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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.

 

 

 

 

THIS PLACE

by Kay Etheredge

It is good to be back at Brother Bryan Mission.  I missed roughly a month due to surgery and then another week because of the birth of our third grandchild.  I walked in today and didn’t like that I grappled for a sense of familiarity.  It was mid-morning before I was able to settle myself into what felt like routine.

Because the office I am loaned is at the front of the building I hear street noises and conversations from the sidewalk right outside.  Usually the sounds coming from the sidewalk are raucous and there have been times that I have become uneasy at their intensity.    This morning I heard singing coming from inside the building…loud singing…singing that sounded natural and unaffected by the presence of others.  I asked someone who was singing and I was told it was Bobby, the head of the kitchen.  It is always, always a good sign when someone is singing and cooking at the same time.  It was a joy to hear his loud praise songs accompanied by wonderful smells coming from the kitchen.

As the morning progressed we began to count the rent money from the program men and apply it to their accounts.  As I began to do that I realized I was freezing and commented to my husband that I would have to go home and get a sweater.  He got up to check the thermostat and found that someone had set it to 65 degrees.  One of the men came by the office and we began to discuss how cold it was and how low the thermostat was set.  He said that sometimes some of the men turn on the water in the shower and while they wait for it to get hot they shave and leave the water running.  He said he comments frequently that these same men would never do that in their own homes but because they’re at a mission they think it’s okay, but he feels like they are wasting what is God’s…His money and His water.

As we continued the task of counting and re-counting my husband commented that three men, all who had once been in the program at Brother Bryan Mission, came by and gave a donation earmarked for food.  This was done in response to a social media post that showed the scarcity of food in the BBM pantry, and the conversation turned to how well each man is doing and how all three of their faces glowed with pleasure at being able to donate money to help restock the mission pantry.  They showed great delight in being able to give back.  I stop my typing as I hear children’s voices coming in for lunch, and it is encouraging to know that in these summer months when children are out of school and there are parents who may struggle to feed them, they can come to Brother Bryan Mission and enjoy a hot and hearty meal and in a small way, a sense of being part of a family.

It is now afternoon and I will soon have a cup of hot tea to both warm me and help me stay alert.  And down the hall I hear Daniel talking about the gospel with an outside guest as other staff members try to find a way to get a bus ticket for this same guest to go to Montgomery.  I hear brief parts of a conversation with the guest’s mom on the phone as she says with a quivering voice, “Baby, why can’t you stay in one place?”  And hopefully by this afternoon he will be on his way home to see his mom thanks to people at Brother Bryan Mission who care.

This is a good place and I have missed having even the tiniest part in this ministry.  People are fed here, both physically and spiritually.  Men, women, and children are welcome for a hot meal.  The staff seeks to minister the gospel and help people turn from the darkness of addiction to the warmth and light of hope.  There are beautiful children who ate a good meal today prepared by a man who praises our Creator loudly and from the heart while he cooks.  Their smiles radiated the satisfaction that comes with a full tummy.

I wish I could be in Montgomery tonight when a man in a do-rag with an infectious smile hugs his mama.  Five weeks is a long time to be away from this ministry.  I am very grateful to be back.

 

THE OLD ALUMINUM PAN

by Kay Etheredge

Plump and blue and ripe, the berries signal their readiness from among their green leafy haven.  I take them, one by one, and listen to the thud as they hit the bottom of the old warped aluminum pan that was my grandmother’s—her bent, arthritic knuckles strained white against its rim as she filled it, summer after summer, with succulent muscadines, tart  crabapples, peas, beans, and okra.  She cradled it next to her body as she cradled babies—her own, and the children of her own, and even their children, and she walked, rocking from front to back—shuffling to keep from having to bend knees stiffened with age and decades of harvests– from the fertile dirt of the garden, across the dew covered grass, and into the kitchen—her sanctuary.  She set about filling her freezer and cupboards with enough for her and my grandfather, and enough to weigh down holiday tables filled with hungry family—hungry for the wonderful tastes as well as the love that grew strong and bountiful in their home.

I hold the pan like a treasure even though it is not fragile—maybe only the memories themselves are fragile.  I can feel her hands and the hands of my mother on this pan.  They are both gone now, and I am left to reap the harvests in their stead.  I never imagined a time like this when I sat, innocent, and lanky and freckled from the summer sun, shelling peas into this very pan, my red hair damp on my scalp from the heat and sweat dripping down my back, my thumbs purple from the peas’ hulls,  and I listened to the stories.  I miss the stories most—along with the satisfaction that our family would be ready when the winter winds blew—our food was in the freezer and in the Ball jars in the cupboard, and our winter would be a time of sitting around the table and laughing and making our own stories as we reveled in the ones we all knew from the past—the ones that were repeated from old to young—and now my memory fades and there is nobody left for me to ask,  “How did it go again?”  I don’t want the stories to disappear like the food in the Ball jars that now sit empty—their glass mouths open and filling with dust and cobwebs in the cardboard box on the basement floor.

