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Meador: No life is ever beyond redemption, recovery

Rusty Rae/News-Register##Tierney Ferguson is second in command at the Soup Kitchen at St. Barnabas, a popular mealsite ministry in McMinnville.
Rusty Rae/News-Register##Tierney Ferguson is second in command at the Soup Kitchen at St. Barnabas, a popular mealsite ministry in McMinnville.
Rusty Rae/News-Register##A tattoo on Tierney Ferguson’s forearm commemorates the date she gave up drugs.
Rusty Rae/News-Register##A tattoo on Tierney Ferguson’s forearm commemorates the date she gave up drugs.

Guest writer Matthew Meador, a former food and wine writer, is a rare moderate Republican who now writes political commentary. Before turning to writing, Matt was an award-winning graphic artist who often put his skills to use during election seasons. He has served in various capacities for candidates, campaigns, pollsters and elected officials. He can be reached at www.matthewmeador.com.

She’s clear-eyed and focused. She’s confident she knows what she’s doing and where she’s going. I suspect this quality characterizes most aspects of her life, from her long-term personal goals to her daily work ethic.

She’s a born leader, the type of manager who’s affable and easygoing, but focused on doing the job right. People naturally look to her for guidance because she knows what she’s doing and others recognize this instinctively.

She’s the sort of person you’d want nearby if there were an emergency. She’d take charge. She’d take decisive action without panic or indecision.

If she’d been on the Titanic, she’d undoubtedly have taken charge of a lifeboat, organizing cold and scared passengers and crew into a cohesive group, focused on survival and rescue. That’s Tierney Ferguson.

I’m not the only one who recognizes Tierney’s talents.

Less than three months after starting a job at McDonald’s, General Manager Kayla Planck recognized her leadership qualities and promoted her to a management position. When she’s on duty, she’s the boss.

Robin Miguel was wary of Tierney, at first.

Robin serves as operations manager and chef for the Soup Kitchen at St. Barnabas, a popular feeding ministry in McMinnville, and she runs a very tight ship. She sets high standards so isn’t always easy to please.

When Tierney started volunteering regularly at the soup kitchen in October 2018, Robin kept a close eye on her. After she’d demonstrated her commitment and reliability, Robin took note and promoted her to second in command.

That put Tierney in charge on Robin’s day off. And Robin doesn’t assign such responsibility lightly.

Three years ago, Tierney wouldn’t have been given this trust. Three years ago, she was getting high and digging her way to hell.

Paradoxically, it took a jail stint to give her a taste of freedom — freedom from the grip of addiction.

“I was sentenced to 30 days in the Yamhill County Jail on a failure to appear charge,” Tierney said. “It was weird because no one ever gets 30 days for a low-level charge like that.”

The sentence was handed down on Sept. 11, 2018, a date Tierney will never forget.

Even if it managed somehow to slip her mind, she has it tattooed on her forearm. It’s the date Tierney gave up drugs and never looked back.

“That 30-day sentence was a literal godsend,” Tierney said. “The time in jail allowed me to get clean and stay clean.”

The way she describes it, she was almost giddy with relief. She made up her mind, never once doubting her decision.

Her suddenly sunny outlook did not go unnoticed by her fellow inmates.

“They were mean to me because I was happy,” she said, laughing at the thought. “They were resentful. They wanted me to be miserable like they were.”

Tierney’s childhood was a disturbing blend of religious strictures and sexual abuse. A parental prohibition on “worldly friends” was at least partial motivation for her running away from home at age 13, the first of many such attempts.

A year later, she found comfort for the first time in the numbing effects of drugs.

Dropping out of school in the ninth grade, Tierney went on to earn her GED in 1998. In 2000, she gave birth to Justin, and the following year, Austin.

In the bizarre way that addicts sometimes experience, Tierney met a fellow addict that became a father figure for her boys. Hector Martinez was lost in his own addictions but stepped into the father role anyway.

“Hector accepted my sons as his own,” Tierney said.

Clearly, the situation was far from ideal. But it hinted at events to come.

Tierney got lost in addictions to marijuana and meth amphetamine in the time that followed. She went on to give birth to two girls, Emily in 2004 and Izabell in 2006.

In 2014, the family experienced tremendous turmoil, culminating in loss of their home. In short order, Hector went to prison, and Tierney was forced to surrender her kids to state custody.

Her bad behavior spiraled and she turned to intravenous drug use.

Then came Sept. 11, 2018, and Tierney’s 30-day sentence — or 30-day lifesaving, depending on how you look at it.

“I didn’t see the blessing of having my kids in foster care until I got sober,” she said. “After I cleaned up, I thanked God he’d protected my children from me.”

Today, Tierney is enrolled in classes to become a social worker. “I want to use the nightmare of my own experience to shepherd others,” she said.

Among other things, Tierney credits the time she’s spent volunteering at the Soup Kitchen at St. Barnabas for keeping her focused and occupied, not allowing her time to relapse.

Plus, nobody who has their sobriety date tattooed on their body wants to screw that up.

Tierney has successfully completed rehabilitation therapy, along with a Rethinking Barriers to Employment workshop, a Willamette Workforce Partnership workshop encouraging addicted, homeless or incarcerated women to think in terms of “I have something to offer” rather than the self-defeating “Nobody wants me anyway, so why try?”

Tierney is working on repairing her relationships with her children and — possibly heading toward the realm of fairy-tale happy endings — with Hector as well.

“I give Hector tremendous credit, too,” Tierney said. “He kept me accountable.”

Hector used his prison time well — so well, he now has more clean time than Tierney. The two are living next door to each other and Hector has become a model father again.

So what’s the point of telling Tierney’s tale? It’s a remarkable story of redemption, but it also has larger meaning.

The next time you see a local charitable ministry mentioned in news or social media, consider people like Tierney, who are able to atone and repair, to triumph over addiction and free themselves. Real people find real redemption with the assistance of caring ministries or agencies.

Unfortunately, they are often misunderstood by neighbors and other townsfolk, on the grounds they are enabling the unworthy with handouts or similarly uncharitable and inaccurate characterizations.

I have lived next door to the Soup Kitchen at St. Barnabas for 25 years. So you could probably consider me an expert on the topic of living adjacent to a charity that ministers to people who are struggling with addiction and mental illness, who are down on their luck and often homeless.

I also have a longstanding affiliation with the Soup Kitchen operation. At one point, I occupied a non-voting seat on its board, and I’ve been associated with it in one way or another ever since. Thus I can attest from personal experience that the good this ministry accomplishes far outweighs any problems that might result.

If you have doubts or concerns about charitable ministries or agencies in your area, think about Tierney. By any account, her story is one of triumph. And she stands for countless other people who’ve also succeeded in exorcising their demons and turning their lives around.

Best of all, Tierney plans to combine the painful experience of her addiction with her talents in leadership to serve her community — my community. In that, I have no doubt Tierney will help change local lives. I have no doubt she will make a quantifiable positive impact.

I am grateful for talented and focused people like Tierney. And I am thankful for the organizations dedicated to helping Tierney become what she was meant to be — an effective and dedicated leader.

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