Archive for Front Page – Page 5

THE PHEASANT

By Kay Etheredge

It is quiet and I am not eavesdropping but I can hear snatches of conversation coming from down the hall.  Daniel Roberson is talking to someone about forgiveness.  His voice is deliberate and kind and he is telling deep spiritual truths that we all need to hear and I feel like I am at an altar and not a desk, in a sanctuary and not an office.

“You need to look at a conflict and ask what percentage you may be wrong”, Daniel says.  “If you’re only 1% wrong then you need to ask forgiveness for that part”.

Daniel walks by later and I tell him how much I appreciate what he said, and he says how he wishes he had known it himself before now.  And don’t we all long to go back and be what we are in Christ when we were in bondage to sin?

We know someone who went through a terrible divorce around 35 years ago.  Her husband was unfaithful to her and she found out about it and there was deep pain inflicted and two children suffered and a family imploded.  He re-married but she never did.  And for almost 35 years she kept something that belonged to him, something that he treasured, because she knew just how very much he wanted it.

He had been a hunter and had shot and killed a pheasant and had it stuffed.  The pheasant was a prized possession, but she refused to let him take it when the divorce happened.  He had hurt her deeply and she found this small thing was a way that she could hurt back…she could make him pay…she could mete out her own tiny bit of revenge.

Years passed and the bird sat on top of her television set.   Her children got older.  They divided their time between two parents that they loved dearly, in spite of the hurtful things that had happened.  And as they became adults, they would occasionally say, “Why don’t you give the pheasant back to Dad?”  Her response was always the same.  “No.  It’s mine”.

The children married.  One lived nearby and had a son.  Another moved to a different state, but would visit when he could.  Whenever one of them asked about the pheasant, the answer was the same.  “No.  It’s mine”.

One day, about two years ago, both sons were at her home at the same time.  One of them asked about the pheasant again.  This time she hesitated.  She got up from her chair, got the bird, and said, “Take it”.  After almost 35 years with both parties now in their 80’s, she gave up the pheasant.

Forgiveness happens like that.  We have to release the right to get revenge.  It doesn’t mean that we weren’t wronged but it means we give up the right to exact payment for that wrong.  It is not an act that comes naturally to our sinful natures.  It is a supernatural act to forgive.

Close to 100 men live at Brother Bryan Mission.  They are living in an environment where things can annoy, anger can be held in, and explosions can happen.  They are being taught by faithful, godly staff members to forgive…as Daniel put it, “To let things go”.

Sometimes we find that freedom is better than the small amount of pleasure we get from vengeance.  I wonder if this dear lady sat and watched football games and Wheel of Fortune and listened to the ticking away of 35 years on the clock and she just realized it is time to lay it down.  To let it go.

I hear applause coming from the cafeteria next door.  There is warm food on the tables and the men are growing.  And there are godly, faithful men here who work hard to teach them biblical truths.

Sometimes altars are found where we least expect them.

ADDICTION

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.

 

THE FAITH OF A CHILD

by Kay Etheredge

Christmas has come and gone.  Large bags of garbage sit on curbs in every neighborhood…bags filled with scraps of brightly colored paper that someone spent time wrapping carefully around gifts.  Ribbons and bows that were brightly colored last week now lie faded and forgotten as trash.  It is easy to lose perspective on what is important if we look at gifts instead of the Gift.  Even the most spiritual can get caught up in the materialistic side of Christmas.  I know because as I meticulously checked off my list for children and grandchildren I was so determined to be fair, to make everything even, that I found myself dashing out to buy just one more thing to balance what I perceived as an imbalance in my spending.  I spent time laboring mentally over what I could possibly buy for people who have everything, who need nothing, and who appreciate even less.

Our children were all here this year and both our grandchildren.  It was the grandchildren I thought most about as I decorated our home.   I placed tiny Christmas trees in fake snow in the bottom of Mason jars and set them all around my kitchen.  Jim put the large nativity scene in our front yard and our grandson, Tobias, was fascinated with the donkey and the shepherd who is just his size.  I took his picture standing beside it and thought about how quickly he will overtake this wooden shepherd…how we will blink and he will tower over him.

