The Yellow House: Discovering Brotherhood
The Yellow House is on 19th Street South in Birmingham, AL. It was given its name because of the old, yellow, shingle-style siding. It has a porch and a balcony, four bedrooms upstairs, a small study/ prayer closet on the main level that we use as a fifth bedroom, and two full baths, one with a claw-foot tub. The Yellow House was built in the beginning of the 1900s and shares a foundation with a few neighboring homes. ‘Yellow’ sits on Red Mountain, perched just below the statue of the Roman god of the forge, Vulcan. On the 4th of July, the whole street gathers and grills and watches the fireworks at the Vulcan. Our friend and neighbor Taylor swears our end of 19th Street South is the best place in Birmingham to watch the fireworks, but he's wrong — the trees block the view. I think the best view of the fireworks at Vulcan is on 14th Ave as it slopes downhill, somewhere around 18th street, near the police department. Our dead-end street, though, is better for the 4th because we can grill in the street without anyone caring. I don’t think Taylor really cares about the view, anyway. Our street is the best place in Birmingham to view the fireworks because of the people.
At Yellow, when it's nice out, we prop open the front door and the side door in the kitchen using technicolor tennis shoes that one of the previous roommates left. When it's breezy, you can feel the draft between the doors over the hardwood floor.
On Monday nights we eat together and reconnect as a house. It's 6:23 P.M., guys are coming in and slamming the early 1900's door that so easily swings shut. I and others sweat in the Birmingham heat over stoves and cutting boards. Green skillets sizzle with grease and fried okra, and chicken cooks in the oven. We chop squash and green beans, given to us by Grace Klein Community, the non-profit twin to the construction company for which Rainman and I work. I'm annoyed with the guys cramping the kitchen as I try to move around to prepare the already late dinner. I still have my work clothes on, and there’s paint all over my arms because I haven’t taken a shower. I’m juggling too much.
“If you're not helping cook, please leave the kitchen,” I declare in cordial frustration.
Murmurs and continued conversation make their way out of the room, but my stress remains. Either Chris Brown or our neighbor Jefferson help set the table and place the pots out. I holler, “Come and get it!” and I feel so vulnerable speaking loudly, authoritatively, with the direction I’m giving. Guys crowd around the high table as we get the round-cushioned stools from the kitchen and throw pillows on fold up chairs to boost bums higher. Dinner for 10+ requires extra seating.
“How was your visit with Aundra?” someone asks Matthew.
“So good, man. We have so much to learn from him. God has been showing me that when I visit Aundra, I'm visiting Jesus. Some, you know, some people think we are being Jesus to Aundra. In the church, so many people want to go be Jesus, and try to go with something to give, but I am realizing that I have nothing to give him, so I go to be with him and to listen.”
And the dialogue continues. Aundra (pronounced like “on-dray”) is our brother and friend who is in jail awaiting trial for shooting some of his family members. Matthew visits him with at least one other guy from the house on Monday afternoons before dinner. As dinner goes on, we share about our week, what God has been doing in us individually and as a house, and some practical/housekeeping kinds of stuff. Sometimes Matthew will whip out the guitar and we'll sing some worship songs. Other times Rainman shares his understanding of a certain issue (some of his favorites are sexuality, freedom in the kingdom, the homeless, and identity), or we eat quick and clean up to go to some event or to do something.
Those Monday night dinners are powerful. We've seen strange nights: like the time Josh refused to blow out the candles on his twenty-first birthday; to joyful nights with dancing, singing, laughing; to nights of arguments and frustration over misunderstanding and miscommunication.
Though, in all of these circumstances, we experience Jesus and His power. Sometimes it can be easy to let preparations get in the way of remembering who is in our house and who is speaking; we have to individually choose to live and be and breathe. To soak them in, because they are gone in the next moment. The same is true of the people here. In the 7 months I have been here, around 6 guys have left.
In this moment there are 14 guys total in two units of our house. I'll talk about Jousha first. People often refer to him as “josh” or “joshy-josh” or “joshy,” but his name Jousha is actually pronounced “juh-shoo-uh,” and he says I never get it right. He likes to cook, is kind of a vegetarian, plays guitar really well, paints, and is building a photography base. You can spot him playing upside-down guitars, in cycling gear, and with a beanie. Josh has killer smiles that’ll make you melt, but he's quieter than the average guy so you'll have to make a point of talking to him to experience the smile. He's worth talking to.
