[Editor’s Note: This is a guest story by Heidi-Marie Ferren. This is the story of Heidi’s church (“The Little Church That Could”) and I just adored it. Way back in 2014 in my “How I Became a Christian” story, I talked about my home church and reading Heidi’s story brought back so many memories for me! One is truly blessed to find a little church home like this.]
The Little Church that Could
Deuteronomy 15:11 For there will never cease to be poor in the land. Therefore I command you, ‘You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land.’
Miss USO, Singer, Speaker, Actress, and all of the titles we give and get in life; One would never think ‘former homeless person’ would be in that list, but it is. However, this story is not about being homeless.
It’s about our journey to a home full of gifts that only God could give through the kind and generous hands of a church. A church that brought new meaning to the term “good works.” This story begins at the end of my 7-month stint living in a car with my mother in Southern California; After my mother’s feet had turned pitch black from diabetes and we had been turned out of the hospital that feared we couldn’t pay.
I’ll never forget the ache as we drove away from Los Angeles, a place I rested the realization of all my dreams. While it felt like a failure, there was also relief. It had been so hard and we had lost so much. We left with hope and money and came back with less than zero of both.
Suddenly I felt pangs of shame; remembering the faces of church members at our going away party. I started anticipating the “I told you so’s,” and, “oh well’s,” that were in my future. We arrived home late at night to find a raccoon had clawed its way through one of the walls in the living room. There was a family of wild cats living in the crawl space, a skunk den in the bushes and a broken A/C and heater. Too exhausted to think, we pushed boxes in front of the raccoon hole, pulled out blankets from the car and huddled on the floor of a bedroom for heat until we finally fell into a restless sleep.
I awoke the next morning to a man banging on the front door calling out our names. I hid in the hallway, hoping he would leave, not ready to face the music just yet. But, he didn’t leave, he wouldn’t leave and I couldn’t bear more guilt than I was already nursing, so I meandered to the door.
It was David Gates, a deacon at the First Presbyterian Church of Rogers, Arkansas; a kind man who happened to be one of the people that planned our going away party. I opened the door with a smiling, yet heavy heart. At this point, I was just grateful to see someone who made me feel home and David was just that. He had sparkling white hair and the friendliest love filled eyes you’ve ever seen.
He was a tall man, and, like most of the folks at our church did not look his age, which was 82. He leaped at me with a hug and told me to grab mom we were going to breakfast. I stumbled to the bedroom where mom was still tangled in blankets. I tried not to startle her awake too much, since she was still heavily medicated from her pre-gangrenous foot. However, despite my efforts she sprung like a zombie from her uncomfortable slumber.
“What is it?! What?! What is it?!” “Momma, David Gates is here to take us to breakfast.”
“What?! How’d he know we were even here?” “Guess he saw the car.”
That is exactly what happened. The only part we missed was that he had been driving by for days to see if we had made it back yet.
Apparently our little church in Rogers, Arkansas, whose average congregational age was at least 70, had organized and executed a plan to get us back to square one.
David had submitted us to Rebuilding Together, a non-profit that helped repair uninhabitable homes for those who can’t afford it.
Charles Hudson had a job for me at his appraisal firm and the church needed help on Saturdays. David had four bags of groceries from the food pantry that didn’t need to be refrigerated, since our refrigerator didn’t work either.
They also wanted mom to come be the drama director again when she felt up to it. It was a tidal wave of met needs before those needs had even been uttered.
We were flabbergasted. How on earth could they have known? They hadn’t even stopped to think if our pride would be hurt, or whether, or not we wanted help.
No, they loved us and took us in the palm of their hands like family. Family like neither of us had ever known. David dropped us home a few hours later to find Ed Molitor waiting with a mattress and a chair.
A few hours after Ed left, I heard the sound of a bag drop on our porch. It was Pat and Charles Teeter hurrying off, so their kindness wouldn’t be caught. The Teeters had more zip in their 90 year-old bodies than I had at 16. Pat always filled the church with what she called her “roadside bouquets,” wildflowers she had picked from the road. She took flowers someone else might call a weed and made them magic in a vase. It turns out Pat heard I was starting work with Charles the next day and thought I’d need clean clothes. I fought hard to hold the tears back.
As I opened the bag and pulled out the first item, I saw it was a solid black turtleneck. It’s silly, but I had always wanted a black turtleneck. I never told anyone. It was silly and small, but to me, it was a giant glaring message from God…I have you. I have the smallest desires of your heart in my heart. Even in the lowest of lows I will shower you with your heart’s desires. I hear you. I remember and you are never forgotten.
My mother and I had never had one church we went to regularly before the First Presbyterian Church of Rogers. In fact, the only reason we started attending regularly was because we thought it was the prettiest church in the area to have a wedding. It’s funny how God blesses us beyond our plans. I never went through with the wedding, but I never let go of that church and thank God they never let go of me.
Heidi-Marie Ferren is an award winning writer and content creator. She has directed and written for Comedy Central Stages and is the producer, director and head writer for Defiance Theatre Company’s award winning sketch comedy series. She is a founding member of ValleHo Productions and her content has been featured on Funny or Die, YouTube and a number of streaming platforms. For six years she served United States and Allied Servicemembers and Veterans as Miss USO, performing and speaking across the globe as an ambassador and steward of gratitude. She has performed and lectured in over 1,000 venues including performances at CitiField, Nassau Coliseum, Madison Square Garden, and President Clinton’s Inauguration. As a country, jazz and gospel recording artist, Heidi’s credits include performances with Taylor Swift, Joan Jett, Patti LaBelle, Lee Greenwood and Tony Orlando. Heidi is currently in pre- production for a major feature franchise and series slated to premiere at Cannes in 2019. She is a resident writer for two production houses in Los Angeles and a songwriter for the Roundtable. Heidi has her BFA from Southern Methodist University’s Meadows School of the Arts and her MFA from the University of Delaware’s Professional Theatre Training Program. She is currently recording her second album to be released early 2018 as well as preparing for the launch of her latest speaking series and book. Heidi also continues her work in support of service members through time, song and service as an Ambassador, Performer, and Volunteer.
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