I pulled out my nativity that I always put in our living room…the one that belonged to my grandmother that she gave me when Jim and I married.  It always sat on her coffee table and I loved it.  Every Christmas I would sit on the floor and move the pieces around.  When I got married she gave it to me and said, “You’ve always loved this…now put it on your own coffee table”.  I remember being torn between gratitude for this precious gift, and sadness at the thought of it no longer being on her table.  As I thought about where I’d put it I thought about the grandchildren, both under the age of two, and also the fact that in addition to our own dogs, our son and daughter- in -law would be bringing their long legged, jumping dog, Bentley.  I decided it would be better to leave my grandmother’s nativity in the closet and instead, I pulled out a small one that I had used when I taught a children’s Sunday school class.  It is breakable but more durable as evidenced by the fact that the children in Sunday school had dropped it, played with it, knocked it over, and it is still intact.  I placed it on the secretary in the living room.

We left to do an errand one day and our daughter, Jane, was home with our granddaughter, Caroline.  When we came in the door Jane said excitedly, “Look what I taught her!”  She held up the pieces of the nativity and Caroline recited to us the sounds that the animals make.  As Jane held up baby Jesus she asked, “Who is this?”  Caroline said without hesitating, “Baby Jesus”.  From that moment she became obsessed with baby Jesus.  She carried the nativity piece in her hand when she got ready for bed.  She slept with it.  She took it with her in the car.  One day she dissolved in tears when I tried to take it from her as we left the house.  “Baby Jesus!” she yelled and I quickly put the tiny piece back in her hand.

Christmas morning we got up early to see Caroline open her gifts.  She was fascinated with her toy kitchen and with a small play house.  She took turns playing with each.  The playhouse came with a small slide and she slid the little plastic figures down the slide.  With each one she would say, “Wheeee!”  Then we heard her say, “Wheeee, Baby Jesus!”  She was sliding the tiny nativity figure down the slide too.  She then went to play with her toy kitchen.  Baby Jesus went in the sink.  Later Christmas night our daughter- in- law, Chelsea, went in to bathe an exhausted Caroline.  I went into the bathroom to see if I could help.  Clutched in her dimpled hand, in the tub, was baby Jesus.  Chelsea tried to pry it from her hands but she would have none of it.  Baby Jesus took a bath with her.

We all learned a lesson from Caroline.  She wanted to take Baby Jesus everywhere she went.  If Peppa Pig was sliding on the slide, then Baby Jesus needed to slide too.  When she was buckled into her car seat, Baby Jesus was right beside her.  She had made him a part of everything she did.

The Christmas trees are still up at Brother Bryan Mission.  The men here are clinging to the holiday spirit like kudzu.  As I came back from the post office today I heard holiday greetings being given to outside guests from the kitchen.   The men are learning what I am learning…that Baby Jesus is more than a story.  He is part of us.  He goes with us wherever we go.  We take Him on the street, into the office, in the kitchen, and into the classroom.  Isaiah 9:6 tells us “a child will be born unto us”.  And a child gives Him a turn on the slide on Christmas morning right behind Peppa Pig.  And she believes that when He slides, He shouts “Wheee!”  And maybe Caroline knows more about Christmas than we think.

 

 

HOPE CAME FOR US ALL

By Kay Etheredge

On our first date my husband took me out to eat.  On our second date he took me to a mission.  It was a mission in downtown Birmingham that I had driven past many times and read about but had never been inside.  He was preaching at the Sunday night service.  I played the piano so we could sing.  My hands shook, not only because of my musical ineptness, but because I had never looked into the eyes of the homeless.  After the sermon, a scruffy man who smelled bad and had teeth missing came over to me and said, “One day I hope I can learn to play the piano.”  I don’t remember what I said but I’m sure my voice quivered as much as my insides did.  I do remember what I said when we got back in the car.  I burst into tears and said, “Don’t ever bring me here again!  This is the saddest place.”

