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HOUSE FINCHES – haemaorhous mexicanus

By Kay Etheredge

Every year we hang two ferns on our front porch.   Every year the ferns serve as a place for a family of house finches to build their nest.  I say family because generations of these same birds have nested on our porch.  Our children were all still at home when we first noticed the tiny birds inspecting the ferns.  They flitted to and fro and then decided that the ferns were perfect for them.  We delighted in watching the male and female birds hard at work, building straw by straw their nest, and we delighted even more at the chirping of baby birds on our porch.  Each time we walked out our front door the mother flew away, and we felt a degree of pride and sadness as the birds learned to fly and left their cozy home.

The next year the birds were back…we assumed they were the babies, now grown, returning to build their own nests in our ferns.  Year after year we notice them outside our living room window darting in and out of the ferns and we announce to anyone who happens to be nearby that the finches are back.

Meanwhile, two of our own children have married and left our nest and have had children themselves, carrying on the process of expanding our family and building new generations.  They still enjoy the progress of the finches and it has been a thrill to show our older grandchildren the baby birds.  We lift them up and oh so carefully pull back the fern fronds, revealing tiny beaks opening and closing as they await their next meal.

This year the finches were back and I enjoyed seeing them carefully building their nest in one of our ferns.  I was preparing to travel to Wisconsin to help our youngest daughter pack her things to move back to Alabama.  She will be married in August so even though I was excited about her being here for the summer, it was tinged with sadness at the thought that she would be here only for a minute and then she would not be back to live in our home again.  Each time I opened the front door I would see Mama Finch fly away, and I sneaked a few peeks at the baby birds in the fern.  I could hear their chirping each day and feared that I would miss their learning to fly while I was in Wisconsin.

I flew to Wisconsin and spent the next week packing and working to get our daughter’s things ready.  One day my husband called and his voice was somber as he said, “Something got the baby birds last night”.  I was horrified and so was he.  He said how he had gone out to water and the fern was pressed apart, then he saw the nest itself was in the flower box below and feathers were strewn everywhere. We began to wonder if the entire family had been killed or just the babies.  It was too sad to allow ourselves to think that their family lineage had been interrupted by some intruder.  I told my husband to look back on the security camera to see if he could see what happened.   He said he didn’t know if he could stand to watch it. 

Several weeks later we did look at the security camera for other reasons and we discovered that the intruder was a large black cat.  We don’t own a cat and don’t know where the cat came from, but in the middle of the night he half jumped, half climbed into the fern and ate the beautiful finches.  I told my husband I felt almost responsible…like somehow we had let them down.  My husband told me days after that he saw the finch parents eating from our bird feeder.  We rejoiced together that the mama and daddy finch had survived.  I wondered if birds grieve the loss of their babies.  I wondered if their hearts can break.

Last week our daughter and I sat at the dining room table working on wedding invitations and I saw movement outside the window.  As I looked, I saw the finch parents back at work, building a new nest.  This time they put it in the fern next to the fern where their babies were killed.  Yesterday when I walked outside I saw the mother fly out of the fern and I heard loud chirping from down inside the fern.

Here at Brother Bryan Mission we have seen some of the same men cycle in and out of the program.  Some we have known through ministry at another mission, some we have known because they have been here before.   It is hard to see the same men succeed, fail, and come back through the doors to try again.   But some do come back and it can maybe be seen as an encouragement to see that they believe in the process and they remember the help and progress they experienced here.  They know the love that staff members extend and they want to try again.  I remember as a teenager when my parents would leave the porch light on when one of us was still out at night.  I think at Brother Bryan the porch light is on and there are men who return to that light when they have failed and life for them has become dark.  There are loving staff members here who lead them gently back into the Light that illumines even the hardest and steepest path.

God is faithful.  He is faithful in the lives of tiny house finches and He is faithful in the lives of men who reach out to Him from places of desperation.

Little tiny finches are learning to fly in Crestwood.  Two birds, brave in the face of adversity, decided to try again.  They returned to the same porch where year after year there are two ferns…something that is familiar and comfortable…almost like a porch light…waiting on them to come home.

