Barry and I at Passion City Church
Barry and I at Passion City Church

My friend Barry Suttle passed away unexpectedly in his sleep recently. Where should I start? My earliest memories of Barry came as I rode my bicycle by his house on my way to the pool in the summers. I knew who he was because of football. He was one year ahead of me but his dad helped coach the Brumby Bobcats where I made all-american as a quarterback… OK, I never made all-american and, yes, it was little league but so what?! The first year I ever played in the 5th grade they game me the #51 and I hated that number until Barry said,”That’s awesome! That’s Dick Butkus’ NUMBER!” This was a quality that showed up in Barry Suttle early on…He’s the guy who could get a box of horse poop for Christmas and get excited thinking there was a horse somewhere close by…David Baird said of Barry one day,”you would have to hit Barry across the face with a Louisville Slugger (bat) to get him angry and I’m not even sure that would do it.” Of course Bobby Milburn told a story at Barry’s funeral that made that statement incredibly prophetic. Watch the video of the funeral ( ) if you get a chance. Back to riding by his house on the way to the pool… The Suttle’s had a dog named Flip who was incredibly territorial…It’s like he had me on his radar. He came after me like he was one of Michael Vick’s pit bulls. He didn’t look like much, like a over grown chihuahua actually… and nothing but teeth. I rode by on my purple bike with the banana seat and monkey bars… A classic. Barry’s parents got a huge kick out of this daily confrontation because they both had a huge sadistic side (I love you, Mrs. Suttle). I could hear them laugh loudly every time he came after me. The one time they didn’t see it was fortunately for me the time I wanted nobody to see. I rode with my beach towel around me neck…This time he came after me I was not going to outrun him…somehow my beach towel slipped too far down, got caught in the spokes of my tire, and brought the purple hornet to a screeching halt. I was thrown down on the road and skinned up a little because nobody wore any protective devices back then. If the statute of limitations is not up a lawyer can feel free to contact me about this incident. Just saying…Where was I? Oh yeah, Barry was incredibly positive about everything.

I have to say he was also one of those guys that got big early. You know those guys…the ones that complained about zits before we ever knew what they were…the ones who started shaving in like 7th grade. And the guys none of us wanted to shower with at East Cobb Junior High School. Barry looked like B.J. Thomas and Tom Selleck but was twice the athlete those guys were…and that’s what’s important when you go to Wheeler High School, right? Barry played baseball but was known better for being the starting running back for the Wheeler Wildcats. His class was full of the most beautiful, brilliant, athletic, Christian young men in the history of High School graduating classes. Did you see all the pastors speaking at his funeral? It was nuts…my class had maybe one guy like that and it was not me, lol.

“Worlds are colliding Jerry!” George Costanza on Seinfeld said that. Since I grew late and had to play a sport of some kind I took up tennis. Barry and Tony Medlin who both graduated before me went on to The University of Georgia after high school. The NCAA tennis championships were in Athens and they got interested in taking up tennis as well. We were all going to Mount Paran’s Thursday night single’s group together back then. In 1981 I had just won the single’s tennis tournament at Kennesaw State and they wanted to take me on. When we first started playing one another I did really well against them because I had more experience.  I say “worlds are colliding” because that was MY world. Tony was the baseball pitcher with a big league fast ball. I also watched him hit for the cycle one day. Barry made All-State as a running back playing football. I was the tennis player….Well, pretty soon those clowns were as good as me and eventually they could beat me…It was no skin off my nose because they were both the cream of the crop at whatever they did. It made sense they would excel at tennis too. I was, and am, proud I knew them growing up. Great guys that became great men.

I’m going to jump ahead to about 7 years ago when Barry and I truly began to get to know each other well. I was suffering from issues with my back and neck and was looking for an outlet like the way I found tennis when I couldn’t play football at the college level with the other Wheeler “boys”. I started to write about my prophetic evangelism experiences…The ones I had never shared publicly before because they are so personal and so not “the usual christian stuff”. Barry would say, “THAT’S AWESOME, HOP! Hey, may I be your editor? I would love doing that” Mr. positive…. So, here come the tears again…and I will tell you exactly why…Barry was just good. Damn good…If you read in Acts about Barnabus you will find he lived up to his name that means “son of encouragement”. Barry was Barnabus. He had the heart of a Secretariat…No equal.

Barry and I went through this phase where we loved going ALL THE WAY over to Passion City Church to hear Louie Giglio. The worship was off the chain good. Chris Tomlin was not even my favorite worship leader there. Barry drove this particular time and wanted to sit on the front row. I hate the front row but he drove so I didn’t put up a fight. So during the worship there’s Barry standing up front waving his arms around loving on Jesus for the whole world to see…I’m sitting quietly reading a psalm trying to get going on the worship. Sometimes I like to find a verse in Psalms that I can identify with and then start worshiping.This was one of those times…At the end a Passion City leader approached us. I was thinking, “how nice of him” But this young man proceeded to tell us they like “leaders” on the front row. Then he addressed me and told me my reading the bible was distracting during the worship time… I’m not going to mention the guys name but his initials are Brad Jones. (It’s cool, Brad. I laugh about it now, lol) I remember two things from this trip to Passion City Church. One was Barry Suttle was the only person who could get me rebuked for reading my Bible in church and the second Is one of David Baird’s daughters was there that day and she took a picture of us all together…Until I saw her post it after Barry’s passing I honestly could not find a picture of us together. So that service will always be remembered for those two polar experiences.

2016 was a very difficult year. I ended up being educated on men in their 50’s…Their brain does not produce enough serotonin any longer. Many, like me, have ended the careers they loved…their children may be grown etc etc…and they have lost their identity somewhat. What I’m saying is clinical depression hit me at the beginning of the year. Yes, it’s humbling to admit but if this can encourage someone I’m saying it. I got help when I realized I was going to lose without it. I have been seeing a counselor ever since…My peace has returned and God has been so gracious to me. Very recently my counselor was on the subject of relationships. She asked me to name my best life long friend. I thought about a couple of people I knew before moving to Georgia from Alabama as a child that I have known my whole life…but then I thought of Barry and the last 7 years. It was simple. Barry Suttle was my best life long friend. I think there are several people that feel the same way the guy. We talked the night before he died…I needed help moving something heavy and he was coming over to help me and hang out and maybe play guitars and sing…marginally as we usually did. But I saw a neighbor who agreed to help so I called Barry and let him off the hook. He said he came to my area a lot now to see that future all-american Cody Suttle and would stop by then. He won’t be doing that but I will always imagine what he would say about things…because I knew him that well now and loved the man dearly. See you back at the house, my brother…Thanks for that, Jesus, and You are my tennis partner when we take on Medlin and Suttle in the fullness of Your Kingdom. They might just beat us, Lord, but that would fine with me… Hop

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