My date didn’t give up on me which he easily could have at that point.  He asked me out again and again and I soon became his wife.  And he is now the Executive Director of Brother Bryan Mission and I’m glad he didn’t take me at my word in the dark in that other mission’s parking lot.   My piano skills may have improved a tiny bit if any, but one thing has changed.  I now am not afraid to look into the eyes of the homeless, and I now know that doing so will change a person to their core.

When I was saved as a teenager, my mom gave me a copy of Religion in Shoes to read.  She had checked it out at the library and thought I would like it.  This is significant because I didn’t grow up in a Christian home.  My mom drove to the nearest library, the Pratt City Library, and checked out that book.   And I devoured it.    I loved the stories of how Brother Bryan gave away his own family’s coats and shoes to help the homeless.  I had no idea that decades later, I would be involved in such an intimate way with the mission that bears his name.

We lived in two other states and had children in each of them.  We moved back to Birmingham and had our third child.  My husband went to work part time at the same mission where I’d made my declaration. We had services there once a quarter…on Sunday nights…and we took our children.  Our oldest daughter was terrified.  It was the one time that I could be sure that she would cling to my hand…tightly.  We would walk past the men who were smoking in the garage area and my hand would be almost bleeding from her grip.   She walked so close to me that we both almost tripped.  Our youngest daughter became disruptive in one service and I got up to take her out.  A godly older woman whose husband was a staff member caught my eye and motioned for me to sit back down and I did. Since Jim was preaching he was unable to help me.  Later the woman whispered to me, “These men need to see how hard it is to raise a child.  Don’t ever take her out”.

I was reading an Advent reading last week in a book called The Greatest Gift by Ann Voskamp.  In this particular reading she mentioned Rahab, the harlot, and how she was instructed to leave dangling a crimson cord from her window and she obeyed.  I thought about how all these generations later she is known as Rahab, the harlot.  Rahab, the woman with a label.  Rahab, the harlot, who went on to marry Salmon, a Jewish prince.   Why then isn’t she known in scripture as Rahab, the Jewish princess?  Why is she not known as Rahab, the mother of Boaz who became the Kinsman Redeemer of Ruth.  Rahab, who was the great grandmother of King David, and ultimately in the direct lineage of Christ.

We all carry labels of some kind, and the men at Brother Bryan Mission may have carried them around for years, decades, a lifetime.    My prayer this week—the week before Christmas—the week before the birth of our Redeemer, is that we will all learn to look into the eyes of the men here.  Pray for them—that labels will be erased and they will know their Redeemer through the ministry and teaching and testimonies at this mission.  Because they are just like you and me.  Rahab, the harlot, was just like you and me.  Maybe her label is carried all through scripture so that we can see her great need for a Savior…just like you and me.

And the crimson cord that Rahab the harlot dangled from her window has a name as well.  In Hebrew it is called a tikvah.  The same word in Hebrew that means “hope”.  My prayer during this Advent season is that the men here will know there is hope for them.  There is hope for me.  There is hope for you.  Lying in a smelly manger, Hope came for us all.

LITTLE CHANCE

By Kay Etheredge

I found the Western Union Telegram tucked away in a manila envelope.  It was dated January 9, 1929, sent from Liberty, TN to Cordova, Alabama.  The message was simple.

WINNIE WORSE COME IF YOU CAN LITTLE CHANCE FOR HER

Winnie’s appendix had ruptured and her condition was dire.  The average salary in 1929 was  .50 per hour and a long distance phone call for one minute was $4.65.  There were no cell phones and a Western Union Telegram was the closest precursor to text messaging that existed and it was .65 per 10 words to send. It was expensive and concise.   Winnie’s cousin was the sender of the telegram and the recipient was her brother in law, Dan Gilbert.

The men who come in the doors of Brother Bryan Mission are in their own dire conditions.  When they come they generally have burned bridges with family, destroyed marriage relationships, and lost ties with their own children.  They have lost jobs, homes, standing in the community, and all hope.  It could easily be said in a telegram or text message, “’little chance for them”.  The odds are heavily stacked against them.