 

CONE OF SHAME

by Kay Etheredge

Our sixteen year old dog, Caesar, is three feet long.  Yes, we have measured so we know this to be fact.  He also stands about six inches off the ground.  Because of his unusual build, when he was only four years old, he had to have back surgery.  Now, in his advanced age and as a result of arthritis, he has neuropathy in one of his back paws.  Because of the neuropathy, he began to view this numb paw as an entity separate from himself, and he began to chew the paw. The paw became infected and our wise vet put him in the proverbial cone of shame, which Caesar wore for over three weeks until the paw healed.

Before we left our vet’s clinic she laughed at the sight of our beloved Caesar in the cone.

“They always look so funny on short dogs”, she said.

Caesar was not amused.

Because he is built so low to the ground and the cone was very large, it seemed to function as a large scoop.  He would scoop up leaves and pine straw with the cone.  He couldn’t see where he was going so we had to physically lift him on and off of our front porch when he went outside, and off of the curb when we took him for longer walks.  He developed a bit of a gait as he wore the cone, rocking his head from side to side as he walked.  As much as we hated for him to have to wear it, it was a comical look.  He could drink water from our pet watering bowl but he was unable to eat from his food bowl, so we held his bowl of food inside the cone, just under his snout, so that he could eat.  We had to make adjustments to his bed as well because the cone impeded him from stepping over the edge of it to lie down.  He learned to sleep with his head resting in the large plastic cone.

Once our vet determined that his paw was healed she had the idea to put a little doggie paw protector on his foot.  Dogs up north wear these to protect their paws from the extreme cold and snow as well as the salt solutions put on the roads to melt the snow.  So Caesar traded his huge plastic cone for a doggie shoe.

The interesting thing is that when the cone was removed, Caesar still acted like he was wearing it.  For a day or two he still swung his head from side to side and hesitated as he reached the edge of our front porch, waiting for us to lift him off the porch.  He hesitated at the edge of his bed, fearing he couldn’t step up over the edge to lie down.  After being in the cone for three long weeks, he simply couldn’t remember how he had maneuvered his small world without it.

The men at Brother Bryan Mission come here, generally speaking, in the throes of addiction.  They have learned a certain way of life…how to walk, talk, sleep, eat, etc. while living in the limitations that their addictions impose. Many of them bear physical scars from the wrong choices they’ve made.  Drugs can eat away at their teeth like rejection eats away at their souls.    Many of them have learned the art of schmoozing.  Some have learned to withdraw from others, maybe due to a lack of trust or having been hurt repeatedly.  As I’ve heard over and over from BBM staff members, addiction is rarely the problem.  It is more often than not a surface symptom of something much, much deeper.

At last night’s graduation at a local church, I found myself moved to the point of tears by comments that some of the men made about themselves.

“This is the longest I’ve been sober since I was six years old”.

“When I came to BBM, my family wanted nothing to do with me.  After I was here for a few months, my parents wanted to wish me a Merry Christmas”.

“I never went to church in my home state because people looked down on me because I have tattoos”.

One man talked about riding to Birmingham from another state with a “friend”.  They stopped in Irondale and he went to use the restroom.  When he came out, the “friend” had driven away and left him.

I hurt inwardly at the thought of what that level of abandonment would feel like, and how terrifying it would be to be all alone in a strange place with no one or no place to go.  Thankfully he found his way to BBM.

As I heard the men speak of how Christ has changed them into new creations, my mind went to Caesar and his cone.  These men take tentative first steps out of addiction.  They are learning to navigate without huge burdens called addiction, rejection, abandonment, etc… They learn a new way to walk…with heads held high as they learn there is One who says they are enough—they are beloved.  They get help from the staff as they learn basic steps of a new life.

Caesar has adjusted to his “shoe”.  I sometimes think he actually likes not having the torment of a paw that he can’t feel.  He adjusted to life within his cone of shame and then had to take a couple of days to adjust to life without it.

Please pray for the men here at BBM who are learning how to live a new life.  They are learning that words that may have been spoken to them for years are simply not true.  They are learning that with or without tattoos, they are God’s delight.  They are learning to allow God to change them from the inside out, and they have found a place where they are accepted, understood, and loved.

