A couple’s sacrifice turns difficulty into opportunity.
Angie Bethea started to paint about 10 years ago, just to have something to do while she watched Tristan, her disabled son. Bethea painted in her sunroom, with Tristan in his bed, only six steps away. At first, she painted as a way to relax, but, soon, her incredible images caught the attention of others who were amazed to learn that she was not a trained artist. Incredibly, Bethea had never even had an art lesson.
"In school, I couldn’t draw a stick figure," she laughed. "Besides, I have had my family’s Brunson tremors since elementary school, and my hands shake so badly I can’t hold things. Sometimes I can’t even write my name for shaking!"
Nevertheless, when Angie Brunson holds a paintbrush in her hand, something miraculous happens!
"I get steady, steady as a rock," she stated. "It’s all for Tristan. It’s all for the love of our child. I know it’s God doing this through me."
Tristan is the 19-year-old son of Angie and her husband Herbie. He was born with cerebral palsy that left him unable to walk or talk. At birth, Tristan’s doctors predicted that he would not live over two years, but he has defied the odds, primarily because of the dedicated care his parents have given him over the years. In fact, both have devoted their lives to watching and caring for their son.
"One of us is basically looking at him all the time," Angie said. "We have to watch for seizures, because these can sometimes last over four hours. Then when he goes to sleep, we have to watch him and wake him. He tends to have pneumonia easily because he has scoliosis that has made one lung smaller. He keeps a chronic cough, so we have to sit him up and suction him pretty often. We try to keep all sickness away from him. That’s why we are both pretty much confined to our home."
The Betheas had been able to manage Triston’s care with Herbie working outside their home; however, when Tristan’s weight reached over 130 pounds, Angie was no longer able to handle him alone. Because of Tristan’s fragile bones, the Betheas have never been able to use pulls or lifts; so, October 2015, Herbie quit his job and came home to help.
"We took a leap of faith," Angie explained. "We weren’t sure how we would make it but Tristan always comes first. We prayed and discussed it, but we both knew we had to do what was best for Tristan. His needs come before ours, so we just put it in God’s hands, and Herbie came home to help."
Since making their leap of faith, the Betheas believe they have witnessed many miracles in their lives. Needing a source of income, they decided to expand Angie’s painting pastime into an online business, 1 Stroke at a Time. Before this, Angie had drawn and used some saws to cut the images she painted. After coming home, Herbie practiced with the saws and, in a very short time, started to produce cuts that normally take seasoned woodworkers years to master. To keep from disturbing Tristan, Herbie worked on his back porch; cutting, sanding, priming and preparing the sketches and designs Angie had drawn. He would then bring the cutouts in to Angie, who painted as she watched Tristan, only inches away in his bed.
"Tristan lets us know what he thinks with his eyes and his smile. It’s a team effort with Tristan, who has become our supervisor!" Angie explained.
For Herbie, taking his leap of faith has opened a whole new world, one he believes Tristan made possible.
"I take pride in my work," Herbie said. "I like to make a good cut, because that means there is less sanding. I love doing fancy vine letters. Anyone who knew me before knows I was not very patient. Now, I take my time, because I want to get it just right."
Angie says Herbie has now become something of a perfectionist when it involves wood.
"It’s therapy for him, just like my painting is for me. Our work soothes us and helps us both relax."
Herbie gets all their supplies and delivers their finished products, as Angie rarely leaves their home. He also helps to market their business, handing out business cards in stores around Thomasville and Grove Hill and taking orders from potential customers.
The Betheas rely on Facebook for orders of their products. They make door hangers, baby birth announcements, wreaths and seasonal items. They paint mailboxes to each buyer’s specifications. They do specialty orders such as initials that are very popular now. Their crosses are customer favorites and sell rapidly.
School items are also in high demand. Angie does many sports-related hangers in team colors. In addition, she has designed hangers based on academic and extracurricular activities such as drama, music or art. Some of her most popular pieces are teacher-related, with designs based on the teacher’s subject, grade level or hobby. Many parents order gifts for their child’s teacher, based on the teacher’s favorite hobby or sports team.
Angie buys small ads on Facebook, hoping to get their name to a larger audience. To expand their outreach, she also encourages her customers to share their site and invite others to like 1 Stroke at a Time. She ships her orders, and most come from repeat customers.
"We are so appreciative of what people have done for us," she stated. "This is our way to watch Tristan and make a small living."
The Betheas live in the Chilton community, southwest of Thomasville on Highway 154. Chilton is a farming community, surrounded by thousands of acres of pine forests. Since the Betheas are over 20 miles from a hospital, they have had to learn emergency procedures to care for Tristan. They own a specially equipped van for Tristan to travel, but his daily health needs make traveling an infrequent event, except for medical treatment.
The Betheas rarely have visitors, because of Tristan’s fragile health.
"All our friends understand, and they still help us," Herbie said. "Chilton is a great community to live in. Our church members at Oak Grove Baptist Church pitch in and help us with the T-Man. They support us in any way they can. I just can’t thank them enough!"
The Betheas took their leap of faith for the love of their child; however, along the way, they learned a thing or two about themselves.
"We have really been blessed because we have stayed busy, so far," Angie said. "Working with Tristan has taught both of us patience, and I think this has improved the quality of our work. We are so thankful for what God has done for us."
"Tristan has taught me patience, but he has also taught me dedication and perseverance," Herbie explained. "He’s taught me so much more than I could have ever imagined. I thank God every day He gave me my T-Man!"
Angie and Herbie took a "leap of faith" and turned difficulty into opportunity. Their positive attitudes and selfless dedication to their child have inspired all who know them.
"Everything comes from the good Lord," Angie smiled. "We know things are going to work out, because we have put everything in His Hands!"
The Betheas’ handmade items can be seen on Facebook/1 Stroke at a Time. They can also be reached at 334-830-6300.