They come in broken and seeking and they are met with support from the other men, encouragement from staff, teaching from scripture, and time to heal…to hit the reset button on life.  They are met with choices, many for the first time in years.  Some choose to leave.  Many others choose to stay.  They develop friendships, acquire nicknames, receive counseling, employment training, good food and a safe environment where they can heal.  They have warm beds and a chance to start over.

People are skeptical and there are those who doubt that a permanent change is possible.  We are asked often, “Why do you waste your time?”  or “Don’t you ever get tired of being used?”  And there are times when the phone rings in the middle of the night and we hear a casual but inebriated “Hey, what ‘cha doin’?” from a man who had once worked hard for sobriety and the rug is pulled out from under us.  We have driven with our children on Thanksgiving through seedy trailer parks looking for a man we are hoping to take back to safety.  Our children, now grown, have been visitors in at least two jails in the Birmingham area with us as we went to try and bring hope to someone who stumbled and fell yet again.  We took a man into our home for three years and loved him like a son.  We gave him piano lessons and discipline, a factory refurbished game system for Christmas because it’s all we could afford and in the end, he chose to leave over a woman and curfews and he grew tired of our “rules”.  And every staff member at Brother Bryan Mission could tell similar stories I’m sure because it is not a place people work to climb corporate ladders.    It is about loving people and it’s about real ministry and seeing deep into the souls of others and living out sacrifice like a doxology.

There often is “little chance” but there is a chance.  There is hope.  There is Light in this world in the form of Jesus and as we enter into the Advent season we can stop and regroup and remember that it was a very dark world that He stepped into as well.  So maybe there is “little chance” for the men at Brother Bryan Mission in the eyes of some.  We believe there is great hope.  Always hope…no person is beyond it.

Penicillin was discovered in 1929 but it was new and expensive and experimental and it was just too early to help Winnie.  Antibiotics would not become widely used in the US until the 1940s, so her story contained little hope because of the era in which she lived.  Today a ruptured appendix could be a life threatening situation;  in 1929 it was grave.

We are all somewhere in a story and only God knows where.  He writes the story and when things seem to make no sense it may be that we are simply in the middle.   The next chapter is about to begin.  There are men at Brother Bryan Mission who may wonder where they are in their story.  They are living in a men’s shelter at the holidays when they want to be with family.  They wonder if they will ever be able to finally be free from the chains of drug and alcohol addiction.  Will God be able to use them to bring glory to His kingdom?  We believe the answer is always yes.

Winnie survived her ruptured appendix in Tennessee in 1929 without the benefit of antibiotics.  She “defied the odds” and went on to live 5 days shy of 46 more years.    I know this story because in time I had the wonderful privilege of being written into it.   Winnie was my grandmother.   

 

 

 

COUNTING COINS

By Kay Etheredge

It is when I do the most menial tasks that I feel the closest to God.  That’s not necessarily theological but it sure holds true for me.   Sometimes on Friday afternoons, my one day to work at Brother Bryan Mission, I count and roll coins.  Brother Bryan places small offering boxes in different convenience stores around town—the ones you see right beside the cash register—asking for any extra change you might not want to pocket.  Those boxes bring in lots of coins and for that we are so grateful.  But every coin has to be counted and rolled before it can be deposited into the bank.

Money is dirty.  In case you don’t know that, try handling lots of it.  My hands are always filthy and smelly afterwards with dirt even making its way under my fingernails.  It is not a glamorous job, but strangely, I enjoy it.  It is a task where it is easy to see progress and I feel a sense of accomplishment with every completed roll.  And because it is such a banal task it provides lots of time to think.  And along with that comes the opportunity to be quiet and still and isn’t that when the Holy Spirit loves to do His work?