Our Caesar came to us as a six week old puppy; he had to sleep on a rug that smelled like his doggie mama and littermates but still howled at night because he missed them.  Over time, we got rid of the rug because he learned that he could trust us and inside our home he was loved.  At sixteen we are all he knows.

After a few days or weeks here at BBM, men who come in battered and bruised by the world learn to trust the One who made them.  Over time they learn that through Him and with Him, the “cone” has come off.  Many, for the first time since childhood, are truly free.

 

SAILING WITHOUT BUDDY

by Kay Etheredge

Everyone called him Buddy but I’m not sure that was his real name.  I’m not sure I ever knew his real name, even though we had attended the same school for years.  There was a little something wrong with Buddy but I never heard anyone say what it was.  Sadly, I never took the time to find out.  He had a brother who was my older brother’s age and his parents were always at the same functions as mine.  Buddy was just Buddy.  He was what some people would call “special needs”, or so we thought,  and I never once took the time to look him in the eye.

When I was in college I went on a mission trip with my church, which was also Buddy’s church.  And Buddy went on the same trip.  It was on that trip that I got to know him.  He was funny, nice, and humble.  He had a fairly serious physical health issue, but Buddy was mentally fine.  He was a team player.  We did mission work until lunchtime and then we had a break before repeating the same work at night.  The trip was to the outskirts of a small coastal town and many afternoons our group traveled the short distance to the beach.  We then returned to do our nighttime duties and afterwards we played endless rounds of UNO.

On one of the trips in to the beach, we all decided to rent a sailboat.  As we began to figure out how many would fit we discovered that everyone could go on one ride and one person would have to wait.  The rides were paid for according to time and the plan was for our group to go out for the first half of the time, return, and someone would swap out with the remaining person for the rest of the trip.  Buddy immediately volunteered to stay behind.  Several in our group said they would wait but he insisted.  He would enjoy watching us, he said, and he would be glad to wait.  As we sailed farther and farther out it became obvious that either the wind had shifted greatly or our sailboat driver was less experienced than we had imagined.  Perhaps it was both, but as he fought the sail and the wind, we saw Buddy get smaller and smaller on the shore.  We were too young to be afraid and we all laughed about how we might get stranded together on a desert island.  As we sailed farther out, the clock ticked our time away, and by the time we finally returned, there was no time for another trip out.  Buddy waited joyfully on the beach alone.  There was no time for his turn.

We all began to coax the sailboat driver into going back out again.   We had almost convinced him when our pastor arrived, announcing it was time for us to head back for our nightly assignment.

We were all horrified that Buddy missed his turn, but he was unfazed.  He assured us that he was okay, he wasn’t upset, and he had enjoyed seeing all of us have fun.

I had forgotten the story of Buddy and our wild sailboat ride until recently and as I remembered the events of that day I realized that had it been me,  I’m not sure I would have been so mature.  I probably would have said it was fine, but inside I know I’d have been hurt.  I’m not even sure I would have so graciously volunteered to wait on the beach alone while my friends enjoyed themselves.

The men here at Brother Bryan Mission have been viewed by society as “special”, not in the same sense as Buddy, but because of their addictions they have been told they are “less than”.  Many have been told this repeatedly, often by their own families.  They walk through the doors scarred by the words and actions of others, and more often than not, they are their own worst critics.  They know better than anyone how low their addictions have driven them and they often cannot forgive themselves for the hurt they have caused others.  Figuratively speaking, they are sitting alone on the periphery of life …so close that they can taste normalcy, while the actual living is done by others.  It is at Brother Bryan that God meets each man.  He meets them through the arms of the loving staff members who faithfully teach them the Word of God.  Through the Word they are taught their worth in Christ.  They are taught that life can be lived.  When a man hears God’s voice then hope ignites and the fire of a changed life begins.

My college mission trip happened over 40 years ago and some aspects of the trip are fuzzy in my memory.  One thing I clearly remember is the blessing of getting to know Buddy, and his sweet example that taught me about selflessness and humility.  He worked very hard on the trip as we all did, and he simply chose not to be offended by something that was out of anyone’s control.  I also remember that I didn’t want to go on the trip, and vacillated about it until the deadline.  I think now with the benefit of maturity that there were many reasons God wanted me on this trip, but the seeing into Buddy’s heart and realizing there was nothing mentally wrong with him was one of those moments.