Josh's roommate right now is Alex. Alex moved in temporarily in January for a few months while he is getting on his feet. He works for a gyro restaurant called Glory Bound. We met him through Jonathan Baskin. Alex is rarely around, and when he is around, he's often in his room with his door shut. Sometimes he comes downstairs to cook food that has ingredients I’ve never heard of. He has been wrestling with drug addiction since being here, and his room collects dishes.
Michael is my roommate. I knew Michael from Auburn, where he was a police officer, passionate about loving Arabs. He now does cross-training for A4One, the indoor facility, and dietary supplements for a company called Usana. He likes the outdoors, hiking, long hugs, and jam sessions. You can recognize him by his enthusiasm. He says he doesn't like vegetables, and he claims to have the palate of a 5-year-old. He's tenderhearted and loves deeply.
Rainman can be experienced as a storm of thoughts, deep love, forgetfulness, discipline, and sheer force. He enjoys drumming, the outdoors, raw milk, and working hard. He always says, “Blessed!” in his sweet Southern accent when asked how he is. You'll spot him by his long hair, beard, and cut build. He also works for Grace Klein, and his past is long and complicated. He's full of the Spirit.
Bailey is Rainman's fourteen-year-old son. He's recently gotten into cooking, and he really enjoys rock climbing and bouldering. He is extremely mature and very teachable for a teenager, and he always wants to be with people. He's homeschooled and goes to a co-op a few days during the week. He always wants to talk and loves to do stuff with others.
Matthew is our visionary floater. He's best known for doing things at the drop of a hat, for being obedient to the Spirit, and for farting and subsequently laughing at inopportune times. He invites homeless men into our house, is committed to prisoners, and exemplifies God's heart for the overlooked. He loves to dialogue, a good IPA, and a clean house.
Chris is from Huntsville. He sees visions from God and is the storyteller of the house. He is known for his comments about his big butt that he got from his momma. He enjoys singing and writing, fighting for those wrapped up in the sex industry, and shepherding people. He's a student at UAB in finance and he works at Golden Flake, a local snack foods company, but you wouldn't know he's in school because of his commitment and relaxed heart. You can recognize him by his buzz-cut, walking on the balls of his feet, and by his stylized singing.
Darara is our Ethiopian brother that lives in the small bedroom on the main floor. He is known for not reading labels, intimate prayer, huge smiles, and for asking “how are you?”. He works for a radio company that creates platforms for the Gospel to be preached globally in local languages. He is passionate about the power of God, and he loves to share Jesus. He is one of us, a refugee.
Robert is a guy that recently started staying with us. I don't even know his last name, but he used to be homeless. He loves to share his stories and his thoughts with anyone that will listen. He's pretty short. I don't know much about him, but he's been here for several weeks. His stuff is next to the futon, and he sleeps on the couch. He likes milk.
The last of the house is me, Anthony. I’m kind of a dad to the house. I work for Grace Klein Construction and can be found cooking or alone in my room. I like to dance, cook, write, sing, and I counsel and listen to the guys in the house. I’m notorious for singing loudly through the house, cooking weird foods, hugging all the time, and for saying, “I'm Anthony, nice to meet you, Just-Tired-Right-Now” and the like.
Down below our 1526 address is the lower unit of our house, 1526½, referred to as the “Safe House.” The Safe House serves as an in-between place for guys coming off the street waiting to get into a rehab program. We don’t interact much with the guys down there, except for Joel.
Joel Wettstone is the house father. He and Matthew started this house a few years ago with some friends, but everyone else from that group has since moved. This house was Joel's dream, and Joel continues to dream for us. Joel loves to fuel and encourage people's passions, a good cup of chai, constant physical contact, long drives, and family. He's in the army and travels to Atlanta randomly to work for several days at a time. His girlfriend lives in Knoxville.
The men of this house are worth the struggle of misunderstanding, pain, joy, and process. They are in different places and phases and are heading in different directions, but one thing is the same: we're all made in the image of God. That makes us worth fighting for and gives us value to each other, to the world, and to God. That's why we live together at Yellow, to wrestle with each other -- that despite our differences and disagreement, we are each made in His image, and we each deserve to be fought for and heard.
Since writing this article in 2016, I have moved out, gotten married, and had a child. Others also moved in and out of the Yellow House before and after me, getting married, having kids, changing jobs. And at the end of the summer of 2018, all of our men moved out, and Yellow returned to its owners after 4 years of service to us. The owners remodeled and repainted yellow and are currently living there, but it still stands on 19th as a reminder to our families of the struggle and comradery that we endured and fought for. We remember our time there with gratitude and celebrate it as a gift.