Recently I sat with coins spread out and empty paper tubes in my lap as I sorted stacks of quarters and dimes. My method was count, stack, repeat.  It was rote and mechanical and peaceful.  And then, there it was.  The Spirit’s still, small voice.  He wanted to deal with me about some attitudes that I had allowed to go unchecked.   The name of a relative came to mind and I began to replay thoughts about this person that were not godly.  I thought about a recurring thought I’d had about this person that I thought was comical.   And then the Spirit put His holy finger right on that thought.  As I stuffed coins inside the paper tube He gently said, “Let’s deal with that”.

I went back in my mind to around 30 years ago when this same relative had said unkind things to and about my husband and me.   I had formed opinions that, while perhaps accurate, were not justification for ungodly behavior.  And as the coins clinked into neat stacks in front of me, I confessed.  I released, forgave and said I would try at all costs to stop my jabs about this person, even if they never even knew.  Because even if nobody in the world ever knows, God knows. And that’s really all that counts.

The following week I had an opportunity to run into this person.  Isn’t that how God so often works?  He gives us a chance to put the spiritual rubber on the road.  We always knew this relative to be extremely pretentious and had often commented they would one day get their come-uppance.  When I saw them after my coin rolling experience, I saw that come to fruition.  I was met not with pretension but with raw honesty…their family is a wreck and it is imploding and this person asked me for advice and I was humbled and promised to pray for them and I have.  Sometimes we think we want to see someone fall when we really just want to be on an equal playing field, but even that thought can be prideful.  Author Ann Voskamp says, “Go low, get smaller”.  That is the only attitude we should have as Christians.  Keep going lower; keep getting smaller.

I see the men at BBM learning that attitude every week and it blesses me.  I see men cleaning fingerprints off glass doors and emptying trash cans, mopping floors and washing dishes.  And I know the ministry of the Holy Spirit will do mighty things in them and through them.  He not only wants to redeem them and rescue them from dependency on drugs and alcohol, but he wants to round the sharp corners off each of us…to humble us by taking us lower so we can see our greatest need is for Himself.  And sometimes the best lessons come in the very willingness to be still and quiet and count and count and count the dirty but beautiful gift of coins.

OPENING THE MAIL

By Kay Etheredge

A siren throbs loud like a toothache right outside the door as I sit in my part-time, borrowed office at Brother Bryan Mission.   It is Friday and my only day to work here and the hustle and bustle of the morning feels like a family…like home.  There are smells coming from the kitchen and the outside guests are beginning to line up for a meal and I am processing the mail.  It is the week before Thanksgiving and the pile of envelopes sit like an invitation on my desk.  As I tear open each one I feel a connection with the person who took the time to donate.  And I pray.

Tiny pieces of torn paper begin to fill up my lap like a postal snow and it is easy to see each donor like a snowflake.  There are address labels from the plethora of other charities to which people give.  I see evidence of generosity to Veterans’ organizations and breast cancer research.  Cute pictures of dogs and cats indicate humane society donations, and one envelope bears a seasonal sticker that says, “Give Thanks”.  One person’s check bears a logo that says, “Make a Difference”.  One envelope has an address label of a man with my maiden name and I marvel that his signature so resembles the writing of one of my brothers.  I notice the name on one check that I recognize…my son’s first Sunday school teacher… and I pause for a moment because I know her son struggles with addiction.  I say a prayer for her and think about an Easter egg that she hand stitched for our son, now some twenty-five years ago that I still have in the cedar chest.

Some envelopes have Bible verses printed on them and I appreciate those people for openly sharing their faith.  I am thankful that we live in a country where it is possible to put a Bible verse beside your name and address and not have to fear government repercussions.  Some people add a stamp even though the envelope says you don’t have to, and I think of the kindness they are exhibiting to donate even an extra .49 along with their gift.  Several people have written on their envelope, “In God We Trust” and I believe they really are seeking and trusting the Lord and giving sacrificially.  I pray for each one…that they will know the blessings of our Provider God.