I asked someone recently if they knew whatever happened to Buddy.  He got married, they said, and moved down near the coast.  This person made a derisive comment about his mental acuity.  I smiled at all these things because I know without a doubt that whomever Buddy married got a great man, even if it took me far too long to notice.  As I wrote this my husband typed in Buddy’s name on Facebook and up came his picture.  He was smiling, his hair windblown;  he stood at the edge of the ocean, tanned and happy looking.  It was just what I needed to see.

He is happy and normal and looks much younger than his years.  It could be the sea air but I tend to believe it is how he has chosen to live his life.  He stood strong against the ignorance of others and with a servant’s heart he prevailed.  He showed that our physical appearance doesn’t belie what is in our spirit.  And he taught a sailboat full of college students that he could rejoice in the fun they were having, even if he didn’t get to participate.

I love the photo of a smiling, windblown Buddy.  I just hope that every now and again, on a beautiful Alabama day, he gets to go sailing.

THE LAUNDRY

by Kay Etheredge

My mom was serious about laundry.  In the myriads of memories I have of my mom, she was almost always in the kitchen, at the sewing machine, or doing laundry.  What that meant for our family of 6 was that she washed everything in our washing machine but we had no dryer, so the clothes were taken from the washer to our clothesline in our back yard and hung out to dry.  This hanging in the sunshine and flapping to and fro in whatever wind might be blowing produced a smell that no laundry product on the market can replicate.  When the clothes were brought inside the whole house took on that smell.  My mom liked to gather the clothes that needed ironing while they were still partially damp.  She would go right to the ironing board with those, and the ones she couldn’t get to right away were placed in a large, plastic zippered bag and put in the refrigerator to keep them damp.  If the clothes had already dried, she had a used, quart-sized Clorox bottle that she had poked holes into the top of and she sprinkled that water over the clothes to re-dampen them.  I can still hear the hissing and spitting and belching of the steam iron as it touched those damp clothes.  The rising steam produced a smell of its own as it mingled with the fresh outdoorsy smell of the clothes.

I would sit at the kitchen table and watch my mom iron, and every so often I would ask if I could iron something myself.  She always told me I was too small and would burn myself, but one day she said she would show me how to iron my dad’s handkerchiefs.  She showed me how to take the large squares of fabric, some with colored bands of brown and blue around the edges, and fold them.  They were folded first into a large rectangle, then pressed and creased.  Next another square.  Press and Crease.  The final product was a small creased square that would fit neatly and without bulk in my dad’s back pocket.

Recently I was folding laundry and came across several of my husband’s handkerchiefs.  It was the folding of those that caused me to revisit the memories of my first ironing, which then sent me deep into thought about my mother’s gracious and diligent doing and re-doing of laundry…she seemed to be passionate about something that is such a chore, and she was good at it.  And as I thought about it I was hit with the realization that my dad rarely, if ever, dressed up.  Our family didn’t attend church, even though I regularly attended Sunday school at a small church in our community.  My dad was a welder in the Steel Shop at Alabama Power Company.  He wore khaki colored uniforms to work…matching shirts and pants.  Even those were pristine when he left each morning, his white tee-shirt showing at the neck of his shirt, but when he came home in the afternoons it was a different story.

He stepped out of the car in the driveway he wore the grease, grime and sweat that only working with and around steel can produce.  When I ran to hug him each day he smelled like a cross between the Viceroy cigarettes he smoked, the steel residue that clung to his work boots and uniform, and the Juicy Fruit chewing gum he always carried in his front shirt pocket.  And I realize now that as dirty and hot and grimy as his job was, he always carried a neatly pressed handkerchief in his pocket.

Why did my mom take the time to do that?  Why did it really matter if the handkerchiefs were ironed or not?  I realize now that it was just one of the ways that my mom, a pretty undemonstrative person, showed her love.  The meticulous way that she did the laundry was more than a chore for her.  She did it well.  She took pride in the knowing how and the caring and toting load after load to the clothesline and the bringing load after load inside to iron and hang in one of only 4 small closets in our home.  There was no stain that was insurmountable, no tear that was too daunting to mend.  My three brothers wore blue jeans that were patched and re-patched and when the knees were too frayed to patch again they were cut off into shorts for the summer.  My dad, a stick welder whose salary was just barely enough to feed the 6 of us, wore uniforms that were as clean and pressed as if he were a corporate mogul.

