November 22, 2018
Mrs. Martha “Stookie” Lee Bryan
We’ve gathered to honor the life of Martha “Stookie” Lee Bryan and to praise God for giving her to this community, and us, and to this family, to be our friend and companion as we do life together.
Stookie and Thomas Bryan, II died within a day of each other, thirteen years apart. The family finds great comfort in singing a few of the great hymns of the faith today, hymns that Thomas chose for his service thirteen years ago.
These hymns represent their faith in God which bound Stookie and Thomas together and permeated how they raised their children and lived their lives in this community.
They believed in a “God of Grace and a God of Glory.”
Would you join this family in singing this hymn, as we praise the God who continues to sustain us with His love and grace?
It’s hymn number 435. Let’s stand together as we sing stanzas one, two, and four.
Listen now to some of the most memorable teachings of our Savior. They are commonly called The Beatitudes. As you listen, choose one that you think best describes the life Stookie lived as she blessed others.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 4 Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. 5 Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. 6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. 7 Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. 8 Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. 9 Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. 10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
Let us Pray:
Heavenly Father, You are blessed, for in You we find our purpose for living. You are our Alpha and Omega. In You, we find our beginning. Indeed, in You, we find a God who knew us before we even existed. In You we find Mystery, and without having to explain You, we just confess that in You we find peace because through the Spirit of Christ we have come to know You.
We dare not try to explain You, God. You are unexplainable, but you are not unknowable. Thank You that we can know You through Jesus and through your Spirit, which is the guarantee of our salvation.
So, we thank You, that when we come to death, we have a hope that life has not ended, has has been transformed into an unexplainable future with You in heaven.
Bring comfort now to this family with this hope. Remind them that You hold onto us and will never fail us, most especially in our sorry and our grief.
Through Christ, we pray, Amen.
When I was 13, I started mowing lawns for people in my small town in South Alabama. Several of my customers fit the description of elderly, Southern women. When I finished, it wasn’t unusual for some of those women to serve me a slice of pound cake and a glass of sweet tea out on their porches.
From my earliest memories, I’ve known and appreciated Southern women, with real Southern accents, women who were educated, who valued family, faith, and community; women who took time to notice those around them, even a sweaty boy that just mowed their lawns.
It’s hasn’t been lost on me that even as a boy, God was preparing me to appreciate their beauty and their gifts, their unique contributions of shaping their community, a generation of children, who then shaped children of their own.
Sadly, many of these Southern women are now disappearing from our landscape like old log barns. We don’t appreciate all the fine characteristics of these women and what they are leaving behind as much as we should.
Part of the joy of being a pastor has been to see their beauty before they are entirely gone.
There are not many Stookies left.
In fact, is there another Stookie anywhere to be found? Does anyone know a Stookie besides this one?
Stookie was a name of endearment given to her by her grandfather because she followed the cook around as a child. The cook’s name was Stook, so her grandfather said she was a little Stookie. Few people knew that her given name was Martha.
But what people did know is that this Southern lady held a place in their hearts. That’s what you knew. You knew that Stookie was unique and special.
We shall not pretend or try to exhaust all the ways.
We have gathered with the Bryan family to honor her life. Beyond that, we want to praise God for her life and to acknowledge God for giving her to us, for sending her to Jefferson, and for using her to teach us something of His love and goodness.
Stookie would not have wanted us to make a big “to do” about her. She certainly wanted her life to point beyond herself, and it did. Thus, our hymns and scripture serve that purpose. She and Tom, found in God a Bulwark, which is a defense, a helper, one whose power is great, who is the same from age to age.
We know we can call on God whatever comes to us, whatever happens in life, and stuff will happen, even when we walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death.
God is a Mighty Fortress. Will you join the family by singing this great hymn, “A Mighty Fortress is Our God.” Let’s sing all four verses of hymn number 151. You may remain seated.
On many occasions, I’ve heard Stookie say, “I’ve lived a good life,” or she might say, “I’ve been so blessed in my life.” She would say it with so much sincerity that there was no way you could doubt her.
Perhaps it was because she felt so blessed that she felt compelled to bless others in whatever way she could. She had gifts of mercy and compassion. She was undoubtedly a James Christian.
James, the brother of Jesus, wrote: 14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? 15 Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. (James 2:14-16)
My last conversation, which Molly said was one of the last coherent conversations her mother had went like this:
Thelma, one of her wonderful caretakers and wonderful friends over the previous two years said,
“Mrs. Stookie, you have a visitor.”
Very weak, Stookie said to my delight, “It’s my minister. Forgive me for not getting up. How are things for you? Thank you so much for coming by.”
“Hello, Mrs. Stookie. What’s on your mind today?”
