

The 2017 Bridges to Hope Charity Golf Tournament was held at Robert Trent Jones Oxmoor Valley on October 4th.  There were ninety-eight golfers who helped raise over twenty eight thousand dollars for the ministries of Brother Bryan Mission.  Thank you to Royal Automotive and the Protective Life Foundation for being the major sponsors of the tournament.  SGI Logistics, Balch and Bingham, and Bradley, Arant, Boult, & Cummings also helped sponsor this successful event.

The winning team was from Bradley Arant and won by only one tenth of a point.  Thank you to all who participated.

A link to a short video regarding the tournament can be viewed here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

New Life Fellowship Graduation 2-9-2016

The long road to recovery has been worth it for the three overall graduates of BBM’s New Life Fellowship Program.  Joshua Henderson, Robert Adger, and Bobby Montgomery shared their experiences with the filled room at Third Presbyterian Church last night.  Each gave details of what the Lord has done in their lives over the nine months it has taken each to graduate.

Overall Graduates 2-9-2016

The spirit of gratitude was also evident in the testimonies of those who were making Phase progressions as well.

It made for a wonderful evening of fun, fellowship, and encouragement.  Thank you Lord for your work of changing lives and giving hope; and thank you Third Presbyterian for hosting such a wonderful occasion.

 

New Life Program Graduation

2015-06-26On June 11, 2015 Third Presbyterian Church hosted the Graduation Service for the graduates of Brother Bryan Mission’s New Life Fellowship Program. Three men completed the overall program while fourteen made a phase progression. Those completing the NLF Program were Jason Hemming, Tim McDaniel and Robert Overton.

Third Presbyterian also provided a meal for the men prior to the service.  One of the men graduating was also a member of Third’s choir so in his honor the choir performed a special song for the occasion.   The meal, the choir, and the testimonies all made for a special night of blessing. Thank you Dr. Richard Trucks and the Third Presbyterian Church family for your gracious hospitality and congratulations to those continuing to make progress in their recovery.

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