When I think of my mom and our family’s laundry I think that maybe God takes that kind of joy and pride in His own.  His love and mercies erase the stains of our sin.  He patiently mends what we destroy.  He creases and folds and there is great order in how and why He does what He does, even though many times we deem His acts random or unkind.  He is constantly refining us and He does it with great precision.  He knows what He is about.  It is a joy to see Him working in the lives of the men here at Brother Bryan Mission.  Some know Him deeply and intimately; some are still figuring it out.  The staff here works long hours for small pay and they do it because it is a calling and when one enters these doors it is a mission field.  Men’s lives hang in the balance.  Like laundry, they have the opportunity to leave with a fresh, clean scent…a scent that can be an invitation in each man’s sphere of influence.

My daddy was good at what he did.  He worked hard, long days.  The clothesline posts in our back yard were made by him from steel, welded and mounted and strung with clothesline for a mom who was content to stay home with little ones, stand at the stove, and wash and hang out clothes.  The smell of laundry filled our home like a promise.  And my daddy welded, day after day, and the sparks would burn holes in his uniforms that he knew could and would be mended.  And when he stopped to wipe sweat from a face soiled with steel grime, he did it with a starched and crisply pressed handkerchief.

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.

 

TURN THE PAGE

By Kay Etheredge

Recently our youngest daughter mentioned in a phone conversation that she would like to find a copy of The Book of Common Prayer.  Several days later I was in a thrift store and visited the book section, one of my favorite thrift store places.  This particular thrift store has a section designated for old books.  I lost track of time as I looked at the spines of very old books and pulled several off to examine.  On this shelf I saw a small book and on the spine it said The Book of Common Prayer.  It was a 1928 edition and the price tag was $2.99.  I immediately put it in my basket for our daughter.  There was a large label on the back of the book that said “Do Not Remove from Pew” and there was a partially worn off name of a church.  The book had a certain smell…a smell that books acquire when they are visited eagerly and often through the years by hands and hearts that are hungry for something…knowledge, comfort, or the feel of the familiar.

Some of the pages’ corners were bent and the spine of the book was slightly broken.  I took a photo and sent it to our daughter to show her what a special thing I had found.  I began to notice as I thumbed through the pages that the book opened naturally to a certain page.  The heading at the top of that page said “The Burial of a Child”.  I closed the book several times and let it fall open again.  Each time it opened to the same page.  I started to think about how many hands may have held this book since 1928, and why the book seemed to open so easily to the same exact page.  My imagination led me to think that someone lost a child and turned to this page repeatedly for comfort.   And imagining that helped me to visualize how this grieving person may have justified the removal of this book from the back of a church pew…how they found familiarity in the holding of the book, open to this page, and the reading and re-reading of these words brought them great comfort.  But why would reading “The Burial of a Child” bring comfort?  I realized I was letting my imagination run amok and imaginations can so very easily be misleading.

The book was delivered to our daughter and we have mentioned it in conversation several times.  This past week I asked her if she had noticed that the book opened naturally to a particular place.  She got the book while I waited and then she said, “The Burial of a Child”?  At least I hadn’t imagined that part.

Isn’t it possible that our lives, like a well- loved book, can find great comfort in the familiar?  We open our lives’ books to the same heading…the same chapter…because it is what we have always done, where we have always turned.   If we normally handle our problems by turning to drugs and alcohol, then the turning to something completely different has to be taught.  We have to break old thought patterns and habits and discover that there are better and different ways. We have to allow the story to be re-written.    I spoke with someone today who struggles with alcohol addiction.  He told me how many programs he’s attended and it was a number in the twenties.  He told me candidly that he struggles with the concept of faith.  I said I would pray for him, and he said words that pierced my soul.  He said, “This place is my last hope”.