There are always the few people who send an empty envelope or write boldly “NO” on the donation request.  Out of the huge stack of mail, maybe 5-6 asked to be removed from the mailing list. Two people point out that the mail came in their husband’s name and he is deceased, and we had the same request several years ago from a dear lady in our church whose husband died suddenly at Christmas time and it was simply too painful for her to see mail addressed to him.  I pray for the dear lady who had the same request in today’s mail and regret that she has been caused any pain.   One woman wrote that she just can’t give and apologizes and I think of how kind her heart must be and I ask for blessing over her life.

I enjoy the flourishes of beautiful penmanship and the scrawls of checks written hurriedly.  I see signatures written with quivering hand…the same way my grandmother’s handwriting changed almost overnight…when my grandfather died her once pristine Palmer writing became shaky and cramped…and I imagine this person having gone through a similar loss or some health issue that makes writing difficult.  And I whisper a prayer for this person as the white paper pieces cling to my shirt.

And then there is the totally anonymous envelope or two…no return address and cash placed in a carefully folded piece of blank paper inside.  These people desire to be known only to One, and for them we are grateful especially.  One person put in a dollar… I think of the widow’s quiet sacrificial mite and what a tremendous example it became in scripture next to the clanging self –righteous clamor of the Pharisee’s coins.

God uses people to provide for the needs of Brother Bryan Mission.  He doesn’t have to but He does.  He uses the great and the small, the large check and the folded one dollar bill.  And not one is more important than the other.  He weaves and works in the hearts of those who love Him so that ministries like this one can exist.  And the men come through the door and down the hall and I wish everyone who took the time to mail in an envelope could know just how much it is appreciated and how precious each and every man within these walls is.   They are halfway through one more day of being clean and sober and I’m told the good smell coming from the kitchen today is chicken soup.

And here on this ordinary November Friday, it feels like family and it feels like home.

HAPPILY EVER AFTER

by Kay Etheredge

The August sun glares through the open blinds as a young couple pulls up to park just outside.  They are young and attractive and she locks her purse in the trunk and they run across the street.  I wonder where they are going and I think about how every one of us has something that we lock away like that purse—fiercely guarded and hidden away from view.  Christian author Sara Hagerty says there are two stories inside every person—the visible story and the invisible story.  So many of us lock away in the dark our invisible stories and carry the visible ones—the ones we think are okay—into our church pews on Sunday or onto social media sites or anywhere else that we want to be viewed as acceptable.  We tuck our brokenness away like a secret and trust that nobody will ever know.

The refreshing thing about the men who come through the doors of Brother Bryan Mission is that they wear their brokenness like a torn and soiled garment because usually they are tired of pretending.  And the God who makes beauty from grimy ashes is the One who can take those soiled, ragged garments and turn them into garments of praise.  Ray (not his real name) describes his story as “happily ever after”.  When I looked into his eyes, piercing and blue, they avoided mine.  As he began to tell me his story I understood why he felt insecure.  After completing the program at Brother Bryan Mission he is finally coming to believe the truth that he has a father who calls him beloved.

Ray grew up locally and lived mostly with his grandmother.  His mother had a drug addiction and his grandfather was an alcoholic who lived across the street.  His father lived in another state.  His grandmother, kind and godly, still cared for her husband even though he wasn’t allowed to attend family gatherings and she always sent Ray across the street to take him a plate of food.  On one of those visits, when he was around 16 years old, he found his grandfather’s lifeless body on the floor—the grandfather who’d taken him fishing lay dead on the floor right across the street—and one of many huge holes was blown in Ray’s soul.

Ray hated school, mainly because he had to walk right past a neighbor’s house where a bully taunted him.  All these years later he winced when he described how it hurt to be called “white trash” all because he didn’t have the right brand of sneakers or the right kind of clothes and he was also teased because he was chubby.  He says he dreaded the parent nights at school or the times when a parent was supposed to come to the classroom.  He knew that either his grandmother would come, a sure sign to everyone that he was “different” or that his mother would come and be messed up on drugs and whenever he saw her walk in his heart filled with dread and how is it possible that we spend so much time trying to fit in and look the same and not stand out when God created each and every beautiful and different detail?  If we could only understand as children and maybe even adults that the bullies in life are so afraid themselves;  they’re dealing with their own hurts and fears and it is so much easier to throw weighted words as weapons than to look our own insecurities squarely in the eye.

