I believe it was in 1997 that we first met Sheila. She had moved to our
community that year and was staying at an adult personal care home.
We would see Sheila walking through town on her way to, or coming
back from, the grocery store or local pub. Sheila was around 50 years
old, average height, straggly hair, and always puffing on a cigarette.
The thing that made you stop and notice Sheila however, was the way
she walked. Sheila’s left foot was turned sharply inward; so much so
that when she walked, she would nearly be stepping on her ankle; the
sole of her foot would not touch the ground; it was painful to watch.
We would find out later that she had shattered her ankle and it never
healed right; effectively causing her left leg to be about 3 inches shorter
than her right leg.
While puffing on a cigarette, hobbling through town,
she would stop every 50 or 60 feet to catch her breath
and rest her foot. I tried several times to see if she would
like a ride, but she would not get in the car with me . . .
I was a man she did not know! Sherri began picking her
up once in a while and they began to get to know each
other a bit.
One Wednesday evening I was having a Bible study in the church sanctuary;
it was mid February and brutally cold outside. About halfway through the
study, I heard the door opening to the sanctuary and in hobbled Sheila.
She came in and slowly made her way to the center of the room and sat
heavily in the pew. The smell of cigarette smoke and stale beer quickly
made its way around the room. Sheila, having just come in from the
bitter evening air, now sitting in the warmth of the sanctuary, broke
into a nearly uncontrollable smokers cough, hacking and nearly choking.
I welcomed her in and told her to make herself comfortable and that we
were in the middle of a Bible study and she was invited to stay if she
liked. I continued with the Bible study, along with about a dozen folks
who were there that night; all seasoned attendees of our church. The
Bible study was on the Book of Jonah and we were discussing the part
of the story where Jonah was swallowed by a whale.
“Jonah was not swallowed by a whale;
he was swallowed by a big yellow submarine!”
As I was continuing my discussion regarding Jonah and the whale,
Sheila spoke up in a rather loud voice and said; “Jonah was not
swallowed by a whale; he was swallowed by a big yellow submarine!”
Oh, if you could have seen the look on my face . . . and the look on the
faces of those looking back at me!!!
As I was fumbling for words to say, in my hesitation, she repeated
herself. “Jonah was not swallowed by a whale; he was swallowed
by a big yellow submarine!” Regaining my composure, I said that
whatever Jonah was swallowed by, God sure got his attention!
That was my introduction to this amazing lady named Sheila.
As the winter progressed and spring came into view,
Sheila stopped by the office one day, distraught and
upset. She informed me that she no longer wanted to
live in the personal care home and she wanted to get
an apartment. She said she had some conflict with
other residents and could no longer put up with it!
She told me that she found an apartment she could rent, but her social
service case worker would not permit her to have an apartment unless
she found a person to manage her social security check; in other words
she needed a Social Security payee. Sheila, with tears asked me to take
on this responsibility for her. I told her that I did not think I was the
right person for that responsibility, and that I understood her
predicament, but that I would respectfully decline; she went away
About two weeks went by and Sheila came again, this time even more
upset than before, begging for me to help her. I told Sheila I would pray
about it and make a decision in a day or two. After she left I spoke with
Sherri to get her opinion and to seek the Lord. After much thought and
prayer, I decided to go ahead and help Sheila out.
It took about two weeks before all the paperwork came back and we got
Sheila her apartment. I told Sheila that I would make sure all her bills
were paid and that she had food in the house, before I gave out cigarette
and beer money to her.
I realized how desperately addicted to
cigarettes and caffeine Sheila was
It did not take long, before I realized how desperately addicted to cigarette
s and caffeine Sheila was. If she ran out of cigarettes, she would pick up
butts of the sidewalk and smoke them. She would boil coffee in a pot and
strain out the grounds and drink the coffee black; and she would drink
coffee all day; and if possible, she would drink beer whenever she could
get her hands on it.
I recall many times that Sheila would stop into the office begging for
extra money for food. I knew full well that she wanted more cigarettes
and beer, so I would have Sherri take her to the grocery store and make
sure the money went for food; Sheila was not happy about that at all!
On one particular beautiful afternoon, Sheila came by
the parsonage and sat on the curb to catch her breath
and smoke a cigarette. Sherri came out and began talking
to her and invited her into the house for cookies; Sheila
accepted and came inside.