Please join me in praying for the men here at Brother Bryan Mission.  Pray that they would be able to learn new ways, to allow the new and unfamiliar to change them to their very core.  That the stories of their lives, pages bent and spines broken, would begin to fall open to new chapters.  Because almost every page in a book has another side.

Before the book was delivered to our daughter I opened and reopened it, intrigued by where it naturally fell.  One night I simply flipped the page over and the simplicity of what I saw amazed me.  At the top of the next page was Psalm 121…

I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help.

               My help cometh from the Lord, which maketh heaven and earth.

               He will not suffer thy foot to be moved; he that keepeth thee will not slumber.

               Behold, he that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep.

               The Lord is they keeper: the Lord is thy shade upon thy right hand.

               The sun shall not smite thee by day, nor the moon by night.

               The Lord shall preserve thee from all evil: he shall preserve thy soul.

               The Lord shall preserve they going out and thy coming in from this time forth and even

               Forevermore.

It was the back of the page that I believe was the most loved, the most read.  Just like a very old, cherished book develops an aroma, our lives can be pleasing aromas too, for there is a Master story-teller who writes and plans every facet.  There is no surprise ending with Him and on most any given day we are simply in the middle of the story.  He knows the ending.

We all have times in life when we feel there is little hope.  Sometimes, we just need to turn the page.

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! 

 

THE NINETY-NINE AND THE ONE

By Kay Etheredge

The Brother Bryan Mission graduations are always great.  I liken the atmosphere at graduations to a holiday with family kind of feeling.  The men who are graduating put on their best outfits, comb their hair, and prepare, sometimes with no small amount of nervousness, what they will say.  Maybe they will never fathom the level of encouragement and joy these graduations bring to their families who attend and to the staff of BBM who daily invest in their lives.

Last night Cathedral Church of the Advent hosted the graduation and provided supper beforehand.  It is always so nice to be at Church of the Advent…the beautiful building itself engenders a great degree of reverence and anticipation.  The supper added a special feel of being around the table with family.   We heard from Marty, who received his GED just this week at the age of 61.  We heard from Al who has a very dramatic testimony of having had a brain tumor and how, through God’s help, he endured grueling brain surgery and 26 radiation treatments.  Al is one of the most vivacious people at BBM…always asking how he can pray for others and carrying with him his scripture memory cards.  He knows more verses by memory than pretty much anyone I know.  He has challenged me without even knowing it to memorize the Word.  All the men spoke clearly and bravely about God’s grace in their lives to help them overcome dependence on drugs, alcohol, food addictions, pornography, and more.

This morning I came into work at BBM.  Almost immediately there was conversation about a man who had walked away from his job last night and nobody knows where he is.  I heard phone calls being made to area hospitals from an office down the hall…each call opening with a polite but desperate inquiry about whether this man might be a patient.  Others in another part of the mission were calling the jails.   He was not found.

As I began to record the program fees with other staff I noticed a familiar name was missing from the list.  I asked why his name wasn’t there.  I was told he left last week after coming in under the influence of alcohol.  It was heartbreaking because several weeks ago I had heard this man speak at our church and the things he said were so very moving and sincere and it was obvious that he possesses a very tender and kind heart.

As I heard the hospital calls taking place I thought about all the times my husband and I have done the same thing…searching, searching for someone we know has strayed from the sure and certain Light of God’s path.  We have driven through seedy trailer parks looking for any sign of a battered gray pick- up truck hoping that we might be able to persuade the person to come back.   We have called hotel rooms begging men to stop drinking and to let us come and get them.  We have visited a nearby park in the pouring rain pleading with a red headed friend to just get out of the rain, to not finish that bottle he has in a rumpled paper sack, and watched as tears rolled down his face as he said, “I’ll be fine.  The rain doesn’t bother me”.   As we got back into the car I cried myself and said to Jim, “Who wants to be cold and wet?  Who chooses to stay on the ground in the cold and rain?”