She asked, “Is the church going well? “Making Budget?”
I said, “Yes, mam. We are doing O.K.”
“I think that’s a miracle,” she said.
I laughed and told her that any time the church could pay our bills, it seemed it was something to praise God for.
“I really miss church,” she said.
“We really miss you too, Mrs. Stookie.”
She said, “I think I’ve told you when I go I don’t know anyone. Thank you so much for coming today.”
After asking me about my family, the James 2 Christian emerged again.
“Are we caring of the needy?”
I told her what Fred Gurley, our Deacon Chairman had planned to help the needy and all the other things we were doing.
“Whatever he does, he does well,” she said. “I don’t know how he does all that he does. He and my son went the school together. I don’t know which one influenced the other one the worst. He is a good fellow, and I understand that Damaris does a lot. Thank you for coming. I feel lucky that my children are here.”
Then she said, “I am grateful.”
I told Stookie that she had a grateful spirit.
Then we prayed together.
Lee said the last several years he had been appointed to pay her bills. Every Christmas she would ask Lee, “What are we doing to take care of the tired and hungry.”
Stookie was always concerned about the tired, and the hungry and those didn’t always have to be the poor. Hundreds of families have now come through the church fellowship hall, just like the Bryan family did today, to share some food prepared by our membership during a time of bereavement.
Years ago, Stookie and Faye Griffin started this ministry for the tired and the hungry, those who need a reprieve from those duties as they grieve and gather with family.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”
The same grandfather that gave Stookie her nickname might have also instilled in her the importance of giving to those in need.
Her grandparents were very important and influential in her life.
Stookies’s parents divorced when she was very young. Even though her mother later remarried, her father never had a relationship with her for the rest of his life.
She once told me that her Father never gave her a card, a gift, or the time of day. This left a huge void in Stookie’s heart.
Every child wishes for the blessing of his or her parent, and it was painful that she was never blessed by her father.
However, her grandfather was always there.
He owned a store, and every day on the way home from school, Stookie would stop by the store to see him.
She’d say, “I haven’t come for money.”
He’d say, “But you would like some, wouldn’t you?” So, he’d give her a nickel every afternoon.
But her grandmother put her foot down and told her, “You need to love Papa for Papa and not for Papa’s money.”
But her Papa wasn’t just generous to Stookie. During the Depression, Stookie witnessed her grandfather giving to those who were going hungry out of his own stock from the store.
The family believes that this could very well have been the example which led to Stookie’s compassionate spirit.
I was told that Stookie and two other members of this church, Doris Fowler, and Jack Cavender spearhead efforts to form the Foodbank, which now feeds thousands each year.
Yesterday over 450 runners brought over 6000 cans of food, and along with our sponsors, we raised over $6000 to feed the tired and hungry in our county. So, yes, Stookie. We are continuing to provide for the needy thanks to your vision and your heart, and the hearts of many, many more people like you.
“Blessed are merciful, for they shall be shown mercy.”
When Stookie arrived in Jefferson in 1950, she came with a teaching degree that she had earned from the University of Georgia.
However, had she been allowed to follow her heart, she would have majored in theater.
She discovered in high school that she was good at drama.
She won the Golden Slipper, which was a class competition and from there she told her mother she wanted to be a drama major, but her mother said “no.”
Her mother said, “You have gifts. I want you to know you have gifts, but public speaking is not one of them. I think you are going to want to eat better.”
Parents are often so practical-minded, aren’t we?
That dashed her dreams, but never her interest. Stookie would not defy her mother, but once she got her degree, she did set out to prove her mother wrong about her giftedness in theatre.
Even in college at UGA, she helped make the sets for the dramas held on campus.
Once she became a teacher, she began helping with the One-Act plays at the high school. She worked with the students and directed their plays. They took one-act plays all over Georgia and won awards for their performances.
In one of the plays, there was a phrase that Stookie did not like.
One of the actresses had to say the phrase “he spat with finality.” Well, this Southern woman was going to let her actress say the word “spat,” so she changed the line and they ended up losing in the finals by one point because she changed that one line. I don’t think she would have done it any differently.
Jim knew that his parents also had a practical nature about them, but he appreciated that both of them always encouraged his creative spirit and allowed him to pursue this dreams as an artist. In fact, Tom, Lee, and Molly all agreed that their parents were encouragers in their educational pursuits and gave them permission to be individuals and follow their dreams.
Perhaps because Stookie was never allowed to pursue hers fully, she knew the importance of fostering that spirit within all of her children.
After 73 years, this is the last year that our church is going to present the Pageant of the Holy Nativity. Stookie was one of the Pageant’s directors, and it was a love of hers.