Ray’s testimony reads like so many others…words like neglect, instability, insecurity, deception, and empty promises fill the page and how we all long to know stability and promises kept and attention and love.  But we live in a sin cursed world and people are sinners and we are let down and we let down repeatedly, and drugs and alcohol become outlets that many turn to when they want to either be somebody or maybe when they want to disappear.  The drugs and alcohol grab hold and enslave and before long it’s hard to remember that we’ve ever breathed anything that wasn’t stagnant.  That’s where Ray found himself—living out of wedlock with a new baby and the baby’s mother and using drugs and selling them out of their house—and he had been in and out of jail “more times than I could count”.  It’s funny how we listen to the hissed lies long enough that we start believing them and Ray told me that he believed for years that he deserved whatever bad things happened because, after all, that’s what happens to white trash.

In February of 2017, Ray showed up in the lobby of Brother Bryan Mission where he came at 8 am sharp for three days in a row.  As he waited he observed and listened to what was going on around him and he knew that this place was special.  He was finally given a bed and through weeks of meetings with Chaplain Don Steele and reading the living Word of God, he gave his life to Christ.

Ray’s grandmother told him once, “I hope I live to see you straightened out”.  She lives nearby but struggles with dementia.  The last time he visited, she didn’t know who he was.  In an ideal world, she would have enough lucidity, even for a moment, to know that he knows the Lord and “got himself straightened out” but if she never knows that here, Ray knows that they will be reunited in Heaven.  His mom is now free from addiction as well, and the bully down the street recently sent Ray a Facebook friend request.  When Ray accepted, the former bully wrote paragraphs to him in the way of explaining/apologizing for his behavior as a boy.  And forgiven and redeemed Ray forgave him, even though he said, “He’ll never know all the deep hurt he caused me”.  Not everyone gets to experience so many happy endings, and God who calls Himself the Word is the Author of our every story.  We have a God who never gives up and who sees a way through every wilderness.

I asked Ray what is different about him now…how he has been changed in the deep hidden places inside—in his invisible story.  He hesitated, thinking about his answer, then began to quote Jeremiah 29:11 from memory.  “I now believe that God doesn’t want bad things to happen to me and I’m not white trash and He has a plan for me”.  As he spoke I noticed that he held his head higher and he had a different demeanor and said what he said with great confidence.  And when he gave me his bold answer, I noticed that he was looking me straight in the eye.

 

BASEBALL DIAMOND MEMORIES

by Kay Etheredge

He blocked out most of his childhood, but he does remember clearly what happened one summer day when he went up to bat—he remembers it because it was the day his dad was watching.

Bill (not his real name) says his childhood was so painful that most of it is a blur…and is it really possible to allow huge segments of a life to be erased or scribbled over like a messy mistake on a grammar school paper?  Bill’s mom and dad were divorced and his dad was an alcoholic.  His mom worked “all the time” and she had boyfriends, some of whom were mean.  Bill, the younger of two children, was often the object of their cruelty.

She eventually remarried a Christian man whose influence led the family to become active in church and Bill came to know the Lord Jesus as his Savior at the age of 14.  By the age of 16 he says he was living a double life…going to church, putting in an appearance, and then going out and living however he chose.  He married at 19 and had 2 children, one at 20 and one at 21.  Sadly, by the age of 22, he and his wife were divorced.

Bill’s dad developed cancer and through his dad’s disease their relationship grew closer.  He and his dad had the opportunity to talk before his death and they were able to ask each other’s forgiveness for ways they had hurt each other and wrongs they had both done, and how few people get such a beautiful gift as wiping clean the slate of hurts before it is too late.

I asked Bill about a favorite childhood memory.  Many people would go back in their minds to a birthday or Christmas or some other special celebration.  Bill went back to a baseball diamond.  He had looked and looked for his dad at the game because he’d made All-Stars and hoped his dad would come.  He had all but given up, but the little-boy-hope in him looked one more time.  He saw that his dad was indeed there, and soon after Bill went up to bat.  I asked if he remembered what happened at home plate.  His face lit up and he broke into a boyish grin and said, “I got a triple”.