Jesus tells the story about a shepherd who had 100 sheep…one wandered away and he was left with ninety-nine.  He left all of them and went and searched diligently until he found the one lost sheep.  Each one of us who is living redemption can identify with the one lost sheep.  We have been the lost sheep.  It is endearing to see the staff here at BBM search for the one sheep…calling and caring and hoping against hope that this one sheep will be found.   Last night there was rejoicing and celebration and laughter and the joining of family around the table.  It seemed so fitting and right.  This morning there was the news of the wandering away of sheep and those who search and hope and pray and want to believe the best even as reality begins to say something different.  There are the ninety and nine who, at least for today, are healthy and content with grazing contentedly nearby.  And there is the one…always the one…who felt like life outside the verdant pastures was somehow better…somehow more appealing.  And there are shepherds here at Brother Bryan.

Oh, the overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God
Oh, it chases me down, fights ’til I’m found, leaves the ninety-nine
And I couldn’t earn it, I don’t deserve it, still, You give Yourself away
Oh, the overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God, yeah.

Lyrics of Reckless Love by Cory Asbury

 

 

 

THE DOORBELL

by Kay Etheredge

My husband recently installed security cameras in our home.  He had given me the security system as a Christmas gift and then decided we didn’t really need it but we kept it so long that it couldn’t be returned.  Then we heard about some break-ins in our community and decided we may as well use what we already had.  Unfortunately when he decided to install it, it was the middle of July.  He had to go into our attic to run the wiring and I was concerned that he might get too hot.  Our youngest daughter is home for the summer and she and I needed to run some errands and I didn’t want to leave thinking Jim could be in danger.  He assured us he would be fine and we left to do our errands.

We returned maybe two hours later and even joked as we drove home that we hoped we wouldn’t find Jim passed out in the attic.  It was a very hot day.  We parked in the driveway and began to walk up our front walk when Jim came running out of the house.  His face was blood red, he was drenched in sweat, and he was angry.  He waved his arms and said, “Were you trying to play a joke on me?  It’s not funny!”

Jane and I gave each other bewildered looks and I think it was an unspoken idea that the heat had, indeed, gotten to him.  I think I spoke first and asked, “What are you talking about?”

“Every time I go up the ladder and get into the attic the doorbell rings”, he said.  “And then I come down the ladder and nobody is here!”

We assured him that we had actually just gotten in and we had not given the first thought to playing a trick on him.  I then asked the most obvious question, “How would someone even know you were in the attic?”

He stood there a moment and then asked a rhetorical question.  “Could it be that I’m shorting out the doorbell wire when I crawl across the attic?”

He walked back inside, still sweating and now a little bewildered and Jane and I couldn’t hold in our laughter.  We said we wished we had been flies on the wall to see his reaction each time he thought someone was ringing the doorbell.

This is a funny story and our family (at least some of us) will snicker about it for years.  But isn’t it easy in life to make wrong assumptions?  Life can be hard and relationships can be complex and it is such a fleshly thing to assume that someone doesn’t like us, is avoiding us, said something purposely to hurt us, or other scenarios we can dream up.   It happens in the best of families, in our churches, and sadly at Brother Bryan Mission among the guys here.  When you get this many men living under one roof there are bound to be misunderstandings which can sometimes lead to pushing, shoving, and even blows.  It is heartbreaking to hear of someone who is otherwise a sweet person being dismissed for losing his temper.

I read a quote last week that said, “The person who has great peace of heart pays no attention to either praise or blame”.  Having grown up in a family where blame was an art form, I have always struggled with that one.  My husband commented when he first met my family that we were “always trying to assign blame”.  It is something that I have spent years trying to “unlearn” through the power and might of the Holy Spirit, but it is a habit I still struggle to annihilate.  Aren’t there times when we all want to blame someone else when in reality we are “ringing our own doorbells”?

I read in a book of prayers this week two questions that I have meditated on all week.

Am I demanding of others a higher standard of conduct than I demand of myself?

Am I taking a less charitable view of the feelings of my neighbors than I am of my own?

Please pray for the men of Brother Bryan as they live together in community and as they learn to walk in a Christ-like way.  For many of them it is a brand new concept to put others ahead of self, to bow low and as singer Michael Card says, “take up the basin and the towel”, to live the life of a servant and to be able to laugh at our own silliness instead of making a fist or pointing a finger.

May God help each of us to walk worthy of our calling and to seek daily the light that only He can give.

 

 

 

 

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