The Pageant was just in its infancy as a tradition of this church when she arrived in 1950. Tom’s mother was one of the Pageant’s original contributors. Stookie said that if you knew Mrs. Bryan, then you feel in love with the pageant. She said that Mrs. Bryan was a charmer and people fell in love with her.
I guess Tom ended up marrying someone a lot like his mother.
In recent years, Stookie knew that the pageant had run its course and she told me once that she thought it was time for it to end. She wasn’t one of those people who believed that time is supposed to stand still, although there were undoubtedly things she felt strongly about, which the family well knows. Most of these have to do with faith and values.
Kate Sedano is one of Stookie’s grandchildren. She is one of those who benefited from her grandmother’s strong values, and she also inherited the red hair gene, which is an endearing quality.
She said that Gran “always had a sense of clarity about what really mattered” and that’s what stuck with her. “She seemed always to be able to sift through the minutia of life” and that reminded her of what was most important.
She said that she often left their visits “with a revised outlook that emphasized simplifying things to those that matter most – namely that family is most important, hard work matters, and that it’s our responsibility and privilege to contribute to our community.” As a result, she often “felt more content in her daily life as a result of adopting just a bit of her perspective.”
She said that “her wisdom was truly profound, yet subtle and never forced, and very few people have ever had the same influence on her.”
“Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth.”
As a part of Stookie’s values, she found many ways to give back to the community. Stookie had a strong sense of community and part of that can be traced back to Tom’s connection to the mill.
She told tell me about the enormous responsibilities he carried and how each employee mattered to him and the responsibility he felt to all of the people that worked there.
When the textile industry began to fall on difficult times, those were not easy times for people like the Bryans because the mill was not just a job, it was community. It was Jefferson. It made the difference in whether people had Christmas or food on the table.
Within a week or so of coming to Jefferson, she was introduced to Tom Bryan. A little more than a year later, they were married. I’ve heard Stookie say many times how fortunate she was to come here, to marry him, to have the family she had, to live here, to live the life she lived.
She was grateful. She told me again the last time I was with her. Her genuineness was real.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”
Stookie didn’t become a Baptist until she met Tom. She grew up Methodist and actually dated a Presbyterian minister before moving to Jefferson. The closest to being Baptist before coming to Jefferson was that she took typing lessons from Rev. Didimoor, who was the Baptist minister in Dallas.
However, just because she married a Baptist and just because she attended church with a Baptist, didn’t mean Stookie was easily persuaded to become one.
It wasn’t until Lee and Jim were baptized as teenagers that Stookie was baptized and became a member of the church.
Stookie used to tell me that denominations didn’t mean much to her, but I can tell you that her independence and desire for freedom of thought are hallmarks of being a Baptist: soul freedom, Bible freedom, church freedom, and religious freedom are the freedoms we cherish. She was a Baptist at heart before she became one.
The children told me that in recent years their mom has had an affinity for sunsets. It could have been a metaphor for the ending of life.
But perhaps it was more. One of the children said that maybe she was thinking of all the wonderful days they spent together at the beach in Daytona when they were children.
Are there any freer days than those carefree days as a child? If you could bottle the feeling you had on just one of those days, where there were just joy and no worry, all play, and laughter, wouldn’t you open it up and let it pour out on all of the stress of our adult days?
She loved those days. She told me about that beach house. She said that if Mrs. Bryan had not had that house in Daytona, the family would never have had a vacation. But you had it. There Tom could completely relax and be present for everyone.
So, when you see a sunset, let your mind fall back to those days when the day was full of fun, family, faith, food, and perhaps a little sibling fighting.
While I’ve not covered a lifetime of things, I’ve only tried to hit the highlights, I want to close with an acknowledgment of one of her greatest qualities, for her or anyone. She had a great sense of humor. She loved to laugh. All of the children say it’s one of her most endearing qualities.
“Gran could always make me laugh, and whenever I was able to make her laugh – really laugh with her whole body – it was an amazing feeling. She would make a ‘tiss tiss tiss’ sound as she laughed and finish with a happy “oh,” a sigh. You always felt sort of accomplished when you could make her laugh like that.”
I’m reminded of the virtuous woman of Proverbs 31. Verse 25 says: “She is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come.”
It is this joy that makes a huge difference in the life of the Christian. Even in the face of death, when sadness and grief grip us, we can still have an underlying joy because we know that Jesus lives and we know how that He holds tomorrow. We know that this life is not all there is.
As we depart today, the family wants you to join them in singing the first verse of “Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee.” It is hymn number 90. I want us to sing stanzas 1 and 3.
In stanza three, there is a metaphor for the beach. There is the phrase, “Ocean depth of happy rest.”
That is the joy we long, look for and live for.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.”
Photo Credit: daytonabeach.com