The men at Brother Bryan Mission, like all of us, carry baggage.  Some of their bags may be dirtier or heavier than our own, or could it be that their bags are simply more transparent?  Maybe they’re just worn out and beaten down enough that they no longer try to hide what is inside, or there’s been abuse and they’ve been told repeatedly that they just don’t matter.  And how easy it is when we hear something often enough to begin to believe it as truth, even though Jesus tells us that He is the way, the truth, and the life.  We allow His still small voice to be drowned out by the world’s clamor and sometimes it’s easy to believe that drugs and alcohol will be the tools to scribble over our pain and then we’re left with a gaping hole in the paper of our lives as evidence for all to see that we’ve made mistake after mistake after mistake and tried to erase one too many times.  Maybe one of the best things about Brother Bryan Mission is that it allows time to have a change in perspective, and with that time there is teaching and love and acceptance and support and accountability—a fresh clean piece of paper.  And then the men can experience the beauty that Bill remembers from a summer ball park years ago—the crack of a bat and the running fast across red dirt all the way to third base—and the knowledge that the Father is always, always present.

WHAT CAUSES A MAN TO FAIL

By Kay Etheredge

A friend told me once that when she was a teenager she bought a pair of jean shorts that she knew were way too short.  She modeled them for her mom who said, “Ask your dad”.  When her dad came home from work she modeled them for him, and he lowered the newspaper, glanced over the top and said, “They’re fine”.  And when my friend told me this story we waited for our daughters to finish ballet class and she was now a grown woman but she had tears in her eyes and said it crushed her when her dad let her keep those shorts.  She said she would have protested loudly and probably acted furious, but deep inside, she knew the shorts weren’t appropriate.  The fact that her dad didn’t say so made her feel unloved…unprotected.  Her authority had failed her.

Many if not most of the men who enter the doors of Brother Bryan Mission have been profoundly failed by their authority figures.  At first, the discipline and structure and growth that Brother Bryan provides is a welcome change.  But over time as they learn the routine of a “new normal”, some begin to change how they view the structure.

As a long-time member of Weight Watcher’s, my temptations and struggles are mainly with food.  I have lost weight, gained it back, and lost it again.  My Weight Watcher leader told me one day, “We are never fixed”.  And neither are the men at Brother Bryan Mission.  They get a respite and they get help and they get people who genuinely love them, some for the first time ever.  But they are never “fixed” because they are trapped, as we all are, in a sin-cursed body.  Our son, also on Weight Watcher’s, is within two pounds of his goal weight.  He recently told me, “Now that I’ve lost the weight it’s hard not to feel entitled…I’m entitled to that pizza because I’ve lost 30 pounds”.

Author Louie Giglio names the “big addictions” as drugs, alcohol, and pornography.  But there are many addictions.  What about cell phone addiction?  Social media?  Screens are everywhere and don’t we all know someone who constantly has a screen in hand?  How many of us compare our social media friend list with those of others or how many “likes” we get on photos or comments?

So what causes a man to fail?  Maybe it is the feeling of entitlement.  I’ve been clean and sober and I’ve memorized 30 Bible verses and I’ve been featured in the newsletter and I’ve been asked to speak at churches all over town and I’ve got this and after all, one beer or one pill won’t hurt…

And then we hear of another man who has failed morally and usually it’s someone that we never thought would fail morally and we are crushed and sad and angry and we think “what is the point?”

We are never fixed.  We are never fixed.  And we won’t be until we have glorified bodies and stand in the presence of our Savior, the author and finisher of our faith.  But we keep trying and we fling open the doors of Brother Bryan Mission and we invite men inside and we pray hard on our knees and we provide discipline.  And just maybe the best part is that the newspaper is lowered and we look and really see and we say “You know, that’s just not appropriate”.  And that kind of discipline is a very, very good thing.

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