I imagine that in heaven we will revel in the stories again and we’ll have new ones—about how God’s mercies sustained us in the good and bad times, and how His grace rained down on us when we deserved it the least, and it will all finally make sense.

OUR FAITHFUL GOD

By Kay Etheredge

I started making fabric yo-yos over ten years ago.  Yo-yos were made by women a hundred years ago as a way to use up scraps of fabric…a circle is cut from fabric and then gathered up to make an even smaller circle.  The yo-yos are then joined together to make a quilt even though there is no actual quilting involved.

I had seen yo-yo quilts in antique stores and I loved touching the tiny circles and imagining the hands that took the time to make these …maybe women sitting around together gathering up the circles and making something not only useful but beautiful from scraps.  In the movie Sleepless in Seattle there is one scene where there is a yo-yo tablecloth in the background and I decided to use the yo-yos to make myself a tablecloth.  I chose fabrics with pinks in them to match the pink in my wedding china.

I made yo-yos at ballparks as our son Grant played high school baseball and my needle paused, mid-air, as I watched his foot move in the red dirt of pitcher’s mounds in out of the way towns.  I made them as I passed the time while our daughter’s ballet company traveled and I served as a chaperone and waited in auditoriums and on grass and carpeted hallways while I breathed in the sight of how the sun made her ballet bun glow like coppery promise.  I made them at my grandmother’s house as she traversed a torturous, five year journey with dementia, and I prayed as I stitched  as she looked around wildly for some semblance of familiarity.  My mother and grandmother were both seamstresses so I told my grandmother I wanted to put some of her fabrics in my quilt.  She couldn’t quite grasp what I meant even in the early stages of her disease, so my mom went and got some fabric for me from my grandmother’s cabinet.  It was pale pink with tiny white butterflies.  When my mother passed away I chose some of her own fabrics to make yo-yos for my quilt.  It began to take on a sentimental feel and I felt more and more convinced that it should be a baby quilt instead of a tablecloth.  I told our daughter Emily, our first born, that the pink yo-yo quilt would be for her daughter, even though Emily wasn’t even married at the time.

Her first child was a son, Tobias, but she is expecting a baby girl this summer.  I went several days ago and pulled the yo-yos out of a drawer.  Over ten years of sewing them in many different places and phases of life, I had accrued 2 gallon Zip Loc bags full of circles.  I had no idea how many yo-yos it takes to put together a quilt but I knew it was a lot.  I began to lay the small circles out on the bed on top of a baby quilt to get an idea of how many I had.  I laid them out, side by side, and filled up row after row.  Soon the first gallon bag was empty.  My heart sank as I realized I might not have enough.  I continued to place them on the bed, and as I neared the bottom of the second bag there was a small section of the design that had a big gap.  There were 16 fabric circles in the bag that had not been gathered up, so I sat down and spent the rest of the afternoon gathering them.  As I went back to place them on the gap in the design, I was amazed to realize that I had exactly enough!  Not one too many and not one too few.  Exactly enough!

And just that morning I had prayed, agonizing over a big decision that I wanted God’s clear and sure perspective on, and I thought I had peace and then a wave of anxiety flattened me and I cried, “Lord, please show me!”  And hadn’t I just read also that same morning a quote by Elisabeth Elliott that said, “The devil has made it his business to monopolize on three elements:  noise, hurry, and crowds.  He will not allow quietness”.

So it was that quietness I sought and fought for as I sat and finished the last 16 fabric yo-yos.  Pushing my screens aside,   I sewed and stilled and sat in total quietness and my pile of tiny remnants of thread grew larger.  And then there was the perfect number of yo-yos.

The men here at Brother Bryan Mission are often called with a sweeping arm, “Mission Men”.  I have even used that title myself I’m sad to say.  Each man here is unique.  They each come with their own stories, their own special circumstances, their own scars.  They are treated as scraps that many times the world has tossed aside and called worthless.  God takes the scraps of our lives and He lets no hurt, no scar, no difficulty go to waste.  He gathers remnants and He lovingly arranges in a pattern of beauty all that we will hold out to Him as an offering.