On this particular day, Sheila was sober and in great spirits; as Sherri
recalls, Sheila nearly ate a whole plate of cookies; even shoving them
away and laughing saying; “get these out of my sight or I will eat
Sak’s Fifth Avenue model?
Sheila noticed that we had a big piano in the foyer and she told Sherri
that she used to play. Sheila began to open up and share how she used
to be a school teacher, that she was married to a bank president and that
she grew up in one of the wealthiest homes in America; she said she even
had a nanny care for her when she was growing up! Sheila went so far as
to tell us that she used to be a Sak’s Fifth Avenue model.
She declared that her husband wanted to divorce her but she refused;
so according to her, he began to become abusive, eventually declaring
her to be mentally incompetent and had her admitted to a state mental
hospital. It was there that she said she was physically and sexually
abused. On one occasion she said she broke away and ran down the
hallway, being chased by a hospital worker. She said when she got to
the end of the hallway, she jumped through the window to get away;
falling several stories to the ground, shattering her ankle; and according
to her, it never healed right.
When I heard all of this, all I could think about was the
time she told the Bible study group that Jonah was
swallowed by a giant yellow submarine! Was she telling
the truth, or were these the delusions of an alcoholic
woman who truly had serious mental issues.
It was a few weeks later Sheila came to my office, once again distraught
and extremely upset; wanting cigarette and beer money. I talked to her
at length about Jesus and that He was who she really needed. I recall
her tone changing and tears began to roll down from those hazel green
eyes, her sagging cheeks collecting those tears, funneling them to her
chin. She looked at me and said; “Yes, I need Jesus so bad.” It was then;
right there that Sheila met Jesus! What a day!
Sheila’s outlook on life began to change and she had a new hope and
purpose too. Her life was anything but easy; however there was a new
found optimism that was evident and I was happy for her.
Sheila moved to a nearby community
Not long after her encounter with Jesus, Sheila moved to a nearby
community and we did not see her much after that. We would pray often
for her, but lost contact. We were saddened to learn that Sheila had
passed away; although not surprised, as she was very unhealthy.
I learned she was going to be interred at a cemetery quite some distance
from our community and that I would be unable to be there. Not knowing
if she had any family, or if anyone would be there, I sent the funeral home,
caring for her, a note expressing our love for Sheila and telling anyone who
may be there, what a blessing she was to us.
Several months later on a Sunday morning following
our worship service, I headed out into the hallway at the
Christian Center. As I entered the hallway I was met by
a young couple, probably in their early 30’s. The young
man was smartly dressed, handsome and well groomed;
the young woman was tall and beautiful, with stunning
hazel eyes that looked strangely familiar.
The young woman asked me if I was Pastor Rock Pifer and I said that
I was. She stepped in and gave me a large hug and with tears said;
“I wanted to thank you for looking after my mom, I am Sheila’s daughter.”
She told me that they had lost track of her mother and did not know
where she had been staying for the last 5 years. When I sent the note
to the funeral director they were able to get my name and they drove
all that way to thank Sherri and me.
Sheila was indeed a Sak’s Fifth Avenue model
As this young couple began to leave, Sheila’s daughter handed me an
envelope, once again thanking us for looking after her mom. After they
went out the front door, I opened the envelope and there to my
astonishment was a photograph of Sheila, circa 1963. It turns out
Sheila was indeed a Sak’s Fifth Avenue model and there, in my
hands, was proof!
Sheila’s story reveals how cruel this world can be. She had grown up
in an ideal setting; plenty of money; was able to travel; go to a college
of her choice, and eventually become a school teacher; even marrying
a bank president! However things turned and for reasons we may never
know; Sheila’s world came apart. She was abused and tormented, and
there seemed to be no one who would listen, or even care. She ended
up tossed to the side; a vagrant, despised and misunderstood in this world.
Through Sheila, I learned that everyone has a story and
having discovered hers, I realized how very wrong my
first impressions were. Sheila belonged to the class of
people that I believe Jesus has a very special place in
His heart for.
Listen to what Jesus said in the Gospel Book of Matthew.
Matthew 25:31-40 (NASB)
“But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before Him; and He will separate them from one another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats; 33 and He will put the sheep on His right, and the goats on the left.
34 “Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; 36 naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink? 38 And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? 39 When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ 40 The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’
May God’s richest blessings be yours as you
come along side and walk with “the least of these.”