Those fabric yo-yos will be a covering for our new granddaughter, Lord willing, with pieces of fabric from her great-grandmother’s and great-great grandmother’s fabric collections., sewn with tremendous love by her grandmother throughout a decade of life that flew by like a fast-ball crossing home plate.   I hope I get to tell her about the God who went before me and surrounded me and counted out carefully pieces of fabric for a quilt I didn’t even know I was going to make, for a granddaughter I didn’t even know I would have, and how there was not one too many and not one too few, and how He knew that on this day I would seek an answer before I even knew a question would be on my lips and He showed me through tiny fabric circles just how wise and mighty He is, and how completely He can be trusted.

And how there are men we know who have been mightily and profoundly saved by the God who takes the faded scraps of our lives and hearts and fits them into patterns and designs that only He could imagine and He becomes our covering and He is always enough.  He is simply and completely enough.

 

 

A CUBAN LESSON ON GRATEFULNESS

by Kay Etheredge

(Note:  BBM will be hosting Cuban pastor, Heber Romero, and his wife, Lydia, this week as they speak at the Wednesday evening chapel service.)

There are many highlights from our trip to Cuba four years ago.  We were so very blessed to be chosen as parent chaperones to travel with Ballet Exaltation from Briarwood Ballet.  Our daughter, Jane, was a senior and in the group.  None of us knew what to expect and we went with great excitement but also some trepidation.  There were many unknowns.   We bathed the trip in prayer and God truly went before us and prepared the way, opening doors that caused us to be even more in awe of Him.

Many of the girls came from very privileged homes.  I write this not as an indictment or criticism, but as a confession that I had struggled with insecurities over the differences that became glaringly obvious over time.  Our daughter didn’t have a cell phone until she was a senior and her brother gave her his old one because, right out of college, his brand new employer provided one for him.  Jane was never really one to complain but she had commented to me that she was the only girl in the Briarwood Ballet to not have a cell phone.  I chided her and said that was impossible.  Once I joked with a ballet staff member who told me with all seriousness, “I think she could be right”.

We were told there would be no cell phone service in Cuba.  No internet access.  It sounds like no big deal unless you’re taking a bunch of teenaged girls who constantly had phones in their hands.  We feared there would be grumbling and complaining from the girls regarding their lack of communication.  One night as we sat around for a meeting in Cuba, one of the girls made this statement, “In America, when we need something, our parents get it for us.  Here, we have had to rely on God”.  Another girl commented, “I thought I would miss my cell phone and internet but I really have enjoyed it and don’t look forward to going back to that”.  It was very sobering.

Jim and I stayed in the first city in the home of a dentist and his wife.  He confided to us that his salary was roughly $40 a month.  Each morning that we were there I watched his wife wash diapers for their brand new grandbaby outside with a scrub board.  She then hung them out on a clothesline to dry in the Cuban sun, then take them down, lay them out on the table where we ate, and iron the wrinkles from them.  Her iron looked just like the one my mom had when I was a little girl.

I had struggled through the years with feeling that where we lived and how we lived was not enough.  Our 1950s ranch style home is the one Jim grew up in.  Many of Jane’s ballet friends lived in very nice homes and some of them were given cars at 16 that were nicer than our own cars.  There were obvious socio-economic differences that I allowed myself to be weighed down by and even though Jane wasn’t necessarily aware, I certainly was.  I struggled with contentment as I looked around at our dated furniture and small rooms and when I drove Jane to sleep- overs at her friends’ homes I allowed myself to compare, and we always came up short.

One night in Cuba as we traveled on one of our two vans our driver, a delightful man named Junior, pulled off the paved road onto a bumpy gravel road.  He drove for just a bit, then pulled over in front of a small home.  It was two story, but not by American standards.  I can’t even think of a place that it would compare to here.  The front yard was dirt and the home was tiny.  Very, very tiny.  Junior stopped our van and began with great excitement to honk the horn.  Soon a small girl appeared at the door of this home and she began to wave as he waved back.  Junior turned proudly to his van full of Americans and gestured proudly with his arm saying,  “Mi Casa!”  This was his home and he wanted us all to know, to see where he lived.  And as I looked out the window at the grinning little girl and saw Junior’s great pride in showing us his home, I knew in my spirit that this very moment was why God brought me to Cuba.  My loving Father had a picture of contentment He wanted to show me and He took me to Santa Clara, Cuba to unveil it.  I learned much on the trip, and we saw God work in so many mighty ways.  But for a comparing and discontented mama of a very amazing daughter, I knew that this tiny house with a dirt front yard right off a gravel road in Cuba, was exactly what I was meant to see.

The Cuban people we had the pleasure to come to know weren’t living in a state of grumbling or even acquiescence.  They were living with gratefulness.  God gave me a living picture of what the word home should mean, and He used a sweet man named Junior and his small daughter to show me.  It wasn’t about finding someone with less, as much as seeing how beautiful a grateful heart looks.    Twelve days later a very exhausted family flung open the door of our 1950’s ranch style home—the same one where my husband grew up.  The furniture was still dated and the rooms still small.  Nothing was different.   And I looked around me and said to my husband and daughter, “Just look at this beautiful place”.

WINDOWS

By Kay Etheredge

It seems all humans have pride, but some struggle with it more than others.  The moment we think we don’t struggle with pride, we have pride in not being prideful.  Once I heard Barbara Barker speak at a ladies’ retreat.  She said she didn’t go to malls.  One reason she didn’t is because she would see all the lovely things to buy and covet and she didn’t want to covet.  The other reason was she would resist the urge to buy anything and then she would feel like she was better than all the other people who didn’t resist and then she became prideful.  It was an analogy I’ve never forgotten.

In a church we pastored in another state we had the opportunity to be in many homes.  Two of the people whose homes we visited took great pride in their cleanliness.  One couple had a rocking chair and when we sat in the chair and got up, she went behind us and re-aligned the rockers with the indentations they had made on the carpet.  It was not a home we enjoyed visiting for that very reason.  It was so perfect that we couldn’t feel at home.  Once we went to eat at a restaurant with another couple and they said they couldn’t finish their meal because the windows of the restaurant were dirty.  If the windows were dirty, the kitchen must be too, and they were sickened.  Their lawn was impeccable and their house was impeccable but this man got up during supper at their home when we were there one night and tore the head off a sparrow that had gotten in a feeder outside the window.  Give me dirty windows anytime.  We didn’t enjoy being in their home either.

The couple that had us over the most in that church was a couple who lived in a double-wide and spent most of their time outside.  They had farm animals that had to be tended and milked and they just didn’t have the care to spend overt amounts of time cleaning their home.  We ate more meals around their table and had more laughter in their home than any other while we were there.  It was the kind of home that you could pull your shoes off and let your hair down and there was real conversation and real problems were discussed around that table.  When the meal was over we crowded in her tiny kitchen around her sink and we shared laughter while we helped with the dishes.  I can still remember the way the crickets sounded through the screen by her sink, and the way the stars looked, brightened because of the absence of city lights in the Kansas countryside as we drove home after our times there.    She was the one I called when our rooster escaped our little chicken coop at the parsonage and we laughed uproariously as we chased that rooster around our yard.  She fell over a fence at 57 and it should have killed her but she got up and we caught that rooster.   She was the first person at the parsonage when word came that my dad had passed away back in Alabama.  She walked right in and went to grab the clothes out of the dryer when the buzzer sounded and I was too numb to move.  She was real and because of that I didn’t mind her folding our clothes and helping us throw things in a suitcase to head home for one of the hardest times in our lives.    She never noticed the dust bunnies that I’m sure were in the corner or that the windows weren’t sparkling.

The men at Brother Bryan Mission are refreshing because they are real.  They are humble.  They aren’t living in pretense because when you are in a men’s rescue mission there’s not a lot you can hide behind.  The conversations I have had the privilege to have there have been deep and meaningful.  There are hopes and dreams thrown on the table and opportunities to listen…to encourage and look into eyes and souls and listen.  Most of our churches have little time for that kind of conversation.  Our services are mapped out and there is time to shake hands and comment on the weather and “how are you?” and the answer is most always “fine”, even when we are so very far from “fine”.

If we add anything to grace it is not grace.  Anything we take pride in diminishes the need for grace.  Anything we take pride in becomes self-reliance.  God never wants us to rely on ourselves.

As I played the piano for a wedding Sunday I was overcome with my own ineptness at the piano.  For a moment I thought of how foolish it was for ME to be sitting on that bench in front of these people.  For a moment I fought running from the sanctuary in shame.  God swept away those thoughts and I had one of the most intimate moments with him at that piano that I’ve had in a long time.  When I am in the kitchen or planning menus and food amounts I am in my element.  But that becomes its own form of pride.  When I am at the piano I am uncomfortable, so I am totally reliant on Him.  I don’t like to be seen and noticed and I don’t want to wave my mistakes and sour notes in front of a sanctuary full of strangers.  But that gives me the opportunity to be genuinely bankrupt and God can then work by teaching me to rely totally on Him…to press close into Him and welcome His embrace.

I am encouraged by how God is working in the lives of the men at Brother Bryan.  There are baby steps to be sure ,  but still forward moving progress.  There is little self-reliance, and there is a freshness in the eyes and conversations like a fragrant spring breeze.  It is the kind of place where you can feel at home, and talk of the Savior is easy and pure.  It is a place where mistakes don’t have to be hidden and laughter is heard.

The windows could be spotless there.  Or maybe not.  I couldn’t tell you, because I’ve honestly never noticed.

 

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